MANILA, Philippines – When one of the strongest typhoons in world history made landfall in this country in 2013, thousands of families were left homeless due to the widespread destruction caused by raging winds and meters-high storm surges.
Among those who were left homeless were the family of Eusi and Helenita Raloso of the municipality of Guiuan in Eastern Samar, one of the provinces heavily-devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan).
Finding refuge in a shelter during the onslaught of the storm, the family and their neighbors did not have any fighting chance as Yolanda ravaged their community, leaving them with nothing but rubble and debris of what they used to call their homes.
No one would have imagined in just a little over a year, when another typhoon struck their town, the Ralosos will transform from being hopeless survivors to heroes among their people.
With a newly-built disaster-resilient home, the family decided to open their doors to 17 families and convert their house into an informal evacuation center.
There were no casualties from their community in the aftermath of that second typhoon.
The Ralosos were among those who benefited from the support provided by Build Change, a non-profit social enterprise that seeks to save lives by providing technical assistance to builders, homeowners, engineers and government officials in building disaster-resilient homes.
Founded in 2004, Build Change operates mostly in countries that suffered heavy casualty and losses from earthquake and other disasters such as in Indonesia, Nepal, Haiti and the Philippines.
They also have pre-disaster prevention programs in other nations, such as in Colombia and Guatemala.
The organization started operating here in the Philippines in 2013, following the twin disasters caused by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in the island province of Bohol and the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Following the tremor that killed over 200 people and damaged over 73,000 structures (around 14,000 were totally destroyed), Build Change partnered with the local government to train engineers and personnel from other non-government organizations (NGOs) on how to assess the damage caused by the earthquake.
Kate Landry, director of programs and partnerships of Build Change-Philippines, said they trained around 60 people and worked on developing materials that educate the communities – particularly local builders and homeowners – on how to build better houses.
Meanwhile in Guiuan, in the aftermath of Yolanda, Build Change worked with various organizations to help survivors like the Ralosos rebuilt disaster-resilient homes.
“With Typhoon Yolanda, it’s been a focus on helping people to rebuild their houses,” says Landry.
Build Change partnered with other civil society organizations that provided grants to survivors, such as the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid that gave Ralosos a grant to help them rebuild their home.
Landry says around 50 houses directly impacted by the typhoon have been rebuilt, while another 250 indirectly impacted with repaired and retrofitted to become disaster-resilient. Another 50 are being constructed.
“Because of our technical assistance and our training, that’s about 330 people who have been trained in safer construction practices. I think around 150 jobs were created,” she adds.
Aside from the rebuilding, Build Change also partnered with a local university and the government’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to develop a program that will enable local builders learn about disaster-resilience construction practices.
Landry stresses that Build Change does not go on the ground and build the disaster-resilient houses of the beneficiaries.
Instead, they work with existing organizations on the ground to help them improve their practices, particularly in construction of disaster resilient structures.
“We try to focus on building the capacity of people who are already there in the community to be able to make the community housing program safer,” she says. “Not many organizations have the technical capacity that we have, and in turn we rely on them and we find partners who engage in community to do the community mobilization side.”
For instance, Build Change partnered with the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, which is currently funding the construction of classrooms for public schools in Cebu.
“We did a bit of a review of their design and we help them to include more details so that it provides more instructions to the contractors, it gives them less opportunities to do things wrong,” she says, noting that this would mean that all schools that the foundation will build in the future will be safer.
“We’re different from other NGOs because we don’t want to go out and do the work ourselves. We prefer to partner with those that are already there has community connections and we just help them make their programs safer,” stresses Landry.
From post-disaster set-up, Landry says Build Change is now in transition for a pre-disaster program that will be based in Manila.
According to her, they are currently looking for partners – local builders, homeowners and even local governments and civil society organizations – who would help them in their project.
“We actually have to create a demand for safer houses because of course, after disasters, everybody has a house that’s been damaged or destroyed and it’s easy to say you want to build back better. But the challenge for us working in Manila is how to get people build better from the start,” she says.
After all, Landry says, their goal is to save lives – and there’s no better way of doing it than by building resilient structures even before a disaster strikes.