AKRON, Pa. — After Typhoon Haiyan devastated islands of the Philippines in early November, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) turned to people affected by the disaster and organizations with community connections to help guide its response.
The largest international humanitarian responses are focused on the most populated areas, so MCC, as it typically does after a disaster, focused on smaller communities that had not yet been served. MCC works with partner organizations that have or can establish those community connections.
Soon after the typhoon, MCC partnered with Peacebuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) to send a team to the city of Ormoc on Leyte island. They met with local pastors and community leaders to determine the needs in this area and to help them manage their own disaster recovery.
In the first week, MCC also programmed $200,000 for emergency food and household items in partnership with Church World Service (CWS) because the organization has staff in the Philippines who work with village leaders to respond to a disaster.
“The village representatives know their village. They know the households. They know which organizations have promised what,” said Esteban (Bong) Masagca, who is doing assessment with CWS.
Working with the input of local leaders results in more efficient, fair and peaceful distribution of supplies than would happen without their knowledge, said Jeanne Jantzi, MCC area director for Southeast Asia along with her husband, Dan Jantzi. The Jantzis are based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and are from Lowville, N.Y.
The Jantzis lived in Indonesia for 12 years and provided leadership through MCC’s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, gaining expertise through experience. They worked with several Indonesian Mennonite synods to develop community-led disaster response plans that have been used during earthquakes, floods, volcano eruptions and other disasters in Indonesia.
“Disasters don’t just happen in a vacuum,” Jantzi noted. “The destruction that we see in the Philippines is layered on top of the local reality. The typhoon-affected area of the Philippines has also been an area with significant conflict for many years. Relief workers need to pay attention to this conflict situation.
“Working with local partners and local communities gives MCC the best way to be aware of conflict and to work for peace as a part of disaster response,” Jeanne Jantzi said. “In our experience, the more MCC’s partners can involve local communities in planning and implementing their own disaster responses, the more the potential for conflict is reduced.”
Before Typhoon Haiyan, MCC proactively partnered with PBCI in a three-year training program for Peace and Reconciliation teams in disaster risk reduction, including ways to reduce violent conflict.
PBCI is a local Philippines organization with ties to the Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines and a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
During a planning meeting for the Typhoon Haiyan response, Joji Pantoja, chief operations officer of PBCI and a Mennonite Church Canada worker, told the Jantzis how they used the training after Typhoon Pablo devastated Mindanao island in December 2012.
After Pablo, rebel groups often barricaded roads to seize relief goods, Pantoja said. PBCI team members realized the rebel groups lived in the mountains and their villages were ignored in government assessments for relief supplies.
Pantoja said PBCI team members were able to connect with rebels and their communities through local congregations, which have a high level of respect and credibility and often have some members with connections to these groups.
PBCI then made agreements with the government to allow them to carry in relief supplies to these communities without military escort. They made sure disaster relief was extended to all people, regardless of political affiliation, according to Pantoja.
To donate to this effort or to read more about the Jantzis’ experiences in conflict and disaster response, go to mcc.org/typhoon.