In San Joaquin, Iloilo, young people play a big role in community disaster preparedness and response, as well as climate change projects.
Similar to many places across the Philippines, the Municipality of San Joaquin, Iloilo is rich in history. Though efforts are placed into the preservation and documentation of its past, San Joaquin is a forward-thinking community that embraces change for the better. This mentality is obvious in the municipality’s approach to its emergency preparedness and response and to climate change.
Through a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the United Nations World Food Programme, the local government unit (LGU) of San Joaquin has tapped into a valuable sector to assist in the implementation of its activities – the youth.
“At the time, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010 or RA 10121 had just been passed so we were working to ensure that our municipality met the stipulations of the act,” explains San Joaquin Vice Mayor Marcelo Serag. “One of our priorities was to engage our community members because without their participation and support, implementation would be challenging.”
The LGU organised activities to bolster community support for San Joaquin’s DRR and climate change adaptation (CCA) efforts. Young people in the municipality are engaged through projects such as a DRR camp, volunteer projects, and youth DRR competition.
Students of Escalantera High School practice their bandaging techniques as part of their disaster preparedness and response.
DRR Camp: Learning the Basics
Even before partnering with WFP in 2011, the LGU had already been working to heighten the peoples’ engagement and awareness of DRR. One of these was San Joaquin’s first youth-targeted disaster risk reduction camp. Over the course of two days, 52 young participants, both in school and out-of-school, participated in coastal clean-ups, tree planting, solid waste management, and basic water search and rescue training. As the camp drew to a close, the LGU was certain there was more the youth could offer in the fields of disaster preparedness and response (DPR) and CCA.
“The government personnel handling the camp, including myself, were impressed. The young people had some good ideas on both preparedness and response measures, and their enthusiasm was second to none,” says Vice Mayor Serag.
Harnessing Youth as DRR Volunteers
The officials were so captivated by the youth’s participation that in 2012 the LGU launched a DRR and CCA Youth Volunteer Project entitled ‘Localizing and Strengthening Youth Participation in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management and Climate Change Adaptation’.San Joaquin’s youth act as an extension to the Municipal DRRM Office, under the guidance of its members.
The average age of participants was 16, and 60 percent of them were out-of-school. Most of the volunteers had taken part in the DRR youth-participated camp. Volunteers were trained in contingency planning, disaster training and family development sessions, response training, first aid, waste assessment and classification survey, and many others, in addition to the knowledge they gained the prior year. These sessions equip the young members to train and disseminate their skills and knowledge to the barangay and household levels, conceptualize activities, and to implement, monitor, and evaluate projects.
Frank, a 21-year old volunteer, continues to learn through the project. “In addition to the initial trainings we received, we also receive refresher courses at least twice every year,” he explains. “We’re constantly in the field be it for monitoring or trainings. We enjoy the work and we know its importance so we always strive to be at our best.”
Since the inception of the project, the team of volunteers has worked with different sectors of the community, from the elderly to grade school pupils. Being a member since the pilot phase, Frank has seen the value of his team’s work. “I know we’re making a difference by equipping people with this knowledge,” he says after closing an earthquake and fire drill at Matambog Elementary School.
Frank orients the students of Matambog Elementary School on the proper procedures during a fire such as the ‘stop, drop, and roll’.
“I’m extremely proud of our volunteers and what they’ve accomplished,” says Vice Mayor Serag. Aside from providing a positive influence on the municipality’s out-of-school youth, the project also serves as a stepping stone onto a career to DRR and CCA for its volunteers.
The volunteers’ commitment to the project is fueled by their shared passion for DRR and CCA. Without salaries, compensation comes in the form of small honorariums, meals, as well as travel allowance. “It isn’t much, so I always encourage our volunteers to take a better opportunity when it presents itself,” explains the Vice Mayor.
When one of the volunteers, Patrick, approached the Vice Mayor to explain an employment opportunity, he did not hesitate in giving his approval. “I know how skilled these kids are, so it didn’t surprise me when an NGO, one the LGU was working with at the time, wanted him to join their staff. It was a moment of great pride for the project,” he says. In the few months that followed, the moment would be duplicated when another volunteer, David, informed his team of joining an NGO as well.
“I will always pride myself in saying that two of our former volunteers are now employed by great NGOs and that they are now implementing their own DRR and CCA projects,” states the Vice Mayor.
Engaging Younger Students to Continue DRR Learning
In early 2015, the LGU began engaging an even younger audience through an annual DRR-themed competition between the high schools and elementary schools within the municipality known as the ‘Youth DRR Olympics’. Teams of twenty students from each school participate and each student is trained in DRR and CCA as well as first aid, vehicular extrication, and basic firefighting.
“We thought it would be a great way to spark young students’ interest in DRR and CCA,” explains Vice Mayor Serag. “In addition to acquiring important skills, the winning team receives a small cash prize. They and their school also receive certificates.”
Arnel of Escalantera High School practices the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“It’s a lot of fun for us, but we also take the lessons we’ve learned very seriously. We know it’s important,” says Arnel of Escalantera High School. “Even if we’re still young, it’s good to be prepared since a disaster or emergency can take place at any time.” Along with his teammates, Arnel is looking forward to this year’s Youth DRR Olympics. “We’re excited! We train and hone our skills quite often so we can win. We’ll do our best to win!” he explains.
With the foundation of the DRR and CCA Youth Volunteer Project in place, San Joaquin lies in skilled and youthful hands.
All photos by WFP/Anthony Chase Lim.