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Church helping rebuild communications in Philippines

 

By United Methodist News Service

Andris Bjornson from Inveneo (left) demonstrates the use of a satellite phone for (from left) Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, manager for UMCOR in the Philippines; the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR head of international disaster response for UMCOR; and Ernani Celzo, working with United Methodist Communications following Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines.
Andris Bjornson from Inveneo (left) demonstrates the use of a satellite phone for (from left) Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, manager for UMCOR in the Philippines; the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR head of international disaster response for UMCOR; and Ernani Celzo, working with United Methodist Communications following Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines.
UMNS/MIKE DUBOSE

All Photos by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service

A United Methodist-led team has been providing communications relief in the Philippines, assessing needs and identifying ways to reconnect churches and communities after the November 2012 typhoon.

Typhoon Haiyan destroyed much of the communications infrastructure when it hit the central part of the country Nov. 8. The typhoon, called Yolanda in the Philippines, was the strongest in the world in 2013 and the deadliest ever in the country. It caused about 5,632 deaths, and affected more than three million families from 12,014 communities, according to the National Risk Reduction and Management Council,

In a note to United Methodist News Service, Davao Area Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, who was in the United States when the typhoon struck, said his district superintendent reported it would take a year to restore power to the typhoon-affected area. "If that is the case, then the communications system which you will install will help a lot (for) the people of the area," Francisco wrote.

Soon after the storm, "the Philippine government issued a call to international organizations for assistance to urgently restore communications in the affected area," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications. This would allow people in isolated areas to report on the extent of damage and "would help with everything from air traffic control to monitoring disease to informing people where clean water, food and medical assistance is available," he said.

NetHope, a disaster communications organization, and the World Food Program Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, which also does emergency communications response, invited United Methodist Communications to partner with them in assessing needs and helping to re-establish the severely damaged communications infrastructure.

Pastor Iris Terana (second from right) describes damage from Typhoon Haiyan at Light and Life United Methodist Church in Tacloban for a visiting technology team from United Methodist Communications and Inveneo. Listening are (from left) church member Ronell de Juan, Ernani Celzo, Clark Ritchie, April Gonzaga-Mercadom, Terana and her husband, Jhonril Terana. Floodwaters surged through the church and high winds tore off the roof.
Pastor Iris Terana (second from right) describes damage from Typhoon Haiyan at Light and Life United Methodist Church in Tacloban for a visiting technology team from United Methodist Communications and Inveneo. Listening are (from left) church member Ronell de Juan, Ernani Celzo, Clark Ritchie, April Gonzaga-Mercadom, Terana and her husband, Jhonril Terana. Floodwaters surged through the church and high winds tore off the roof.
UMNS/MIKE DUBOSE

United Methodist Communications arranged for two engineers with Inveneo, a technology company specializing in communications for development, to go to the Philippines to assess church communications needs, do site assessments and recommend solutions. Traveling with the engineers, Andris Bjornson and Clark Ritchie, was April Grace G. Mercado, United Methodist Communications' point person in the country. Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, the field coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief in the Philippines, helped facilitate the team's movement through the affected areas.

The Inveneo engineers provided four Android phones to UMCom/UMCOR and local staff for communicating in the disaster area. United Methodist Communications has been working with Inveneo to provide a satellite phone for partners in the country.

Through Internews, another partner, the team had access to an emergency radio station. Hollon noted that it "could be employed to broadcast information to people such as the location of food distribution points, health clinics and emergency room locations, sources of clean water and similar essential information during the recovery."

A communications lifeline

The team arrived in the hard-hit city of Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province on Nov. 18. Its visit included the distribution of food aid by UMCOR. From there, the team moved through the vicinity, visiting local churches and assessing needs. It finished the week in Manila, where team members met with staff in Francisco's office.

"For the people of Visayas, communication has become their lifeline," Mercado wrote, referring to the Visayas islands that include Leyte. "It has become their shining beacon of hope that will connect them to the rest of the world. It is through communication that they were able to share their stories, catch up with surviving peers and family members. It is through communication that we can turn this tragedy into victory."

Near the end of the week, the team split up to cover more areas. One group met with pastors in the Tacloban area, including the Rev. Iris Picardal Terana. She had been feared lost, but, before the team's arrival, was finally able to get word out that she was alive after getting a new load on her mobile phone.

Members of the team mapped her church using the mobile data collection tool on one of the satellite phones provided by Inveneo. Recording the church's coordinates for easy location set the stage for a possible connectivity project after the church is rebuilt. The team also provided relief to 25 families in the congregation, many of them now homeless, according to an email report by Mercado.

Freddie Santos (top) and Angelo Catanga work to erect a temporary roof for a friend whose home was laid open to the sky by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines.
Freddie Santos (top) and Angelo Catanga work to erect a temporary roof for a friend whose home was laid open to the sky by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines.
UMNS/MIKE DUBOSE

Team members also visited Western Samar, assessing cellular and FM radio conditions, and connecting with partners on communications needs in the provinces of Leyte, Samar and neighboring areas, according to Mercado.

Learning of a need to connect the Save the Children office to the United Nations Internet network, Bjornson, chief technology officer for Inveneo, and United Methodist communicator Ernani Celzo assembled wireless antennas and configured the necessary wireless equipment.

Bjornson also spoke with a senior engineer with the Philippines Long Distance Telephone Company in Tacloban about restoring the network and cellular infrastructure in the area. Bjornson noted that the telephone/power poles were "in total disarray following the storm and will take time to restore."

The November mission trip was followed in mid-December by another visit, in which an engineer working with United Methodist Communications provided tablet computers with mapping technology and other communication tools to 25 nongovernmental organizations. The engineer and team also provided training on the tablets, which will help the NGOs provide aid more effectively in the affected areas.

A clear message

United Methodist Communications was able to assist immediately in part because of the work done earlier in November by a team visiting the Philippines. "Our constant communication and coordination has helped in quick response to the situation," Ayo-Eduarte said in an email.

The United Methodist Communications team, led by the Rev. Neelley Hicks, had visited the Philippines days before the typhoon, with partners from the Pacific Northwest Conference and Inveneo. They listened to needs, did site assessments for information and communications technology centers, and trained United Methodist partners on the use of tools such as FrontlineSMS, which enables texting across large groups of users; the Ushahidi mapping tool; Worldreader and biNu electronic reading tools; and MedicMobile, which enables health care providers to communicate easily with people in other areas.

"Our ability to communicate is not merely a matter of convenience or access to entertainment. And this is true around the world," Hollon said. "It's a matter of life and death in emergency situations such as a natural disaster.

United Methodist News Service, a ministry of United Methodist Communications, is the official news agency of The United Methodist Church.

UMCOR playing key role in Typhoon Haiyan recovery

Even before Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8, staff and volunteers in the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) field office there were preparing to respond.

The National Risk Reduction and Management Council said the typhoon caused about 5,632 deaths and affected more than three million families from 12,014 or communities. More than1.2 million houses were damaged, including 582,827 that were destroyed, and displaced as many as 4.13 million people.

Within days of the superstorm, UMCOR approved a grant to provide emergency food, water and water purification tablets to 7,500 people (about 1,500 families) in devastated Tacloban City.

A member of a search team pauses amid the rubble left by Typhoon Haiyan.
A member of a search team pauses amid the rubble left by Typhoon Haiyan.
UMNS/MIKE DUBOSE

During November and December, at least five UMCOR caravans delivered food packages of rice, oil, salt, brown sugar, beans, sardines, cooking oil, and coffee and water purification tablets for more than 3,000 families in communities throughout Leyte Province in the Eastern Visayas. Each package will sustain a family of five for five days. Bishops and district superintendents in the Philippines are helping UMCOR identify the areas with the most critical needs.

UMCOR's assistant general secretary for international disaster relief, the Rev. Jack Amick, expressed thanks for the generous outpouring of support that made the relief trips possible. Amick traveled to the Philippines and accompanied the first relief convoy.

The next steps in UMCOR's continuing response, according to the Rev. Denise Honeycutt, General Board of Global Ministries' deputy general secretary for UMCOR, will include:

Reviewing proposals to provide spiritual and emotional care support for survivors and safe spaces for children who have been made vulnerable by Typhoon Haiyan.

Beginning the rehabilitation and reconstruction of permanent housing. Typhoon Haiyan damaged or destroyed about 1.2 million homes. The National Risk Reduction and Management Council reports damages to the Philippines' infrastructure and agriculture to cost about $809 million.

Distributing a shipment of health kits and school kits expected to reach the Philippines by March.

Compiled from reports included in UMCOR Hotline, a weekly e-newsletter published by the General Board of Global Ministries, www.umcor.org/hotline.

How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors

United Methodists can assist survivors of Typhoon Haiyan with gifts designated for UMCOR International Disaster Response Advance #982450. Designated gifts may be made through local churches or by credit card online www.umcor.org (click on "Donate") or by calling 888-252-6174. Send checks to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. One hundred percent of your gift will be used in international disaster relief.