Working alongside ShelterBox after Super Typhoon Rai

With our network of members belonging to different parts of society we were able to fill the gaps around ShelterBox’s effort.
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Dan Smith

A passion for podcasting to tell the world about the great things Rotary is doing.
Bernard Vonn Sia, left, carries corrugated iron sheeting as part of ShelterBox’s response to Super Typhoon Rai in Cebu in 2021.

Reprinted from Rotary Voices

Editor’s Note: In December 2021, Super Typhoon Rai hit the Philippines with gusts of up to 240 kilometers per hour, the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. ShelterBox worked closely with Rotary contacts, local partners, international response teams and the Philippines Navy. Bernard Vonn Sia was part of a disaster response team working with ShelterBox.

y Bernard Vonn Sia, Rotary Club of Cebu, Philippines

As the son of a Rotary member, I was exposed to the organization very early. I thought of it as a group of like-minded people who wanted to help the poor. It wasn’t until I joined the Rotary Club of Cebu sometime later that I realized Rotary was about more than that. Rotary is about coming together to share our time, talent, and resources to better humanity. Giving becomes a pleasure, as we collaborate with other organizations to use our different strengths and competencies to save lives and build a better future.

I saw this very clearly as I got involved with ShelterBox. I had previously heard about ShelterBox when Typhoon Yolanda hit Western Visayas in 2013. It was a gruesome time in Tacloban City and Rotary members there reached out to our club for help. Two members of the Rotary Club of Cebu rushed to Tacloban City and brought whatever they could as relief goods. They kept going back and forth as  facilitators for the ShelterBox relief efforts.

In December 2021, Typhoon Odette (as Rai was known locally) hit our city hard. We had no water or power, and most of the roads were blocked. Thankfully, damage to our property and business were minimal. I was busy because I am in the building materials business, and the need for generators and roofing materials was at an all-time high.

Stephen Castillo asked a select group of Rotarians to accompany him with ShelterBox in distributing tarpaulins, nails, and tools to the remote mountain houses in Cebu. Our involvement included assisting in the distribution of these tarpaulins and tools, along with roofing materials and other goods.

Rotary was mainly involved with providing logistics and manpower (along with other organizations like the Cebu Contractors Association) to deliver much-needed relief goods to far-flung mountain areas in our island. We also provided financial support, supplementing the materials donated by ShelterBox by purchasing galvanized corrugated roofing, construction materials, and tools. We did this together with the help of other Rotary clubs and Rotary districts 3860 and 3800. The supplies were then distributed to the various towns pre-evaluated by ShelterBox.

It was great to witness how both organizations benefit from each other. ShelterBox has the technical expertise not just in distribution methodology on that day, but also in a proper evaluation technique for ensuring that we were giving to those most in need. They also had resources and material to give out immediately.

Rotary has the advantage of being based locally. With our network of members belonging to different parts of society, from different vocations and professions, we were able to fill the gaps around ShelterBox’s effort. This included logistics, volunteers, and coordination.

After the distribution in Cebu, ShelterBox moved on to other islands affected by the typhoon and we handled the last two distributions ourselves. Through our close coordination and collaboration with ShelterBox, we gained a valuable overview of disaster relief operations. I was fortunate enough to carry out the pre-screening and shortlisting of beneficiaries. I even conducted some of the actual on-site visitations of destroyed homes. It was no easy task!

Visiting destroyed homes and talking to families, it was so difficult to take in their hardships and then go back to my own home with a good roof over my head. I can only imagine how ShelterBox response teams feel every time they speak to someone affected by disaster.

This new skill set has been very beneficial to our members. It will help us identify future disaster victims effectively and better handle the distribution and co-ordination with our local government units.

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