Work is cancelled: Typhoon Day

“To Luzon (Head office, NCR, C.Luzon, Rizal, Laguna-Cavite, Batangas) staff: Due to heavy rains and strong winds brought by Storm Pedring, management advised to stay at home. Work is suspended today. Kindly monitor our communities if help is needed. Ingat mga kapatid. God’s protection be upon us all!”

The view from my window. Manila Bay is typically completely stagnant water which is why the waves crashing over the break wall were alarming.

This was the text message I received at 6:24 am on Tuesday, September27th, 2011. I had already been up about an hour due to the sleepy realization that my room was distinctly more humid than my wonderful air conditioner allows for during my hours of sleep.  Puzzled, I got out of bed to turn on my lights and identify the problem but the lights did not turn on. This information, in combination with a few other factors, helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together.  There was heavy rain as I fell asleep, there were screaming winds outside my window and small puddles on the floor of my apartment.  Monday’s rumors were true, Typhoon Pedring (international name Nesat) had come to visit Manila and the island of Luzon.

I had already seen what a few hours of rain in Manila could do to the streets and traffic here, so needless to say I was relieved when I got the text message cancelling work. Just the day before, a colleague had been telling me how his normal two hour commute (due to traffic and not physical distance) had become four hours due a minor rain shower, Monday morning. Knowing this, I could only imagine what havoc a typhoon could bring to the arteries and veins that feed into the heart of Manila and it’s surrounding areas.

So what does one do with a “Typhoon Day” from work? Having had snow days growing up with cold and snowy winters in Wisconsin (USA), I reviewed the activities I did then. Sledding? No, there were floods outside. Drink hot chocolate? No, I had no heat or power. Watch movies or work on Kiva tasks? No, my computer was dead and the Internet lab has no power.  Obviously, I was new at this typhoon thing and the day unfolded  with the following activities: sleeping, sopping up flooding in my 34th story apartment, releasing the foot of water on my balcony over the edge, walking the 34 flights of stairs twice to retrieve non-refrigerated food from the candlelit 7 11, and reading an entire 100 page book.  At one point I did leave the building to attempt an escape to Starbucks two blocks away but quickly realized that between the thigh high flooding and massive winds, that  a.Starbucks was probably closed, like all other establishments for blocks and b. this escape plan had some major flaws like the road being covered in water up to my hips.

The shallow end of the flooding on my street

The exciting conclusion to my story with the typhoon happened late on Tuesday night. Not only had the strong winds and rain subsided, but the power came back on. I had also managed to drain most of the water out of my apartment and I was reconnected to the world via the Internet.  The only problem is that with all natural disasters, the story does not end there for a large portion of the people of Luzon. I came to the office on Wednesday to discover much of the city was still without power, much of the large street dwelling population here had been displaced to aid centers and that 400 of CCT’s borrowers had suffered great damage or loss to their homes and businesses. (For more information on the typhoon, you can check out this article from BBC News.)

So with this, or any natural disaster, what is the role of microfinance or our local NGO’s or MFI’s?  My first hand experience that I can share with you is through the benefits that I have seen through my placement at CCT.  Microfinance institutions have a unique relationship as they have access to borrowers in low income and remote areas. As the Philippines is a highly developed microfinance market, many of the MFI’s have begun to offer comprehensive services to their borrowers that can include aid and relief during natural disasters.  Also CCT’s portfolio includes borrowers with small businesses and agricultural business, which could be severely affected by the typhoon if their inventory was washed away, or crops destroyed. Already, two days later, I just received a report on the status of CCT’s partners and the ways in which those affected received aid.  CCT staff was ready and on call to assist their region of borrowers.  The following quote was from a 2010 report given by CCT President, Ruth Callanta about their response and plan for other disasters.

D. Responding to Disasters.During Typhoon Ondoy, CCT set in motion a disaster response effort that included relief, medical missions, and rehabilitation of the shelter and businesses of affected community partners and staff. This response, begun within 24 hours of the flood’s arrival, was possible because of a ready infrastructure of staff and volunteers at the community, barangay, municipal, provincial, regional, andnational levels.”

The small business owners in the area that I like have appeared to bounce back fairly quickly as the small pedi-cab (bicycle cabs) are transporting people through puddles and the street food cellars were out as soon as the flooding had diminished.  Others, though, will need to take more time to recover as homes and business were lost. Luckily CCT is there to help them identify their losses and get reconnected to the services to help them recover.

Pedi-cab driver offering his services during the typhoon. The street was so flooded he had to walk the cab through the flooding.

This week Kiva started sharing the stories of lenders worldwide who talk about “Why I Kiva”. As I have listened to the stories of Kiva borrowers in the field and now heard from numerous Kiva lenders about why they are involved with Kiva. I have also been reflecting on the same question and in light of the events of this week, I just realized how much I like being a part of the movement to level the playing field. When a tornado, snowstorm, or flood hits us in the developed world, we do not worry if our money is safe in our savings or if our bank will provide us access to the capital to work on restoring our business or livelihoods.  We also assume that we have the right to services that will come for us, if the community is destroyed and we are not safe.  It is inspiring to be on the ground working with an organization that is providing capital and resources to the local microfinance institutions who have relationships established with these borrowers as well as the access to assist them through these uncontrollable disasters. Join us in this movement and share with us why you Kiva?.

Jill Hall is part of Kiva Fellows 16th class, working with Center for Community Transformation (CCT) in the Philippines.  Please support CCT borrowers by reading about their stories and making a loan today. Be a part of the movement of Kiva and join CCT’s lending team.

About the author

The Musings of a Sponge