(photo of Jenny Lind Elmaco-Cardenas by Mike Ocampo)
If development strategist Jenny Elmaco was the chief moderator for conversations about the hapless cyclone that killed more than 5,000 Filipinos in early November, she would spend less time assigning blame and more time talking about gender-responsive disaster management systems.
“Since the typhoon struck, there has been a lot of finger-pointing, especially among government officials. I believe right now we should concentrate on working together no matter what political affiliation, group, or faith we belong to. Now is the time to hold each other up, hand in hand and brick by brick, to build the communities that were shattered by the storm. There have already been reports of violence and harassment happening because evacuation centers do not consider women’s needs.”
The U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 9.5 million people were affected by Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda. Jenny is the director of Spark Philippines, a NGO focused on improving access to resources and participation in initiatives that lead to economically empowered and politically engaged women. Jenny’s position allows her to create programs where she not only strategically gets women involved but also builds convergence efforts from the government, private sector, and other women’s networks. It also gives her the opportunity to effectively use her past experiences (as manager of Women without Borders in Vienna and consultant to several development projects with the UNDP and the EU Commission) to weave programs that address indigenous dilemmas.
After the typhoon, she emailed Girl Rising’s Grassroots Partnerships Manager, Laura Roberts, about the post-disaster: The country is still reeling from the shock of the storm. So much devastation and death in many places. My region was battered as well but we fared better than some areas.
Lack of available transportation was a volunteer remora for Jenny and her team, but while they waited to be sent to the hardest hit areas, they gathered all manner of offerings (water, food, clothes, medicine, etc) to ship to the provinces. Her typhoon relief efforts join our other NGO partners, CARE, and World Vision, who are all actively engaged in regional relief work in the Philippines. CARE is currently on the ground providing food, shelter, and other essentials to the survivors. World Vision has distributed emergency food, water, and hygiene kits to an estimated 24,000 people and has raised funds to provide emergency assistance to 400,000 people.
The vulnerability of women and girls in these situations is a tangible problem but Jenny has also noticed a kinship in finding solutions. In the Philippines, there is an old tradition of neighbors helping a relocating family by getting enough volunteers to carry the whole house and move it to its new location. “I wish people would continue to highlight the resiliency, heroism, sheroism, and bayanihan spirit of the Filipinos and non-Filipinos.” Bayanihan is a Filipino word that refers to cooperation and community. Jenny has seen the bayanihan spirit at its peak during the calamities.
She’s co-organizing a Trainers Training session on Trauma Healing and Community Reconciliation. ”One of the many things missed during disasters is the psychosocial effects. It is important to provide this help apart from the food because these have lasting effects on the person. We were taught to anticipate needs not only on the physical but also the psychological aspects after disasters and violence. One of my mentors, Al Fuertes of George Mason University, will be heading this training and our plan is to create a cadre of trainers who can roll this out to the areas hit by Yolanda and also to the victims of the recent devastating earthquake in Bohol.”
Jenny has literally become a driving force for building female change-makers in the Philippines. She’s driven a Girl Rising caravan around to schools in rural areas and has hosted several screenings of the film for different audiences including youth, NGO leaders, private sector groups, and even the Philippine Commission on Women. She’s also the regional ambassador for Girl Rising in the Philippines.
“I believe that it is only when women leaders gather and exchange experiences and build communities of practice that we can effectively cascade inclusive and participatory development that will create lasting change. I wish that the Philippines would move towards sustainable development and social cohesion.”
When she led inspirational talks for young people who were separated from their families in the post-disaster, she encouraged everyone to have faith:
“Faith empowers. It gives us a voice; the means to dust ourselves off and get up. It is in difficult moments when we are most afraid that we also see our strength. This is the time when we uncover our bravery, our innate goodness to do marvelous things for other people and our commitment to do what we can, even when we are afraid. It is during these times that ordinary people become extraordinary. Where normal people do miracles. We have seen it in the stories of people helping each other as the tides came rushing in, we see in in people coming together from all walks of life to give support, to lend a hand, to help rebuild what is lost and even just to give a shoulder to cry on.”
If you’d like to help the Yolanda victims by donating to Spark Philippines or any of Girl Rising’s other NGO partners, please comment on this post and we’ll send you the information.