On November 8, 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) plagued the Philippines with 350 km/h (217mph) winds. By comparision, at home in Belgium we would speak of strong winds being around 80 km/h (50mph).
One year later, on November 8, 2014 we attended the commemoration of this tragedy in Tacloban. Each NGO presented their re-building program, including OMF whose proposed projects included building new housing, seaweed farming, gardening and drinking water supply. During our Serve Asia mission trip we were able to visit each of these initiatives and actively participate in the homebuilding and gardening projects.
The cultivation of seaweed is often done by women. It requires minimal financial investment and only a few hours of work each day, which makes it ideal for stay at home mothers whose children go to school, and allows them to earn some extra money from the sale of the seaweed.
To get started they need a boat, which can be provided by the BOAT project, which donates boats in areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda. They then need a number of anchors, which can be made from concrete and old tires, and a set of floats, for which empty bottles of soda can be used. Oh, and there is plenty “sea” available as the Philippines consists of more than 7,000 islands! Our visit taught us that even a project which uses minimal resources can still do something for the locals.
Our previous experience meant that we were able to be of some practical help with the housing project. The first few days we helped with the building work, including installing a septic tank. However the project manager then felt our time would be better used on helping to optimise the construction process. We made a number of prototypes of rafters to see which design was the fastest to make. The whole project included 600 houses and each house needed two such trusses. Thus, a time saving of 1 hour for each truss would result in 1200 hours/150 days less work! We also modified the length and width of the cabins slightly to multiples of 122cm as this is the exact width of the multiplex wooden plate being used to finish off the walls and the floors. We found our time at the housing project to be a special experience as we go to work with the Filipino workers. We believe that both parties could feel that everyone has talents that should be valued.
FAITH gardening (Food Always In The Home) was right up our street because we also have some experience in this! The project uses a special method of gardening which involves putting compostable organic material between the crops. In doing this it is possible to create a kind of mini-compost heap between the rows of cultivated plants due to the high temperature and humidity. This allows you to obtain a high yield in a small area. Since the garden is also near the house, you can easily take good care of the garden. You can irrigate, remove the caterpillars, and keep control of any weeds. This method of gardening also prevents the need for using shifting cultivation. (Shifting cultivation is a small-scale form of agriculture in which a plot of land is cultivated for one or several years, after which it is left to develop a new piece of land).
In addition to these practical activities we also found our Serve Asia trip was hugely helpful on a personal level.
We had struggled at one point, asking whether such a short term mission trip actually adds value to the mission field. But when we heard the pastor of the local church encouraging people to participate in short-term mission trips it gave us courage to continue doing so (each year we help missionaries instead of taking holidays). Of course you may think: “Yes, but it is not for me.” but we still suggest that you investigate it further, because it is much simpler than you think. OMF can look for a suitable project for you and guide you along the way.
Our time with OMF Philippines at the guest house in Manila was extraordinary, Our hostess, Anke, was very helpful and even speaks Dutch! The cost of staying there was very low, in fact the whole trip cost less than 1000 euros, airfare included. By going on a Serve Asia mission trip you will get a unique experience in the mission field. A trip of your lifetime, much more interesting than a holiday to Turkey or Tunisia!
Mark & Karin Van Der Flaas-Gebruers