Shelter beneficiaries take a stake in their home

Although beneficiary ‘sweat equity’ is common to other IFRC operations, in the Philippines shelter construction also includes the principle of bayanihan, or community cooperation.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has constructed more than 6,100 houses since the first model shelters were built in April.

Shelter beneficiaries are expected to contribute their own labour, as well as employ unskilled workers from their own community. This strengthens the spirit of cooperation.

Although beneficiary ‘sweat equity’ is common to other IFRC operations, in the Philippines shelter construction also includes the principle of bayanihan, or community cooperation.

‘This principle develops a sense of solidarity between beneficiaries and gives people the chance to acquire new skills,’ says Alexander Kushashvili, the IFRC’s operations manager in the Philippines.

Philippine Red Cross conducted the first training sessions for skilled tradesmen in Tabontabon, Leyte in April. The training schedule was progressively rolled out across the Haiyan operation. At the time of writing more than 1,800 skilled tradesmen had been trained in Red Cross construction techniques to make houses stronger and more resistant to typhoons and strong winds.

Depending on the number of workers, one house takes between six and eight days to build.

IFRC construction delegate Stig Allan Schmidt led the first shelter construction training sessions in San Remigio municipality. Philippine Red Cross’ project technical assistant in Cebu, Manolito Aguelo,  has a background in construction and stepped in to help, making a big difference.

‘Manolito made sure that the carpenters understood the different standards being set by the Red Cross shelter team, and he would also explain to me the difference in the traditional techniques and styles of the local carpenters so expectations on both were met,’ Schmidt says.

As an experienced contractor, Aguelo was able to show the carpenters the way they were expected to conform to Red Cross building standards.

‘The most important part of the training was to make the carpenters feel they are doing their work for the victims of the typhoon and to do it with pride,’ says Aguero.

Creativity is a well known trait in the Philippines, and shelter beneficiaries are no exception when it comes to adapting their homes. Most of the surrounding patches of land are crammed with vegetables and fruit trees, with chickens and a pig at the back of the house.

Depending on location and financial circumstances, beneficiaries can choose to extend their roof to provide outdoor shading, build higher block walls, incorporate partitions or use other types of lumber.

IFRC shelter delegate Woody Wardell says the outcome is much better when the beneficiary has a stake in the construction.

‘They notice things such as when a wall is crooked or when a pipe needs to be adjusted,’ Wardell says.

73-year-old Mr Tabom from San Isidro slowly makes his way up the ramp that the Red Cross helped build to help Tabom get around the house. Wesley Fryer / Australian Red Cross

IFRC shelter delegate Sasha Mikadze says one of the most important changes in people’s lives has been to provide a septic tank in the shelter design.

‘Concrete septic tanks are not common in rural areas – usually they are a hole in the ground,’ he says. ‘These ones improve sanitation and do not leak into the surrounding soil, so there is no risk of contaminating the water supply.’

One of the other big changes is that the Red Cross house has an inside toilet.

Shelter beneficiary Ramel Aguillon is a semi-skilled labourer from the inland barangay of Dagami, Leyte who took a lead role in building his own house. Like many other men in rural areas, he learnt how to build as a child, watching and helping his father and grandfather.

‘Red Cross gave us the materials and we worked as a team to construct the house,’ Aguillon says. ‘Sometimes I tell the labourers what to do because I know more than them.

‘I learnt a lot from helping to make the house, for example how to make the roof and trusses safer and stronger using the Red Cross techniques. And I am so pleased to have a bathroom and septic tank, because I couldn’t afford them in the old house.’

Children whose families live in homes built and funded by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Philippine Red Cross, walk pass a banner in Tabon-tabon, Leyte. Photo by Cheryl Gagalac
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