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Economic Empowerment and Self-Reliance

Typhoon Haiyan Through the Lens of Livelihoods

What is it that, despite the world falling down around us, allows us to lend a hand? What is it that allows us to laugh, to smile, to pick up and go on? Whatever it is, the past week has shown me that Filipinos have got it in their bones.

When I arrived in Guiuan, my host was Renee Patron. A Filipino-American business woman, she was visiting her parents in their home in Guiuan when Typhoon Yolanda struck. Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in Guiuan, and more than half of its housing stock and town center were destroyed or damaged. Further from the town center, out near the beautiful beaches, villages were reduced to rubble. Where they can, the residents have sheltered in their previous plots. They have cleared the debris and salvaged what they could. However, these improvised shelters provide very little real protection from the extreme sun and temperature, and the intermittent rain.


In this church, only the saints still stand.

In this church, only the saints still stand.


With block concrete and wooden posts instead of rebar, this was a home that Yolanda blew straight through.

Natural disasters are complex, and the humanitarian programs that address them must be multifaceted. As a livelihoods specialist, I focus on the role of livelihoods in restoring security, independence and normalcy to displaced lives. I was heartened to see that in Guiuan, the market vendors are slowly returning. Some are selling right on top of the former market that was at the heart of the town. Fishermen, the ones that still have boats, are fishing and selling what they can to those that have access to funds to pay.



Despite damage to Renee’s home, her first thoughts were with the 400 workers from her purse company, Banago. And these workers were not in Guiuan—they were three and a half hours away, in the municipality of Basey. Were they alive? Did they have access to food? Water? Medical attention and shelter?

Immediately, Renee and her friends in Guiuan had banded together and raised donations from the Filipino private sector to distribute basic food packages. But to see how these workers and others were truly faring, Renee and I took a van to Basey.



Among the eight other passengers in our van, some were going to visit family and others to access remittances and cash from towns that had working cash points. The roads were clear and transport was accessible—a recent development due to government efforts. But the scale of devastation was visible out the windows. Hundreds of thousands of coconut trees were damaged or uprooted. People in these regions rely on these coconut trees for many purposes—the meat, oil, dried husks, copra, fiber—and losing their source of shelter and food will render them both economically and physically vulnerable until the trees regrow.   

Once in Basey, we met Mana Laling. She is the head artist, teaching others how to weave, dye, sew and embroider the grasses that make Renee’s Banago bags. She is a grandmother, and the primary breadwinner of her family. Her son-in-law operates a pedi-cab, while her daughter manages the house and her three children.


The sewing facility that Mana Laling oversaw, however, has been destroyed. The stock, machines and materials went with it. To Mana Laling, getting back to work now is the most important thing for her. The food assistance will run dry, she explained nervously as she looked to her three grandchildren, who are 5, 6, and 7 years old. “We need to send the children back to school and feed them ourselves. We need our jobs back.”

Many relief efforts have already identified providing fishing boats to fishermen, and agricultural materials to farmers. Mana Laling’s experience, on the other hand, provides an important reminder of female-led economic activities. They may not be as visible, but they are extremely important to an entire municipality. Prior research by the WRC has found that the search for new livelihoods can leave women even more vulnerable. But livelihoods programs that are address gender vulnerability can effectively protect and empower them.

Back in Guiuan, I came upon these three young girls near the center of town, close to dusk.



They were walking alone in a city with no electricity, a city whose infrastructure has been decimated and whose police force has been incapacitated. Yet they walked confidently. As part of the WRC, I hope that our efforts can help protect and empower these girls—as well as their mothers, their siblings, and their counterparts across the world. 

Economic Empowerment and Self-Reliance