When receivers become givers: rebuilding communities in the Philippines

14 February 2016

The super typhoon, the strongest land-falling tropical cyclone ever recorded, devastated the central part of the country on 8 November 2013, killing 6,300 persons, injuring more than 30,000 and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless.

The inaugural celebrations of this community were a remarkable event, as homeowners took proud possession of their new dwellings, following a ceremony of blessing by ECP bishops. With the completion of these units, the project became the first in this area to provide permanent, resilient housing in the district rather than transitional structures.

Even more remarkable, though, is the underlying story of a transformed model of giving.

Granting back: the principle

When the media spotlight turned to other hotspots soon after Typhoon Haiyan battered South East Asia, many agencies packed up and went home. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines settled in for the long haul.

In follow-up to an initial phase of emergency assistance, the ECP embarked on a journey with affected communities and Anglican Communion partners to rebuild in a sustainable, locally-rooted way: by creating givers out of receivers.

Known officially as “Receivers-to-Givers” (R2G), the policy and practice are anchored in an asset-based community development approach and underpin the programmes of the ECP’s development arm, the Episcopal CARE Foundation or E-CARE.

“Under this programme, the Church no longer pursues a grants-giving arrangement but all fund support given to any development project are required, at some point, to be granted back and passed on by the receiving community partner, either to itself for new initiatives or to other groups or communities for similar development ventures,” explains Floyd Lalwet, ECP Provincial Secretary and Director of E-CARE.

As such receivers become givers, agents of transformation in their own turn, and are able to break the cycle of dependency on external aid.

Granting back: the practice

Yet, when the ECP considered the Yolanda-affected region, it was faced with a dilemma: the communities’ livelihoods had been almost completely wiped out and new land would need to be purchased to build more permanent and durable housing. Should an exception to the new development approach be made in this case?

“We felt strongly that the Church [could] no longer go back to that situation where grant-supported projects [without any obligation to pass-on] resulted in very limited impact and, worse, oftentimes had the opposite effect of actually deepening the helplessness and dependence of economically marginalised communities,” Floyd says.

Because of this, ECP decided to pursue the rehabilitation and development work solely under the new R2G approach.

What happened next came as a complete shock to E-CARE workers.

Participating households in the barangays (districts) of Sabang-Bao and Bayog in Ormoc City not only enthusiastically embraced the idea of R2G; they volunteered to pay back the cost of the land within six months instead of the envisioned three to five years.

“What the staff had later come to realise was that many of the participating households were tenants who [had] never owned a piece of real property in all their lives and this project offered them … a golden opportunity to own land for the first time,” Floyd recalls.

The excitement over such prospect and the willingness to take on extra jobs meant that even before the project broke ground, the participating households had already given back around 40 per cent of the cost of the land.

Nanay Helen Tagalog was one such prospective new homeowner.

Stepping in for her husband who had to continue his job as a farm labourer, Nanay toiled three days a week – carrying 40-kg loads of cement, gravel, sand, steel, wood and other construction materials 500 meters from the road to the project site – to fulfil the work requirement of each partner family. She worked a further three days a week for families who couldn’t send someone for their labour allotment.

“All these sacrifices are nothing compared to the blessing my family has received,” she says tearfully.

Another proud householder, a woman aged 67, said: “We are happy and we feel strong. We have built these houses ourselves.”

In the end, the cost of the land was paid back in full even before a single unit was turned over to the families involved.

Model for others

“The Receivers to Givers policy is a transformative model for other churches, very much in line with the vision of asset-based development that aims to end dependency and affirm the dignity of all members of a community,” notes the Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, who joined representatives of Anglican Communion partners at the celebrations for the housing project.

Floyd with Anglican Alliance Advisory Council member and ECP Bishop Brent Alawas. Photo: Anglican Alliance

Photo: Floyd Lahwet with Anglican Alliance Advisory Council member and ECP Bishop Brent Alawas. Credit: Anglican Alliance

Floyd likens the R2G spirit to the Sea of Galilee, which is life giving because it both receives and gives water to the River Jordan. By contrast, the Dead Sea receives water from the Jordan but lacks an outlet and thus cannot give back to sustain life.

E-CARE had planned that 10 per cent of its grants would be given forward to other communities in the R2G roll-out from 2012 to 2015. By mid-2015 it had already had seen more than double the gifting passed on.

Currently, E-CARE is overseeing the granting back of some USD 325,000 from one community to another through R2G and is planning to expand the number of partner communities from 20 to 50 by the end of 2016.

By 2019, it aims to be operationally self-reliant.

Back in the community housing celebrations near Ormoc City, the R2G spirit was in full force as various farmers’ associations passed on grants they had received to fellow farmers’ associations.

The Alliance seeks to lift up such holistic approaches to development, Rachel says.

“Receivers-to-Givers is leading a new wave of locally-rooted, self-sustaining initiatives that are growing into a Communion-wide movement. These celebrations were about hope restored, dignity affirmed and mutuality in building lives together.”

Photo: The ECP Bishops pray at the foundation stone during the inauguration day of the new community near Ormoc City. Credit: Angican Alliance