Reconnecting the Philippines: Tracking the progress

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Editor’s note: Since Typhoon Haiyan (known regionally as Yolanda) hit the Philippines Nov. 8, 2013, United Methodist Communications and its partners have been working to help restore communications in the disaster area. The Philippines is home to  216,326 professing members, 1,910 clergy and 1,444 congregations. United Methodist News Service is posting periodic reports on the progress and needs.

Jan. 10, 2014: Communication is ministry

“We live in a communications environment that is shaping us and our unique cultures, no matter where we live in the world,” writes the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications in the last of four commentaries explaining how communication is an integral part of the church’s mission.

Moving forward and looking back

The intersection of technology and communications is shaping the church, says the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. A 3-year-old initiative known as Giving Tuesday recently raised an unprecedented amount of funds for mission. Communication is a form of aid when the need to communicate is critical to saving lives. New mobile technologies can give new meaning to the church’s “connectional” system. Communication is ministry, not just a technical tool, Hollon says.

“For example, messages by global corporations are tailored to different contexts, but the use of media to deliver those messages and our response to the messages affects us in similar ways,” Hollon observed. “More than ever, we in the church need to view communication as an integral part of the mission and ministry of the church. How we communicate — the technology we use and the conversations we engage — is extremely important.”

United Methodist Communications arranged for two engineers with Inveneo, a technology company specializing in communications for development, to travel in the Philippines with United Methodist partners to assess church communications needs, do site assessments and recommend solutions. Inveneo responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti by building a network that is used today by two telecommunications providers. Inveneo says the service covers nearly a third of Haiti.

After its first assessment in Haiyan-affected areas in the Philippines, Inveneo said it is ready to offer to NetHope member organizations extended connectivity using point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless links. Wireless links extend network connectivity from connected locations to areas without connectivity. As national telco infrastructure recovers, commercial connectivity will become available first at locations close to telco hubs. Wireless equipment can rapidly extend the reach of the recovering infrastructure.Read Inveneo’s full report.

Dec. 26-29, 2013: A year ahead without electricity for half the population

More than half of the population in the storm-ravaged areas of the Philippines still does not have electricity restored to their homes, reports April Grace G. Mercado, United Methodist Communications special projects manager in the Philippines. According to the country’s Department of Energy secretary, it will take up to one more year before power is fully restored in the hardest-hit locations. There is a great demand for solar-powered solutions among the survivors of the typhoon.

These are indispensable solutions that will greatly improve their lives, Mercado says.  Among her recommendations: 1. Distribute more solar chargers to families in other areas. “As the survivors rebuild their lives, we can provide more aid to help them improve their way of living.” The 320 units of solar chargers were distributed to 320 chosen families in six areas. These chargers will sustain their communications with families and friends living in other places. 2. Distribute solar lamps. There are three main benefits of using a solar-powered lamp for a family in Central Philippines: It improves security, eliminates the cost of buying candles or oil for lamps, and prevents fire from inattention to candles or oil lamps. Read full report.

Dec. 16-19, 2013: Empowering NGOs with mobile technology

On a Dec. 16-19 trip, a communications team distributed mobile tools to nongovernmental organizations serving in the area of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). April Grace G. Mercado, United Methodist Communications special projects manager in the Philippines, was part of the team and reported that 11 NGOs received Nexus tablets and training: SOS Village; International Rescue Committee; Plan International; Oxfam; All Hands Volunteers; Habitat for Humanity; Save the Children; Relief International; United Methodist Committee on Relief; Heifer International; Catholic Relief Services. The tablets were donated by Google to Inveneo, a nonprofit technology company and partner of United Methodist Communications.

Inveneo also trained the communications team on the wireless link setup and connection at the Save the Children offices in Estancia, Iloilo, Mercado reported. Along with Mercado, the team included Ernani “Nhots” Celzo and Sam Perales. On Dec. 17, when the team was distributing tablets donated by Google and Inveneo, a representative of the International Rescue Committee declared, “It’s just like Christmas!”

Leonilo Escalada, chief operations officer of Habitat for Humanity, said, “These tools are very useful, particularly on Internet and email access. … Need to test this on the field, but the quick browse would definitely enhance our operation through identification and tagging of our locations through its GPS and map guides. Very powerful tool for (a) humanitarian agency like us. Please extend our thanks to UMCom and Inveneo for giving these gadgets to us.” Marsy Perez, also with Habitat for Humanity, said, “I never thought that we can give communications as relief.” Read full report.

Dec. 11-14, 2013: Finishing assessment in Leyte

“The UMCom team went back to Leyte to finish assessment and visit other churches and areas not covered by our first visit last November,” reports April Grace G. Mercado, special projects manager for United Methodist Communications in the Philippines. “UMCom arrived in Cebu Dec. 11 to take a fast craft to Ormoc City in Leyte in the late afternoon. All hotels and inns in Ormoc were fully-booked. Through the coordination of Rev. Cosmiano, the Romagos family accommodated me in their home for the night. The walls of their house shifted during the onslaught of Yolanda and their walls collapsed.

The next day, the team visited local churches within the 132 km stretch in the Eastern Visayas District in Leyte. The churches are: 1. Holy Mountain UMC in Sitio Kadaohan in Ormoc City, comprising 21 families. The roof of the sanctuary was blown away and the parsonage was destroyed. According to the district lay leader, retired university professor Aurora Alkuino, there is a donation of $3,000 to fix the roofing and the parsonage. 2. Isabel UMC in San Roque, Isabel, comprises 15 families or 60-plus members including children. The church is in front of the Isabel town bus terminal. According to its resident worker, Pastor Ranilo Butcon, and the church lay leader, Ruperto Ricarte, they have plans to renovate the entrance of the church to appear more welcoming to visitors.  Read full report.

Earlier coverage of Typhoon Haiyan

Nov. 22, 2013: Church helps rebuild communications in the Philippines

Nov. 22, 2013: Bringing comfort to typhoon survivors in Philippines

Nov. 18, 2013: Ecumenical ties in Philippines assist aid efforts

Nov. 18, 2013: Young adults reach out to Philippines survivors

Nov. 11, 2013: UMCOR relief money on way to Philippines

Nov. 9, 2013: How to contribute to the relief effort for the Philippines

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