Japan Red Cross forges ties with the local community in Cebu

It has been nearly one month since a Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) Emergency Response Unit started its medical operations in Maya Barangay, Northern Cebu in the Philippines. And over the course of that month, the team has gone from being strangers in foreign communities to being an integral component of a joint team with one goal in mind: to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan recover as quickly as possible.

Before deciding where the ERU camp should be set up, Dr. Satoko Otsu, team leader of the JRCS ERU made a great effort to collect information to assess the situation, including paying visits to the district mayor, district hospital, local health care centers, barangay's halls, and even offices of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippines Department of Health. Through thorough discussions with medical and local authorities, Dr. Otsu understood intuitively that mid- and long term support for reconstruction was necessary, and thus carefully examined how her team's capacity could best be tuned to the needs of communities.

Initially, the mayor requested the JRCS ERU to set up the medical camp in the southern part of Daanbantayan district as there are not any medical facilities there. However, given that the population density is higher in the north, Dr. Otsu suggested using the mobile clinic to cover the southern region, and set up the camp where more people could easily reach it and also where RHU was damaged. With that decision made, the ERU camp was established in a field where the cultural center used to stand.

Maya Barangay Captain, Mr. Elver Ali

Maya Barangay Captain, Mr. Elver Ali

In Maya, more than 90 percent of houses and buildings were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan along with local school. To meet the health care needs of survivors, Dr. Otsu took adopted a two pronged approach: providing basic health care to respond medical needs after the disaster and strengthening preventive care through running education programmes on community health and psychosocial support to build resilience in the community.

"Many humanitarian organizations are deploying in Leyte as its high coverage of media. Rather than doubling the aid to one place, I chose to utilize our abilities for other 'forgotten' affected areas. Having considered my team members' individual capabilities, I decided where I could use them most effectively. " said Dr. Otsu.

"For villages where medical infrastructure is not fully equipped like Maya, the Red Cross medical support is very precious. Even though we started fixing houses with the donated sheets for blown-off roofs, people get cold, sick or even injured while repairing houses. We are very happy to have reliable medical teams here," said Elver Ali, Maya Barangay Captain.

Working alongside volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross

Philippine Red Cross Volunteer, Florianne Adlawan

Philippine Red Cross Volunteer, Florianne Adlawan

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is encouraging support to help survivors of typhoon and is mobilizing its large network of volunteers for Red Cross relief and medical activities.

The JRCS ERU cannot act in isolation and depends heavily on support from people like Wilinda Go and Florianne Adlawan, volunteers –in their early 20s who help form the link between the ERU and local communities.

Both live in Cebu City, and have nurse qualifications. However, given that the number of hospitals and medical facilities is low nationwide, many nurses need to build their career doing volunteer work at hospitals, private voluntary organizations, or district health authorities. Wilinda and Florianne are no exception.

Philippine Red Cross Volunteer, Wilinda Go

Philippine Red Cross Volunteer, Wilinda Go

In Maya, the main spoken language is Bisayan (or Visayan) and not so many people speak English. Thus, support of Wilinda and Florinanne who do speak Bisayan as well as English and have medical knowledge is critical to make JRCS ERU activities smooth. Every day, one accompanies the mobile clinic into the field while the other supports the ERU clinic. "Accompanying the ERU team is a busy task but its valuable work so I don't feel fatigue at all," said Wilinda.

Without these two dedicated volunteers it would be much more difficult for the ERU to build good relationships with the local people which are so important for community health care.