Philippines: A new beginning from Cash and Coconuts

Published: 19 June 2014 16:18 CET

By Kate Marshall, IFRC

Irene Collera, 28, was forced to flee with her husband, Elmer, and six children as Typhoon Haiyan battered down their house and the floodwaters rose. They ended up living under a tarpaulin across the road from Palo beach, Leyte. Sadly, 17 close family members didn’t survive the storm that day.

Irene’s family was a beneficiary of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s unconditional cash relief distribution across Leyte and other typhoon-affected islands that had covered 75,000 households by the end of April.

With an initial investment of 1,000 pesos ($23 US dollars) from the 5,000 pesos ($110 US dollars) she received from Red Cross, Irene has turned what was an unprofitable sari sari (‘open and close’) store into a thriving roadside stall selling buko (fresh coconut juice) near the beach.

That small sum has turned into 50,000 pesos – for expanding the business, fixing up the house, and saving for the children’s education.

“I’m very grateful to the Red Cross because its help means our lives are going better than in the past, and I can also help give income to other people because I can employ staff,” Irene says.

Seven months on from Haiyan, the Red Cross is ramping up the next cash wave – this time conditional cash as part of the early recovery livelihoods programme across the Visayas and the Philippines’ westernmost island of Palawan.

Starting this month, cash grants of up to 10,000 pesos will be distributed to up to 12,000 households, with more than 4,000 beneficiaries selected so far. These beneficiaries are chosen on the basis of their poverty level, their lack of alternative job prospects, and their status, such as single parents, indigenous people and the disabled, with women also considered a priority.  

Unlike the unconditional cash programme, which recipients could spend on their immediate needs, including shelter and food, livelihoods recovery cash has to be used for a nominated purpose, for example buying livestock or replacing a fishing boat.  

As well as household support, Philippine Red Cross will tap resources outside the organisation to offer 200 people skills and enterprise development training in partnership with leading private providers and government programmes. This training will target both genders equally.

Support for community-nominated projects will also be offered in 100 locations affected by Haiyan. Past projects have included support to set up rice mills and solar dryers, and refrigeration facilities for fishermen to prolong the life of their catch.  

Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang, who visited Irene at her stall last month to have a chat, says the organization’s philosophy behind livelihoods support is ‘restoring lives and livelihoods with dignity to vulnerable households’, pointing to its solid experience working in livelihoods recovery after typhoons, floods and earthquakes in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

“The magnitude of Yolanda (Haiyan) is such that the livelihoods programme will require good and careful planning to have a positive impact on long-term development,” Pang says, adding that some community projects could go beyond the programme’s 18-month completion target.

“The hallmark of the Philippine Red Cross approach is community-based targeting to ensure accountability and build trust.”

Pang also stresses that Philippine Red Cross has learned from past experience to ensure that the selection process for beneficiaries should vary depending on the livelihood context.

“One set of criteria is not true to all communities,” she says.

The community will take the lead on selecting livelihood beneficiaries through a barangay (village) recovery committee, set up with local Philippine Red Cross volunteers.

“We always conducts an assessment to check if the family has the capacity to implement the programme and the potential of their proposal to generate profit… and we regularly monitor them to make sure their targets are on track,” Pang says.

A final word of advice from newly minted entrepreneur Irene: “My advice to other women is if they want to go into business like me they need to be hardworking, patient and know how to manage money wisely.”