27 September—My Geography 255 class, which is all about environmental hazards and disasters, visited Buklod Tao. The visit was a wonderful learning experience, and it gave me a very good perspective of community planning and a grassroots approach to disaster risk reduction and management.
We were lucky to have Ka Noli Abinales, the founder of Buklod, to receive our class. He fetched us from SM City San Mateo, where we rode tricycles all the way to Buklod’s headquarters, which is located in Greenland Executive Village, Barangay Banaba, San Mateo, Rizal.
The Buklod base is about 150 meters uphill from Washington Street in Greenland. Visitors have to trek a dirt road to reach their compound, which is very easily identifiable because of the overwhelming number of seedlings and young plants, all planted on containers made of recycled juice tetrapacks.
Ka Noli said it was their SOP to have all guests photographed by their greenhouse, called the Urban Container Garden. But the greenhouse was just one of the eye-catching parts of the compound. A biowall of seedlings, as well as a showcase of handmade products, all made from recycled materials, add to the fascination of the visitors.
We went to Buklod’s building, called the Banaba Livelihood and Evacuation Center. The building has three storeys, and, as the name says, has a multi-purpose function. The ground floor serves as the reception area, where they showcase a four-table, glass-encased pin-and-yarn map, which looks like string art, a dining area, and a product showroom. The second floor has two main areas: a seminar room which serves as the evacuation area, and a room dedicated to the production of bags made from recycled tetra packs. The third floor is an open space, where Buklod makes rescue boats. The whole building was designed to withstand an intensity 9 earthquake and can house at least 89 families.
We had our seminar before the tour. Ka Noli shared with us Buklod’s humble beginnings until its present situation. To highlight some of the many very interesting parts of the discussion which I find very insightful, or which I think to be best practices that can be adopted:
- Liturgical beginnings. Buklod started as a faith-based group, which turned into a developmental group. They existed as early as 1994. From their usual bible sharing, financial transactions as small as PhP5.00 withdrawal deposits were made, until in 1996, Buklod became a registered non-stock, non-profit group. Their buklods in different areas of Barangay Banaba stayed intact and in touch with Ka Noli as the focal person-in-charge.
- Grassroots practice. With their liturgical beginning, it was natural to have a community-based, grassroots-initiated approach. Organised buklods gave the group a structure that provided good organization. The branching structure enabled members to participate and voice out their opinions. Buklod used a localised mechanism, used localised materials for what they do, and tailor-fit their practices to how Banaba could work together.
- DRRM in the 1990s. Disaster risk reduction for Buklod was not brought about by the international talk of climate change nor RA 10121 (in fact, during that time, Buklod set the standard for the government at the barangay level). It was brought about by their landscape and natural topography. Banaba is regularly inundated by floods, being traversed by two river ways: the Marikina River, which is downstream for the Wawa flow, and Nangka River, which is a tributary river, downstream from the waters of Antipolo. The regularity and frequency of the floods starting in 1977 taught the Banaba locals to anticipate major flooding events, to which they eventually responded. They saw a rough 10-year occurrence of devastating floods, occurring in the years 1977, 1987, 1999, and 2009’s infamous Ondoy. It was in this regard that they started to organise their response efforts, starting with awareness meetings, organization and capability-building, and identification of needed equipment.
- International funding and partnership. Buklod was first funded by the Embassy of Netherlands. Then it snowballed into many other embassies and funders providing for the construction of boats, buildings, provision of flashlights, rain gauge, and other equipment needed for DRR. Buklod is also in partnership with other international non-government organisations such as Save the Children and World Vision.
- Local networks. The organization works with different local entities, from government to the academe, for further development. An example is their work with UP – National Institute for Geological Sciences and the UP – Department of Geography on community-based disaster mapping.
- Immediate responses. The group works very fast. They can deliver community-made outputs such as rescue boats, within a month from fund release. For Typhoon Ibiang, they utilised the boats they made in less than two months. They communicate with Pasig’s flood control operating system (FCOS). They provide a first line of response during flood events.
- Sustainable practices. I asked Buklod how their enterprise works. They buy used tetra packs for 25 centavos per piece, wash them, cut the pieces, sew them into different products, and sell them for very minimal prices. Little pouches range from PhP10 – 25, bags at more than PhP100, and plant pots at less than PhP20. Buklod also produces organic compost and sells fibreglass rescue boats at PhP110,000 per boat.
- Volunteerism. The enterprise works entirely out of voluntary basis, and addresses poverty alleviation by engaging members of the informal communities in the barangay.
- Capacity-building. Said members of the informal communities are engaged in creating recycled products, growing their own organic gardens, and engaged in disaster response mechanisms. These activities empower the people of Banaba.
Here’s Buklod’s video on community-based DRR:
After the talk with Ka Noli, we went to the ground floor to see the pin-and-yarn disaster map.
The pin-and-yarn methodology in creating the map was a very effective way to engage the community, and yielded results which the community could understand. For example, different yarn colors represent different disasters. Different yarn strings concentrated in a particular part of the map show the highly probable and simultaneous occurrence of disasters such as fire and flooding, and show what kind of buildings may be affected, as represented by pins.
I was delighted in looking at the seedlings planted by children, each one of them named and placed on the steps of stairs.
I also loved how the greenhouse defined a “nursery” of plants. Here are a few pictures of what’s inside:
Our class had a boodle feast with the Buklod community, complete with large banana leaves as plates, and Filipino viands for lunch. After the feast, Ka Noli saw us to our rides going home.
Class insights, and my take
The visit to Buklod was a treat for me because community-based planning and practice, as well as disaster risk reduction, are in my best interests in urban and regional planning.
There were some important insights which our class brought up in the discussion:
- Check and balance. Buklod is a recipient of many international grants and funds, but there is no auditing body to assess its financial performance and operations. Institutionalising this system may still further improve the group’s efficiency and prevent any tendencies towards fund misuse.
- Sustainability of the leadership. Buklod is lucky to have Ka Noli, who is entirely dedicated to the organization. However, it was a class concern on who could continue his leadership as a successor, since all the other staff members have families, and will understandably have their families as priorities if asked to continue the leadership for Buklod.
- Marketing for enterprise. This was something I was most interested in, since I constantly work on economic planning and development, which includes enterprise building. I was concerned on Buklod’s dependency on international funding, which is not a sustainable financial practice. Their income on organic compost, boats, and recycled products may not be enough to sustain their many programs, projects, and DRR endeavours, but then I cannot be sure since there is no financial audit. I see their products as an opportunity to grow in terms of marketing and promotion, and basically, piling the added value to the products that they already have.
I guess that’s it for our visit to Buklod Tao. Hope I can drop their headquarters again to retrieve their video on enterprise-making and share it here. Until then, I’ll be looking forward to the next learning experience on community-based planning and practices.