We recently interviewed a graduate, Jerome, who is Humanitarian Manager for Save the Children in the Philippines

WVC: Can you describe what your role for Save the Children entails and what is a typical day like for you?

Jerome:I am on my 7th year working for Save the Children in the Philippines. I started there as a communications officer and over the years I developed the necessary competency to be where I am right how as a humanitarian manager.

My typical day is getting up at 5am to monitor the weather forecast to see if there any typhoons on the way, especially now as it is the season for these storms.

Before the pandemic we would go to the office to do carry out our jobs but now almost every single one of us, are working from home due to the restrictions. As I’ve mentioned a bit part of my job is monitoring the weather forecast, to anticipate the hazards, the areas and populations that may be affected by typhoons. What makes it difficult for me at the moment is a limited ability to deploy people to typhoon affected areas due to Covid 19 pandemic.

Part of my job is to train people within the organisation to make them equipped and have the necessary competency to be deployed in a very demanding humanitarian situation and work environment. Being prepared is somewhat easy but when it comes to a real time situation this is where the necessary energy, knowledge, patience are needed.

And another aspect of my job is to provide support to our civil society organisation partners, existing and potential, to enhance the partnership between Save the Children, Philippines and their organisation in terms of humanitarian action

WVC:  Do you visit typhoon hit areas as part of your job?

Jerome: Yes, right now I am actually in the northern Philippines where a typhoon recently hit and next week I will be visiting affected region. It’s part of my job to ensure the quality of our programmes and provide support to my colleagues. But there due to the challenges brought by the pandemic my engagement is somewhat limited at the field level, so I have oversee everything from our head office in Manila and entrust the implementation of the programme by my colleagues on the ground.

WVC: I can imagine that dealing with a crisis like a typhoon coupled with covid 19 restrictions must be incredibly hard?

Jerome: It is very hard and costly because whenever we deploy people they have to undergo Covid 19 mandatory tests before and after deployment.

WVC: What is the best thing about your job and makes you get up in the morning?

Jerome: After graduating I was a journalist at newspaper and I came to a point when I thought I was not doing enough. It was like I was wasting my life, my skills and talent. I wanted to do something to have a valuable impact on society.

What’s the best thing about my job? Being able to be an instrument to create change for the most vulnerable children, the poorest children that always suffer from climate change, disaster and armed conflict. Not everyone is given the opportunity to be where I am right now, to influence the policy of the organisation, the decision making, in order to mobilise resources in order to provide relief assistance. It’s really one of the best things that has happened in my life.

WVC: Does helping children that are made vulnerable because of human conflict come into your job?

Jerome: Yes. It is part of Save the Children’s humanitarian programme to prevent children from being recruited into armed conflict through education. At the same time we ensure that they receive the appropriate support right after a conflict. 

WVC: I recently saw a short film over here about the government’s handling of drug gangs around Manila. It was very distressing to how children were being treated by the police. That must be a concern for agencies like Save the Children?

Jerome: It’s disheartening to witness the hundreds of stories about children and their parents who are killed in the middle of this anti-illegal drugs war by the government. At Save the Children we have one ongoing project with the government to ensure the protection of children from the impact of drug war by ensuring their access to legal services, psychosocial support and helping them cope with the situation. We have to recognise and acknowledge the government and to create lasting change you have to work with the government, because they are the authority.

WVC: I understand the schools have been closed for a very long period of time in the Philippines. What sort of impact has that had?Jerome: Face-to-face classes have been suspended since March which was one month shy of the end of the school year. Class re-opened in October. Education is one of main concerns caused by Covid aside from health and social protection. The parents of the children, especially the poorest ones, have lost their livelihoods or their source of income. Normally when a poor family loses their livelihood they normally resort to bad coping mechanisms. This includes forcing the children to drop out of school or discouraging the children from any learning activities.

Flooding caused by Typhoon Goni

Flooding caused by Typhoon Goni

Aside from losing livelihoods, these parents and the children, have suffered from mental health and psychosocial concerns. We have heard a lot of children have committed suicide and they’re doing it right now.

The reason they’re doing this is because they could not afford to buy tablets or devices for their online classes or their families don’t have enough resources to buy other learning materials that they need for the modular distance learning. Also mainly because they are afraid to face the reality and the difficulty of studying at home which is totally different to what they are used to. Due to Covid 19 everyone was caught off guard and forced to adapt to a situation like modular and distance learning. So that’s why education is one of the major concerns that is still being affected by the pandemic.

WVC: Children in the developing world don’t necessarily have access to the internet so distance learning is something of a luxury so this must be a significant challenge in maintaining education.

Jerome: Yes, especially now that we have been battered by a series of typhoons that have resulted in the interruption of power supply and mobile services. Families have also lost their houses, their belongings and school supplies. And since the parents have income because their farmlands and fishing equipment have b een destroyed they don’t have other means to to afford basic commodities like food, school supplies or healthcare, hygiene and sanitation.

WVC: Apparently the government announced a 200 billion peso ($3.9bn) economic cushion designed to tide citizens over during the quarantine. What effect is this having in helping these communities and is enough being done?

Jerome: This is the second tranche of providing social amelioration or cash assistance to these families. But we have heard from the poorest families in the areas where we are operating that the current assistance being provided to them is insufficient to cope with the situation and to help them recover. Particularly those who lost their jobs because the cash assistance will only be able to cover their basic commodities for a few days only and it’s been almost a year already since quarantine measures have been in effect. This limits the mobility of people to look for resources or a livelihood. Their financial resources are now bad which prevents them from coping with the situation.

WVC: This is a big question, how do you think the world will change for children post-pandemic?

JB: In terms of accountability this pandemic has opened a lot of I would say, imperfections or areas where the government and other stakeholders need to revisit in order to be in the position to be ready in case of another pandemic happening.  And this accountability should result in being able to prevent or mitigate another pandemic. Being able to provide immediate assistance especially to the poorest ones that are always left behind.

Secondly, we need to value the resources that we have including our connection to our loved ones and friends. Because we’ve made a huge adjustment. Normally on weekdays we would see our friends and colleagues. At weekends we would go parties and now it’s almost Christmas and we are being prevented to go family reunions. So it is teaching me to value every day of your life while you are still together with your family and friends.

Further down the line when these children have grown up they will remember how the pandemic challenged every facet of their life. How they are able to survive. This period when many people lost their livelihoods. It is actually a period of survival and in the middle of this pandemic, survival in a way you have to be; every time you go out you don’t catch the virus, don’t pass it on to your family members. Surviving with the meagre savings that you have you will maximise it to fully support the needs of the family. Although you are not happy with the way the government has handled the situation, you still have to trust them because as mentioned they are still the government and what you can do is use your influence, the networks that you have to improve their accountability.

WVC: In terms of aid, what is needed most for vulnerable children at the moment?

Jerome: Generally it’s social protection that family needs in order to cope with everyday expenses. Food, healthcare, and education because if a poor family cannot afford these basic commodities they would usually resort to negative coping mechanisms including forcing children to drop out of school. They may also resort to sexual exploitation and violence, forcing their children into prostitution, including online sexual exploitation of children. These cases have increased during this pandemic and we have seen reports of children who have become victims of this exploitation.

Another negative coping mechanism is gender-based violence. When a father cannot find money for food this might resort in violence at home, they would fight with their spouses, they would project their disappointment and anger towards the children which results in different forms of abuse. Verbal and physical abuse, even neglect particularly to those who are powerless like the children, children with a disability or the elderly because they can’t fight back. So that’s the main objective of social protection for these families, to prevent this from happening. That is why the assistance, particularly cash assistance, for livelihood for these families is so crucial at this time.

WVC: In terms of education in the Philippines what are the key barriers to accessing an education?

JB: Number one it is poverty. Children get caught up in a vicious circle of poverty. When you don’t get an education, you don’t go to school and graduate from college so there is a slim chance that you will have a good future especially if you want to support your family or raise your own family. Another barrier is the culture of the Filipinos that the poor parents would not dream high enough for their children and this would prevent them from letting their children participate in schooling or finding ways for children to access education. If you can send your children to school at the who can do jobs for you?

WVC: Do you think there is a shift towards better gender equality for children’s prospects?

Jerome: The parents would prioritise the boys to go to school because they would argue, especially the elderly, since you’re female you will just get married and will stay at home so we don’t need to send you to school. But there are also some provinces in the Philippines where they would prioritise the girls. They would argue since you are a boy, you have an able body so you should support us in our livelihood such as farming or labour services. Because since they think the boys are stronger physically they would discourage the boys from schooling and prioritise the girls.  

WVC: Having been a part of World Villages for Children, what aspects of the organisation’s teachings and philosophy have shaped your adult life and the work you do now?

Jerome: Firstly, in terms of moral development the SoM programme helped me to believe in faith to the divine being. And when you have this kind of faith no matter how difficult your life is or how many times you get hurt, you will get results if you keep on believing. That the poverty is not a hindrance to achieving your dreams. Faith is one of the major things that the SoM taught me.

My faith in God, the faith in the Virgin of the Poor, is still within me. Whenever I am in trouble I will always call for the Virgin of the Poor or Father Al to help me.

Secondly, I would say they helped develop my skills and character development. At school we were trained to speak in English only and that has equipped me to speak and understand English. At an early age we were trained in English as the international language and you need this in job interviews for communication with interracial working environment such as the one I’m working in now.

Another skill is interpersonal. When I was in the early years at the SoM I was a shy boy, I would seldom join in group activities but during my third and fourth year I started developing confidence and being able to talk to other people. I used to get intimidated easily, but one of the Sisters taught me that you have to trust yourself because everything will follow when you have trust in yourself. That’s the one thing I keep on holding on to especially now when I  am faced with difficult situations at work, when you don’t know what to do. This has helped me to where I am now, able to influence decision makers within the organisation.

I remember I won the essayist writer of the year during my third year. We were always required then to write a diary, this is a religious diary on how your day went, what are your thoughts. That helped me polish my writing skills and because of that I took journalism as a college degree. I always recall a quote from Father Al: “We were not created to be ducks waddling in the mud but an eagle soaring high above”. It’s a powerful message to push you to dream higher and use your skills and competencies.

WVC: How important do you think the contributions of the Sisters of Mary programmes have had on reducing child poverty in the Philippines?

Jerome: Very important, an understatement actually. The role of the SoM in the Philippines and other countries where it is operating is creating significant change for the poorest of the poor boys and girls in the country. Without the SoM Filipino children would not have the opportunity of free quality education. Many of the graduates of the SoM now, and I know some of them, are in leadership positions in government. There is a graduate who is an official of the Department of Justice. Another is a vice mayor in a municipality and there are others behind the scenes who are doing their share in creating impact. Without the SoM there would be many families in the Philippines who would still be poor. Being an SoM graduate has opened up a lot of opportunities and opened doors for me. Not only has it improved our situation but it has also helped our families and our communities. I would say I am really amazed at how the miracle works, being able to feed and send thousands of children to school with only a few sisters in one compound. It is really amazing.

WVC: You’ve had a successful career, I imagine that your family is in a better place because of it?

Jerome: Yes, we are four children. The first three are college graduates and are working. I supported my sister through college and she is now a professional teacher. The second sister is working for the government. Our youngest is still studying. Without SoM support I wouldn’t have been able to achieve these kinds of milestones professionally and personally.

10 December 2020