Of Food and Hope: Not Your Typical Disaster Response

By Benjamin A. Gonzales
Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Home Economics

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) formally announced the start of the rainy season in the Philippines last June 10. With this announcement comes, inevitably, the complete package: winds, floods, class suspensions, disaster response and relief operations. As of this writing, our typhoon alphabet is currently at letter “F,” and we’re expecting tropical cyclone Florita to pay a visit anytime soon.

UP as a public service university, I believe, has never failed to respond to the needs of those affected by our annual list of natural calamities. Donation drives can be seen left and right, with students, faculty and staff all getting their hands dirty in whatever way possible, for the sake of the affected communities in need of help. Yet beyond the spirit of volunteerism—generous hearts and able hands—I believe that the fullest potential of UP as an academic institution can be brought out only if all our knowledge and skills are utilized to address problems and challenges in ways only we (in our fields of specialization) can do.

Here are accounts of how some disciplines from the College of Home Economics were able to respond in such a manner during the aftermath of one of the most devastating storms to hit the country, Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) last year:

Technology for a Social Cause

Researches were never meant to accumulate cobwebs in a distant corner of the library. Nearly a week after typhoon Yolanda’s landfall, it was evident that both utilities and food were in short supply in typhoon affected areas. Even if common relief foods such as “instant” noodles and bigas (uncooked rice) were being distributed, the lack of potable water and a means of cooking hampered their utilization. Doctor Maria Patricia V. Azanza of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, knowing that she has a solution to this problem at hand, thus sprung into action.She was able to develop, in her previous researches, ready-to-eat (RTE) rice and bihon (rice-cornstarch noodles) that required neither water nor heating prior to consumption, and could last for a month, even without refrigeration.

With funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development’s (OVCRD) Source of Solutions (SOS) grant, and the aid of 313 volunteers from the ranks of faculty, staff, alumni and (mostly BS Food Technology) students from within and outside UPD, around 5,000 200-gram packs of RTE rice and 3,000 150-gram packs of RTE bihon were produced in the UP Pilot Food Plant, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 4, 2013. These were distributed through volunteers to different locations where typhoon victims were housed: from dorms within UPD, to shelters in Metro Manila, and even up to the provinces of Leyte and Aklan.

1Busy as bees: Volunteers packing ready-to-eat (RTE) bihon at the UP Pilot Food Plant

2From point A to point B: Unloading of RTE rice at Lambunao, Iloilo

Kalinga kay Isko at Iska

Learning and public service often go hand-in-hand in UP. With the arrival of students from Tacloban in Nov. 2013 came the challenge of providing for their basic needs – including food. With ingredients being subsidized by generous donors, BS Community Nutrition Students from the Foodservice Management classes, along with some faculty and alumni volunteers, were able to cook around 480 safe and nutritionally adequate meals in three separate occasions during the span of the semester. The meals were either served/picked up in the College of Home Economics, or distributed to the dormitories, with the help of the office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (OVCSA), UP Church of the Risen Lord (CRL) and the University Food Service.

3Service-learning: Community Nutrition Students preparing meals for students from Tacloban as part of their Foodservice Management class.4

Dine in: Students from Tacloban partaking of their meals in the College of Home Economics Food Laboratory, which has been converted into a dining area.

The Feeding of the (more than) Three Hundred

No, these faculty members and BS Hotel, Restautrant and Institution Management (HRIM) students from the Catering and Cost Control classes did not multiply five loaves and two fish, and neither did they cater to king Leonidas and his men, but they did heed the call from the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen in Villamor Air Base on Nov. 20, 2013. With financial support from faculty and alumni, they were able to prepare around 400 sumptuous hot meals such as adobo, soup, and arroz ala cubana, among others, and served them to refugees staying at the base.

5Tired but happy: Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management (HRIM) students after manning the soup kitchen at Villamor Air base.

Psychosocial Activities for Children in Tacloban

Beyond food, clothing, and shelter, tragedy survivors, especially children, also need psychosocial support in expressing, processing, and managing their feelings and emotions. From Dec. 19 to 23, 2013, some faculty members of the Department of Family Life and Child Development (DFLCD), in partnership with the Agape Rural Program (ARP) and other volunteers, went to barangays in San Jose, Tacloban, to address the said needs. Over 150 children, ranging from 5 to 17 years old were able to participate in the programs. Age-appropriate activities that were done included drawing of experiences, color-feelings association, paper plate of emotions, clay molding, role playing, writing/drawing or prayers, bracelet making, and group art. The 4-day event was able to help the kids foster a sense of community and adopt a hopeful outlook. A follow-up training for teachers and organization members that were left in Tacloban was also conducted one month after, to ensure the continuity of services in the communities.

6Platemoticons: Volunteers from DFLCD used paper plates with drawings of different emotions as a tool to allow children to indicate how they feel in given situations.

7Draw me a picture:Children were asked to draw their experiences to be used as a springboard for sharing.

8What’s with the face? Older Children were asked to draw “bioglyphs” – the use of art to get information about the child without formally doing interviews. Meanings of symbols were given by the facilitator to the children, who in turn used different symbols based on what they perceived was appropriate in expressing their feelings.

With the advent of climate change, population growth, and predictions of the devastations to come, how can UP use its assets to effectively address the hierarchy of needs during disasters? This question is perhaps best answered by each one of us. Regardless, what’s important is for us to be ready: heads, hearts and hands.

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