NOTEBOOK: Disaster crisis reveals a strength and a weakness in our community

Community Opinion & Analysis Mar 16, 2006 at 11:42 am

IT’S DISASTER crisis time and we witness a beehive of activity in the Filipino community in Greater Toronto.

At the outset, a group of leaders seized the initiative and announced a fundraising campaign where a local politician spearheaded a media blitz. It was good to act quickly and decisively in times of crisis. And we appreciate the sense of urgency displayed by this group and the politician involved.

What’s noticeable, however, is the apparent hesitation or cynicism on the part of a large number of community groups to jump in. There are more than 250 Filipino organizations in the GTA and Ontario and we didn’t see them beating a path to support this high profile initiative.

What we noticed too is a press statement of the politician attacking the newly installed Prime Minister for not having said anything on the latter’s website on the first day of the disaster. It was a cheap shot, indeed, coming from a politician of an opposing party.

Then we noticed a community leader launched a campaign to pool all the funds raised by other groups into his own project, using as an argument that the bigger the pooled funds, the bigger will be the possible potential counterpart funds from the federal government. But shouldn’t the project be subjected to discussion first before launching a campaign for the community’s support?

For a project for disaster victims to respond to the real needs of the intended beneficiaries, they should be consulted first. It is not wise to decide even among donors what the recipients need without asking the latter. Look at the 11,000 mobile homes sitting unoccupied in a cow pasture in Arkansas for the Katrina hurricane victims of New Orleans. What a waste of money and human effort. But of course, the proponents of this project got a helluva good time in the media limelight.

Back to our community. In the background are more than a dozen Filipino community organizations which started fundraising quietly and successfully. They channeled or will send their funds to different recipients like the Red Cross, local dioceses and churches in Leyte. A notable example is the effort of a Filipino group in Vaughan that resulted in a $200,000 pledge by the province of Ontario, through the initiative of MPP Mario Racco of Thornhill.

Lilac Caña’s Earth Day concert on April 22 (See page 24.) will also raise funds for the Leyte disaster victims.

Filipinos in Hamilton, Ontario, had raised about $5,000 and they are still deciding where best to channel their funds.

Other groups fundraising are Markham Federation of Filipino Canadians, Radyo Pinoy with Forex, Brampton Federation of Filipino Canadians, First Filipino Association of Vaughan, and Philippine Heritage Band. A group of Filipino architects had also raised funds. Leyteño Association of Ontario has raised $9,000 from a single dinner.

Another effort is that of Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), the Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC) and Kababayan Community Centre. (See story about a concert page 6.) Intended beneficiaries are the 470 most affected families in Guinsaugon and three other villages who were moved to evacuation centers to avoid possible mudslides. The Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC) in the Philippines has come up with a detailed project proposal for a livelihood assistance and disaster prevention program. This after the local people in the affected areas were consulted for almost two weeks. The main purpose of the project is to ensure food security, meaning there is food on the table for the 470 families for at least one year. And this will be done by actively involving the communities in farming and training them with environmentally friendly methods. And they will also be trained to detect and avoid forthcoming disasters in their areas.

But that is going into much detail. What is more important is the proliferation of initiatives in the community. This only shows we don’t lack in concern for the misfortune of others, especially people from our home country.

What we lack is a sense of community in linking our efforts even in times of crisis. We need to harness these initiatives and build a strong and effective leadership. This requires a lot of humility among our leaders and a sincere effort to consult groups which may have good ideas to share. True and trusted leadership is born out of respect for those being led.