Disaster Relief & Rehabilitation: The Role of Affected BECs

For the last three years, three typhoons have devastated parts of Mindanao and the Visayas. Typhoon Yolanda was the latest and most destructive. Thousands have lost their lives and many more lost their houses and means of livelihood. Among those affected were Basic Ecclesial Communities  (BECs). Relief operations continue and the work of rehabilitation is just starting. The response coming various parts of the country and from all over the world has been overwhelming. There were dioceses, parishes and BECs in Luzon and in Mindanao that also sent aid. The spirit of generosity and bayanihan is  very evident.

The question is what is the role of the victims and survivors?  What is the role of the affected communities – especially BECs?

The members of affected communities are not just helpless victims or passive recipients of aid. They can actively participate in the immediate relief efforts and long-term rehabilitation. This is not easy or even possible where BECs are weak or non-existent.  Where there are BECs that are highly developed and remain intact during disasters, they are able to help in the initial damage assessment and in the orderly distribution of aid. This was the case in Cagayan de Oro after Typhoon Sendong and in Davao Oriental after Typhoon Pablo.

This was also the case in some BECs in Samar in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Some BEC in San Antonio, Basey worked hand in hand with the barangay officials and relief teams in damage assessment, data gathering and relief operations.

Besides assisting in relief efforts, these BECs also respond to the psychological-spiritual needs of their members. What the survivors need are not just food, shelter and clothing. Besides psychological first-aid or stress debriefing, they also need spiritual solace and inner healing at a time of shock and grief when their faith is shaken.

Masses are celebrated and bible-reflections are held in the affected areas and in evacuation centers are very helpful. These are opportunities for them to share their stories and strengthen each other’s
faith.

The BECs have an important role in the recovery and rehabilitation of the affected areas. The reconstruction of houses and chapels are opportunities to build-up and strengthen communities.  BECs can grow in these new communities. A good example of this is the new housing project in Iligan that emerged after Tyhoon Sendong and in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley after Typhoon Pablo.

In the rehabilitation phase, the BECs can actively participate in the consultation, planning and implementation of housing and livelihood projects. They can also monitor how aid from government, private entities and foreign nations are being spent. This can be a deterrent to corruption.

The role of BECs is best summed up in report of the Daughters of Charity Assessment team in San
Antonio, Samar:

“A strong sense of mutual support and concern pervades.  The structures of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in terms of zones and clusters have gone a long way in making more tolerable an already intolerable situation. This confirms that in moments of extreme need and disaster, the bond of relationship and the structures of governance in the BECs provide a solid ground not only for faith but also for mutual support, relief and rehabilitation.”

With the climate change, it is realistic to expect more disasters like typhoons Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda in the future. There is a need to come up with protocols on how to prepare communities
- including BECs – to effectively respond to these disasters. This will also require that BECs be developed and strengthened.

The initiative and support of the bishop, parish priests, diocesan social action center, BEC practitioners and leaders is vital in mobilizing BECs to actively participate in disaster relief
and rehabilitation.