Learning about the HUMAN COST of climate change
Study Abroad: Philippines
By Patricia M. Bombard
March 28, 2016
Driving along Roxas Boulevard north along Manila Bay, you
get a feel of Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive, skirting the shores of Lake Michigan.
This is no coincidence, for the famed American architect, Daniel Burnham, planned both areas. Between inviting vistas of the
bay, most spectacular at sunset, Roxas Boulevard passes hotels, restaurants,
cultural and government buildings, a yacht club, and the SM Mall of Asia with
its 600 shops.
Got the picture?
Now, imagine this same scene under waist-deep water driven
ashore by monsoon surges, as it was in August of 2012 during an eight-day
period of heavy rains. Some 95 people died in the monsoon, which also destroyed
8,428 homes and damaged 6,706. In U.S. dollars, the damage estimate reportedly
reached $9.6 million. A year later, it happened again. Nearly 60 percent of the
city was under waist-deep, and in some places neck-deep, water, again from
record-breaking rains — more than a month’s worth in one day. Typhoon Haiyan
followed in November 2013 and killed more than 6,300 people. It was the
strongest typhoon ever to hit the country, and some reports said it was
stronger than U.S. hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined.
This is the human cost of climate change — the topic that
seven School of Public Service students, along with their instructors, Dr.
Patricia Bombard and Dr. Ron Fernandes, explored during a week-long study
abroad trip to the Philippines in December. The Climate Change Vulnerability
Index 2013 ranked Manila second among global cities facing “extreme risks” and
the highest vulnerability due to climate change. The Manila experience was an
extension of two SPS Autumn Quarter courses: MPS 511: Sustainable International
Development, and MPS 520: Values-Centered Leadership.
“Visiting Manila, Philippines, was an experience like no other,”
said SPS student Akshara Vivekananthan. “Prior to this trip, I had not realized
that one of the most important victims of climate change is in fact people.”
She added: “I got to witness two different worlds: one that
was comfortable and one that was trying to break free from poverty. The best
part? Seeing these two juxtapose side by side, provided a true learning
environment where what I learned in class was translated in person through the
work of several nonprofits trying to achieve a greater cause.”
Our host was Adamson University, a sister Vincentian
university in Manila. Pamela Mantuhac, Director of the Vincentian Center for
Asia Pacific and the Office of Vincentian Identity and Mission at Adamson,
served as our local coordinator.
The trip came shortly after the release of Pope Francis’
encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, and his visit to the U.S. It also
coincided with the meeting of national leaders for the U.N. summit on climate
change (COP21) in Paris. With these world events as backdrop, we heard from
local speakers about the issues facing Manila and the Philippines as a whole.
These included Elen Estares, who trained as a climate change facilitator for
the Philippines with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality
Project, and Ruel Cabile, a spokesman for Aksyon Klima, a network of civil
society organizations in the Philippines that has banded together to help deal
more effectively with the effects of climate change. We also heard more on the
Catholic perspective on climate change from Fr. Benny Tuazon, a spokesman for
the Archdiocese of Manila on ecological issues.
“They are all dealing with poverty issues being worsened by
the climate change issue that the Philippines is facing now,” Mantuhac said.
“And all these projects are geared toward sustainable community development
spearheaded by values-centered leaders.”
The presenters reported that the Philippines historically
gets hit by many severe tropical storms annually but that climate change
appears to be affecting the intensity, frequency and location of the storms,
all of which is wreaking havoc on the country’s agricultural and economic
sectors. In addition, large percentages of the 100 million Filipinos live in
poverty and have little or no means to adapt to the severe climate disruptions.
Speaking of its natural beauty and resources, one presenter said: “The
Philippines is a very rich country with very poor people.”
“Every speaker we met with was open and honest about the
problems that the people are faced with in the Philippines,” SPS student
Myroslava Andrushkiv said.
Field visits put us in direct contact with the human costs
of climate change and other environmental issues, and introduced us to project
leaders who are making a difference, especially in the lives of the poor. Fr.
Atilano “Nonong” Fajardo, a Vincentian
priest, is director of the Integrated Community Extension Services (ICES) and
the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility at Adamson University.
Under his leadership, Adamson administrators, faculty, staff,
and students engage in empowerment, poverty reduction, and sustainable
development projects at Southville, a relocation site on the outskirts of metro
Manila. During a day trip, our group met with Cabuyao Mayor Isidro L. Hemedes, Jr., who explained the history of
Southville, a government-enforced project to relocate informal settlers living
along national railway lines passing through Manila.
SPS students visited with residents to learn more about how
they have benefited from the Adamson projects.
“The experience of talking with the community residents at
Southville was one of the best examples of values-centered leadership that we
witnessed on the trip,” SPS student Anna Mayer said. “Even though these
residents don't hold titles or traditional leadership roles, they exemplified
many of the values we discussed in class and showed how strong a community can
be when power is shared and leadership is a collective endeavor.”
SPS student Julieth Hernandez added about the visit to
Southville: “I got to experience what empowerment means. In a period of eight
years women who started cooking for the children living in the community later
became teachers at the community school, and later owners of their own
business. They learned how to speak English, and how to manage their business
accountability and how to train other women in their community.”
We also toured government-operated solid waste management
and biofuel projects adjacent to the village of Payatas, where informal
settlers scavenge and sell recyclable products from a giant open dumpsite
around which they have built their homes using recycled wood, roofing materials
This scavenging lifestyle went on for decades unsupervised
until July of 2000 when heavy torrential rains caused a massive garbage slide
on the now steeply sided dumpsite that resulted in 300 deaths and left hundreds
homeless. After touring the site and hearing about controls put in place since
that tragedy, we spoke to villagers and Fr. Aldrin Suan, CM, who has acted as an
advocate for the people, on the progress of the new public/private
collaboration to keep the site open and yet safe as a source of income for the
“The Payatas' trip was really fascinating and informative,”
Andrushkiv said. “It showed how efficient and quickly people can work in a
short period of time because of good leadership.”
Another stop was a safe house for youth operated by Visayan
Forum Foundation, a non-profit organization in the Philippines addressing human
trafficking. Occupants of the safe house, rescued women and one boy, ranged
from 1 to 21 years of age. A social worker there told us the organization
helped about 100 victims of human trafficking who were captured by traffickers
from areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
“This trip was very emotional and heart-felt because we were
able to talk to the youth who were abused,” Andrushkiv said. “Every person
should be aware that this problem really exists and that we as humans should
make an effort to stop it.”
We also visited three green social enterprise projects
sponsored by the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance
(SIPAG) Foundation, operated under the direction of Filipino Senator Cynthia
Villar. These livelihood projects included a production plant where families
turn waste coconut fiber into landscaping materials, a plastic recycling plant
that produces children’s school desks from discarded plastic wrappers, and a
water lily arts and crafts center, which has the added benefit of clearing
rivers and streams choked by excessive growth of the wild lilies.
SPS student Joanna Nichols summarized her experience: “I
learned about resiliency and hope from the girls and staff at the Visayan Forum
Foundation. I learned about potential
and sustainable development from the Villar SIPAG Foundation. I learned about
dedication and patience and from the teachers in Southville, a volunteer
preschool program. I also learned about corruption, extreme poverty, and the
varied consequences of global climate change. It is an experience that is hard
to describe and one that I will never forget.”IN CASE YOU WANT IT:
PHILIPPINES: WINTER 2016
The School of Public Service again offers the Philippines study abroad trip, Dec. 4-9.
Application deadline is May 1.
For more information, visit DePaul’s study abroad page.
Patricia M. Bombard, BVM, holds a Doctor of Ministry degree
in Spirituality and Spiritual Leadership from the Chicago Theological Seminary
and a Master of Arts degree in Religious
Studies from Mundelein College. She serves as director of Vincent onLeadership: The Hay Project, which focuses on research, education and training
inspired by the leadership legacy of Saint Vincent de Paul. She also serves as
an adjunct faculty member in the School of Public Service.