A leader’s administration and leadership is put to a test in every calamity. Charlie Operario, a 35-year-old was not spared with this. He is the Chairman of Barangay Tawagan, an agricultural producing community situated upstream in the town of Arteche, Eastern Samar, Philippines. Their main source of income are coconut trees, rice, vegetables, and root crops.
Chairman Operario’s courage, empathy, humility, and strength were challenged when COVID-19 measures were implemented and Typhoon Ambo hit his village which spiraled down his community’s once abundant resources.
COVID-19 policies have greatly affected the livelihood of his community. Since the nationwide lockdown, their access to the markets have been limited and their coconut produce ‘copra’ were declined by buyers because they cannot be exported out of their town. Their vegetables can only be sold to nearby upstream villages, and would be given away before they rot.
For a while, they have relied on their small income from selling their vegetables while waiting for the harvest season of rice. People would often come to Chairman Operario for help as the travel restrictions continue to hold back their livelihoods. However, because his hands were tied with the measures that the Government had imposed, he made an effort to market his community’s produce. He proactively made a partnership with the Local Government of Arteche to buy the products of his constituents, which provided many families with nutrition that was needed during the pandemic.
The test didn’t stop there. When typhoon Ambo hit them, it hit them hard. The water subsided three days after the typhoon. Charlie saw the immense damage the typhoon left them. All the houses in his community were damaged. Their properties and their crops were washed out, a whole year's supply of grains were flooded, and their main source of livelihood was damaged.
People cried out to him for help, even just for nails to be able to build a makeshift house. Most of his constituents don't have much and will just use coconut and banana leaves for their roof while waiting for aid. This broke his heart. He humbled himself and begged for financial help from his friends and relatives to be able to provide nails for his suffering community. He gathered them, and in tears he described their situation, and asked everyone’s help for anything they can give, from donating fallen trees for timber to carpentry work. With this effort, he attracted individuals from nearby villages who lend their time and skills. The Barangay funded chainsaws, fuel, and other materials.
With courage, he led his community to unite in helping each household rebuild their homes and to build back back dignity and security. Despite the support of other communities, Chairman Operario knew that sooner or later that problem would continue. Anxious of what would happen to them after two major blows that challenged their lives and livelihood, Chairman Operario found hope in Terre des Hommes.
Weeks after the typhoon, Terre des Hommes’ Samar Field Office visited their far flung community and offered help to ease the people’s agony. Through Child Protection and Gender-Based Violence orientations, they were provided with cash for work, and will now start with shelter kit and household items distribution in partnership with ShelterBox, an organization providing emergency shelter kits to assist them in their rebuilding, and to make sure that safeguarding children protocols are in place to prevent any forms of abuse in times of disaster and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am very thankful for TdH for helping us get through these trying times. Not just with financial and shelter aid, but more so with information that my community and the Barangay officials needed to hear. My constituents are vulnerable more than ever and they need protection and guidance from any risk of abuse that may emerge after the two calamities in our village. We have also learned that we must strongly consider issues of exploitations that may happen to our women and children with or without tragedy in our community,” said Chairman Charlie Operario.
“Although, days ahead may be unsure, but with my people’s cooperation and support, I will continue to strive to make their lives safer, easier, and better. I will achieve this by building partnerships with different government agencies and non-government organizations to help us in any way, with rebuilding and livelihood programs for my beloved Tawaganon, even if it means begging,” Chairman Operario added with a hopeful heart.