For Want of a Nail: Helping Philippine Villagers Rebuild

Rachel Hermes is the CRS education program manager in northern Sudan. She filed this story from Darfur.

Darfur planting

Neliya’s house was destroyed when, on October 18, Typhoon Juan (Megi) struck Isabela province in the Philippines. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

In a town whose name, translated, means Bamboo, CRS field staffers are talking about bamboo: what it costs, where to buy it, how to cut it right to make the strongest walls. In this typhoon-hit area of the Philippines, the poorest people’s homes have been blown apart. Better-off people have already nailed back the roof sheets that Typhoon Juan blew away in October, or reassembled their walls. Resourceful villagers use clever workarounds to make up for construction materials they can’t salvage.

“Some people split a metal oil barrel, pound it flat, and use that as roofing,” says a CRS engineer.

But some poor people can’t find enough of their homes, and also can’t buy the roofing and wall materials they need to rebuild—or even the tools they need to get started.

In the village of Aggassian, Teresita Boce, 34, stands in the sun where once there was a house. She and her husband have three children; he is a day laborer, she works on a rice farm.

“We saved our children,” she says thankfully.

But it’s clear they saved little else. Where their shack used to stand is bare dirt. Villagers are sharing the labor of reconstruction.

“They’re helping each other to build,” says Rani, a village leader in a place called Lenzon.

In Aggassian, villagers crowd around one wind-blasted house, concerned. Of the three adult brothers who live there, two are disabled—one is visually impaired and one is mentally handicapped. They’d like to help, but among these tenant farmers and migrant workers, there’s not enough money for materials. That’s where CRS comes in.

Working with diocesan partners and village priests, CRS is identifying which construction supplies are most needed. Field staff weigh the benefits of different types of lumber, talk about what to use for the four posts of a home, and mull ways to treat wood to protect it against termites. In this region, indigenous people tend to use “cogon”—thatch—whereas others use metal sheeting for roofs. Thatch is cheaper and less hot to live under, but metal sheeting lasts longer and many prefer it. CRS does market surveys to see what’s available locally and what may need to come from farther away.

In the coming weeks, CRS will provide vouchers to over 800 families to buy construction supplies in local hardware stores to rebuild their houses. Local parish volunteers are mobilizing carpenters and other community volunteers to help provide the labor to families in need.

“Housing is the biggest worry for families trying to get back on their feet,” says Joe Curry, country representative for CRS Philippines. “The voucher approach gives them the flexibility to purchase the materials that they need the most.”

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