JDC Receives the Presidential Award in the Philippines

There’s a particular kind of surrealism when you look back at moments in life and almost can’t quite believe the particular event was real. Sometimes though, this occurrence happens during the moment itself.

On Friday afternoon, 5th December, I was privileged to shake the hand of the President of the Philippines as he conferred a Presidential Award to JDC, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The award was given to JDC for the work I have been a part of this year, assisting those who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan, and for services provided to Filipino migrants working in Israel and America. During the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, over 6000 people died and 11 million lost their homes and livelihoods as the storm tore through the Philippines with wind speeds of 235km/hour and gusts of 275km/hour.

Soon after the typhoon struck, JDC’s disaster response team was mobilized and has been present in the Philippines ever since, assisting the relief and recovery efforts of our wonderful local partner organizations in the areas of education, agriculture, fishing, psycho social support, and disaster risk reduction, whilst focusing particularly on vulnerable populations such as the elderly, disabled and marginalized communities. More than 15,000 people have already been directly supported by JDC in the Philippines in the past year.

Secretary Imelda Nicholas, from the Commission of Filipino’s Overseas, had selected us for the Presidential award and highlighted JDC as the only non-Filipino organization to be commended.

As I walked on stage with my colleague Ilan Cohn, and heard the announcement that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was being honored by President Aquino III, I felt an overwhelming pride in our community for raising and investing millions of dollars to assist those in need, regardless of race or religion, epitomizing the Talmudic phrase ‘whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.

During the ceremony however, there was an underlying tension in the room.  A new threat was about to hit the Philippines - another potentially devastating typhoon, the 18th to enter the country this year. Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as Ruby, would pass through the Philippines, with wind speeds of 175km/hour and storm surges of 5 meters in some areas.

In just over a year since Haiyan, there are still communities struggling to regain their livelihoods, build back their houses and work through the trauma of such a catastrophic natural disaster. Yet, during Ruby, the resilience of the Philippines and the dedication of our local partner NGOs was remarkable.  With JDC’s support, early warning systems were activated, fisherfolk were able to secure their boats out of the storm’s reach, and evacuation centers were prepared with supplies of food and water.

Once again, the Philippines will start to rebuild. Farmers will plant a new crop of rice, fisherfolk will go back out to sea, damaged houses and schools will be repaired and churches all over the country will be filled with prayers that the next typhoon will be less destructive.

And JDC will be there, supporting and assisting where we can. After all, as Rabbi Tarfon said ‘It is not upon you to complete the task, but nor are you free to desist from it.’ Pirkei Avot, chapter 2, mishna 21.

Hannah Gaventa is the Philippines Coordinator for JDC, as well as the JDC-Pears Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow 2014/15. She is spending 1 year working in the Philippines, bringing with her 3 years of international development experience after working in the UK, Ghana and India.

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December 12, 2014 at 10:05 AM




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