Volunteering to build disaster-resilient homes

The Prudence Foundation took 100 volunteers from 13 different countries to take part in a volunteering programme to build 126 disaster-resilient homes on Bantayan Island in the Philippines. Working in partnership with the NGO Habitat for Humanity, the volunteers worked for a week on one of the first rebuilding projects to get under way following the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. This was the first volunteer programme for Habitat for Humanity in the aftermath of Haiyan, the most devastating typhoon ever to hit the Philippines.

The project will provide new homes at a resettlement site for displaced families in this community by the sea. “It is just the beginning and, hopefully, will build better community support and spirit for the people of Bantayan Island,” says Marc Fancy, Executive Director of The Prudence Foundation. “It’s also an opportunity for our employees to feel like they can contribute and help one of our countries of operations. We are in the life insurance and asset management business, and that is about protection, that is about security and risk management. And so what we do for business is about society and looking after society.”

This was the biggest overseas volunteer programme undertaken by the Prudence Foundation so far, enlisting volunteers from Hong Kong as well as Singapore, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

As part of a “package” of assistance for the town of Santa Fe on Bantayan Island, the Prudence Foundation also gave 183 fishing boats and 140 taxi cycle rickshaws to families who had lost their livelihood due to the storm.

“We also wanted to make sure that we weren’t just providing shelter but that we were also giving people livelihood, an opportunity to have sustainable income and livelihood in the future,” Marc Fancy says.

The aid is part of the $2 million in assistance that the Prudence Foundation has so far provided for Haiyan survivors across the disaster zone, including emergency relief, education and aid to disaster risk reduction programs.

“Each of these programmes are not one-offs. We are trying to look for how we can contribute as a foundation, as an organisation, so that we will be able to help in the rehabilitation in the Philippines,” Marc Fancy says.

A succession of volunteers will continue working on the ground to provide new houses for coastal families in Santa Fe who are not allowed to rebuild on their old lots. “With a floor area of 30 square metres, the homes will be built to withstand winds of 270 to 300 kilometres per hour, and an intensity eight earthquake,” says Nonoy Floresca, Habitat’s Resource Development and Strategic Partnership Manager.

“The Prudence Foundation have committed to providing housing and they are also giving us pump boats and taxi cycle rickshaws,” says Santa Fe Mayor Jose Esgana. “So it is not just houses but also livelihood. They are the first organisation to do that here.” Santa Fe, the port of entry into Bantayan Island, lost 95 per cent of its houses when Typhoon Haiyan ploughed through the central Philippines last year, displacing 4,000 of the 6,700 families in the town, according to the Mayor.

“When you have a heart as a company and your people are engaging in communities and helping other people, I think it makes you a better company,” says Donald Kanak, Chairman of Prudential Corporation Asia and a trustee of the Prudence Foundation, who was one of the volunteers. “I think it just makes us a more humane and sensitive company to our customers, our policyholders. So we become a much more market-responsive company, seeing the true hearts of people who are in need. Sitting in an office, you don’t get that feeling.”

For others who signed up, it was an opportunity to help on the ground, a step further than just sending donations. “It’s different when you yourself are there instead of just your money or the goods you have sent,” says Jessie Rigor, a Filipino volunteer who heads a branch of Pru Life UK in Makati City. “This is a privilege for me rather than a sacrifice.”

Chanvit Rompothong of Eastspring Investments Singapore, the firm’s asset management arm, shares that view: “Traditionally, when you hear about these types of disaster, you just give money. There’s really no opportunity to directly go and help. This is exactly a chance to do that, to really rebuild and take part in the charity work.”

US $2m donated to disaster relief in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan