First Person

The Mighty Rescuers: Young people in the Philippines learn to take charge in emergencies

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Trained student responders splint an arm during a disaster simulation in Camarines Norte. Photo by Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam America

Each year, Filipinos face earthquakes, floods, typhoons, and other deadly hazards. Oxfam partners are helping young people make life a little safer.

It’s a Monday afternoon at a high school in Mercedes, a town in Camarines Norte, the Philippines, and disasters are on everyone’s minds.

I’m afraid I’m the one who put them there.

An Oxfam partner has been helping local leaders prepare schools and communities for disasters, so when I turn up, the students and staff interrupt their work to show me how it’s going. 

What I see I’ll probably never forget.

At first, every classroom I visit is absorbed in the topic of disaster preparedness. Students in one room are learning how to track a typhoon; in another, teams with names like “Storm Army” and “The Mighty Rescuers” are competing for honors like “best-equipped emergency backpack.”

As part of their hands-on emergency training, students learned how to form a bucket line and quickly douse a fire. Photo by Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam America

Suddenly, an alarm sounds. The students drop to a crouch and cover their heads; at a signal from their teacher, they file out to a courtyard – quickly, but quietly and in perfect order. Moments later, two teams of students bearing stretchers appear in their midst.  At a signal, they fetch two students from a school building who lie very still, feigning unconsciousness. The responders transfer the limp bodies expertly onto stretchers, and trot them to safety in the courtyard. What follows is a fast-paced first aid drill, with one student leader on each team shouting orders and others following quickly—immobilizing a head, binding a wound, and splinting a broken bone.  No slipups, and not a moment wasted. Put another way, if you had an accident, these are the people you’d want by your side.

Keeping it local

“We take reducing risk very seriously,” said Antonio España. España works in the Disaster Risk Reduction office of Camarines Norte and is a member of the Consortium for Humanitarian Action and Protection (CHAP)—both of which support preparedness work in the schools. His goal: ensure that every student and every household in the province is ready to face the next emergency—and lives to tell the tale. 

Oxfam is boosting the local efforts. For the last three years, we’ve worked together with Tearfund and Christian Aid on a project in the Philippines known as Financial Enablers, or FEP, which has been supporting groups like CHAP to help people prepare for and survive the hazards that plague the island nation.

The FEP has another important job, which is to make sure our local partners stay in the driver’s seat at every step. Making sure they choose what skills to build and how to build them, for example. It’s all part of our goal to shift humanitarian knowledge, resources, and leadership to the people who need them most—those who live in the most dangerous places on Earth.

Watching Filipino young people execute a flawless simulation, I can’t help but think we are on the right track.

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