Katrina-Level Disaster Hits the Philippines Students Lead a Web 2.0 Drive to Help Relief Operations

MANILA, Philippines – The flood waters may have subsided, but thick mud up to two feet high still remains in different parts of the city. Cars that have been turned upside down and tossed on top of each other litter the streets. On a community basketball court that doubled as an evacuation center 3,000 people share one toilet. Several of the displaced have no place to sleep, their homes and belongings swept away by flood waters as high as twenty feet. If you flew over Manila during the weekend, you would see an area 10 times the size of Manhattan submerged under water.

These are scenes that resulted from Typhoon Ketsana’s heavy rains last September 24. The tragedy claimed 246 lives and displaced over 500,000 people. Manila and surrounding areas were lashed with heavy rains-enough to account for one month’s volume of rain during the monsoon season. The result: the worst flooding recorded in the country since 1967. The capital and 23 other provinces have been declared under a State of Calamity. More than 1.2 million people have no electricity. Victims are in dire need of basic relief items like food, water and clothing. The death toll is expected to climb, and so are the missing and injured.

A Global Nation
There are more than 10 million Filipinos living overseas. As early as Sunday, several organized groups spanning the Middle East to the West Coast have been pitching in to help raise donations. Filipinos overseas feel a strong sense of home. And although circumstances prevent them from joining the volunteer effort on the ground, the Internet has made it easier to seamlessly organize and coordinate a mass effort to contribute to the relief operations. Among these efforts is the Student Calamity Fund, a student-led donation drive for the victims of Typhoon Ketsana. The Fund is a joint effort of students and alumni from schools such as Columbia, Harvard, INSEAD, MIT, Stanford, UPenn/Wharton, Audencia Nantes SOM, London Business School, University of New South Wales, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, SMU, IESE, AGSM, Berkeley, Yale, Babson, NYU, ESADE, Tuck and others.

“Ketsana was different, both in terms of the sheer scale of its impact and its closeness to home. Over the years, Filipinos have been used to typhoons affecting different parts of the countryside. But now, most of us know at least one person who was affected by the floods. There’s just no excuse not to help,” says Jen Kelly (OJ), who established the Fund last Sunday on Facebook. “Last weekend, we had 17 members on our Facebook page. Two days later, we had more than a thousand,” adds Jen. “The power of social networks to rally people around the world to a common cause was an amazing thing to witness.”

“In a way, it’s brought Manila together again. No one was unaffected-rich, poor, businessman, politician, retiree or student. Just look at the Facebook statuses of friends in Manila. Everyone’s lending a hand,” says Gena Chua (NE), who helped raised more than $1,200 in donations from several RC sections in one day.

A Global Effort
On the other side of the world, Chinie Canivel, a Filipino student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore led a collection drive that resulted in a generous donation from Singapore’s National Trades Union Congress of 10,000 paracetamol tablets. “The school’s diverse student body will come together to hold an Inter-Faith Prayer service to remember the victims of the flood,” added Chinie.

Trisha Tan, a student from the London Business School, spoke about student efforts in the UK, “The momentum here is definitely increasing, with the Asia Club willing to help out in soliciting donations, and many classmates, who have never been, or don’t know too many Filipinos personally, going out of their way to help.”

Gian Carlo Valerio from Columbia Business School also led a fundraising effort. “We launched the Student Calamity Drive at Columbia Business School, sending e-mail blasts to every member of the community from students, staff members, professors and administrators. We also set-up a small collection booth at the school’s main lobby and after plastering a sign that said ‘$1 makes a huge difference to typhoon victims in the Philippines’, I was pleasantly surprised to receive multiple $20 bills from random students passing by. Outside the Business School, different groups have already started planning a number of creative ways to raise awareness of the overseas Filipino community’s typhoon relief efforts. Liga Filipina, Columbia’s Filipino campus group, has already started planning a Filipino food fare dubbed ‘Taste of the Philippines’. A number of Filipino campus chefs have also started planning a mini-fiesta scheduled for this weekend in New Jersey. It’s interesting how people from all walks of life have just spontaneously thought of different ways to raise funding for Filipinos back home.”

Gian’s still amazed at the turnout and the level of support. “I’m still trying to get my head around how what I initially expected would be just a small fundraising drive between Columbia, Harvard and Wharton students became a massive coalition of students and volunteers from all over the world-more than 1,000 members representing more than 20 international schools and all that in just a matter of 48 hours!”

The biggest challenge facing the Fund is how to sustain the momentum it generated last week. As with all disasters, less coverage in the mainstream news means that attention to the tragedy will die down in a few days, despite the continued impact on human life and the enormous rebuilding efforts required. The team will continue to sustain awareness-building campaigns in the next several weeks. There have been more long-term ideas thrown around, such as institutionalizing a permanent disaster-relief fund at the Harvard Business School that can be used to support natural disaster-related emergency aid in different countries.

How You Can Help
First, you can join the Student Calamity Fund at its Facebook group (//www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=174267596222). Or just search for the “Student Calamity Fund” on your home page. Second, you can still help sustain relief operations by a small donation that can be coursed through Ayala Foundation USA (//af-usa.org/donate_now_form .asp). Select either: 1) “AF-USA Typhoon Relief Fund” or 2) “Philippine National Red Cross” on the AF-USA page. Established in 2000, Ayala Foundation USA is a public charity registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service as a 501c 3 tax-exempt organization. As the bridge between US-based Filipino individuals and communities, and Philippine-based social development institutions, AF-USA becomes a mechanism by which donations and other forms of support can reach intended beneficiaries in the Philippines.

Oliver Segovia is a second-year MBA at the Harvard Business School, where he is a Board Director at the Harbus News Corporation.