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Connectivity Resilience Programme transforms Catanduanes


Help.NGO has been actively involved in the Philippines since November 2013, following the devastating impact of Super Typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as "Haiyan"). This typhoon significantly affected the country's Eastern seaboard and central islands, including the island province of Catanduanes. Originally operating as Global DIRT (Disaster Immediate Response Team), Help.NGO quickly deployed a mix of international and local experts, along with specialized K9 units, to assist in search and rescue operations, assess damage, provide medical support, and more. This initiative marked the start of Help.NGO's meaningful contributions in the Philippines, offering support not just to United Nations agencies and international NGOs but also to local communities and rescue services.

In 2020, the island of Catanduanes was hit by Super Typhoon Rolly (internationally known as “Goni”), the strongest typhoon to make landfall, which severely affected the region. The aftermath of this super typhoon resulted in the island being cut off for two days due to power outages, communication failures, and disrupted transportation links. This situation highlighted an immediate need for support, especially in restoring communication and providing emergency internet access. In response, Help.NGO, with logistical and financial assistance from the National Resiliency Council, SM Foundation, and Ateneo de Manila University, and in collaboration with local authorities, response teams, and the community, implemented connectivity solutions. This effort was supported by the Internet Society Foundation, showcasing a coordinated response to a critical need.

Technology Advocacy and Resilience Programme

Facing the increasing threats of climate change and natural disasters, it's crucial to enhance resilience and promote self-reliance among vulnerable communities such as Catanduanes. In January 2024, with backing from Amazon Web Services (AWS), Help.NGO initiated a pivotal project in collaboration with Catanduanes State University and the Provincial Government, under the auspices of the governor's office. This project launched an 8-day Technology Advocacy and Resilience Programme aimed at empowering both the local communities and emergency response agencies. By equipping them with the necessary knowledge and tools, this program seeks to strengthen their capacity for resilience and self-sufficiency, preparing them to better manage the impacts of future disasters and climate-related challenges.

At the heart of this initiative was the establishment of advanced communication networks in key areas. Help.NGO took a significant step by installing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communication terminals at strategic points, ensuring high-speed internet access for remote and geographically isolated infrastructures and communities. This infrastructure is pivotal not just for daily operations but becomes critically important in emergency situations. The introduction of these terminals has transformed the way operations are coordinated, enabling swift sharing of vital information. It empowers communities, enhancing their capabilities to achieve sustainable growth and development by unlocking new opportunities and improving resilience.

Panganiban Nisos Variety Store (Sari-Sari / Neighborhood Store)

One notable beneficiary of this initiative is the Panganiban Nisos Variety Store, a sari-sari (neighborhood convenience) store situated in a remote part of the island. Sari-sari stores, operated by local community members, serve as vital community hubs in the Philippines. With over 1.3 million such stores across the country, they collectively facilitated approximately 53.3 million transactions in 2023, generating about $910 million in annual sales. These stores are particularly crucial in rural areas, where communities rely heavily on them for daily necessities, making them an essential component of local economies and social structures.

Help.NGO has joined forces with Packworks, a technology-based social enterprise in the Philippines that supports 200,000 sari-sari (neighborhood convenience) stores. Packworks offers innovative software solutions and provides expertise through field specialists to assist sari-sari store owners and operators. This support helps to streamline inventory management, accelerate online transactions, and enhance sales strategies. Such collaboration not only boosts the stores' profitability but also contributes significantly to improving the livelihoods of community members, demonstrating the impact of technology in fostering economic growth and sustainability at the grassroots level.

Help.NGO and Packworks selected the Nisos Variety Store as a primary beneficiary to receive reliable internet connectivity through LEO (Low Earth Orbit) connectivity terminals.

In February 2024, this strategic enhancement had a significant positive impact: the store witnessed a PHP 50,000 (approximately $900) increase in sales—a substantial figure considering the daily minimum wage in the area is $7.03. Additionally, the store saw a 53.3% increase in transactions compared to January 2024, totaling 700 additional transactions. Furthermore, the store expanded its distribution network, serving 13 more smaller stores than before, increasing the number from 32 to 45. The data team at Packworks leverages AWS to analyze data from sari-sari stores, deriving actionable insights to further support and optimize their operations, showcasing a successful integration of technology and community-driven business.

Cabuyoan Fisherfolk Association

Catanduanes has earned recognition as a significant exporter of mangrove crabs, reaching a peak production of almost 120 metric tons in 2013. However, the region has witnessed a considerable decline in mangrove crab production since then. This downturn can be attributed to a range of factors, among which logistical costs stand out, particularly the issue of middlemen capturing a large share of the profit margins. This scenario underscores the challenges faced by local producers in sustaining their livelihoods and maintaining the viability of this crucial industry amidst the complexities of distribution and market access.

Help.NGO partnered with Catanduanes State University’s initiative, the Academe for Community Empowerment through Holistic and Ecosystem-based Approach for Mangrove Crab Sustainability (ACE-HEMS), led by Dr. Jimmy T. Masangca. This collaboration aims to empower local fishing communities by encouraging the adoption of best practices in all aspects of mangrove crab production, from cultivation to sales. By integrating holistic and ecosystem-based approaches, the initiative focuses on improving sustainability and enhancing the livelihoods of local fisherfolk, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to optimize their operations and contribute to the regeneration of mangrove ecosystems crucial for crab production.

The Cabuyoan Fisherfolk Association, an active community organization representing over 50 fisherfolk families in a remote area devoid of even basic cellular signals, was selected for collaboration. With the introduction of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) connectivity, these fisherfolk gained the ability to quickly communicate with researchers at Catanduanes State University regarding various concerns, such as disease management and best practices for sustainable fishing and crab cultivation. Furthermore, this technological enhancement opened up direct sales channels for them, allowing the fisherfolk to bypass middlemen and connect directly with customers. This strategic move not only aims to improve the economic well-being of the fisherfolk by ensuring fairer prices for their produce but also enhances the overall sustainability and productivity of the mangrove crab industry in the region.

This initiative significantly broadens access to crucial information and plays a pivotal role in bolstering the resilience and empowerment of communities in Catanduanes. By facilitating new market opportunities, it uplifts low-income communities, supports research endeavors, and nurtures sustainable livelihoods. The introduction of advanced connectivity solutions enables these communities to engage directly with wider markets, participate in valuable knowledge exchange with experts, and implement best practices in their industries. This comprehensive approach not only aids in immediate economic growth but also lays the foundation for long-term environmental stewardship and community well-being, showcasing a model for sustainable development in geographically isolated areas.

Catanduanes State University's Demonstration Crab and Fish Farm

Catanduanes State University boasts a long-standing and esteemed tradition of community extension services, particularly focusing on marine conservation and community-based mangrove conservation to sustain aquatic food systems. A cornerstone of these efforts is the university's demonstration crab and fish farm. This facility not only serves as a vital educational resource where the local community can learn about the latest innovations and best practices in aquaculture technology but also functions as an essential research tool. It facilitates the development of new tools, processes, and innovations in aquaculture, underlining the university's commitment to practical, sustainable management of marine resources. Through this initiative, Catanduanes State University actively contributes to the empowerment and capacity building of local communities, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for fostering sustainable livelihoods and conserving their natural marine ecosystems

Help.NGO's connectivity initiative effectively bridges livelihood enhancement with educational advancement towards sustainability. By integrating state-of-the-art communication technologies, this initiative fosters an environment where seamless knowledge exchange is possible, benefiting both university researchers and local communities. This dynamic interaction not only empowers these groups with real-time access to vital information and best practices but also encourages collaborative research and development efforts. It's a model that highlights the power of technology in advancing sustainable practices, fostering resilience, and building capacities for sustainable livelihoods, making it a cornerstone for community empowerment and environmental stewardship.

Abaca Weavers Community Center

Catanduanes stands out on the global stage as the leading producer of abaca, contributing to 26.60% of the world's supply. This remarkable output surpasses that of the second-largest exporting country, Ecuador, which accounts for 13.7% of global production. Such significant contribution firmly establishes Catanduanes as the Abaca Capital of the World, highlighting its critical role in the abaca industry. The island's dominance in this sector not only underscores its agricultural prowess but also its importance to both the local and global economies, particularly in industries reliant on abaca's versatile fiber.

Long before the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Filipino women had been weaving clothes and home materials from abaca for their families and communities. These community weavers are integral to the shared cultural heritage of the Philippines, engaging in a craft that works with what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identifies as one of the "Future Fibres." Protecting and empowering these artisans is crucial for accessing markets, sharing techniques, and preserving their cultural heritage. This aspect of the initiative underscores the importance of integrating traditional knowledge and practices with modern opportunities. By focusing on the empowerment of these weavers, the initiative not only aims to sustain the vital abaca industry but also to celebrate and preserve the rich cultural tapestry of the Philippines, ensuring that this age-old tradition continues to thrive in the global marketplace.

Help.NGO, in collaboration with the HABI Foundation and internationally acclaimed fashion designer Ditta Sandico, has spotlighted the local abaca weaving community in Barras, Catanduanes. This community is led by a multi-generational abaca weaving family, currently headed by Rebecca Joy Apanti. This partnership aims to bring attention to and uplift the traditional abaca weaving practices by connecting them with broader markets and highlighting their cultural significance. By working with figures like Ditta Sandico, the initiative not only showcases the exquisite craftsmanship inherent in abaca weaving but also integrates these traditional techniques into contemporary fashion. This approach serves to preserve the cultural heritage of abaca weaving in the Philippines while ensuring the sustainability of the craft and the livelihoods of the weavers involved.

By providing LEO connectivity to the Abaca Weavers Community Center in Baras, Help.NGO has ensured that it continues to function as both a cultural and economic hub within the local community, adapting seamlessly into the new age. This connectivity initiative is crucial for preserving traditional crafts, enhancing community cohesion, and expanding market access for these traditional arts and crafts, thereby contributing to the sustainability of the local community. With this newfound connectivity, the weaving community has taken significant steps forward by launching several Facebook and Instagram pages. This online presence enables them to sell their crafts directly to consumers, significantly broadening their reach. Additionally, it facilitates better coordination with the HABI Foundation and Ditta Sandico, allowing for more effective distribution of specialized abaca crafts to both local and international clients. This integration of traditional skills with modern technology not only ensures the preservation of a valuable cultural heritage but also opens up new avenues for economic empowerment and sustainability for the weavers of Baras.

Catanduanes Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Office

The people of Catanduanes have historically adapted to the reality of typhoons, integrating these powerful storms into their way of life. However, the advent of climate change is exacerbating the situation, driving stronger and more frequent typhoons to impact the island. This trend towards increasingly severe weather poses a significant threat to Catanduanes, with projections indicating that these extreme events will become more common. Given the island's geography, the anticipated stronger storms are expected to inflict extensive damage on local infrastructure, particularly affecting the island's connections to the mainland. This scenario underscores the urgent need for enhanced resilience and preparedness measures to safeguard the community and its essential infrastructure against the escalating challenges posed by climate change.

Recognizing the critical importance of effective communication during crises, Help.NGO prioritized improving connectivity at Catanduanes’ Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Office (PDRRMO). This strategic enhancement enables PDRRMO members to swiftly respond to emergencies anywhere on the island and maintain vital links with the mainland and the national government. The establishment of robust and pre-positioned communication infrastructure is crucial for ensuring seamless coordination and facilitating rapid response efforts in times of emergency. This approach not only has the potential to save lives but also significantly mitigates the impact of natural disasters. By strengthening the communication capabilities of the PDRRMO, Help.NGO contributes to building a more resilient and prepared community, ready to face the challenges posed by the increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters.

Juan M. Alberto Memorial District Hospital

The Juan M. Alberto Memorial District Hospital plays a crucial role in the healthcare system of Catanduanes, an island with a population of nearly 300,000. As one of the four district hospitals on the island, it is a cornerstone for healthcare delivery, especially notable for housing approximately 38% of the island's public dialysis machines. This facility is vital for providing advanced healthcare services to the community, particularly for those who rely on government programs for free or heavily subsidized medical care. Its importance to the healthcare network of Catanduanes cannot be overstated, as it stands as one of only four locations where government beneficiaries can access such critical healthcare services. This underscores the hospital's fundamental role in ensuring the health and well-being of the island's residents, serving as a key player in the broader effort to provide accessible and affordable healthcare to all sectors of the community.

The aforementioned hospital's remote location leads to unreliable land and cellular network connections, creating significant challenges in daily operations. This issue is so acute that the hospital's head often has to stand outside to participate in online meetings. In the Philippines, the healthcare system's efficiency hinges on seamless communication with central databases for the approval of medical procedures and other health services. The lack of reliable internet access at the hospital can, therefore, result in considerable delays in patient care. This situation underscores the critical need for improved connectivity solutions to ensure that healthcare providers can offer timely and effective services, especially in remote areas where healthcare resources are already stretched thin. Enhancing internet access at the hospital would not only facilitate smoother operations but also greatly improve patient outcomes by reducing waiting times for essential healthcare services.

In collaboration with the Provincial Government of Catanduanes, Help.NGO's connectivity initiatives are pivotal in bolstering healthcare operations and supporting professionals in remote areas of the island. This partnership focuses on enhancing the ability of healthcare providers to deliver quality, timely care to patients, thereby improving health outcomes and fortifying the resilience of the Catanduanes community, particularly in the face of disasters. The success of these initiatives serves as compelling evidence for the Provincial Government, demonstrating the viability and effectiveness of LEO connectivity in improving healthcare services. As a result, the government is committed to presenting this evidence to the Commission of Audit, with the aim of expanding LEO connectivity to other healthcare facilities across the island. This strategic move signifies a major step forward in leveraging advanced technology to ensure that all residents of Catanduanes have access to reliable healthcare services, regardless of their location.

Through the strategic use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communication technology, Help.NGO has achieved more than just an enhancement in connectivity; it has rendered this connectivity more accessible and reliable for communities in need. This technological advancement transcends mere improvements in internet access—it serves as an essential lifeline in emergencies, facilitates vital knowledge exchange, and acts as a powerful catalyst for empowering communities and fostering sustainability.

As Catanduanes strides towards a future marked by resilience and sustainable growth, Help.NGO's dedication to supporting these communities remains steadfast. With a focus on technical advocacy and resilience-building, the organization is committed to fostering hope and driving progress. Help.NGO's initiatives are designed to ensure that communities, especially those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters, are equipped to face challenges and seize opportunities for development, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of a resilient and sustainable future.

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