Music and sports: Unique aid for post-Haiyan relief

A boy carries a basketball given by the Israel Defense Force that visited the Philippines for disaster response after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country's central region in November. Playing basketball and singing are just some of the activities that help uplift survivors. Photo by: IDF Spokesperson's Unit / CC BY-NC

Mountains of relief goods are still being delivered a month after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, but a different kind of aid is starting to gain traction among microphone-wielding and hoops-loving Filipinos.

Following the devastation of one of the world’s strongest typhoons ever recorded, the focus now is on recovery, where a Taiwanese NGO is trying a different approach to uplift survivors — not with  material assistance but through music and sport.

“Cultural differences can be a major issue in giving aid and doing development work, especially with language and customs. But music [and sports] can bridge this gap,” Johan Alwall, senior volunteer of the Taipei-based Tzu Chi Foundation, told Devex in Tacloban, the “ground zero” of the disaster. “[These are] very important because most of us don’t speak the same language. Music becomes a universal language.”

The foundation is conducting singing and sign language workshops to Haiyan survivors before giving out cash as an incentive for cleaning up their communities. The group doles out 500 pesos (around $12) per day per family to citizens who participate in this cash-for-work program.

Alwall explained that doing these activities relaxes people’s minds and gives them a sense of community, at the very least.

“I think it’s very important that we cover the totality of the person, not just the physical. We have to boost their morale and teach them basic life values that can be learned through activities like music,” he said.

In San Jose Elementary School, one of the evacuation centers scattered around the city, a makeshift basketball court made of bent rusty iron and rotting wood is seen at the entrance. According to the residents, it was put up after the storm, even before people started rebuilding their homes. Kids and adults shoot hoops to pass the time while women huddle together, children in tow, chatting and occasionally singing. This is not an isolated case in Leyte province.

Music and sports are some of the Filipinos’ favorite pastimes, with karaoke bars and basketball courts visible in even the smallest villages around the country — making these initiatives very relevant and culturally apt for the survivors.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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