Experiences are addition of pages to the book of life. This is one thing that you can’t get for nothing. You can read them repeatedly to give your life a new dimension, tear them like pages when you suffer counting on them or make memories out of them, to cherish for the rest of your life. This had been a complete different experience for us architects to have fallen in a pool of policy makers and followers in the Philippine Housing and Government sector. Yet the interest that drew us in, kept us engaged for two weeks in the beautiful Philippines. The class accommodated minds from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and of course the Philippines.

This Refresher course on The role of women’s organizations in climate change induced resettlement, organized by Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) and The School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Philippines, had given us the opportunity to think beyond our regular concepts on resettlement process and progress. There could not have been a deserving site to start the first phase of our course work than Tacloban. The world knows about the devastation caused by the typhoon Yolanda which hit Tacloban city in 2013. In the process of getting to know about legal and policy frameworks that run the Philippines housing sector, our sessions revolved around the rebuilding challenges of the Typhoon affected settlements. I would like to appreciate the formation of our class, majority of which were participants from the Philippines, enabling us to know the “before and after” situation in detail. We got to visit two resettlement projects, one of DAMPA and the other of Anibong. As much as we were taken aback by the destruction, it was much more inspiring to have witnessed the resilience from the affected and the initiatives from the concerned. There were some controversies noticed among the residers in the projects and the municipal mayor’s version, although the reorganizing by the community association is in process. Despite of pondering thoughts about the future of the children there and the yet to be secured need for basic livelihood services, ending the Tacloban resettlement site on a slight positive note had somehow  pushed my perceptions about post disaster resettlement back home quite out of the tunnel.

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The second phase of the course was planned in Metro Manila. The University of Philippines welcomed us participants with open arms to experience what they had in store for us. With sessions run by experts from UN Habitat to Commissioner of Land use and Housing board, we got into deeper discussions on challenges of sustainable housing regarding climate change, the role of NGOs in supporting women’s led organization and participation of women in sustainable and climate change resilient settlements. This was also the last phase of the course, where we had to simultaneously organize the action plan for a related case that we had previously started brain storming on during our stay at Tacloban. However, we also had two more site visits in store. The AMVACA project by SHFC (Social Housing Finance Corporation) and another by APOAMFV (Alliance of People’s Organization Along Manggahan Floodway). The ones by SHFC were still not occupied, so besides knowing about the project itself, we got a chance to analyze the architectural point of views too. The APOAMFV project really caught our eyes with their existing and on going construction sites. I brought back a bit of the technical knowledge from the architects involved in there. What these two sites exhibited was more than the practicality of having a shelter. It was a blend of determination and the sense of belonging, which the people had to acquire by necessity. Not to mention, the commendable efforts from the implementing groups had to be applauded.

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We wrapped up the last day of the Refresher course with presentations of Action plans for the case studies where we all got feedback on how we could implement the plans we chalked in practical. We have had very informative presentations of ideas from the every group of participants. The graduation dinner was amazingly planned with traditional music and dance. Being a part of the IHS alumni crowd, it was truly a memorable moment to have met old friends from the network. Once we started the music and synchronized footsteps…we never wanted to stop!

The journey started with a trail of delayed and missed flights. But the exhaustion completely splashed away at the sight of awaited faces from IHS. The learning experience had filled us up with all positive vibes that we could bring back home. Building networks and making great friends for life were inevitable. Blending of cultures and sharing each other’s experiences had given us that space of joining hands and form a circle. From magandang umaga to maraming salamat; walang anuman to mahal kita…I’m sure each of the international participants could claim of being elementarily proficient in Tagalog!  As much as the good times would make us nostalgic about the beautiful place and amazing people, the likeness of minds would drive us further to make a change.

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What takes us back to the past are memories. What brings us forward are our dreams.
– Jeremy Irons

sonia.jpgAbout the author:

Sonia Islam graduated MsC in Urban Management and Development at IHS in 2013. She is currently working at Harappa Architects in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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