Co-creating knowledge of resilience principles through local stories
By Aaron Opdyke and Amy Javernick-Will*
Resilience – it’s a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? How would you explain it to disaster victim? How would they explain it to you?
This November will mark the second anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda that smashed into the Philippines, making landfall as the strongest storm in recorded history. In its wake it damaged over 1.1 million homes, displaced over 4 million people and took the lives of over 6,200 individuals. The mainstream media stories may have dried up, but for Filipinos impacted by this mega-storm, recovery is still an ongoing endeavor.
The Sendai framework has called for “the use of traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices, as appropriate, to complement scientific knowledge” in assessing and implementing risk reduction policy. So how are recovery programs in the Philippines incorporating local knowledge into community disaster risk reduction? One example stands out from our research team’s fieldwork over the last two years.
The NGO had gathered a small group of its staff and community members to discuss resilience and disaster risk in the barangay (community). The lead staff member split us up into groups and asked each group to find an object that symbolized resilience.
One of the young Filipinos in our group took the lead and brought forth the idea that our group should select a piece of bamboo. The Filipinos in our group then sought to explain to me that the idea actually aligned with an old Filipino proverb. In the story, there are three trees – a mango tree, a banana tree, and a bamboo tree.
The story begins with a mango tree and a banana tree arguing who is the strongest. The bamboo sits silent through the conversation. There is then a tremendous amount of rain that pours from the skies on the trees. Each remains unaffected though and the argument between the banana tree and the mango tree continues, each claiming their strength. A heat wave then overcomes the trees. They all wither slightly but emerge healthy and again the debate over strength continues. The bamboo tree again remains silent.
Then enters a great typhoon. The wind blows on the mango and banana trees, stretching them to their limits, when finally they snap and are uprooted. The wind blows on the bamboo as well, bending it much further than the mango or banana trees, but it doesn’t break. The storm passes and the bamboo is the only one left standing.
Its ability to bend, but not break saves it. The young Filipino went on to explain that it is the bamboo’s humility that also contributes to its ability to withstand the storm, not a false sense of confidence, as shown by the other trees. It’s an elegant way of portraying the practicality of resilience.
The narrated story grabbed the attention of those in attendance, but its impact transcended that moment. It was clear that those in attendance now had an object they could connect to resilience and its underlying principles. Recovery programs reflected this mutual understanding and were more clearly focused as discussions continued in the months following.
It is important that we seek alternative ways to provide clarity to disaster risk reduction for communities – local stories are one method that can enhance resilience education. What are your stories?
*Aaron Opdyke (left) is a PhD student and Research Assistant and Dr. Amy Javernick-Will (right) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities. Their current work is examining the intersection of technical solutions and social dynamics in infrastructure planning, design and construction following Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines in an effort to link recovery processes to sustainability and resilience of the built environment.
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