Extensive travels in August and September

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Yesterday I returned to Bangkok from Tonga and Fiji but I am already packing to travel for Manila tomorrow morning. It is just one day at home - enough time to catch up with sleeping, re-pack, call Mum and friends, as well as reflect on the experiences from last few days. 

As usual, my trip to Tonga was related to a humanitarian catastrophe - this time caused by the cyclone (Rita) which hit the country around 6 months ago. Together with a colleague of mine, we went to visit the emergency and recovery projects that our organisation funded, but were implemented by Tonga Red Cross and local NGOs, and to understand how helpful our intervention might have been to the survivors of the cyclone.

The trip was very interesting, but involved some mixed feelings. On one side, our partners clearly did a good job and were clearly able to help thousands of people to stand back on their feet (rebuilding private houses, family rain-water catchment systems and restoring livelihoods of the family farmers), but on the other side, we realised that the overall system failed many of the residents too. The authorities may have restored electricity grids, fixed the roads, but let down some of the poorest families and many individuals to overcome their existential hurdles. Altogether we saw some families (supported by our partners) receiving decent boost to help them recover and thrive, but also learnt that the communities which were supposed to be reached by the authorities, were more often than not, neglected. Tragically six months since the calamity, some people still live in plastic sheeting tents, and literally struggle to find means to buy food. 

Like in many other occasions of this sort, the trip to Tonga prompted a great deal of doubts in my mind. Trying to rationalise why we chose a group of people over other group of people (given that there was no funds to help everyone) is a difficult process. Yet even worse is that we (the whole system, rather than just my organisation) was certainly able to help everyone, if all agencies responsible had acted in a more responsible manner (essentially, deliver on their promises and commitments). 

Now, as I prepare to travel to the Philippines tomorrow where I will be visiting projects meant to help the recovery from the devastating floods which hit Luzon, I am fearing that I may experience an uncomfortable deja-vu, with some individuals receiving help and others less so. 

In terms of ‘lessons learnt’, the most challenging task for us comes later: we all need to figure out how we do a better job in a future. Lots can be done with relatively little money - the trick is to work together with as little ego as possible. Wish us luck!

And here comes the link to the pictures from the trip to the Pacific.

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