Disaster Preparedness: This is What Empowerment Looks Like

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By Jill Chang, Regional Manager

In March 2017, Give2Asia and IIRR hosted a 5-day “Disaster Preparedness & the Power of Local Leadership” conference in Silang and metro Manila, inviting international donors, intermediaries, as well as practitioners all around Asia to share their experiences. I was fortunate to be the moderator of an exciting session called “Unleashing Innovation for Disaster Preparedness.”

In the session, Mr. Shamim Arfeen of Bangladesh’s AOSED demonstrated how he uses Information and Communications Technology, as well as capacity-building programs and establishing strong fishermen communities to help reduce flood damage. Dr. Saroj Dhital of Nepal’s phect-NEPAL is a surgeon: he devotes tremendous time and effort trying to improve health care in rural areas, especially in the remote high hills. He uses internet, wifi, even drones to achieve those goals. Dr. Partha J. Das of India’s Aaranyak is an Environmental Scientist: he demonstrated his award-winning "Community Based Flood Early Warning Project" - a system that uses simple technology in local houses to provide flood warning.  

Simple and Violent

It was a mind-blowing 75 minutes for me, and I was truly amazed by their creativity and innovation. Taiwan is known as a tech island: it manufactures cell phone components and high-tech wafers at some of the best foundries in the world, but I hadn’t yet seen much use of these types of technology in disaster preparedness.

“Simple and violent” are the words that jumped right across my mind after listening to their talks. They probably would not agree on this, but to me they are changing the world in a hacker way: if there is a problem, go find a solution; and if there is no solution, create one on your own. It is that simple, it is that violent. And their solutions are low-cost, replicable, intuitive, based upon local knowledge  - and in fact it made us all wonder why no one thought of it before. The line between breaking new ground through reflecting on the old ways was entirely blurred.

Power of Serendipity

As the moderator, I was privileged to get a good understanding of the speakers and their projects. After the session, I introduced them to Mr. Paolo Lubrano, Regional Humanitarian Manager from Oxfam Asia office, also a speaker of the conference, about how these innovative models can be scaled up. These turned out to be productive conversations: partnerships may be established, they may work on projects and/or start scholarship together. It was almost magical that we come from different countries, live in different time zones, and before the conference we didn’t even know each other’s work, and all it took was 75 minutes to connect the dots, create synergy, and make impactful changes. It was living proof of the power of serendipity.

The Warm Empowerment

My hands were cold when I was on stage, but I felt warmth throughout the conference, then I realized: it was the people. I felt it when Saveetha Meganathan, Manager of Disaster Programs at Give2Asia, touched my face and said "I've got everything ready, don't worry," and when Dr.Dhital said to me on a busy street "it's your generation’s turn, be brave." It was a typical tropical day, in the typical fast pace of the financial district, but I felt unprecedented calmness and strength. For me, that's true empowerment.

Field Advisor Spotlight: MinHee Kim

Give2Asia works with highly qualified field advisors in 25 countries, providing on-the-ground insight into each local scene in addition to compelling projects that have been accomplished or are currently underway. Take a behind-the-scenes look with our field advisors here on the Give2Asia blog. We continue our spotlight series with MinHee Kim, our field advisor in Korea. 

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Where do you live and where have you lived? 

I had been living in Seoul, Korea until a year ago, when I moved to a nearby city called Suwon after marriage. As for overseas, I spent one year (2002-3) in Pennsylvania, USA as an exchange student, and another one year (2005-6) in London for my master’s degree. But other than that, I was born and have lived in Korea! 

Can you tell us about your work for Give2Asia?

I work for about 10 donor companies and 20 NGO grantees in Korea as a field advisor. I support the administrative works that grantees need in order to take in the funds in various ways, like giving advice when writing proposals and reports, proofreading the translation, etc. I also support donors by providing any advice or updates, and sometimes by recommending new organizations for their volunteering or funding opportunities. 

What is the one thing Give2Asia’s community of donors and grantees should know about Korea's social sector?

I think one of the important social issues in Korea is the livelihoods of North Korean refugees and their children in South Korea. While the number of refugees increases, the national support for them is still limited and not comprehensive, I think. Many of the children still grow up in poverty, without full recognition of their national identities as Korean and with their higher chances of growing up as youth at risk. Additionally, most of the children do not know the Korean language well, since they were born and raised in China. Despite this, they are our children and will help to shape our future. Without proper aid, however, I am concerned that they are still too marginalized and their potential is just lost.

I hope that there is more public interest and support for the social inclusion, adjustment, and settlement of the refugees, as they are our brothers and sisters, above all things. I think expanding support to the North Korean refugees and especially their children is one of the wisest ways to prepare the national reunification.

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What is your favorite Give2Asia project and why?

I think my favorite project is “My Sister’s Place." It supports Korean and foreign victims and survivors of sexual exploitation (all women) near the US military camptowns in Korea. After the Korean war in 1950, the US army began taking camp in Korea. The sex industry near their settlements brought in Korean women as sort of comfort women, who mostly chose this work in order to survive the destitute situation after the war. 

Because the Korean government has only recently begun providing services to these women, both survivors (mostly Korean women), and victims (mostly foreign migrant women from Philippines and Vietnam) of the sexual exploitation now suffer from poverty, social stigmatization, and other forms of marginalization. Since this issue is not well-known and does not receive lots of public support, the dedicated cause and efforts of My Sister’s Place is such rare and precious work.


What are your interests? What do you like to do in your free time?

I am an active person who likes to do outdoor activities, like swimming, strolling, yoga, and dancing. Currently, I am learning NANTA (a type of drumming) and dancing once a week with the group of friends. It’s been 8 months and last December, we successfully performed in a NANTA and dance show.

What is your favorite food?

I love Korean (of course), Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, American, and Italian food, among others. If I have to choose, I am very much in love with seaweed soup, vegetarian curry, and kimchi stew (all in the Korean versions).

What are you reading right now?

To lead up to the Buddhist pilgrimage I took on January (6th to 20th for 15 days) in Northeastern India, I have been reading the books on the Buddha’s life.

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