Operation Reach Out Brings Critical Aid and Shelter to Santa Fe on the Island of Bantayan in the Philippines

Operation Reach Out

The Peace Project was started back in 2010 by Lisa Schultz, who asked “If one person can singlehandedly establish World Peace Day, what can an entire creative community do?” Through her gallery, The Whole 9, she commissioned artists from around the world to submit paintings depicting what peace means to them, that were then revealed on World Peace Day. The following year Operation Rise was spawned in Sierra Leone, which successfully distributed 10,000 crutches to amputees, war victims and children.

Schultz has just returned from Santa Fe on Bantayan Island in the Philippines. Smaller islands like Bantayan have not received the media attention or influx of aid that Tacloban has, even though the need is just as desperate – 65% of homes are destroyed and weeks after the Typhoon, there are still many families living outside with no shelter.

We talked with Schultz about what Operation Reach Out plans to do to help rebuild this island and how we can help.

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Progressive Pulse: The Peace Project’s current mission, Operation Reach Out, is helping to build new houses that were destroyed during Typhoon Yolanda. 5000 houses were damaged on Bantayan Island in Santa Fe.  How did you decide to make Operation Reach Out your next big mission,  and how did you choose Bantayan Island in the Philippines?

Schultz:  I knew we could help.  One of The Peace Project’s greatest strengths is quickly mobilizing diverse groups of people around a common vision – in this case, developing a great housing design that is extremely affordable, very livable and can be constructed quickly so that families can get out of the elements and start living a fulfilled and productive life again.

We identified an area that is being underserved but is being led by a progressive leader, Mayor Jose Esgana.  It’s a perfect climate for us to come in and quickly make a meaningful impact.

Progressive Pulse: Describe what you saw and how you initially felt when you arrived at Santa Fe?

Schultz:  There are some areas on the island where over 97% of the homes have been completely destroyed, so I didn’t know what to expect.  What I saw was incredible devastation, but when we started working within the community of Tabunok, I saw a remarkable transformation.  People started realizing that if we can work together, we can not only rebuild the community, but the community can thrive – there is a lot of funding available for rebuilding and skills training and our goal is to help direct it to the communities we’re working with and turn a tragedy into triumph.

Progressive Pulse: With a devastating natural disaster like Typhoon Yolanda, I’m sure it can feel insurmountable and incredibly overwhelming. How did you go about deciding whether to help with cleanup or to help with building new housing?

Schultz:  We are actually doing both.  Because so much was damaged, the cleanup is ongoing, so with each community we work in starting in Tabunok, in the barangay of Poblacion in the municipality of Santa Fe, we’ll be starting with community clean-up that is powered by the citizens and then we’ll work on the rebuilding which will not only include new homes, but new opportunities including skills training for the people we’ll be working with.

Progressive Pulse: I’m aware that The Peace Project is about empowering the people who have suffered tragedy or loss to come together, unite and build back what was lost. How did you go about these efforts in Bantayan Island?

Schultz:  We started by bringing the community together and inviting them to envision what they wanted in their communities and we’ve started working with them to plan how to get their.  It was amazing to see the transformation between when I first arrived and the general feeling was “I’ve lost everything and have no way to replace it.  What do I do now?” to when I left when the attitude was “Wow!  We’re going to build a new community that is founded on what we need and this may be an opportunity to improve our circumstances and that of our children.”  People were energized and motivated and had already started looking at what had originally felt like a tragedy as an opportunity.

 Progressive Pulse:  Tell us about the type of housing you are building and how they are constructed in such a short period of time. Are these housing constructs temporary or meant to last for a period of time?

 Schultz:  The houses are designed for one family and can potentially last decades if they are properly maintained.  They’re made of easily sourced materials that cost approximately $500 USD.  They can be constructed in less than a day by local carpenters, and are aesthetically pleasing.

Progressive Pulse: Can you describe the spirit of the people of Bantayan Island? Do they look at what’s happened to them with any hope for change?

Schultz:  The spirit of the people is incredible — they have a generous and optimistic nature and we’re hoping that the model we’re creating — one that actively engages all members of the community to recreate their community, will be an inspiration for the way other communities are rebuilt.

Progressive Pulse: Tell us about some of the children you met on your trip and how they are coping.

Schultz:  I’ve never met so many beautiful children and they’re incredibly resilient.  Luckily the kids are coping well due to the efforts of Mayor Esgana and his team.  They’ve done a great job of ensuring that people have adequate food and are working hard to get the schools re-opened.

Progressive Pulse: How did you partner up with Major Esgana and who is he to the people of Bantayan Island?

Schultz:  We got lucky.  We decided to focus on Santa Fe because it was underserved and quite honestly we couldn’t ask for a better partner.  Mayor Esgana is honest, committed, smart and progressive.  I’m incredibly excited to see what we’re going to be able to help him and his team build there.

Progressive Pulse: How can people help to rebuild and to be a part of Operation Reach Out?

Schultz:  People can visit www.thepeaceproject.com and make a donation.  We are also gratefully accepting building materials, airline tickets, donations of time, etc.  If someone wants to participate outside of a donation, they can contact me directly at lisa@thepeaceproject.com