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Lewis County natives helping to coordinate Philippine relief efforts

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LOWVILLE — A few people with Lewis County ties have been helping to coordinate recovery efforts in the Philippines.

Lowville native Priscilla M. Phelps, an advisor on post-disaster recovery and reconstruction with The World Bank, was sent to the island nation in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan earlier this month.

And Martinsburg native Daniel Jantzi and his wife, Jeanne, area directors for Mennonite Central Committee in Southeast Asia based in Thailand, spent last week in the storm-ravaged nation working with partner agencies there and visiting some of the damaged areas.

The powerful typhoon — the deadliest there on record — slammed into the central Philippines Nov. 9. Rescuers there have confirmed 4,044 dead and many more injured, the Associated Press has reported.

Ms. Phelps’ mother, Jean Burns of Chases Lake, said she wasn’t surprised to learn of her daughter’s new assignment.

“I knew they would send her to the Philippines because this is right up her alley,” Ms. Burns said.

Ms. Phelps previously spent a couple of years in Haiti after it was hit by a massive earthquake in January 2010, serving as housing adviser to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

She has also written a book titled, “Safer Homes and Stronger Communities: A Handbook for Reconstructing after Natural Disasters.”

Ms. Burns said that her daughter had previously spent time in the Philippines and many other countries while working as a financial adviser for different organizations.

“I don’t know too many countries in the world she hasn’t been in,” she said.

The World Bank has announced nearly $1 billion in aid for the Philippines, including a $500 million emergency loan and $480 million through its National Community Driven Development Project, which may be used for emergency response.

Meanwhile, the Jantzis over the past weekend returned to the States — allowing them to spend their first Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season in the U.S. since 2000 — after a week in the Philippines.

“When the Typhoon Haiyan struck, we were just returning from a trip to Cambodia,” Mrs. Jantzi said from Ohio by Facebook message. “We quickly made contact with partner organizations in the Philippines to find out what they were seeing and, in the first week, partnered with a local organization to send an assessment team to Leyte Island. Unlike all the other countries that we oversee, MCC doesn’t have a representative office or staff in the Philippines. So Dan and I spent last week there to meet with partners and to help map out Mennonite Central Committee’s response.”

Mrs. Jantzi said she and her husband have plenty of experience dealing with natural disasters, including the 2004 tsunami, various incidents in Indonesia and about one disaster each year in the Philippines.

Due to the frequency of incidents in the Philippines, MCC is able to partner with organizations that are experienced in disaster response and “have a wide pool of experience as a resource”, as well as Filipino residents “who are aware of the underlying context in ways that international newcomers may not know,” she said.

MCC has initially committed $200,000 to meet urgent needs through Church World Service, which is to provide food and hygiene items for roughly 3,750 families in three municipalities in Leyte Province.

“We’re working with Peacebuilders community on another plan to work with community pastors in trauma healing,” Mrs. Jantzi wrote. “They are finding that the pastors themselves have been severely affected by the disaster.”

The Jantzis also spent time learning about underlying situations in the region that could impact relief efforts, including some affected areas undergoing a low level insurgency war since 1968 and local elections having just taken place, she said.

The couple also visited several communities in Northern Cebu, which experienced tornado-type winds but not the same storm surge of 30-foot-high waves that were experienced in eastern Leyte, Mrs. Jantzi wrote.

“In Dalinding, families took shelter in the village elementary school until the roof blew off,” she said. “A third grade teacher, Luz Yongeo, told me that she and her family stayed in their home praying as the roof blew away. The governor had ordered children back to school, even though hardly anything was left. The first grade classroom was the only room left standing. A first grader, Julie Ann Empas, showed me a picture she had drawn of her house before and after. ‘Before’ showed a smiling family inside a house with the sun shining down. The ‘after’ was a black crayoned rectangle.”

Also, most members of that community worked as sugar cane cutters for a large plantation that saw its crops ruined and mill destroyed, so it will be a long time until they can regain their livelihoods, Mrs. Jantzi said.

MCC in the coming weeks will continue working with Church World Service and other partners to plan longer term shelter and economic recovery efforts, which tend to be more costly than initial relief programs, she said.

“The disaster situation lasts long after the story is no longer on the evening news,” Mrs. Jantzi added. “It’s good to give to organizations that pay attention to longer term needs as well as the immediate ones.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the MCC recovery effort in the Philippines may go to the Agape Shoppe at 136 Court St. in Watertown or visit www.mcc.org/typhoon.

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