Philippines: Teacher community shows international solidarity

published 15 November 2013 updated 12 December 2013

In the aftermath of the devastating typhoon in the country, teachers globally have reacted promptly, showing great solidarity with severely affected colleagues.

“We appreciate the concern and sympathy that the Education International community extended to the Filipino people in this time of sadness brought by the calamity that hit the Eastern part of Visayas,” says Milagros C. Ogalinda, General Secretary of the National Alliance of Teachers and Office Workers (SMP-NATOW), one of EI’s six national affiliates in the Philippines, and a member of the EI Asia-Pacific Regional Committee. Union members in Iloilo reported that teachers were not able to attend to their activities because of this catastrophe, she says in an email sent to EI’s regional office on 14 November. “On 15 November, key officers of NATOW will go to Iloilo to find out the extent of the damages some of our teachers suffered, especially those in Guimaras. We will also take with us goods and used clothing for our members and, at the same time, donate to the Iloilo Help Center for Tacloban victims.”

It is devastating that Philippines has not yet recovered from October’s earthquake tragedy in Bohol and Cebu, she writes. That, and Typhoon Haiyan - named "Yolanda" by Philippine authorities - are a concrete reminder of the possible effects of climate change, she comments.

Ogalinda also underlines that in the meantime, SMP-NATOW members have volunteered as “re-packers” of the relief goods to be brought to the victims. “We also urged our affiliates nationwide to take part in any activity/work that will be of help to the victims in their respective places,” she says.

Filipino education unions call for support

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), another EI affiliate in the Philippines, has issued an urgent appeal for support.

“The sight of the different areas devastated by typhoon “Yolanda” as seen on nationwide television was depressing,” ACT President Benjamin Valbuena said. “The actual account of our coordinators and members in the affected regions and provinces was disheartening. There was massive destruction to lives and property in the Visayas Islands especially.”

ACT is helping to gather relief goods for the affected populations. These may be in the form of food items such as rice, canned goods, noodles, biscuits, sweets, medicines, household items, school supplies and used clothing, he added.

“This will be sent to our sections in the different provinces in the Visayas area and also those in the Bicol area, Mindoro, Palawan and Romblon,” Valbuena said. “Our members in these areas are now working hand-in-hand with volunteers in different evacuation centres and in relief operations after this calamity.”

Worldwide show of union solidarity

From the same region, the General Secretary of the Japan Teachers' Union (JTU) Yasunaga Okamoto expressed its trade union’s concerns about damages by the big typhoon in the Philippine and asked the EI regional office to pass any information about Philippines’ colleagues to JTU.

The International Secretary of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) Hyunsu Hwang also wrote to its Filipino colleagues: “I am very worried about you and your safety, watching the news regarding the typhoon. KTU members, including KTU President, are also very concerned about the situation. They are also expressing their condolences to the families and friends of the victims in the Philippines.”

In Europe, the Swedish teachers’ union, Lärarförbundet, has sent a strong message of solidarity to its Filipino colleagues.

On 12 November, Lärarförbundet President and EI Vice-President Eva-Lis Sirèn offered sincere condolences to the families and friends of those deceased and sympathised with those injured or affected by the typhoon.

“We want you to know that you can count on Lärarförbundet standing on your side in times of challenge,” she said. “If your unions have suffered any losses to your union work, Lärarförbundet is ready to support you in any way possible and appropriate.”

In North America, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and EI Executive Board member Randi Weingarten stressed that “the entire AFT family is heartbroken by the loss of life and devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan”.

She explained that the Philippines now faces the daunting task of rebuilding communities that have been left without essentials such as food, shelter, clean water, schools, healthcare, power and transportation. Many of AFT’s affiliates, she said, have asked us to provide any help we can in the recovery effort.

“Natural disasters, whenever they occur, have the power to touch us all,” Weingarten added. “In times like this, we realise we truly are citizens of the world and have a responsibility to help one another. We join with others throughout the world in sending our thoughts and prayers to the millions affected by this devastating tragedy.”

From the USA, the President of the National Education Association (NEA) and EI Vice-President Dennis Van Roekel also wrote a letter dated 13 November and sent to all six EI affiliates in the Philippines:

“On behalf of the more than three million members of the NEA and the students they serve, I extend my deepest condolences to you, your members, and the Philippine people affected by the tragedy caused by the typhoon Haiyan.

“It is impossible to measure the impact this devastation will have on your students, members, and the Philippine people. We offer our heartfelt sympathy as your nation copes with the painful experience and aftermath. Your brothers and sisters at the NEA want you know that all of you, as well as your students, friends, and family members, are in our thoughts and prayers.”