Occupation: Humanitarian worker.
Occupation: Humanitarian worker.
I am Sapia Taulani, age 45, a humanitarian worker for OCHA Philippines. Back in 2003, a friend of mine invited me to volunteer in a local organization and immediately accepted it. At the time, I volunteered not because I want to work with communities but because I just want to keep myself busy and I was jobless. I just lost my third child right after delivery. Never did I realize that this volunteering work will lead me to love humanitarian work. It provided an opportunity to engaged with other aid organizations in bringing much needed assistance to people in need.
I was born and raised in Cotabato City, Mindanao, a region in the southern Philippines that has undergone protracted displacement due to armed conflict in the last four decades. I joined OCHA in 2012 at the height of the emergency response in Mindanao after Severe Tropical Storm Washi, which caused catastrophic damage to the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. I was with the administration and finance then until I shifted to my current post as part of the program staff. Before joining OCHA, I was involved in project implementation. My field experience helped me with my coordination role at OCHA.
During the Marawi conflict in Mindanao in May 2017, where an estimated 360,000 people were displaced at the height of the conflict between the Government military and a non-state armed group in May 2017, I took leadership in field coordination in mid-2018. This was a big challenge for me because of the level of devastation and the extent of displacement was large compared to other emergency responses I have experienced. Currently, more than 66,000 people are still displaced. Humanitarian agencies are winding down assistance as resources become more scarce. Humanitarian needs still remain and becomes more challenging with less support but as OCHA we must continue to advocate to the government in ensuring residual humanitarian needs of the people in camps are met. We continue to visit and listen to the voices of the people and raise concerns with the government authorities. The more I spent years in the field of humanitarian coordination, the more I appreciate the work that I do. I may not have tangible things to bring to the communities, but engagement with decision-makers to bring to their attention the plight of the affected people and taking actions about it, is so much more rewarding to me.
What does being a Humanitarian mean to you?
When I volunteered in community work for a local organization, I had no idea what it looks like and what it feels like working with communities. I came to realize that humanitarian work is not just a where one comes to work to sustain ones needs. It does not end there. One has to offer one’s heart to the plight of people that we serve. Being a humanitarian has changed me become the person that I am right now. For me this is not just a job, but a passion. A passion to help other people in our own little way. Being with them, empathize and listen to their suffering, anger, hope and love is what a humanitarian should be. Sometimes it is not just the blankets, food, money that they need in times of distress but a soul that listens and understands them as they go through a situation where no one wants to be in. I remember back when I was studying, my classmates told me, ‘So there is another displacement, you must be happy because it means job for you!’ I was shocked with the remarks, I could not believe what I was hearing. They do not realize how painful it is to see in your very eyes the cries and suffering of the people, how they asked you to help them, how my heart is pierced listening to their horrors of experiences, how my heart is being torn apart to hear a grandmother telling me that multiple displacements all her life was the reason she is illiterate and that she lost count of how many times her family was displaced repeatedly. A person needs passion, courage, dedication and empathy to the suffering of people in need, and ability to empower and inspire them, to be a true humanitarian.
What is the most favourite part of your work
The most favorite part of my work is being able to bring change even in small ways. When people say thank you for your support, for being there, it means a lot to me. Being able to advocate for the people in need and seeing results is a fulfilling. I will never forget the time when a father came near me and said ‘thank you for the help and enlightenment you have given us here in our community, it is what inspired me to rectify my bad behavior to my wife. I called her (wife is a domestic helper in the Middle East), and I said sorry and promised to make it up to her when she comes home.’ That was unexpected and heartwarming for me knowing that our interventions impacted some people if not all. It is also a defining moment for me to continue serving people as best as I can.
What is the most challenging part of your work
The most challenging part of being a humanitarian worker is leaving family almost all the time. As a mother, I was not there when my children received their academic awards, when they were sick, or when they just want a hug during heavy rains at night. It pains me, but I know, that my work is my love as well. I have overcome my shortcomings to my children through constant and open communication.
Working with communities brings me joy and at times bring my life at stake. I experienced being held up with a gun while doing my work, or when elders in the community would not talk to me because I am a young woman thinking that issues are being discussed among men and elders only. Working with OCHA has another level of challenges as well. Unlike before, I come to the field with goods and training or other activities that empowers community. Now I only have information to bring to the table among affected people and the local authorities. It is crucial that they understand our role and added value in the overall response and earn their trust so that they start communicating with OCHA and engage with us. You just need to show them that your presence is all for the people and in bringing humanitarian actors together to ensure efficient and coherent response.