I Heart Meetings

I know, I’m some sort of freak of nature. Something inside me lights up when I gather with others to share knowledge and solve problems. I glow after a particularly high-energy or productive meeting. I even love meetings with friction and a little healthy contention. Lucky for me, the last two weeks have been filled with meetings where skills grew, wicked problems were stared down, and I witnessed the making of impactful decisions.

First, Oxfam connected city and NHA engineers with experts on decentralized wastewater treatment systems and everyone came together for a capacity-building workshop. On the first day the consultant team, Basic Needs Service Philippines (a partner organization of the BORDA network), presented introductory knowledge on the global sanitation situation and walked the team through the basics of wastewater treatment. Then we piled into multi-cabs and headed up north to check out the site we’d be using as our example design layout for the remainder of the week. The next day was the core of the workshop, learning how to design anaerobic baffled reactors and planted gravel filters. I was desperate to learn about the assumptions BNS recommended. Without any way to test the BOD and COD, central design parameters for ABRs, I’ve felt like an engineer with my hands tied behind my back. The decision to select ABRs followed by PGFs was made before I arrived, but I’m told they were favored because they are relatively simple to design, construct, and maintain – and not too painful on the budget either. So far the city engineers have proved at least one of those aspect to be true, everyone caught onto the design process extraordinarily fast.

Two design groups, one for a 100 household design and one for 250, hard at work

At the workshop we all collectively learned on one example site, we didn’t actually design the systems that will eventually be built on the relocation sites throughout Tacloban North. For that, the bulk of my job will be encouraging all of us to put our new skills to work before they have a chance to atrophy.  On Tuesday of the next week we set out to keep the wastewater momentum going and held the first sewage technical working group since the inauguration of the new city administration on June 30th. At the technical working group we had a chance to re-engage leadership at the City Health Office, and I was happy to see how motivated they are to be a part of the process. Ted relaxed while I led the meeting and it felt really good to begin moving out of the role Ted’s tagalong and into that of a contributing team member with my own scope of responsibility.

Except I was a little disappointed at the timing of my independence… UN HABITAT was simultaneously leading the third installment of Tacloban’s local climate change action plan. Leaders in the city government and international organizations met to discuss emerging threats to Tacloban’s environment and discussed the city’s adaptive capacity in major thematic areas such as social capital, infrastructure, and the economy. A less integrated me, unburdened by conflicting tasks, might have been able to plop down for the entirety of the event and soak it all in. When we had a few spare moments over the three day event Ted and I would drop in and engage where we could, but we were disappointingly unable to be permanent participants. However, I was able to spend a few blissful hours with the infrastructure group discussing how resilient the city’s urban infrastructure is to any flood, tsunami, earthquake, high wind event, or increased temperature extremes.

My final meeting was in Manila, hosted by the National Economic and Development Authority. Ted and I boarded a plane out of Tacloban at six in the morning and were walking up the steps of NEDA by ten. We were both overcome by how grandiose it felt compared to our usual meeting locales. I really don’t think Ted knows who Drake is, but he turned to me and said “stared in the province now we’re here” in a way that was so strikingly on beat it’s like he was truly referencing the song. First to arrive in the meeting room, we took several giddy pictures of our name tags and the beautiful space.

2016-07-21 10.02.30Working alongside the Leyte Metropolitan Water District, we were there to advocate for our recommended mid-term water solution for Tacloban North resettled communities. In the long run a fully connected pipe system will be laid, but such systems take considerable time and we need a decent windfall of funding to deliver water in the interim. With the Department of Budget and Management, the Local Water Utilities Administration, and the National Housing Association all in attendance I necessarily took a near fly-on-the-wall role. But a very happy fly-on-the-wall fantastically awed to be included in the room at all. And good news! The project can continue marching on now that we’ve secured approval to construct an urgent piped system. This will be different from the long-term network, which is drawing and transporting water from an ample source in the mountains. The mid-term plan will rely on source development to construct reservoirs. These reservoirs won’t have enough capacity to fully supply Tacloban North, in fact they’ll often need to be manually filled. Rather each of the three source points will serve as a water hub, with the spokes consisting of a pipeline extending to the nearest communities. It’s not ideal as a permanent solution but much better than the alternative, endlessly trucking in water tankers from a town 30km away.

Outside of all these really exhilarating [to me] meetings, I did spend some brief time in the sunshine. Ted, Lila, and I were invited out to a friend’s newly purchased island to visit his rehabilitation of the island’s hatchery. He’s an Australian man with a hobby of starting businesses around Leyte. Just before departing for the island we stopped at the market to see a stall selling tilapia from his company’s fishery in Tacloban North, the first entrance of local tilapia in the market. The hatchery was build 20 years ago through bilateral aid with several European countries. Beautifully constructed, the community wasn’t properly trained on it’s delicate management and the concrete has since been overrun by the jungle. Visiting the refurbished hatchery was a bit of educational eco-tourism, but I think we were really there for the food. We had a feast of local seafood, the mussels in particular were harvest barely only 50 meters away.

Life in Tacloban is turning out to be a rhythm of hard work and great food. Visit if you can, keep reading either way!


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