NURTURED IN NATURE: Howard Schiffer holds aloft a child during an information meeting and vitamin distribution in Javier
It was hot, crowded, and noisy in the tin-roofed, open-walled gymnasium at the center of Javier
, one of the larger towns in the Philippine province of Leyte.
In Leyte, the organization's efforts are centered around Javier
, a sprawling city of loosely connected barangays, which are small villages or neighborhoods that function semi-independently under the umbrella of the city government.
At the city's helm is the enigmatic Sandy Javier, the enormously wealthy owner of Andok's Chicken, one of the Philippines' largest chain restaurants.
(whose grandfather founded and named the town) also serves as president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines
and seems genuinely interested in using his
wealth and position to facilitate change by funding roads, schools, and other development projects.
"Our main concern is, how do we secure the future of our country?
said over coffee with Schiffer and the VA team, referring to the program's focus on children.
Due to his
involvement with the League of Municipalities
believes that the "module of [this] program can be implemented immediately" across the country, with other mayors' cooperation.
Over the course of 10 days, I accompanied Schiffer, VA photographer Matt Dayka, and Schiffer's son Austin Moore (who, like me, was on his first trip with VA) into barangays and slums around Cebu, Javier, and Manila, trying to find the areas the VA's program has helped or can help the most.
A girl eats a typical breakfast of plain rice and dried fish in her
house in Javier
Camino's family, like many in his
village outside of Javier
, usually manages to eat three times on a diet of fish, rice, vegetables, and occasionally other meats, when there is consistent work for the family's providers.
Then in November, Typhoon Haiyan, which some claim is the strongest storm in recent years, devastated much of Leyte, including Javier
The recovery process in the provinces of Leyte and Samar will be a long and difficult one.
While I was able to report on the disaster from Tacloban City in an article for this paper last month, I wasn't able to make contact with Mayor Javier or any of my contacts in Leyte.
But Schiffer had, and Mayor Javier reported that "destruction is everywhere," and thousands of his constituents are homeless.