Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga City
Patricia Sy, Al Vincent Francisco, Merylhilda Jalani, & Omar Taup
I am Making a Difference (I am MAD) created the Disp(on)er bag from upcycled tarpaulins. These were sewn by single mothers as go-bags to be packed with first-aid, hygiene, and medicine kits, as well as important personal effects, to be brought in times of disaster.
Our vision is to help recipients of Disp(on)er bags be prepared for any kind of disaster. The skills training provided by the innovators, plus the functional bag that can safe-keep its owners personal effects and survival kits, can help reduce injury and casualty in times of need.
CONNECT WITH US!
The team wants to partner with government agencies and local government units to conduct trainings that will help equip the residents of Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga in times of disasters. The innovation team also hopes to work with local disaster risk reduction and management offices to incorporate the use of D’bags in their DRRM plans.
We saw [a family drowning], pulled them to shore and administered first aid. We wouldn’t have known what to do in that situation had we not gone to the trainings that Project Disp(on)er provided.
We thought of merging our passion for recycling and saving the environment by upcycling used tarpaulins as primary material for the bags. We distributed these to a vulnerable community, while providing lectures and skills training that could not only prepare them for emergencies, but also teach them to care for the environment.
Named after the Chavacano word for “to prepare” (disponer), the Disp(on)er bag is awarded to individuals who have completed a series of lectures and skills training in disaster risk reduction and management. The bags created by single mothers from upcycled tarpaulin. The bags and the trainings provided with it, are meant to equip island residents with the necessary skills to respond to various man-made and natural disasters.
Life is simple in Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga. Residents make their living from selling little trinkets and fish to tourists who flock their famous “Pink Beach.” Eighty families or around 400 people live on the tiny island. They have no arable land and no natural source of freshwater. They buy food and drinking water from the markets on mainland Zamboanga.
During the Zamboanga siege in 2013, Sta. Cruz island was cut off their main food and water source. Zamboanga City was placed on lockdown, as government forces tried to smoke out rebels who seized the city. Nobody was allowed in or out of the city, including the residents of Sta. Cruz.
Thirty-eight year old Ibrahim Hassan recalled their experience. They could not get food and water from the city, so they were left with no choice but to go out to sea. Fishing was risky at the time since stray bullets from the conflict in the city could hit them at any moment. Ibrahim had to make a choice: either to stay at home and be safe, but his family would have nothing to eat; or risk his life trying to provide for his family. The experience taught Ibrahim and his neighbors the value of preparedness.
Sta. Cruz Island’s location also makes it Zamboanga’s first line of defense from storm surges and tsunamis that may come from Sulu Sea. Access to the island is also limited. Small boats can only travel to and from the island in the morning until early afternoon because beyond that, the waves would be too big for the vessels to handle. These vulnerabilities inspired the innovators to help prepare Sta. Cruz residents for whatever harm that could come their way.
Members of “I am Making a Difference” (I am MAD) initially thought they could help Sta. Cruz residents by providing them with disaster go-bags that could transform into a raft or a tent when disaster strikes. However, the team faced technical difficulties. They struggled to find a supplier who could make the bag in such a small quantity at an affordable price. So they settled with producing a much simpler waterproof bag that could keep the families’ emergency kits and personal effects safe and dry.
Go-bags have been around for sometime and is used worldwide as a carry-all bag in times of emergency. The Disp(on)er bag is different because it comes with a series of trainings and seminars meant to equip Sta. Cruz residents during emergencies. Sta. Cruz residents can only receive the bag if they have completed the disaster preparedness trainings that the innovation team and its partners have taught them. Locals refer to the innovation, the bag and the trainings combined, as “Project Disp(on)er.”
For three months, Project Disp(on)er conducted several trainings and workshops that taught locals what to do during disasters. They were given free medical check ups, freediving and water rescue training, taught emergency response procedures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid, as well as basic life support and survival training. Since resources are scarce on the island, residents were also taught environmental resource management.
Residents were also taught how to properly use the Disp(on)er bags. It must always contain important personal documents, like birth certificates, passports and the like. It must also have a hygiene kit, a first aid kit, and other emergency response items like ropes and flashlights. They were also told to place the bags at an easily-accessible place inside their homes so residents can easily reach for them at a moment’s notice. This makes preparedness for disasters simpler for Sta. Cruz residents.
Patricia Sy, Finance and Logistics Head of Project Disponer, says their creation of the Disp(on)er bag is hitting multiple birds with one stone: “We thought of merging our passion for recycling and saving the environment by upcycling used tarpaulins and using them as primary material for the bags. We distributed these to a vulnerable community, while providing lectures and skills training that could not only prepare them for emergencies, but also teach them to care for the environment.”
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Project Disp(on)er is still having difficulties bringing the bags to Sta. Cruz residents, as of press time. Aside from technical difficulties, the team also faced challenges in producing the bags in time for its intended rollout. Its production, however, has helped employ single mothers who sewed the bags into reality.
Sta. Cruz residents have also benefitted from the trainings they attended in the previous months. As a coastal resource manager for the Protected Area Management Unit or PAMU, Ibrahim Hassan has seen his fair share of deadly water-related accidents. He recalled a drowning on the island that they have averted.
“It happened in November or December of 2018. A father tried to save his drowning child, but he didn’t know how to swim and ended up drowning too. Another one of his children jumped into the water to rescue them, but he didn’t know how to swim as well, so all three of them were drowning. We saw them, pulled them to shore and administered first aid. We wouldn’t have known what to do in that situation had we not gone to the trainings that Project Disp(on)er provided,” says Hassan.
Residents also say that the trainings they undergone have given them confidence in times of disaster. Jaafa Jupli Sahibad, a mother, says she has one less worry now that her kids have been taught how to keep themselves safe when disaster strikes. “We will be bringing this knowledge with us for the rest of our lives,” she says.
Going forward, members of Project Disp(on)er want to continue recycling products that could help communities like Sta. Cruz Island. The production of Disp(on)er bags have helped reduce plastic and tarpaulin trash because these have been upcycled to make the bags. “We want to create a circular economy where recycling is at the center and in the process, we provide livelihood for the community. We want this to become a social enterprise that focuses on the community and cares for the environment,” says Patricia.
Project Disponer’s Finance and Logistics Head also wants to invest in herself to further their cause. “I want to do more research and make a business plan to scale our innovation. I’m planning to study regional economics and environmental science so I could find a way to merge the livelihood programs we created, match them with the needs of local communities, and reuse plastic waste in the process.”