Interview with Dada Nirmalkrsnanandaji
What motivates you to do AMURT work?
Since my childhood I have had a desire to share my life with the most downtrodden. So, while I was at high school I volunteered for an afterschool program that integrated disabled youngsters into recreational activities. I feel attracted to less fortunate people. The poorer they are the more I feel I have to do something for them.
So I am drawn to help disaster survivors who have just escaped the jaws of death and have nothing left. As a renunciate I am on the same level as them: I also have nothing! If I had more wealth than them I would feel ashamed. When I tell the beneficiaries that I have renounced material possessions they treat me differently.
How can you live so simply while handling millions of dollars?
Since I was young I never had an interest in money. My grandmother was my inspiration: she would give everything she had to others. I admired her greatly for harboring this spirit of renunciation.
I treat my staff as family. I eat with them, just as I eat with the villagers. I don’t want to be treated in a different way. I don’t need special treatment. They see me traveling on a motorbike and by tricycle just like the locals.
Who are the key local partners?
I chose this municipality because of the exceptional response of the mayor, Mr. Melchor Mergal. When we arrived nine days after the typhoon everything was still a mess, but the mayor had complete data of the damage in all 47 barangays, detailing the extent of the destruction to homes, schools, health centers, and general infrastructure. He had the answers to all our questions!
Mayor Mergal started his tenure 1 ½ months before the typhoon struck. He had prepared the community well with an early warning system, comprehensive evacuation plans, and stocks of food. Many lives were saved as a result. This mayor is capable, ethical and hard working. He is genuinely interested in the welfare of his people.
The mayor has given a green light for all our projects, approving building permits on the same day we applied for them. He also gave us a 60 m2 storage space for free and offered us free transport with the municipal truck for all our building materials. Finally, he took responsibility for purchasing plots for AMURT’s housing relocation project.
In return we are repairing or reconstructing classrooms that serve 87% of all school pupils in the municipality.
How did you assemble your team?
I have a team of 18 people: ten engineers, three agriculturalists, four logistics staff and one accountant. The right candidates came to me at the right time, mainly by referral. I consciously built the team to be homogenous: young people in their late 20s and early 30s with a pleasant nature and excellent communication skills. Communication is important because the engineers not only serve as technical advisors, but as community facilitators: they have to work with teachers, community leaders, and beneficiaries.
They all fit together very well; they have fun and a togetherness that surprised me. They also meet privately, and even in the late night they collaborate on solving technical problems. They have their so called “huddle meetings” because some teams have technical problems and they try to solve them collectively in each other’s houses. I also go there sometimes.
How do you motivate your staff?
I give them the feeling that we work in a family, so they understand that I depend upon their advice and guidance, and that they have to bring about success. I treat them like managers and not pawns. They appreciate that.
I also increase their skills by financing their drivers’ licenses and providing assets like computers that they can use in their future professional career. So they feel that I am like a father to them.
Also, everyone comes along for project purchasing trips, which is a great platform for team building. We recently spent four days together shopping in Cebu.
The staff are excited and proud because we have outstanding results. We were the first NGO to start permanent housing, we are the first to rebuild permanent schools. The Minister of Education visited us which was a big thing for them. The minister spent an hour with the staff; they all shook his hand. He gave one day of his time just for AMURT because of the recommendation from the superintendent of the Provincial Department of Education. We are the first and the only NGO active in the education sector after three months.
I have complete trust in my staff. They handle big amounts of money, and have access to the office whether I am present or not. They appreciate this trust. They tell me they feel honored.
At the end of the day I tell them they should go home, but they always stay late. They never ask for a penny more for overtime.
What makes the Typhoon Haiyan response different?
Everything here has been so rapid. After I arrived with the first KNH team I only had four days to finalize the project so some German journalists could document everything. KNH, the donor, needed to promote the project for their fundraising, so I went into overdrive. The journalists came to village meetings with me, photographed typhoon-related damage, and copied our architectural designs. The result was a long article about AMURT in German newspapers that highlighted our working style and our community approach. This created many sympathizers for the donor.
The people here are special. They are well-educated, hard-working and communally responsible. It has been a pleasure to work with them.
In past operations we were based in city centers so we could access resources easily. But in this disaster, we are based in a small town that was decimated by the typhoon. We started at zero: nothing could be purchase locally; neither office equipment, nor tools, nor any means of transport. It was a huge logistical challenge. We couldn’t find enough office or living space as all the houses were destroyed. We found one small room to serve as an office space and sleeping space for my female colleague. I spent 10 nights sleeping under a flimsy shelter in the pouring rain before I got my own room. Some of our friends in Manila donated food parcels that kept us alive for three weeks until the market opened. They sent them by public transport to the municipality.
What is your vision for the project?
We should set an example for cost-effective permanent housing so that all residents of this municipality can have a dignified dwelling that is guaranteed to survive the next typhoon. We should ensure that all children have high standard classrooms, and enjoy creative pedagogical games and a trauma-free life. And all residents should have the means to sustain themselves by networking with other organizations.
I hope that this project leads to a long term presence for AMURT in Leyte and Samar. We could train kindergarten teachers officially endorsed by the Department of Social Welfare & Development. We could start women’s self-help groups for small enterprises. And we could start a permanent training institution for farmers and other non-agricultural livelihoods.
KNH Kinder Not Hilfe Partners with Amurt
Kinder Not Hilfe, a non-governmental organization founded in Germany has partnered with Amurt Philippines Inc. to aid in the “Repair and Rehabilitation “of areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Represented by Mr. Erhard Stuckrath, Disaster In-Charge, KNH has provided funding to repair and rehabilitate 23 Day-Care Centers and 18 schools in Salcedo, one in Mercedes and one in Guiuan Samar.
Kurt Behringer (Dada Nirmalkrnananda), Amurt Project Coordinator, has informed that KNH has likewise agreed to construct permanent housing to 66 families in Jagnaya and 107 households in Asgad all in Salcedo Town. In a related matter, livelihood program and child care services have also been provided by the KNH-Amurt collaboration in Salcedo Town. Repairs have been on -going since December of last year.
Amurt awards “fishing boats”
Amurt Philippines Inc., through its president Rogelio D. Flores, awarded an additional six (6) new bancas (fishing boats) to fishermen of Sitio Quinto Limbo, Purok 8, Naungan, Ormoc City. In addition, Amurt financed the repair of eleven (11) bancas damaged by typhoon “Basyang”. This brings the total to twenty (20) bancas that Amurt has made available to fishermen victims of Typhoon Yolanda and Basyang. The Yolanda “Repair & Rehabilitation Phase “continues and a lot still has to be done. Representatives of Amurt met with village people to explore other possible means of livelihood.
APO Alumni ‘s Aid Ormoc School Reconstruction
APO Theta North America A.A. & APO DC A.A. funds for Yolanda Victims help rebuild an elementary school in Barangay Hugpa , Ormoc City. The elementary school was severely damaged during the super typhoon. Working through Amurt Philippines Inc. , APO funds contributed to the “bayanihan” initiative of Davao City Councilor Leo Avila, himself an honorary member of APO at UM.
In simple ceremonies at Davao City Hall , Amurt Philippines Inc officers led by Roger Flores turned over APO funds to Brod. Leo Avila. All labor and materials for the endeavor will be brought on site. The initiative , scheduled for early February, is composed of several cause oriented organizations which include Amurt Philippines inc. and APO Alumni Associations.
Amurt Teams Keep Christmas Spirit Alive
Amurt Teams kept the spirit of Christmas alive for victims of “Typhoon Yolanda”.Working through the holidays, Amurt Davao Team and Amurt Cebu Team led by Ac Pramananda afforded some semblance of Christmas in various places affected by the super typhoon Haiyan.
Amurt Davao , part of a multi-group endeavor organized by Davao City Local Government, distributed cooked food, children’s toys, conducted entertainment programs and kid’s games in five (5) barangays in Ormoc, Leyte. In a four days operation, the group served 3023 individuals. They also inaugurated a livelihood program by awarding three (3) fishing boats to local fishermen while commissioning the manufacture of more boats.
Dada’s group distributed fruits and vegetables, children’s toys, mats, bed sheets, kerosene lamps and assorted sports equipment to benefiting more than 1200 individuals in Bgy Santa Cruz, Tanauan Town, Leyte.
Thank you all for your support..
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