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Letter from the field

By Stefanie E. Di Domenico, Master of Science in Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation 2016–2018
Someone giving a speech in front of an audience of IFRC volunteers

My internship experience with community-based disaster risk reduction management in the Philippines

"When I began searching for an internship, I did not have a preference of where on earth I would end up. Ultimately, I wanted to learn through field experience, working directly with community members on reducing their risks to disasters through strengthening their preparedness. On top of that, it was important for me to be situated in a country that is affected by natural hazards. This would enable me to absorb as much as I could from the experiences and expertise of my colleagues and community members. 

Fast-forward to a few months later and I ended up in the 3rd most risk-prone country in the world, the Philippines. I had joined the exact organization I had set my mind to work with when I applied for my master's degree – the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Gaining experience with IFRC was one of my goals, because the foundation of my perception of the field of disaster risk management is closely linked with my former experience as a Canadian Red Cross volunteer. It was through that experience where I learned about the Movement's push for a focus on humanity – reminding us that our work is ultimately about one thing: people. 

From July to December 2017, I supported the IFRC Philippine Country Office as their Disaster Risk Reduction Intern, enabling me to also work closely together with practitioners from the Philippine Red Cross. From what felt like the moment I arrived, I was sent to the field to see for myself what community-based disaster risk reduction management (CBDRRM) looks like in practice across rural and urban settings. Over the next five months, I was exposed to the variety of areas within which a disaster risk management practitioner is engaged. This ranged from supporting the Philippine Red Cross in their CBDRRM projects, to spending weeks jointly coordinating an Asia-Pacific regional training on Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Awareness (PASSA) Youth with colleagues in the Philippines, IFRC headquarters in Geneva and the Asia-Pacific Regional Office. Most notably, I became closely engaged with Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments (VCAs) and was able to help shape the materials which directly support VCA practitioners in the field. I also had the chance to compliment these experiences and further strengthen my expertise through several trainings. 

This internship has exposed me to many opportunities to enhance my ability to effectively contribute to the field. But just as important, it has provided me with a perspective of the realities of our work and the challenges that we will inevitably encounter along the way. One of the main take-aways I have gained through this internship is that our work is centred around people. Given so, we must be ready to adapt and take the time to develop relationships based on mutual respect and open dialogue for our efforts to succeed. Also, expect the unexpected and be flexible. From my experience, this ranged from hopping on a 3 A.M. flight to a project area, to delivering an impromptu speech (much thanks to the support of a super-hero communications colleague!) representing the IFRC at a project turnover ceremony in front of dozens of local beneficiaries – and starting and ending that speech in the local dialect. 

My time in the Philippines with the IFRC Philippine Country Office, working closely with the Philippine Red Cross, solidified my interest to work at the local level, directly with community members. What I am most grateful for, is that I am now more confident as a disaster risk management practitioner. 

And I leave convinced, that it really is more fun in the Philippines. To my Red Cross family and the incredible people whom I met throughout my experience, maraming salamat!"