The Text Generation
Give a teenager a mobile phone and you’ll probably find them messaging their friends or surfing the net. Yet, when a group of kids in the Philippines heard that Typhoon Haiyan was about to hit, they used their phones for an entirely different purpose...
Through the pouring rain in Borongan, Eastern Samar, a group of five teenagers can be seen huddled together, frantically tapping away on their mobile phones in Plan International’s emergency response center.
They’re on a surprising mission. Known as the Disaster Risk Reduction Texter Clan, this innovative group of kids are dedicated to reducing the risk of disasters in a 21st century kind of way; spreading the word of looming disasters through text messages.
Saving Lives, One Text Message at a Time
“In our community in Oras, there are lots of children with mobile phones. Instead of using it for negative purposes, we share weather forecasts with our friends and family so they can prepare for disasters,” says Mark Patrick, the Founder and President of the Texter Clan. The 15-year-old set up the group in 2010, when he was just 11 years old. Mark and his friends await weather updates from Plan staff and spring into action as soon as they receive the text, alerting communities to the impending typhoon or storm.
With some 120 children now in the Texter Clan, the message is guaranteed to reach communities far and wide with Plan’s support. So when Mark heard that Typhoon Haiyan was due to strike the Philippines on November 8th, he knew that he had to do something about it.
Once he’d received the go ahead from Plan, he set about texting his Texter Clan friends and family so they could prepare for the disaster – and it worked.
Spreading the Word Through Text Messaging
Fellow Texter Clan member SanJoe, 18, was in Tacloban when he received the text telling him that Typhoon Haiyan was on its way.
“When I received the text message from Mark, I immediately told my classmates about it and we started to prepare. We bought food and found a safe place to go. Once the typhoon started, my phone signal dropped and we took shelter in the hotel boarding house, which thankfully backed onto a much higher house,” says SanJoe. “We were shocked by how strong the wind was and I felt so grateful to have received the text message early on.”
SanJoe and his fellow classmates managed to survive Typhoon Haiyan, but there were many others who were less fortunate. “We didn’t think the typhoon would be so disastrous, but when we went out onto the streets afterwards, we were shocked. I really felt the pain of those who were suffering," he says.
Hopes and Dreams Put on Hold
For college student Neil, 19, however, the typhoon has seriously disrupted his life.
“Before the typhoon hit, I was in Guiuan with my mother – my dad died several years ago – but on November 7th, I left to go to Oras to see my grandfather. When I received the text about the typhoon, I sent it to my mother and prayed for her as she was on her own. When I heard the news about Guiuan, I was stunned. I didn’t hear from my mother for several days, but we were eventually able to meet with each other two weeks later,” says Neil. “I was so grateful to hear she was alive.”
Unfortunately, their home had been destroyed by the typhoon. With minimal income and nowhere to live, Neil and his mother now plan to move to the capital Manila to try and build a new life. For Neil, this means putting his education on hold in order to help his family.
“I will not be going back to school,” he says. “I will look for work in a factory. I am very sad my future has been affected, but I don’t have a choice at the moment.”
Neil has promised to stay in touch with his fellow Texter Clan members, and they all remain committed to their crew. They have seen first-hand how disaster preparedness can save lives and how technology can spread the message at lightning speed.
Plan Empowers Children to Help Their Communities
As a child rights organization dedicated to giving young people a voice, Plan has lent its full support to these innovative youngsters.
Margarito Guasis, a member of Plan’s Emergency Response Team in Eastern Samar, says: “I have been very impressed by the initiative taken by these young people and I’ve seen how it can help the community prepare for disasters. They are literally helping to save lives.”
The Texter Clan is truly leading the disaster preparedness charge in this disaster-prone country; making the most of technology to spread information and save lives.