Meet LA, a passionate humanitarian with a true calling for change
Lawrence Anthony Dimailig, or “LA” as he likes to be called, got involved in disaster management straight after graduating from university in 2013, when he started working in the public sector in the Philippines. Six months into his new job, he got the opportunity to see the truly personal effects and the real tragedies behind the headlines of a disaster, while being sent on a humanitarian mission in response to super typhoon Haiyan. He talks passionately about being on the ground and that period. This was when he saw his true calling in life. After spending time in the field, LA was given a chance to reflect on the positive change to our societies and effect that he can contribute to, leading a life as a humanitarian. “This is not a career for me, it is a true calling” he says, and continues “during that time, when I saw the devastation to the people caused by the disasters, I felt grief, anger and hopelessness and I made a pact with myself that I will spend my life as a humanitarian. This is my true calling.”
Missing the personal touch when working from home
LA explains that a typical day, before COVID-19, started with him riding motorcycle to the office in Jakarta from his apartment located near the AHA Centre. He starts the day reading e-mail and checking the system for the latest information – because in working with monitoring and analysis, one always has to be on track. He usually walked around the office to meet colleagues for updates. “That’s what I miss the most from working from home, just to go and talk to someone directly when needed – I miss that personal touch. Now we have to send e-mail or a WhatsApp message. Meeting in person gives a stronger bond and makes working together and coordination easier,” LA says when I meet him on-line from his home in Manila where he has stayed since December 2020, due to the pandemic.
LA has worked at the AHA Centre for over two years and although he admits it sometimes is challenging to maintain the level of passion being so far from the ground, he highlights that meeting other humanitarians regionally and globally is very inspiring and a great learning opportunity. “Working in the field is a tough job but passion is contagious and meeting other dedicated humanitarians motivates me and makes my passion ignite again”. During his time at the AHA Centre, LA has witnessed positive change, which ultimately has to do with the status of the Centre from the perspective of member states. He sees their trust and confidence in the ability of AHA Centre to deliver. “This is apparent now during the ongoing Myanmar response, where the Centre is entrusted to play a key role in the region during these very difficult times.”
Preparing for coming disasters
“The capacity of a country is only as good as its weakest link”, LA says when asked how the ASEAN countries can be better prepared for coming disasters. He appreciates the need and importance to enhance the level of disaster response capacity through anticipatory action on a governmental level. On a family level, there is a responsibility to maintain a certain level of preparedness and to know what to keep in their go-bag to survive for some time once a disaster strikes. It is also important for the private sector to take responsibility for contributing to disaster management and to use sustainable ways of doing business when working in disaster prone areas. A vital concern is to reach the marginalised and most vulnerable communities; here, civil society organisations play a key role.
Calls for action for the future development of the AHA Centre
For the AHA Centre’s future development, LA again highlights the importance of anticipatory action and mutual learning among member states. For example, the Centre could facilitate knowledge sharing between countries and help develop early warning systems and spur pre-emptive evacuation to save lives before a disaster strikes. Being able to forecast where and when a disaster could occur presents a window of opportunity for disaster managers to minimise the risk and prevent adverse impacts to exposed communities.
Great opportunities for mutual learning between ERCC and the AHA Centre
LA sees real opportunities for mutual exchange between the European Union Emergency Response Centre (ERCC) and the AHA Centre, highlighting that ASEAN has a vision and dream to be able to respond to disasters outside of its region. This is something that the ERCC has already achieved. The AHA Centre can also learn from the systematic approach to disaster response of the ERCC and EU. ASEAN being the most disaster prone region in the world, its members have a great deal of experience in responding to all kinds of disasters and can share lots of knowledge from these actions. “Name a disaster and we have had it” LA says. A key takeaway from recent workshops held by the LACER project is that ASEAN experiences can shed light on the significance of sharing different perspectives on the same problems and the importance of institutionalising risk knowledge.
"When it’s flooded outside but you still must report to office”
LA is a humanitarian by passion, and a freediver by hobby. He posted this photo as a humorous response to his friends who rejoiced when work was suspended due to flooding in the metro. Such is the life of a disaster responder.