In 2017 Jason von Meding led a research project for Save the Children in Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh. The primary objective was to provide recommendations for Save the Children practitioners about education continuity in the context of urban flooding.
One case study involved students, teachers and parents in Dong Hoi, Vietnam. The study found that a top-down disaster risk management system has not mitigated the community’s (or school’s) vulnerability. There is a disconnect between policy and local practice, and community stakeholders lack access to resources and training.
But despite these challenges, people act. People care deeply for their families, friends and neighbours – in times of crisis, they come together. We need to start listening to communities that we sometimes assume are vulnerable, weak, helpless, and undereducated.
The research confirmed what disaster sociologists have often argued. Communities in Dong Hoi do not panic and act selfishly in flood scenarios – they pool their resources and skills. Policy makers and practitioners must not overlook the capacity of those impacted by disasters to be central actors in responding and recovering.
By working WITH communities, we can tap into the inherent strength and resilience of groups and individuals to mobilize and organize themselves.