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Healing After Typhoon Haiyan Through Basketball

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing student blogging series entitled The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Ny-Ann Nolasco

On Nov. 8, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines with winds reaching 280 kilometers per hour (175 mph). It was not only the 30th storm to hit the country in 2013 alone, but it was also the strongest storm recorded. More than 6,300 of our people, our teammates, died. People who’ve never heard of climate change are now all too aware of its impacts. Nearing the first anniversary of this catastrophic disaster, I would like to remember the lives lost and the role of basketball in rebuilding lives.

Shaquille O’Neal, then center for Los Angeles Lakers, jersey #34, came to visit the Philippines in 1997 and was quoted as saying that he found no other place in the world who loved basketball as much as Filipinos do. And it’s true; it has always been both a pastime and an obsession. Basketball is something Filipinos do without a court, without being taught the rules of the game, or a care if they’re any good at it. Basketball is a part of life. Basketball hoops are one of the few items that will never reach landfills in the Philippines because there is always someone ready to take a free hoop. If none is available, any circular object that resembles a hoop will do. Even wire hangers are sometimes reshaped and repurposed as basketball hoops.

In recent years, basketball has also become a forum for healing, bringing laughter and glee in the wake of a lineup of worsening natural disasters. It surprises foreign journalists such as Todd Pittman, who wrote in "Signs of life amid misery reveal Filipino’s spirit" that basketball hoops are usually one of the first, if not the first, structure to come up after a storm. Pittman writes, “As a foreign correspondent working in the middle of a horrendous disaster zone, I didn't expect to see people having a good time — or asking me to play ball. I was even more stunned when I learned that the basketball goal was one of the first things this neighborhood rebuilt … It took a moment for me to realize that it made all the sense in the world.”

It didn’t take more than a few days after Typhoon Haiyan dissipated before players and bystanders were willingly distracted from the violent scene that surrounded them, with basketball serving as an anesthetic to the shock of loss and devastation. Perhaps it was just a momentary anesthetic, but the cheers and disappointment for missing a basket is nonetheless genuine. Basketball continues to be a part of life in the Philippines -- as the numbness wears off, as the community moves on, as life begins a new set of daily routines. In all of this, basketball plays a different role at different times, but it is always played.

Today, people like Geraldine Bernardo, previous captain of the Philippine National Dragon Boat Women’s Team, uses sports like basketball to help heal communities that have fallen victim to Typhoon Haiyan. She collaborates with professors, local sports psychologists, International Emergency and Development Aid, and mentors from University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace and Society to launch R3 (RePLAY, ReLIVE, and ReNEW). The sustainability of their program goes beyond financial aid; “it aims to get communities that were affected by the typhoon involved in sports so they can have fun, move beyond their hardship and loss, and find a moment’s peace, feeling unified under a single, simple goal: play ball”, writes Nicole Blades in her article "After Disaster, Geraldine Bernardo Works to Prove that Sports Can Heal Communities."

Typhoon Haiyan cost the lives of over 6,300 Filipinos and over $14 billion in economic damage. According to a study conducted by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security and the German Alliance Development Works, the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to climate change. My country can literally disappear from the map. The story of resiliency within the Philippines as epitomized through basketball is one of the most compelling stories of the power of sports to help heal. But it is not a sustainable story. It’s time to look ahead to get beyond healing and rebuilding. Climate change is happening, and there is a call for mitigation from the leaders of the Philippines and the rest of the world. It’s a cliché but true: This is not a game we can afford to lose.

Image credit: Flickr/DFID

Ny-Ann is a dual-degree MBA/MPA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. Her experience in heavily regulated products and services within the healthcare, education and financial industry feeds her passion for sustainable process design that engages both the public and private sector.

Presidio Sports headshotPresidio Sports

This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

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