It’s one and half years ago that the typhoon Haiyan struck in the southern part of the Philippines. But the consequences have remained visible until today. The people there are grateful for any kind of support – like that provided by Kathleen Opoku, employee of Business Consulting, a Bayer Business Services unit, for instance.
people were killed by typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 and 1,785 were missing.
Kathleen Opoku spent two months in the heavily affected city of Tacloban, helping as part of the Bayer Cares Foundation program “Bayer People Care For Society”. When “Teacher Kathleen” entered the campus of the Holy Infant College, the children enthusiastically welcomed her with a loud German “Guten Tag”. They were eager to apply what they had learned in Kathleen Opoku’s German classes. “My youngest students are three years old,” she said with pride and affection in her voice. “The younger they are, the better the pronunciation.”
people lost their homes in the provinces of Leyte and Samar.
Initially, Kathleen Opoku was doubtful about teaching German to Filipino children. “What would they do with it?” she asked at first. “But they’re having so much fun with it, it’s a highlight in their school routine and they are eager to learn everything about Germany. I think it broadens their horizon, gives them hope and a perspective for their future.” Kathleen Opoku isn’t actually a German teacher. She is an in-house consultant at Bayer in Leverkusen, Germany. So how exactly did an expert specializing in strategic project management end up halfway around the world, helping the victims of one of the biggest natural disasters in recent years as a German teacher?
It’s quite simple: Kathleen Opoku is one of the first participants in the “Bayer People Care For Society” initiative. This program launched by Bayer Cares Foundation in cooperation with Business Consulting is not about financial support. The company sends skilled, professional consultants to different kinds of social projects worldwide. “We as Bayer Business Consulting want to achieve two goals with this initiative,” says Kathleen Opoku, “on the one hand, we want to help people. But on the other hand, we as employees also benefit from personal growth.”
On the one hand, we want to help people. But on the other hand, we as employees also benefit from personal growth.
The communication expert Opoku is one of the program’s pioneers. “When I heard I would be one of the first participants, I was pretty excited,” she recalls. But once she had reached Tacloban, the first doubts came up: “In the beginning, I didn’t really know how we would be able to help.”
Tacloban. A city in the northeastern part of the Philippine island of Leyte with around 220,000 inhabitants. In November 2013, the typhoon Haiyan destroyed almost the entire city. Here, the Bayer Cares Foundation works with Caritas Germany. The relief organization placed Kathleen Opoku with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Tacloban City. It was with these sisters that the German guest found a home in Tacloban. They asked her to teach at the Holy Infant College. And thus, the Bayer consultant became a German teacher.
Apart from the college, the sisters have been running the Mother of Mercy Hospital since December 2010. When typhoon Haiyan struck in Tacloban, the school was almost completely destroyed and much of the hospital equipment was damaged. The sisters recall that the hospital was able to function again months later thanks to different international non-government agencies like Humedica International Aid.
But the typhoon caused such a devastating economic blow that the hospital had to take out loans worth several millions of pesos. And now, it cannot pay them back – a difficult situation for the entire staff: Ever so often, employees give notice because other hospitals and facilities can afford to pay higher salaries.
The staff is open for what she has to say as she can provide experiences gathered in a corporate environment.
Under these adverse conditions, Kathleen Opoku came just at the right time to support the sisters. “I helped set up a business plan for the hospital,” she explains. “It provided guidance for critical actions which were absolutely necessary to keep the business alive.” Opoku and hospital consultant Chris Villarino organized a workshop, for example: Staff members and department heads of the hospital were supposed to identify the key areas where the hospital is experiencing problems– and work out first ideas for solutions – together.
Chris Villarino himself had been a student at the Holy Infant College as a child. He quickly noticed the importance of Kathleen Opoku’s input and guidance in organizing the hospital’s affairs. “The staff is open for what she has to say as she can provide experiences gathered in a corporate environment,” he says. Already during the workshop, it became clear how seriously everyone took Opoku’s suggestions – even though it was the first time for the different stakeholders to be brought together in this kind of setting. Although initially shy, the participants started voicing their expectations, needs and desired changes.
With hindsight, Kathleen Opoku is quite aware of the fact that she wasn’t able to save a hospital. But she provided guidance which can point the stakeholders in the right direction. “These are just baby steps. A lot more needs to be done.”
The Bayer employee was also in demand at the sisters’ school. Initially, she taught only two classes at the Holy Infant College, but word of her presence spread quickly – until Opoku had a packed schedule. The consultant soon realized what was missing: for instance a proper science laboratory. “Now I am looking for ways to help out in this respect.”
On the day of her departure, all classes gathered in the school hall. Around 200 students made colorful posters about things they had learned in their German classes and thanked her teacher with dance and song performances. The sisters also had a hard time saying goodbye, just like Kathleen Opoku herself: “The people here have become a role model, because they never give up and keep moving on. They hold on to life with a big smile on their faces.”