PRESS RELEASE: Oxnard College and CYPHER work on a cutting-edge workforce development partnership that promotes the capacity of youth to develop pragmatic, community-defined solutions to climate change and health disparity


OXNARD, CA (May 28, 2014)- Community, business and education leaders gathered in Oxnard College to develop the capacity of the youth in addressing the local and global challenges of climate change and health disparity. The ‘outside-the-box’ program is called Hybrid STEAM, and it is a partnership between Oxnard College’s STEM program and CYPHER, a community-based organization focused on building a pipeline of ‘thinkers, doers, and advocates’ in climate resilience and health equity. The overarching goal of the Oxnard College-CYPHER partnership is to engage and motivate students, faculty, and key constituencies in Ventura County in innovative solution-making on local manifestations of the overlap between climate change and health disparity already being felt across the county and the broader Southern California region.

“As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” says Dr. Cynthia Herrera, STEM Director, Project ASCENSION, at Oxnard College. “Working with students throughout Ventura County, I have become critically aware of how important career exploration and self-efficacy integration are for a well-rounded education. This partnership between Oxnard College and CYPHER will creatively link traditional and non-traditional learning, environmental-social consciousness, career exploration, and innovative entrepreneurial methodologies to expand the student’s knowledge-base in a holistic continuum of experiences that they may not have had access or exposure to obtain. This project builds on the existing Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Art curricula, and enhances them by injecting the real-world challenge of solving climate change and health disparity—a truly cutting edge youth and workforce development framework.”

Ventura County’s economy has evolved from one that is dependent on agriculture and natural resources to one that draws technology, alternative energy, bioscience, healthcare, military operations, and manufacturing. With a population well over 800,000, Ventura County is the twelfth largest county in the state. Its diversity of resources, businesses and population provide the perfect conditions for innovation and excellence to support this Oxnard College-CYPHER pilot project.

“We are equally proud and excited to be working with such a forward-thinking program, like the STEM Program at Oxnard College,” says R. Bong Vergara, Director at CYPHER. “It affords us a real-world opportunity to apply the best ideas of multiple professional fields, like social work, law, public health, education, and business in helping aspiring youth to be change-makers. We, at CYPHER, believe in the inherent wisdom of the youth and the community in solving local manifestations of climate change and health disparity. Working with a college is an ideal way to demonstrate just how real-world training can spark innovation.”

“The idea of utilizing a collaborative structure across curriculum for teaching a geoscience class is an effort to make the sciences more engaging and increase the student success rate at Oxnard College,” adds Professor Christiane Mainzer, Geography Department at Oxnard College. “The collaboration of the Physical Geography and Art Appreciation, (both GE courses that transfer to the 4-year institution), allows the students from both classes to share service learning projects that deal with sustainability where students will have direct experience with issues they are studying in the course and opportunities to analyze and solve problems or issues in a college campus environment. Service learning is one of the “high-impact educational practices” that engage students intellectually. The relevance of college learning is interwoven into real-world settings as students experience and practice service to the community.”

“Students of art and students of science benefit from hands-on learning and from an exchange of ideas and processes,” says Professor Lucy Solomon, Art Department at Oxnard College.  Science-oriented students utilize creative tools in this new context, while art students solve real-world problems alongside the geoscience students: together, artists and scientists can make a bigger difference!”

This multi-dimensional youth development approach aims to prepare Ventura County students for diverse STEM careers, while simultaneously promoting 21st century learning opportunities, creating tomorrow’s ‘techno-savvy’ workforce, promoting environmental-social consciousness, and manifesting forward-thinking leaders of the future.


CYPHER centers its focus on the youth (13-24 years old) who are often the least consulted community member when it comes to their point of view on world issues, including climate change and human health. CYPHER programs enable the youth to create and inspire their peers and local community to trust in their own solutions to climate change and health disparities. CYPHER achieves this trough partnerships with local STEM programs, a fellowship program, and an annual “Sustainable Earth Decathlon” (SED). For more information, visit the CYPHER homepage at


View updates on our climate resilience advocacy on Facebook: Search Goodbranch Vergara


FeudArt is one way for Goodbranch Vergara to reach its audience. Goodbranch Vergara promotes climate change adaptation within the context of community resilience, its belief that health policy is climate policy, and vice versa. Support our work by getting involved.  Follow us

To promote community and human development as methods for climate change adaptation in vulnerable regions.
Company Overview
Goodbranch Vergara is an LLC based in California. Goodbranch Vergara is focused on linking climate change adaptation with rural and human development. Our projects currently promote community education on the link between health disparity elimination and climate change adaptation. One of our core programs, Conscious Youth Promoting Health & Environmental Readiness (CYPHER), is focused on youth engagement in the U.S., and strategic countries in Africa and Southeast Asia where communities most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change and health disparity reside.Help support our work by volunteering or spreading the word.Visit for your formal Barong Tagalog and informal guayabera needs. They support our efforts.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” – John 15:5,8
For more info, email or skype at r.bong.vergara

‘WASTE’ – A video on the environmental cost of food waste


WASTE – an informative short film on the relationship between food waste and resource waste. A film production of SCHNITTSTELLE THURN GbR commissioned by WWF Germany and UNEP in support of the Think Eat Save – Reduce your foodprint campaign.

Extreme weather: Heavy rains, floods are ‘new norm’ By Sen.


Extreme weather: Heavy rains, floods are ‘new norm’ 


1:38 am | Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Typhoons are normal occurrences in a tropical country like the Philippines, with about 20 typhoons hitting the country every year. Lately, however, the Philippines has been experiencing increasing torrential rains even without typhoons. Intense rains, flooded streets, heavy traffic and stranded commuters are becoming part everyday life in Metropolitan Manila and other parts of the country.

The heavy and excessive rainfall we are experiencing is part of what climate scientists call “the new norm.” This means we are experiencing weather extremes that are more widespread and harder to predict.

As the Philippines is an archipelago, 70 per cent of its towns and cities are built on the coasts, areas highly susceptible to floods and storm surges. And as extreme weather events intensify, our communities and citizens, especially those unprepared and therefore vulnerable, are exposed to greater risks.

A 2013 World Bank report showed that 74 per cent of the Philippines’ population are vulnerable to the impact of natural hazards. The Philippines recorded 2,630 disaster-related deaths in 2012, a global record for that year.

The challenges brought by the new norm are daunting, but the solution can start with us, with simple personal practices, and everyone’s effort put together. After all, it makes a big difference when a tree is planted in every yard, or a plastic bottle is recycled instead of being dumped in a pile of other non-biodegradable trash, or when households, thinking of the welfare of others, manage their waste, or even as simple as buying only what we need.

Environmental audit

We are not lacking in laws and policies that should help us achieve sustainable and disaster-resilient communities.

The list is long and includes the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, Marine Pollution Control Law, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act and the Act Creating the People’s Support Fund.

A great number of environmental and climate change laws, however, is not a guarantee of security.  Unless these laws are strictly enforced, they are nothing more than scraps of paper.

Many of these laws were passed decades ago; others are more recent. Different times present different challenges, so the first order of the day is to ensure that our laws are responsive to present challenges.

We must also ensure the effective and legally compliant implementation of environmental and climate change laws. To establish the state of implementation of these laws, an environmental audit is necessary. Regulations arising from these laws need to be looked at and implementation details covering licensing and permitting procedures, monitoring, inspection and data collection have to be reviewed.

Above all, the state of enforcement needs to be assessed for it is by effective enforcement that we can ensure compliance in practice with environmental legislation.

Funding, the usual theme of the implementing agencies’ excuse for implementation and enforcement gaps, also needs to be reviewed so that our expectations of agency performance can be matched with the means to deliver.

This environmental audit, which I will pursue as a priority, will bring together the experiences and opinions of experts, government agencies, and the public, with a view not just to identifying the issues, but more important, to demolishing the roadblocks to implementation.

Let us take a look at the implementation of the decade-old Solid Waste Management Act.  Statistics from the National Economic and Development Authority show that only nine out of 17 local governments in Metro Manila have submitted a solid waste management plan.

Meanwhile, only 414 of 1,610 local governments nationwide have complied with the national plan as of 2012, which translates into only 25.7-percent compliance rate.

Perhaps, local governments can learn from the small town of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, which received the 2011 United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction for their “purok system.” Residents implemented segregation at source, strictly enforcing their “no trash segregation-no collection” policy.

A paragon of community-led waste management is the third-class municipality of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur, whose townspeople worked together in cleaning clogged canals, their surroundings and seawater, and regulated the use of plastics. Their waste management program was so effective that they won the 2010 Zero Basura Olympics, a national advocacy campaign geared toward a zero-waste Philippines.

Strengthening defenses

In building resilience to natural hazards, we need to ensure that the national and local governments are always prepared to respond to disasters and all sectors are engaged in disaster risk reduction.

Toward that end, we must develop an efficient system of gathering and disseminating hazard and risk information that is linked to early warning systems. For weather and climate, the long overdue modernization of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration must be prioritized. Part of that effort is keeping our meteorologists in the Philippines.

We should protect our farmers and fisherfolk from the impact of typhoons and recurring weather extremes like the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, through social protection programs such as crop insurance.

We should also invest more in renewable energy and ensure proper management of our natural resources.

We need to improve the country’s water management programs, land-use policies, building and zoning plans, enhance the resilience of our schools and hospitals, promote sustainable housing, and improve urban and rural development planning.

We should promote green infrastructure by creating green campuses with forest parks and vegetable gardens, practice waste segregation, and build rainwater catchments. We can build on the gains of the Best School Forest Park, a nationwide public school project of Luntiang Pilipinas and the Department of Education.

We must strengthen livelihood for the poor and the vulnerable by promoting green jobs and skills in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, environmental information technology and other careers that contribute to environmental preservation.

We should also establish proficient and efficient health emergency management systems, especially in major urban centers like Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, to save more lives and limbs and to deliver emergency medical services in times of disaster.

We can also look into creating community-based ecotourism codes that promote tourism and environmental conservation. The Bohol Tourism Code is a good resource for other provinces looking to have their own ecotourism programs. Bohol developed an environment-friendly ecotourism industry featuring a cultural adventure that combines the efforts of five municipalities: Maribojoc, Catigbian, Balilihan, Cortes and Antequera.


Geohazard maps

Meanwhile, we must use geohazard maps in urban and rural planning, including the relocation of vulnerable communities to safer places. Barangay Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley, is a purple area on the geohazard map, which means it is highly susceptible to flooding. The disaster triggered by Typhoon “Pablo” last December could have been prevented if the risks and vulnerabilities of the area had been known and dealt with early by the community and local officials.

In contrast, when heavy rains brought by Typhoon “Gener” caused major landslides in the populated barangay of Cunsad in Alimodian, Iloilo, in July 2012, no casualties were reported, because when the natural signs of impending disaster showed up in the area early on, the municipal government immediately asked the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help assess the risks. The municipal officials heeded the advice of geologists to relocate the residents, saving the lives of everyone in the community.

Today, all 51 barangays of Alimodian have hazard-risk maps and they are aware of the dangers they face from typhoons and other natural hazards. And they know how to keep safe from harm during typhoons.

On top of all these, we need to conduct an effective and interactive education and information campaign to make people constantly aware of dangers posed by natural disasters, encourage them to participate in the reduction of disaster risks, and engage them in environmental conservation efforts.

We cannot prevent typhoons, but the many good practices and success stories we have tell us we can weather the challenges of the new norm.


(Editor’s Note: Sen. Loren Legarda is the chair of the Senate climate change committee and a United Nations champion for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation bestowed in 2007.)

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‘Change informatics’ series: Part 1

This video seminar series is an attempt to equip readers with information tools to apply social work’s ‘person-in-environment perspective’ to issues that stem from climate change, in order to inspire community-defined interventional, remedial and adaptive approaches. This series is a crash course in system-change efforts, including policy advocacy, social entrepreneurship, institution-building, and community mobilization. The series focuses on discovering and exploring climate problems that seem most likely to benefit from adding the social work mindset as solutions are considered.

I will share videos from reputable sources, mostly universities and non-governmental organizations. Feel free to share on twitter, Facebook, and with your activist networks. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Online education on climate change: A place to start

Explore Smithsonian Institute’s research collection on the evidence and response to climate change. Through online video recordings of a conference held from September 29 through October 1, 2009, learn from scientists and curators about the issues surrounding climate change.



To get involved with our climate change adaptation work, please visit our joint effort with Goodbranch Vergara here. Please share your efforts on to let us know how you helped.


HELP GOODBRANCH VERGARA REACH 100 SCHOOLS (high schools, colleges, universities) in Latin America and Southeast Asia that are usually hit by typhoons and, thus, flooding. We can prevent unnecessary loss of life with our flood preparedness info campaign. You can help in 3 easy steps below.

STEP 1: Send the info below to your school contacts in these continents. Help prevent unnecessary loss of life from flooding and extreme storms during the 2012-2013 storm season (June-February).

STEP 2: Please share your efforts on

STEP 3: Have fun informing friends and family to be safe. Salamat po!

***Public Service Info You Can Send to Your School Contacts in Latin America and Asia***


If a flood is likely in your area, you should:

• Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain.

• Be aware that flash flooding can occur. Move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.

• Listen to the radio or television for information.

If you must evacuate, you should:

• Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.

• Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

If you have to evacuate, remember these tips:

• Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.

• Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away.

Driving Flood Facts: Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. A foot of water will float many vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups. Emergency supplies that may assist in a flood, include: Disaster kit (first aid kit; backpack with food, water and prescription medications for 72 hours, extra clothing, blankets, and flashlights, 12-ft rope); Radio with extra batteries; Car kits (emergency flares, shovels, and fluorescent distress flags).

After a Flood: Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink. Avoid floodwaters. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. Water may also be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car. Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company. Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe. Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations. Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals. Repair damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.