Sr Nuala Gannon
Reports from the Philippines
Greetings again from the Philippines!
Here in the Philippines prior to, and since lockdown, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to the lived reality of the lives of people who are homeless, as well as those who are living in inhumane conditions. The extent of poverty never ceases to numb me and leaves me with a sense of helplessness.
We took the students for an exposure day to a Centre where hundreds of homeless people including men, women and children who live under makeshift shelter on the streets, are offered the opportunity to discover again their human dignity. Due to family disputes, marriage break down, drug abuse, rejection and so much more, they have become outcasts of society.
The Centre is run by the Divine Word Missionaries and is called ‘Kalinga’.
For almost five years now, Kalinga Center, a project of Society of Divine Word Missionary priest, Flaviano Villanueva, has been offering the homeless meals, a place to shower, and clothing.
Father Flavie, as he is known in the community, said the program aims to give the poor the chance to find dignity and create their own self-worth.
Father Flavie the Director, warmly welcomes all who come through the doors of ‘Kalinga’
A SHOWER AND CHANGE OF CLOTHES
The lady helping was herself homeless for many years and as a result of the welcome and support she experienced at the Centre, her life was transformed and now she is instrumental in enabling other poverty stricken and rejected people to regain their human dignity and worth.
A proud father with his daughter, one of the forty homeless people I had brief conversations with in the course of two hours. Two hundred came to the Centre during our morning visit.
Our group when we visited the CentreBasic counselling and advice is offered to the younger men and women
The priest said the decision to leave the doors of the center open despite the lockdown was difficult. Father Flavie’s initiative to keep the Centre open during lockdown was frowned upon by authorities.
In the morning of March 19, police and village officials dispersed about a hundred street dwellers who had lined up outside the priest’s center.
Authorities said the center violated the government’s quarantine regulations, especially on “social distancing.”
“We know the rules,” countered the priest. He said people line up 1.5 meters apart and only up to 15 people were allowed inside the center at any given time.
“They wash their hands, have a quick bath, take their vitamins, take a meal package, a bottle of water, oranges, and a face mask, then they leave,” said Father Flavie.
He asked himself: ‘Should the center have a particular time or season?” ‘Christ came in a very uncommon, unprecedented time, so with that, I realized that ‘Kalinga’ should have no season’
Taking the temperature of those who enter the Centre because of the Corona Virus pandemic.
“I don’t know what is more painful, to see someone denied of food or to see someone in authority tell a homeless person to get out,” said Father Flavie.
“We have this crisis, a virus, but we could have virtues over virus, we have to show compassion. We have to be sources of hope instead of bringing hell to these people,”
A MOVING STORY
For years, Johny Suza, 48, drove a tricycle, also known as a “trike,” to make a living. Then he had a disagreement with the owner of the vehicle, who later reported him to the police.
Johny ran away from home and, for a year now, has been going from one homeless shelter to another in Manila.
When authorities declared a lockdown of the city due to the spread of the new corona disease, the shelters closed, threw out the homeless, and Johny had nowhere to go. However, he found a welcome when he arrived at ‘Kalinga’.
Lockdown has affected all of us in numerous ways but here, those who are suffering most are the poor. Government allowance promised at the beginning of lockdown in March did not get to families until May.
In the meantime, with no work even the most menial jobs for the poor, like scavenging rubbish dumps were forbidden, tricycle drivers were out of work, all of which left thousands of families without food. The ration of rice which they were promised did not reach them.
Thank God for the Church, Religious Communities and Charities like Caritas, they were able to survive on a small amount of rice taken to a pick- up point in the street, where a member of the family was allowed to collect it.
A hands-on experience last month for the students and resident formators at RVA, was to divide 10 sacks of rice each weighing 50 kilos, into small bags each weighing 1 kilo for distribution to 300 families who live in the squatter area just outside the main entrance to our Compound.
Following an appeal by Fr Joseph the RVA Coordinator of the Chinese-Mandarin Service, he received amazing donations with which he purchased the rice.
The students are encouraged by the presence of Fr Joseph!
In addition to the distribution of rice to the families here, hundreds of families in other poor areas continue to get a supply which is collected from here by the Vincentians and other Religious, serving the poor on the frontline. Ours was a small effort to support the poor but it also heightened our awareness of those who are suffering so close to us.
Another project we were able to support was in one of the poorest areas where mothers had no milk for their babies. We each offered a little financial help and with the support of members and friends of Fondacio, enough money was raised to supply enough milk for 20 families.
Here are some of the babies and children up to the age of two, whose parents received packets of powdered milk. You can see that many of them are malnourished.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE!
During the weeks of lockdown, I am taking advantage of enjoying the beauty of nature on the RVA Compound as I take more ‘contemplative’ walks on Sunday evenings.
Over the weeks it was wonderful to observe the changes taking place in the various flowering shrubs and trees. I was reminded of the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins-
‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’
For me, this time was an invitation to see and appreciate anew the nearness of our Creator and to marvel at his ‘whisperings’ all around me. This awareness was also heightened as I connected by ZOOM for the 5th Anniversary of Laudato Si.
I was particularly inspired by the discussion on May 18th – Laudato Si 5 – ‘As Prophetic and Relevant As Ever’.
I was challenged to take more seriously what is happening to our common home
MY PICTURE GALLERY!
‘What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ W.H.Davies
Students at prayer in our chapel as they reflect on the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
After Mass in RVA Chapel on Pentecost Sunday. The flowers and focus in front of the altar were prepared by three of the students.
The Feast of ‘Corpus Christi’
I started this short account of Happenings here at IFFAsia in May, but with numerous demands on my time, it is only now that I have found the time and space to complete it!
Like so many, I am patiently waiting for the day when I can get outside for a nice coffee and cake!
You each continue to be in my thoughts and prayer.
Love and blessings,