SABANG BAO AND THE SPIRIT OF UNITY: A GOSPEL REINCARNATION STORY (PART I)

BY: Floyd Lalwet

A GOSPEL REINCARNATION STORY:
30 houses inaugurated and turned over;
Partner communities grant-back P1.5M

Everyone, literally or figuratively, shed a tear of joy and of love – the kind that falls when seemingly insurmountable odds are surpassed. This was at the solemn service presided over by the Prime Bishop, with all bishops concelebrating, as the ECP joined its partner community in Brgy. Sabang Bao, Ormoc City in inaugurating and blessing the first 30 housing units which were then turned over to the first batch of participating households as their very own. The event held on 3rd December 2015 for the ECP’s housing project in the said barangay carried the message of the Advent season that the entire Christendom has just commenced this week. It was attended not only by residents of the partner barangay but also by representatives of 19 other communities in Leyte and Samar who are now engaged in partnership with the Church. The entire membership of the ECP Executive Council, which held its last meeting for the year in this city the day before, including the heads of ECP’s national organizations, likewise graced the occasion. Completing the circle of participants were representatives of Anglican Church partners: Tammi Mott, program officer of the Episcopal Relief and Development; Victoria Luker and Philip Miller, development committee member and former ABM board, development and finance committees member, respectively, of the Anglican Board of Mission [ABM] – Australia; Naomi Herbert and Rev. Tim Hartford, Asia-Pacific regional manager and director of fund-raising and communications, respectively, of the United Society [Us.]; and Rev. Rachel Carnegie, co-director of the Anglican Alliance.

It was a fitting celebration for a partnership that commenced after 8th November 2013 when a super-typhoon, the strongest land-falling tropical cyclone ever recorded, hit the central part of the Philippines and turned several regions into a complete wasteland. The killer storm, named Typhoon Yolanda [international name: Haiyan] killed 6,300 persons, injured more than 30,000 and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless.

LOOKING BACK

Following the super-typhoon, the ECP joined the nation in praying for those whose lives were tragically lost and broken in the ferocious path of Yolanda. As expected, its congregations responded with dispatch. Cash, boxes of clothing, sacks of rice, boxes of canned goods and other food stuff were donated for the affected communities. Because of the massive scale of devastation, the ECP not only welcomed but also encouraged the pledge of churches and agencies of the world-wide Anglican Communion, which likewise made immediate offers of assistance. Using the sustainable development approach, the ECP crafted a relief and rehabilitation program that was implemented in three phases: a] emergency relief; b] developmental relief; and, c] livelihood rehabilitation. The ECP’s relief work had two distinguishing features: the mobilization of foodstuff produced and processed by its communities and the installation of solar lighting system in evacuation and relief distribution centers.

Disaster food relief usually consisted of rice, noodles and canned goods. For immediate and short term relief, these food items may be acceptable but for longer term operation, the effect of these foods on consumers’ health or nutrition becomes a serious issue. Hence, the ECP refrained from using noodles and canned goods and instead mobilized and used more healthful foods that were produced and processed by its very own communities, more specifically: vegetable noodles, packed vegetables, camote biscuits and insumix. To be able to produce 1 to 3 tons of these food items to complete a truckload involved the coordinative work of various communities and households working together and complementing each other – from mobilization of raw materials to actual processing.

Lighting had become an urgent need in view of the destruction of sources of power in the worst-affected areas. Every night when it gets dark, affected communities relived the horrors of the deadly storm surges that came in the middle of the night of 8th November. The ECP staff who visited these areas observed that people were congregating on roadsides at night-time to get relief from the lights of passing vehicles. Also, light was needed as protection against possible violence on women and children. In some areas, generators were in use but these required gas fuel which were in short supply. Hence, the ECP mobilized its competence in community solar lighting systems and installed such solar powered lighting in 12 major relief distribution centers.

The long-term rehabilitation work in the affected communities commenced just as the ECP, through its development arm, the Episcopal CARE Foundation [ECARE], launched its re-visioned program anchored on the asset-based development approach [ABCD] and the “Receivers-to-Givers” [R2G] policy and practice. Under this re-visioned program, the Church no longer pursues a grants-giving arrangement but all fund support given to any development project were required, at some point, to be granted back and passed on by the receiving and implementing community partner either to itself for new initiatives or to other groups or communities for similar development ventures under the same scheme where the receivers are enabled to become, at some point, givers.

Yet, when the ECP entered the Yolanda-affected region, it was faced with a dilemma. With the massive destruction of communities in central Philippines caused by the super-typhoon, it had seemed insensitive and inappropriate to talk about ABCD and the R2G scheme with communities whose livelihoods had been almost completely wiped out. There was a strong inclination then towards exempting the disaster-affected communities from the new development approach. But the Church can no longer go back to that situation where grant-supported projects [without any obligation to pass-on] resulted in very limited impact and, worse, oftentimes had the opposite effect of actually deepening the helplessness and dependence of economically marginalized communities. So, following a serious thinking on the matter, a decision was made to pursue the rehabilitation and development work only under the new approach.

The acceptance of the re-visioned program was first put to a test in the housing project in barangays Sabang-Bao and Bayog in Ormoc City. Most of the households wanting to participate in the project were tenants working on lands whose owners did not allow them to build more permanent and durable structures. With the ECP project’s thrust towards building more resilient communities, it was not desirable to merely replace the erstwhile residential structures or pre-Yolanda houses that had no chance against stronger rains and winds. Hence, the affected households needed to be relocated in premises outside of their landowners’ properties which meant that a relocation site had to be acquired for the purpose. A member of the Barangay Council of Sabang Bao graciously offered a portion of her family’s farmland, consisting of one (1) hectare at a cost of P480,000. This can accommodate housing units for 80 households, with the remaining areas reserved for roads and other community purposes. The plan was for the project to purchase this parcel of land to be awarded to the participating households who shall then pay back its cost over time so that the payments can be used to purchase another lot for another set of households requiring similar relocation. Since this project did not bring in any income to the participating households, there was an expectation that the latter would express strong reservations to the R2G scheme or to be obligated to grant back and pass-on any assistance they may receive. With the almost “left and right” offers of many relief agencies and organizations providing grants for housing or materials, it had seemed almost a “mortal sin” for the ECP to go the other way. But, as aforementioned, this was the only way now for the ECP. It just had to bite the bullet and present the plan to the partners.

To the pleasant surprise of the ECP’s leadership and staff, the R2G idea when presented was enthusiastically embraced by the participating households. Furthermore, to the almost complete shock of the staff, these households volunteered to do the pay back for the cost of the land, not within a period of three (3) to five (5) years as the project had earlier envisioned but in only six (6) months from ground-breaking. What the staff had later come to realize was that, as aforestated, many of the participating households were tenants who have never owned a piece of real property in all their lives and this project offered them what they considered to be a golden opportunity to own land for the first time. Hence, there was an excitement over such prospect and a willingness to take on extra jobs and efforts so they could raise the payment the earliest possible time. Even before the project can break ground, the participating households already gave back about 40% of the cost of the land. The full cost of the land was granted back last September even before a single unit can be turned over to the first beneficiary.

THE PARTNERSHIP CELEBRATION

Nanay Helen Tagalog’s family was among the partner families in the housing project. Since her husband had to work as a farm laborer, she did the 3-day-per-week labor contribution required of each partner family for the project. Then she also worked for another 3 days in behalf of families who couldn’t send a representative to the agreed labor mobilization. It is the payment for these 3 additional days of work that allowed her family to pay their lot and housing counterpart. At the partnership celebration, she talked about their daily toil of carrying 40-kgs of cement, gravel and sand, steel, wood and other construction materials from the road to the project site – a distance of 500 meters. But she kept on crying as she said that all these sacrifices were nothing compared to the “blessing” that her family has received. Nanay Elsie Indolo did the same 6-days of work per week because her husband suffered a stroke and was physically unable to participate in the construction. Similarly, it was the additional 3 days work that enabled her family to pay for their lot and housing cost counterpart. Her family also availed of a P5,000 livelihood fund which they used to put up a sari-sari store that her husband is now managing. The amount has been fully granted back and the family is planning to avail of another round to expand the store. At an earlier visit done by Ms. Mott to their temporary shelter, it was her husband who kept on crying.

The story of Nanay Helen and Nanay Elsie echoed the same narrative of hardship and joy, suffering and hope that the participating households have experienced in a project that, at the beginning, they could not imagine would ever happen.

The barangay captain of Sabang Bao and representatives from the Ormoc City government attended the celebration and expressed that the housing units inaugurated were so far the best structures built for those affected by the super-typhoon in the city. As the mayor’s representative expressed at last year’s ground-breaking, many groups have promised to provide housing but nobody had yet to break ground. With the completion of the first 30 units, the project also becomes the first to actually provide permanent and resilient housing and not the transitional structures built by other agencies. Both the barangay and city government asked the Church to donate the road lots to the said LGUs so that they can assume responsibility for paving and providing drainage systems.

Following the service was a sumptuous lunch, complete with lechon, that the partner communities have contributed and prepared as more than 200 persons joined the feast. But the overwhelming sense of positive accomplishment wasn’t about to end. At the program that followed the meal, representatives of a number of communities took center-stage and astounded the ECP leaders and Anglican Church partners as they granted back and passed on a total of P1,570,000. The Ormocay Farmers Association [ORFA] and Maliwaliw Farmers Association [MALFA] passed on P400,000 and P600,000, respectively, or a total of P1.1 million to the Bugho Farmers Association [BUGFA], which some months ago had availed of P600,000 as livelihood support and had granted back and passed on the said amount to other communities. The Canlingga Farmers Association [CANFA] passed on P250,000 to the Lakas Ng Kababaihan Association [LANGKA]. There were more givers than receivers that day and so the P170,000 in cash that the Bayog Women’s Association granted back was received by the ECP National Finance Officer in the meantime while waiting for an application for fund support from any community. Finally, the Barangay Cabuloran Farmers Association [BACAFA] had another story to tell.

It was with BACAFA that the R2G practice was first discussed in early 2014. Aside from the housing project, the ECP was also ready to apply this practice in livelihood rehabilitation and development. In a similar vein, the development approach was also enthusiastically welcomed despite the seemingly unlimited offers of various international and national agencies of dole outs at that time.

As explained to the partner communities, what the Church, through ECARE, was applying in the Disaster Response Project were its learnings that it had gained from more than two decades of community development work. For most of this period, it was involved in a grant-funded partnership which was a one-time engagement and which was concluded when the project was completed and turned over to the community. Since the project usually involved a grant of substantial amount, the community simply can not continually avail of subsequent grants. Even in a best case scenario where the community has put in place systems and processes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project, the over-all impact was often limited and did not make a significant dent on the community’s over-all economic marginalization. Under the new approach, the partner community can continue to progressively avail of development support funds for as long as it grants back and passes on. The Licab, Santa Maria experience where the community initially availed of P200,000 for the first farming cycle and granted back and then successively availed of P500,000, then P1.2 million, and finally P2.2 million in less than two (2) years enabling some farmers not only to buy seeds and inputs for the farming cycle but also to acquire additional lands and equipment was a model often shared. The process of receiving and giving back was therefore a more healthy engagement because the various issues and challenges faced by a community can be continually or successively addressed and because of its inherent character of sharing blessings with others.

As stated above, Barangay Cabuloran, in Dagami municipality, was among the first community to embrace the R2G. First, it’s managing organization, the BACAFA, received a livelihood support fund of P600,000 in mid-2014, committing to make the payback by end of December that year. By end of November however, it has already granted back the entire amount. Because of the huge demand for fund support to the rehabilitation of farmlands, the community applied for and received P1.9 million in January 2015, which was then used to service the farming needs of more farmers. Again, without waiting for the 6-month period within which it had committed to make the grant-back, the same was done in May 2015. In July, it again applied for and received P2.5 million which it paid back last November. In fact, it was through this latest grant back of BACAFA that the ECP responded immediately to the appeal of Barangay San Roque in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija for rehabilitation support following the devastation caused by Typhoon Lando.

By managing very well its livelihood program, BACAFA was able to earn a total of P123,000 which is now its own capital fund. When a group in Cabuloran, the Turmeric Herbal Company, wanted to expand its yellow ginger processing activity, it applied for P50,000 livelihood support from ECARE. BACAFA, however, expressed that it is able to fund this from its own capital fund. Thus, at the passing ceremonies that afternoon, the Turmeric Herbal Company received the amount from BACAFA.

LOOKING AHEAD

While many agencies have packed up and gone home when the spotlight was turned off at the Yolanda-affected region, the ECP settled down in the area and it is there to stay for the long haul. Currently, it is overseeing the spiraling of a total of P13.7 million from one community to another under the R2G practice. By the end of 2016, this amount would have reached P20 million as the Church expands its partner communities from the current 20 to 50. This projected amount in R2G circulation will suffice to support the operational requirements of the staff and mission center in the region, making these fully self-reliant by next year.

The Council of Bishops has declared the Eastern Visayas region as a Mission Area that will lay down the ground for a future diocese. At the service in Sabang Bao, about 90 persons have previously enlisted for reception. The Prime Bishop, however, suggested that the mass reception be scheduled for another time so that it will be given its own focus and not just be a part of another event. Thus, the reception was limited only to 9 persons who are now doing various volunteer chores for the local mission.

A lot has been purchased in Palo and construction of a mission center will commence when the work on the housing project nears its completion by middle of 2016. Indeed, the future looks very bright for the partner communities as they continue to participate in R2G for livelihood and community building and for the Church which has opened wide its doors for those who wish to respond to Christ’s invitation when He said, “Come to me all those who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest!”

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