The latest from Cebu City is that no matter how well you think you understand the problems that consistently present themselves, there are ten more problems that one has yet to comprehend.
The more time I begin to spend here, the more I notice to depth at which some issues run, not only with the Badjao but with a myriad of city communities. One such community, or group of communities, is the Redemptorist Community of Cebu.
For the duration of my time here, two weeks of it will be spent living with a Redemptorist family who kindly offer to host SERVE volunteers every year. This relays a true insight into their Filipino experience and a better understanding of some of the problems that people such as them face in this unbalanced city. The predominant problem facing some of these communities is their displacement from their homes due to large business conglomerates parading in to build hotels, shopping malls and various other large buildings that seem to serve a purpose to some, but not to most. As a result, some of these communities are left living in poor conditions with enough money to keep themselves going and to maintain a decent standard of living, but not enough to improve these said conditions.
These families do not receive any money when their houses are taken from them.
Yesterday, we received an opportunity to visit these communities to witness the onslaught of greed and inhuman business practice. After a jeepney ride to the city centre and a short walk ,we reached the Redemptorist Church, the pinnacle of their community. As it was Sunday, hymns floated from the open walls of the church into the sweltering air and provided some sweet relief from the daily din of city living. Greeted by our leader for the day, we visited some of the Redemptorist communities living proximal to the church. An experience that I will struggle to put words to.
The only word I have to describe how we walked through the narrow passageways is ‘slithering’. Stained a cruelly beautiful azure from washing detergent, the stony and uneven passageways presented us with challenges in not getting dirty, wet or both.Weaving between areas of slime and stepping over unidentifiable masses of trash, I almost felt guilty for complaining or being disgusted because I am here for four weeks. These people live their lives in this. The rubbish in the river can be likened to a tangleweed that chokes all it encounters; slowly causing the nature and life underneath it to succumb to its unnatural disease.
The community itself is dilapidated yet dignified; seedy yet civilised. The houses may be in poor repair and the dark and grimy exteriors maybe off putting but again, as The Philippines has proved, there is a smile and a laugh in every person and a deep love for one’s neighbour that Ireland once had but has lost. This offers me as as an outsider a small piece of comfort as although the conditions are bad, somehow I do not feel as bad for the people if they are already so happy.
Which is an interesting lesson for anyone reading this. Appeals by organisations on television for money to support communities we know nothing about cause us to believe that poverty means helplessness.
It does not.
Before drawing conclusions, we need to ask ourselves if these people are happy, if they are loved and if they are cared for. They do not yearn for things they have no experience of. We have unfounded pity only because we know what they do not have. This is not a just cause for pity. A shining symbol of hope within the community was the woman with the basket on her head. She is not young and she is not slim. She does not have as much money as us, as pleasant a home as us, as delicious food as us, as fancy clothes as us. But she does have a skill that none of us possess – the woman can carry large masses of food in a basket on her head. The message being: ‘just because they are different does not mean they are at a disadvantage.’ Helping these communities should be a recursive process, where they give us as much as we give them and the cycle continues, a lasting trading of experience.
And so I end today’s blog entry by mentioning something these communities pride themselves on: food. The pungent stenches that we all experienced though our walk of the communities were overshadowed always by the beautiful aromas at various intervals of the walk, waltzing through the windows and doorways of houses lining the pathways. Scents of spices that most Irish people have yet to experience. Coupled with a supper of indigenous fruits with unpronounceable names, the food is a reminder that fantastic and beautiful things can be found in the most unsuspecting of places.
By: Ronan Bennett
Action at Home
My action project took the form of a talk given to children in my local primary school about my experience. Through this talk, I aimed to give a holistic idea about the life of the Badjao through allowing the children to empathise with some of the issues they face.
I talked about the geography of The Philippines; where it is, it’s weather, cities, landmarks and famous people to introduce the children.
After this, I went through various topics with the children all put into the context of the Badjo community. The children were encouraged to record any questions they may have as they went as to ask me at the end.
I spoke about Badjao education, how they Badjao live (housing, food, pastimes, clothes), issues they face (environmentally, governmentally, ethically, educationally and medically) and ways the children here in Ireland can help them (spreading positive messages, staying informed, potentially volunteering in the future).
I then showed the children a selection of artefacts and photographs I brought home with me from the Badjao community (pearls, handmade clothes, fans, food, pieces of coral and model toys). The children were mesmerised by the whole experience as it was something totally new for them and it provided great discussion for the entire time I spent with the school.