Sunday, January 25, 2009
They lived in shanties made from light materials, with rusted roofs and walls with chipped or peeled off paint, beside a river that doubles as drinking water source and toilet. Now, several hundred families are rebuilding their lives in more dignified homes thanks to the initiatives of the Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia Empowerment Center (SHEC), a non-government organization named after the founder of the Rogationists of the Heart of Jesus, a religious order of Catholic priests who initially spearheaded the NGO.
The priests and brothers while undergoing their formation studies used to just live with the residents of these slum communities in the city of Pasay, just adjacent to the Philippine capital of Manila. They engaged the community by basically helping them enrich their spiritual life. But seeing that their needs go beyond the spiritual and inspired by the community's tenacity and desire to better themselves, the priests and brothers founded SHEC and helped organize the community to form the counterpart people's organization, the Saint Hannibal Christian Community or SHaCC.
SHEC and SHaCC aim to build God's kingdom here on earth or at least something very close to it. The religious and the residents of these slums try to create a holistic community development program that include initiatives for and provision of quality shelter, health, education, environment, livelihood, values formation, peace and justice, and child and youth development. Knowing fully that they cannot do it alone, the NGO and the people's organization partner with institutions which help further their goals. Collaborators include the Habitat for Humanity and the government's Community Mortgage Program for the shelter component and the UP College of Medicine for the health component, among others.
The University, represented by myself and the students training under our Section of Community Medicine, visit the SHaCC housing site several times a month, engaging the volunteer health workers from among the residents through health education, covering a wide array of topics from the use of medicinal plants to reproductive health and healthy lifestyle initiatives like daily exercise and proper diet. Their eagerness to learn, improve their own health, and help their neighbors improve theirs are barometers through which I can measure hope and the possibility of change.
From shanties that get toppled when a stronger breeze blows to concrete homes which their own hands and sweaty bodies build; from a culture of dog-eat-dog to one that embraces the reality that they are each others' keepers; from a mentality of hands outstretched to receive alms and dole outs to a sense of renewed dignity where they can look anybody in the eye and greet anyone with a firm handshake- these erstwhile slum-dwellers have nowhere else to go but up and out, beyond poverty.
To help and be part of this worthwhile endeavor, visit the website of the Saint Hannibal Empowerment Center - http://www.shecrog.org/ or leave a comment after this post =]