Philippines

Tzu Chi Foundation provide food-for-work program in Philippines

With the devastations caused by the recent flooding last August, many residents, mostly from the marginalized sector, are still on the process of rebuilding their lives—among them are those from Banaba Extension, a small community adjacent to San Mateo River in Rizal.

Some had their properties destroyed. Others lost their homes. But worse of these, the community was nearly erased from the map had soil erosion gone critical.

To support their recovery, Tzu Chi Foundation alongside the local government led by Mayor Jose Rafael Diaz jointly launched food-for-work program for a total of 565 individuals starting September 3 to 5.

In those days, participants worked on filling sand bags to build temporary dike which will serve as protection to the eroding soil beside the river.

“Initially, we only have 50 slots for this activity. The government can only support 50 persons through our food-for-work project and we can only give two kilos (of rice) a day to the participants,” started Mayor Diaz, adding it is originally scheduled to last for 10 days.

He continued, “When it came to Tzu Chi’s knowledge, they suggested, ‘why not 500 people?’ We felt lucky because with many people helping, I think the job will be completed in a day or two.”

Instead of the two kilos per day, Tzu Chi Foundation offered to provide 20 kilos of rice to each participant. The span of work was also shortened into three days.

“Either compensated or not, they will work for it because the fact that they will be protecting their own community is actually good enough for them,” the mayor said.

Diaz was likewise positive that the project will affirm the community’s “Bayanihan spirit” – the Filipinos culture of oneness.

The total participants were divided into groups to facilitate the workload. Some were assigned as sand fillers, transporters, stockpilers and kitchen team.

Among the transporters was 59-year-old Joseph Bahadi whose tasks include transporting his fellow participants by pulling a boat to the other side of the river. Even though it required him to soak himself in waters and manually pull the boat, Bahadi still eagerly did his part knowing it will ease the overall work.

“So long as we are all united to help one another, it’s ok. We are like sticks joined to make a broom and together, work becomes easier,” Bahadi said.

Bahadi and the rest of the residents were under one neighbourhood association in the small community. “What is important to me is to help each other. I can see among my fellows that we are all poor so we need to help ourselves,” he added.

Another transporter Glen Balde expressed his thanks that at this time, an organization united all of them in one meaningful activity.

“We are thankful because Tzu Chi is helping us in our community. As for my task, the water is a little deep, we are being swept by the current but it is ok because this is all for the benefit of our place here in Banaba Extension,” he said.

This was echoed by another resident Eleuterio Duhay also present in the three-day community work.

Duhay’s house nearly slipped off the river as the waters overflowed. He fears that if same flooding will happen again, their house would be carried away by the river. Duhay said they had no money to build a new house and leave their current residence in Banaba.

“There will come another typhoon so we need to support the eroding soil. This work is to help ourselves and our group here,” he said.

For resident Raquel Añonuevo, what she saw from her neighbors this time was so different from the previous years.

“This is different because people are really working together. This is my first time to see this unity among my neighbors here. And even though I am not part of the work, I feel involved in this unfolding history of Banaba where oneness (is seen),” she expressed.

Project coordinator Cristina Diaz, on the other hand, was so happy to see the development of the residents’ unified efforts.

“I saw how from nothing, sandbags went up and if only I can translate, it overwhelms my heart to see such (effort). This is one of the remarkable days that took place in our municipality especially here in Banaba extension,” she said.

Sand bagging may perhaps be a temporary solution to the flooding problem in the aforementioned community. But more than that, what inspires the people is to know that they can all work together for the betterment of their own families and community as a whole.

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