•  Glady V. Ramos

 At Southville 7 in Calauan, Laguna, we met Fr. Boy Pablo, SDB, whose mission it is, together with other Salesians of Don Bosco, to shepherd the poor flock in this resettlement site. He compares his previous missionary assignments in other poor communities to the present, “I was 10 years in Tondo, 10 years in Papua New Guinea. It wasn’t like this. Hindi biro mag survive ng malaria sa Papua. But this, this is different.”

Around 8,000 urban poor families affected by Ondoy and those who used to live along the Pasig River were relocated here by the government starting 2010. When the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) first came to Calauan in May 2010, there was no water, no electricity, and the people had no work. Because of this, Fr. Boy says, “Depression was and continues to be the number one problem, causing virulence and sexual aberrations.” When the people were uprooted from an urban area to a rural area like Calauan, Fr. Boy explains, “Nawalan sila ng self-identity and sense of belongingness. Na-Ondoy na nga sila, may trauma pa sila. Tapos dito sila dinala.”

Land of Promise

Seeing the neat rows of cement houses built by Habitat for Humanity for this resettlement project spearheaded by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and ABS-CBN Foundation, you would think the poor people should be happy.

But when they first came here from Pasig, Acob relates, “Talagang mahirap ang buhay dito sa Calauan. Kasi pagdating namin, wala lahat eh. Walang ilaw, walang tubig. Tapos yung pamumuhay dito, talagang hindi mo kabisado. Naranasan ko ditong kumain sa loob ng isang buwan na puro tulya lang ulam. Yung tao dito sa Laguna, di kumakain ng tulya. Kasi pag di ka sanay, mada-diarrhea ka.”

Jennilyn, who also came from Pasig with her family, laments the broken promises, “Parang hindi naibigay ng NHA sa’min lahat ng pinagkasunduan namin na kumpletong pangangailangan – tubig, ilaw, trabaho. Tutulungan daw kami pero wala pa ring trabaho. Puro training, seminar. Pero karamihan, wala namang nabibigay na trabaho.”

Although there is a food manufacturing company and a livelihood project like duck farming, those are not enough to absorb the workforce of Southville 7.

Acob, who used to work as a security guard in Manila, adds, “ Kaya yung iba, hindi nakatiis, bumalik ng Maynila dahil sa kahirapan dito. Ang iba, pamilya nandito; yung tatay sa Maynila naghahanap-buhay. So uwian lang.”

This “weekend arrangement” takes a toll on the families. Social worker Susan Pullarca explains, “Sa ganoong kalagayan (na lumuluwas yung mga lalaki o babae), ang problema nila pag di sila nakapagpadala ng pera, saan kukuha ng kakainin (yung pamilya nila dito)?” And when the husband does not come home for a month or two, the wife is already worried that he has another family in Manila. Sometimes the wife will also have an affair with another man just to ensure that her family will be able to eat. When this happens, the couple separates and the children are left in the middle. “Kaya meron kaming mga tinatawag na ‘abandoned children,’ ” Pullarca concludes. “Pag naiwan na yung mga bata – parent absenteeism, mas vulnerable na yung mga bata sa iba’t ibang threat. Pwede silang pagsamantalahan ng kapitbahay, kasambahay o kung sino mang dumadaan.”

Pullarca voices the grievances of the people, “Ang sabi lang nila, ‘May bahay kaming maganda, kaya lang wala kaming makain. Inalis kami sa danger zone, kaya lang dinala kami sa death zone. Kasi nagugutom kami, mamamatay kami sa gutom unti-unti.”

Although now there is water already in Southville, still, there is no electricity. Only a few houses have electricity, but these families had to shell out around P10,000 to pay Meralco for the wiring and connection. So for the majority who cannot afford the fee, they have to “curse in the dark” or, as Jennilyn puts it, “Tiis ka na lang sa gasera na solar.” Or there is the candle which is used in most homes.

Rays of Hope

So the people rejoiced when the Salesians came. To address the dire need for proper food and nutrition, Don Bosco Calauan started a feeding program for some 1,500 kids and senior citizens. This is done not just once a week but from Monday to Friday, the days when the kids are usually left alone by parents who work far away.

“Malaking tulong ang Don Bosco,” shares Fe, a widow who lost her husband in 2012 to liver cancer. She would join their social or religious activities. Eventually, she was given a job as an assistant in Mama Margaret’s Café, a livelihood project of Don Bosco which sells cooked food and even caters for events. Fr. Boy lent the people in charge of Mama Margaret’s P10,000 as capital which they were supposed to return after a month. But the business did so well that they were able to return the P10,000 in just 15 days!

Aside from the café, BoscSeeds (Bosco Sustainable Enterprise and Economic Development Services, Inc.) also established other livelihood projects to provide jobs for the people and train them in managing their own business. There is the Agua Vicuña (an alkaline water refilling station), Aquaponics (which combines aquaculture and hydroponics), Shepherd’s Barbers, Rinaldi Builders (construction and welding), the Paper Project (which makes handmade paper from abaca and turns them into greeting cards), and other projects.

Knowing that they cannot do everything, Don Bosco welcomes working with other NGOs. Both the Aquaponics and Paper Project, for example, are initiatives done in partnership with Consuelo Foundation. Jennilyn now works for Tsaa Laya (which produces tea from herbs which the mothers of Southville plant themselves), an initiative of Ayala Foundation.

Aside from livelihood projects, Don Bosco Calauan also gives scholarships to college, tech-vocational courses or culinary arts. Fe’s only child is a scholar now in 4th Year College, taking up BSEd-Religious Education and Pastoral Communication (REPC) in Don Bosco Canlubang. The courses offered for scholarships are those for in-demand jobs that would increase the graduate’s chances of getting hired and earning a living.

Students from schools like Don Bosco Makati help in tutoring the kids. While students from St. Scholastica College Manila have assisted in the feeding program.

To take care of their souls, Don Bosco has two chapels in Southville where they say Mass. In addition, there is catechism with the help of volunteers like Yuppeace. They are also starting a Bible Study in the community. Pullarca admits it’s not easy for the Salesians to teach the people about doing the right thing and strengthening their faith because the people are more concerned with earning a living and putting food on the table. Worse, they are used to “palusot” – or getting away with doing the wrong thing. But slowly, the people are learning.

Change of Heart       

Acob acknowledges, “Maraming naituro ang mga Salesians. Lalo na sa kagandahang-asal.” There have been a lot of changes. He notes that because they came from squatter’s areas, they used to have a squatter attitude. “ Nung una rito, nagkakapatayan dito. Kasi yung away sa Pasig, pag dating dito, away pa rin. As in may namatay na.” But with the help of the Salesians, that gradually changed. “Nagkakasundo na ang (mga) tao.”

Now, even the kids who used to say bad words no longer speak foul language and even “mano” to old people – something they did not do before. The Salesians also discouraged being naked or shirtless. Acob explains, “Kasi ang ugali ng squatter, lalo na may tattoo, nakahubad yan. Parang pinagyayabang na ‘Ako ay matapang at kitang-kita sa katawan ko.’ ”

“Malaki ang naitulong ng Don Bosco,” Acob gratefully says. “Kung wala siguro ang Don Bosco dito, hindi ganito ang aabutin ng mga tao. Napakalaking tulong ang pagdating ng Don Bosco – lalo na sa mahihirap na tao.”

Bread, Work, and Heaven

What the Salesians are doing now in Calauan is the same formula their founder, St. John Bosco, used in the 19th century when thousands of poor, young people were hungry, maltreated or abused by unscrupulous business owners, and in danger of ending up in jail and losing their souls. The saint, more popularly known as Don Bosco, promised them bread, work, and heaven. And that is what he did: he fed them, taught them a trade and helped them find work, and taught them how much God loved them – not only with his words but with his actions – and how they could love God in return.

But there is much work to be done, for there are a lot of poor people in Calauan and a lot of concerns, too. The people look up to the Salesians for hope. And they are quick to help – as long as they can. Pullarca reveals that although the Salesians don’t have a budget for health, when Fr. Boy has money, he would give P1,000 to someone who needs to go the hospital, at least to pay for laboratory tests. But sometimes, it comes to a point that they don’t even have money to buy hosts and wine for the Mass. In times like these, God sends his angels – sometimes in the form of Don Bosco alumni – to help in their needs.

But many times, when there is really nothing left, Fr. Boy shares, “I would have a headache and I would go out and drive my motorcycle. I’d drive and drive . . . . Then I sold it.” He has sold much of his possessions and used up even his inheritance just to help the people of Calauan. Pullarca would tell him, “Father, parang yung isusubo n’yo na lang, binibigay n’yo pa.”

And Fr. Boy would tell her, “Wala tayong magagawa. Nandito tayo sa ganitong kalagayan.” It’s a quiet offering of everything to the Lord for the poor whom he loves.

Don Bosco is very much alive in Calauan.

If you would like to help Don Bosco Calauan’s projects, you may contact Fr. Boy Pablo, SDB #63917-5320527 Email: frpablo2003@yahoo.com or Fr. Rey Ranjo, SDB #63922-8347841. You may deposit your donations to: Don Bosco Calauan, BPI SA# 0913-2574-99 (Los Baños Hi-way Branch).

(Excerpt only)

Being Don Bosco to the Poor in Calauan

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