In Ged’s first blog of his trip, he gives us an insight into the background of the Philippines and explains what he’s been up to so far.
Maggie (CAFOD: Nottingham Diocese), David (National Education Volunteer Programme) and I arrived at Manila airport to be met by staff from NASSA/Caritas Philippines. After a rest we travelled to the Catholic Bishops Conference site to meet our hosts the NASSA staff team and introduce ourselves and begin delivering our volunteer training programme. It was good to meet Fr Edu Gariguez again who runs NASSA and visited us in the north west in July 2015.
Let me explain the background briefly: 104 million people live in the Philippines, 80% of whom are Catholic. Following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, CAFOD supporters responded with an amazing £5.4m in a special appeal. The Typhoon recovery programme was completed at the end of June. Anticipating this over 12 months ago, NASSA approached CAFOD for help with a “legacy project”. They are setting up a new National Volunteering Programme focussed on social action and placing it on a firm financial footing, to be driven and owned by local church and its people. It was natural that they would approach us for help with this. CAFOD already has a successful volunteer programme in parishes and schools enabling and encouraging people of all ages to give, act and pray. We have developed resources and ways of communicating and organising which will be useful to them, and, as a sister-agency, we can help them promote their values and the use of Catholic Social Teaching. For us, the benefits we will see locally will include the chance to share the outcomes back home of our work here and in particular the humanitarian response of the Typhoon Haiyan appeal although this is a by-product. As always, the main focus is the needs of our partners and those they want to serve.
The Philippines has an initiative similar to CAFOD’s Fast Days. On Palm Sunday, the Church collects money for its social action work both locally and nationally under the heading of Alay Kapwa, or Offer help to your neighbour based on Mt 25: 40. The Church now wants to expand this into an all-year round vision of social action of care, prayer and advocacy based upon this Gospel message backed up by action locally and nationally.
Since our first meeting and initial sharing of ideas, we have been travelling to see and listen to diocesan Caritas agencies which have already adopted this new approach and are keen for others to join them.
South of Manila, we have visited the Lipa Archdiocesan Social Action Commission (LASAC) staff and hear and see how they have been putting Catholic Social Teaching into practice in a most down to earth and extraordinary way. Based on the works of mercy from Mt 25, they provide food and safe water supplies and a clothing charity shop (which are rare here) through a social enterprise where people need it in parts of Batangas, housing for over 1,500 people based on a resident-led model and basic food items for sale in a cooperative shop of which the Rochdale Pioneers would have been proud! They even have a farm growing flowers for weddings, funerals and the like, providing jobs and keeping money within their community. LASAC supports an inspiring self-help group scheme for local women based on credit unions with over 4,500 people now operating across four towns and federated with members also pressing the Government for improved rights for their children and communities. This is supported all the way by LASAC with practical and value-based training and support programmes and financial support where needed.
The extent of the actions LASAC takes makes them a shining example and though they are not an exception, this practice as not as widespread as the Church would like. The culture of volunteering within the Church here is strong although they would perhaps not use the word volunteer, preferring to see it as parish work. NASSA work with their diocesan partners to seek to establish a specific Alay Kapwa ministry across the country with generic roles identified (and the details to be worked out locally with the parish priest for example) to attract attention and credibility and sustain commitment.
Taking an active role in their local communities is nothing new for parishes in the Philippines and we will revisit this in a later blog but this is part of the background for our visit. For now, do look at some of the photos here of our visit to NASSA and LASAC which have so inspired us and hopefully they will give you cause for reflection too.