Ged in the Philippines: Training volunteers for social action

Ged’s message this week comes from the Alay Kapwa programme in Manila, Philippines.

The reason David, Maggie and I are in the Philippines is to help our partner NASSA/Caritas Philippines (NASSA for short) help the church here do two things.

Firstly, train community leaders to engage and work with volunteers in their area in social action and secondly help the Church make their response to social concerns more sustainable financially with less dependence on international aid.  The second aim is good in that it encourages self-reliance, though, in our experience here, there is little sign of that missing!  In almost every encounter we are touched not only by the strength of the spirit of people here but also with the groundedness and cheerfulness of those we meet.  As a nation, they take this approach too; on Friday, the electricity supplies throughout metro-Manila for over 11 million people will be cut as they practise an earthquake drill, preparing for the “Big One” they know is coming.  The threat is real alright; even their Cathedral for example has been destroyed five times by earthquakes.  Last year they had 60.  In Tacloban yesterday a 6.9 quake struck the city (in earlier plans we would have been there then!).

On top of having to deal with the daily struggles of life, 104m people live on land and near the seas which can hurl such immense forces at them as well.  Surprisingly, this does not seem to teach them paralysing fear but deep respect for the earth and one another, and they are better at not holding onto things which are not permanent, even their cities (families are different of course).

So, what comes across is not so much that they should cope on their own but the inequality of the distribution of the world’s resources, particularly in such circumstances.  But the Philippines is no social paradise.  Although its annual income as a nation is small, still 76% of it goes to a very few people at the “top” (Japan’s figure is 2.8% by the way).  150,000 families here own more than the poorest 6 million.  3.8 million people are living on less than £4.70 a day for all their food and non-food needs.

The solution? Pope Francis says: “Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.”   Even the World Bank agrees with this.  But locally, what can they do?  As Pope Francis says, “This concern for the poor is in the Gospel, it is within the tradition of the Church.”

I mentioned in the last blog that NASSA collect money to support the Church’s social action work on Palm Sunday each year in a programme called Alay Kapwa.  NASSA want to expand this so that the message of Alay Kapwa (offer help to your neighbour based on Mt 25:40) is more prominent in the Church’s life throughout the year.  CAFOD’s Fast Days are similar, highpoints in our compassionate response. Alay Kapwa is designed to, “contribute to the struggle for genuine development.  It aims to address 4 basic challenges of the Philippine Church:

  • Split-level (people saying they care and not caring too much in practice)
  • Inequality: see above
  • Fragmentation: providing a focus for parishes improves engagement
  • Dependency: see above

The money is raised goes to fund development work, works of mercy and works of justice: advocacy,” (source: NASSA).

With CAFOD, we learn and give but we take action during the year too through campaigning like with the Power to Be Campaign at the moment (if you haven’t taken part, please do!).  And we also pray, engaging one another, hearing the concerns of our sisters and brothers and, in that place in our hearts where God is, choosing to say yes or no; do we respond this time or not?

Well, that’s why we are helping people do by training people to recruit and manage volunteers in their parishes here to grow Alay Kapwa.  At our first two-day workshop, we trained 25 leading volunteers in San Jose (St Joseph’s) Diocese using CAFOD’s resources David had adapted as much as possible for the Philippines.  It’s fantastic to put all of this together – we should do this at home too!  Underneath it all is Catholic Social Teaching and the Pastoral Cycle process: See, judge, act – and celebrate!  The people who came were all parish volunteers or workers, leaders of Basic Ecclesial Communities, the groups of which the parishes are composed.  Most of the parishes in the Philippines give to the Alay Kapwa campaign and we talked about how to engage people so that they want to give as a response locally, nationally and indeed internationally (the Church here gave money to help people in Nepal after the terrible 2015 earthquake).

We started with World Statistics Icebreaker to engage people in social concerns.  In managing volunteers, we focused on how to find and sustain volunteers and, in particular, how to use and develop their own resources which we’ve used in our work with schools.  For example, the Life Without Taps Game which highlights life and death issues related to the most basic need, water.  We led them in prayer using the Lampedusa Cross Pilgrimage with its focus on the experience of refugees and into basic campaigning with the Power to Be Campaign liturgy where participants are invited in both cases to take action to address injustice and support the poor through prayer.  We used films (for example on Catholic Social Teaching) and supplemented this with a simple card exercise.  We also focused on the importance of child protection to ensure the most vulnerable are safe within their own communities while acting for the Church and on thanking volunteers for their support.

The reaction?  NASSA staff are pleased with it and the lively responses from participants whom they see as “stirred up.”

More on this in our next epic instalment!

For now, thanks for your attention!

 

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