After a long flight from Canada, our Development and Peace delegation arrived in Manila around midnight, Saturday, August 15, 2014. We were tired but excited to begin our visit with our partners in the Philippines, particularly those responding to Typhoon Haiyan. It was such a pleasure to meet the other members of the delegation that I would be travelling with over the next 10 days. I was so impressed with the commitment of everyone in the group, all giving of their time to share in this visit. The group is very diverse one, with members coming from coast to coast.
After having a chance to rest Sunday morning, our group met for the first time officially late Sunday morning. We were introduced to the in-country support team who coordinated all the plans for our visit, as well as Development and Peace’s Programs Officer for the Philippines, Jess Agustin. We were given a quick overview of our very full agenda for the next few days.
After lunch, our tour began in earnest with a visit to a project supported by Development and Peace and its partner Urban Poor Associates (UPA). We went to a shantytown in Manila, where we were welcomed most graciously with smiles and warmth from a group of mostly women. We sat in a circle outside and learned how this group, with help from UPA, has been able to receive a commitment from the government for low-cost housing. Construction has already begun and the dwellings will house many families who currently live in shanties along a canal in Manila.
I was particularly touched by the community spirit and the hopefulness of the group. United as a community, the group has been able to obtain approval to build on the land where their shanties once stood and advocate for low-income housing. The government will provide permanent homes for residents, who will purchase the homes over time. I find it difficult to express in words the experience of this meeting. The group began their dream for this housing project several years ago during the Marian Year; they prayed for the intercession of Mother Mary to help them. I was struck by the thought of how this project grew out of the profound faith of the people here, while we in Canada, as members of Development and Peace, respond in faith to the help the poorest of the poor. The Spirit of the Lord moves us all and unites us all in solidarity.
Later in the afternoon, we had a wonderful visit with Bishop Pabillo, the head of Caritas Philippines-NASSA. He provided our group with an overview of the impact Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) had on certain areas of the country. He outlined how NASSA has responded to the humanitarian needs and continues to work with the people impacted. It was clear how important the support of Development and Peace and other partners are in responding to such a catastrophe. Bishop Pabillo expressed his gratitude to Development and Peace and its donors in Canada who have provided such valuable support.
As we continued our journey together throughout the rest of the week, we were welcomed in community after community by the people. The hospitality and reception we received was overwhelming. We were greeted with music and dancing by people who only a few short months ago lost everything, including in some cases, family members and loved ones.
The people we have met have been an inspiration to us all. Their faith in God and devotion to the Church are strong examples and witness for us all in Canada. They are people of faith, hope and love. Even in the face of disaster, they smile and laugh and dance. It is difficult to put into words what we have experienced here with such beautiful people.
Our days in the Philippines have been very blessed. They have been full and stimulating days, where we have seen the work being done by Development and Peace’s partners and celebrated the Eucharist with the communities we visited. We will leave here much richer thanks to those we have met here.