Helping people help themselves

The charity group “Kinder in Not” (Children in Need) has been helping needy families in the Philippines for over thirty years, investing in particular in health, education and improving the standard of living.

In January 2015, I visited the “Children in Need” aid projects in the Philippines. We are currently financing around twenty aid projects in the capital Cebu City and in Alegria in the south of the island in collaboration with five local organizations. Our primary aim is to help people to help themselves. We do not distribute charity, being more concerned with promoting health, education and an improvement in the standard of living. It was therefore particularly gratifying for me to see how positively the projects have developed over the years and how they help people to help themselves.

Assistance from “Children in Need” is designed to enable young people to break out of the poverty cycle.

Assistance from “Children in Need” is designed to enable young people to break out of the poverty cycle.

It was therefore particularly gratifying for me to see how positively the projects have developed over the years and how they help people to help themselves. Alegria, for example, is inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers and has no industry. Thirty years ago, the poverty there was so extreme that I wondered whether aid was possible at all. The farmers possessed only small plots of land and the income from fishing was also insufficient to feed a family.

The new senior high school in Alegria offers prospects for the future.

The new senior high school in Alegria offers prospects for the future.

When “Children in Need” began to provide support, St. Peter’s Academy, which had been partly destroyed in a fire a short time previously, was the only high school in the area. Its 270 pupils didn’t know what would become of them. Today over 800 boys and girls attend the Academy’s junior high school. If their grades are good enough, they obtain further financial aid for vocational training at a technical school or college. Around 420 ex-pupils of St. Peter’s Academy are currently in vocational training. During my visit, I was able to witness the opening of the senior high school, which was financed through donations from “Children in Need”. The charity group has set up a total of six pre-school facilities in the Alegria region, three of which have now been handed over to the local authorities for management. Health conditions, particularly among children, have also improved steadily over the years. The RWM clinic, a hospital supported by “Children in Need”, has played a key role in this development.

Our agricultural project in Alegria is also progressing well. Several villages in the mountain regions have combined to form an agricultural cooperative. Trained consultants show the farmers how to use their land most effectively and how to improve the soil with bio fertilizers. Together they produce new seedlings and cultivate plants. The farmers are able to sell the surplus at local markets. Many of the children of fishing and farming families in the Alegria area have now completed training in their desired trades and work in urban industrial centers. In this way they are able to support their own families and in some cases their parents, who have no old-age pensions. Unfortunately, there are still many large families in the mountain regions who require help. Without support they cannot provide their children with the urgently required school and vocational education. They also need aid.

The cemetery people of Cebu City

The most shocking day for me during my travels was the visit to the cemeteries in Cebu City. There are families living near the graves and mausoleums, who earn their living by scraping candlewax from the graves and making new candles with it, selling flowers to visitors to the cemeteries, or tending the graves (see FORUM 46). Their earnings are barely enough to pay for a daily meal. Last year a major conflagration at one of the cemeteries destroyed some of the shanties in which these families lived. Father Max Abalos from Ance Inc., which for years has been helping some 4,500 cemetery people in Cebu City, wrote to us, saying “Families are sleeping on the scorched earth, sheltered only by cardboard and plastic sheeting. Please help us.”

Gisela Wirtgen also visited the cemetery in Lorega with Project Manager Rosemarie L. Dizon Roy.

Gisela Wirtgen also visited the cemetery in Lorega with Project Manager Rosemarie L. Dizon Roy.

After tough negotiations, the city authorities agreed to offer each family 12 m² of land in the cemetery provided that they built two-storey wood or stone houses on it. These houses cost 4,000 euros each. In just a few months, “Children in Need” managed to raise funds for fifty-three houses. And now I was standing in Lorega cemetery and could not believe what I was seeing. Dirty children— often without shoes or in clothes that were much too big for them—were playing around and on the graves. Mothers were attempting to wash their clothes in buckets with filthy wastewater. Other women were cooking rice soup on small fires. I saw emaciated children staring blankly into space. Then Rosemarie L. Dizon Roy, the local Ance project manager, showed me the houses of the families built with our donations, whose colorful façades made them instantly recognizable. The families invited me to take a look around inside and I gladly accepted. On the ground floor there is a kitchenette, a large table and as many folding chairs as there are family members. Next to it is a toilet area, of which the occupants are particularly proud, because this luxury was hitherto unknown. On the upper floor are two small bedrooms, in which up to ten people sleep.

In spite of the extreme poverty, these mothers, fathers and children had smiles on their faces. They were happy to have a roof over their heads once again and even with the confined space were full of gratitude for their new homes. Now it is important for them to take the opportunity on offer and send their children to school regularly. Here, too, “Children in Need” is providing assistance by financing school clothing, material, bus fares and snacks. One thing is clear above all: Only with a good school and vocational education will these boys and girls be able to break out of the poverty cycle.

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