At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the communities that was hardest hit was the town of Poro in the Camotes Group of Islands in Cebu.
A two-hour boat ride from Cebu City, Poro is a 4th class municipality in the province of Cebu. The 2020 census says it has a population of 26,232.
Poverty is a main concern that surfaced in the focus group discussion conducted in preparation for the establishment of the Sto. Nino Parish Caritas.
Rev. Fr. Joel Bonza, MSC, parish priest of the Sto. Nino Parish in Poro, Camotes, said they realized the urgent need for food security at the height of the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19.
“Ang naigo sa pandemic kadtong na-disconnected sa yuta. (Those who were hardest hit were those disconnected from the land.) Thus the need to farm for food security,” he said. Many residents of Poro work in mainland Cebu as laborers and construction workers. For the families left behind, the parish provided ayuda (aid) in the form of food packs, medicines, and even diapers. Every Sunday, there was a community pantry that handed out noodles, canned goods, and farm produce to those who had nothing on their table.
Fortunately for the Porohanons, their soil is fertile. And this Fr. Bonza hopes to tap in developing a self-reliant and sustainable community.
Laudato Si Center
Fr. Bonza and his Parish Caritas team composed of Joselito Dumagat, Parish Caritas coordinator, Josefino Alvizo, coordinator, and members Edwin Estrera, Jose Francis Tucal, and Junnel Lagroma, have started planting the seeds of this program on a one-hectare property administered by the Vicariate of the Immaculate Conception. It is aptly called the Laudato Si Center, taking off from Pope Francis’ encyclical which has the subtitle “On Care For Our Common Home.” In it, the Pope critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming, and calls all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.”
The center serves as a training ground on environmental/ecological issues and concerns, targeting mostly the youth. Fr. Bonza has started a seaweed culture project there.
“This is Caritas helping a community,” Fr. Bonza said. Once this livelihood program generates enough revenue, residents of barangays Mercedes, Cansuting, and Poro who are active participants will get a share, he adds.
There is also a vegetable garden that produces okra, camote, lemon grass and pepper. The center also raises free range chicken and geese. Tilapia is also cultured in the center. Because water is a scarce resource in the area, they use rainwater for the vegetables and the tilapia farm.
Fr. Bonza said he is getting all the help he can get to make the program sustainable. He and his team recently brought some farmers on an exposure and observation trip to a privately-owned farm. They also plan to connect with the Department of Agriculture Region-7 to train the farmers on organic and sustainable farming.
Aside from these, they are also tapping the MSC Center for the Poor in Butuan City for technical assistance and education.
In his homilies, Fr. Bonza encourages recycling and upcycling. He disallows the use of tarpaulins and instead encourages streamers and buntings made of cloth for fiesta celebrations in his parish.
Fr. Bonza said he got his inspiration from fellow MSC priest Fr. Richie Gomez and Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, S.J., both environment advocates like him.
Sobre kada buwan
Despite the parish’s meager resources, they were able to initiate in January 2022, a “love offering” project called Sobre Kada Buwan (An Envelope a Month) where generous parishioners give a monthly donation to fund Parish Caritas projects. Of the amount collected, 45 percent goes to Cebu Caritas. Super typhoon Odette depleted the fund because they had to purchase GI sheets, nails, and other housing materials for those whose houses were badly damaged.
The Parish Caritas team said there is a need for the rich to help those in need. And while resource mobilization remains a challenge to sustain their programs, they are hopeful that the seeds they have planted in the Laudato Si Center will, in time, bear fruit and reap bountiful harvests.
Attorney Paredes is a Trustee of Cebu Caritas, Inc. and Member of the Good Governance Committee. Before her retirement, she led the Public Affairs division for Visayas and Mindanao of Smart Communications, Inc. She used to work in media both for print and broadcast.