Picture this scene. Chapel leaders prepare hot meals for the carpenters. Housing beneficiaries donate lumber from their coconut trees, as well as provide sweat equity. A local hardware owner loans out building materials. Sunday Mass churchgoers give more during the second collection for the project. Only the labor rendered by carpenters hired from another town is paid.
That is the story of how the bayanihan (community effort) spirit has helped build 106 houses in the town of Samboan, southern Cebu over the past three years.
“The Balay sa Paglaum (House of Hope) housing project is the flagship project of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish Caritas,” said Rev. Fr. Eduardo Ventic, parish priest.
Erickson Laspinas, Parish Caritas coordinator, said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what started out as a Vincentian mission in the parish morphed into a housing program. It was eventually adopted by the parish as one of its service programs. The plan was to build three houses per barangay in three barangays every year.
Beneficiaries, most of them farmers who live on subsistence levels, were identified by the chapel presidents and parish youth leaders, who personally visited them and documented their living conditions.
Living in a cave
“There was one beneficiary who was living in a cave. Another had to crawl his way out of a temporary shelter made from coconut palm fronds,” Laspinas said.
According to Engr. Elmer Gerzon, Parish Caritas chairman, there are two house models — one measures 10×12 meters and the other, 8×10 meters. All are built using light materials, such as coco lumber and sawali. Average cost per house is P35,000.
Super typhoon Odette in December 2021 temporarily halted construction work. A 10×12 house takes about four days to finish, Gerzon said.
“The Balay sa Paglaum project is fast becoming a byword in the town,” said Laspinas. “And we were amazed that out of the 106 houses, only three were partially damaged by the typhoon,” he adds.
Tapping network of contacts
Father Ventic also tapped his network of contacts to help fund the project. He presented the program proposal to the Cebu Silangan Lions Club, of which he is an active member. The club donated P100,000 to build ten houses. Msgr. Jan Thomas Limchua, a Cebuano priest named by Pope Francis as Vatican papal chaplain, also pitched in. And so did some newly-ordained priests, who pooled their resources to build one house.
Some Samboan town officials also donated part of their monthly salaries. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gave P5,000 cash assistance to each housing beneficiary, although this was stopped after typhoon Odette.
“The challenge really was finances. We had to have cash to pay the salaries of the construction workers,” said Gerzon. But the donations from the parishioners and the amounts raised during the second collection in their Sunday Masses helped, he saod.
“Photos of the houses are flashed on screen before the start of the Mass. There are also project status updates,” Fr. Ventic said. This is done in the spirit of transparency, he added.
Once the houses are done and turned over to the beneficiaries, a simple communal feast of cooked native chicken, boiled legumes, and bananas are shared by both the grateful house owners and the workers.
“They cry when they see their new dwelling places,” recounted Fr. Ventic, Gerzon and Laspinas.
Gemma, one of the beneficiaries we visited, showed us around her new home which she shares with her husband and two young boys. They used to live in a structure that was only slightly bigger than a pig pen.
“Nagpasalamat gyud mi sa simbahan nga nakabalay na mi,” she said. (We are grateful to the church that we now have a home)
The task is not yet done, though. Fr. Ventic and the Parish Caritas team aim to build 500 houses as part of their parish’s 500 Years of Christianity legacy. “And we are praying for this to happen,” they said.
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.