Monday, December 25, 2006

White Christmas For Zamboanga's Poor

Poor children pose for photograph 24 December 2006 in Zamboanga City's Rio Hondo village.

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Al Jacinto / 25 Dec) - It’s been a year now, but nothing has change in Lumbangan. It is a village, about 10 kms east of Zamboanga City, where the government garbage dump is located.

As in the previous Christmas Eve, scavengers - men and women and children too - are so busy digging for scraps. Nothing has change, except the poor people in the village are more desperate for food and shelters, and education for the children too.

And the situation is worse than it was a year ago. Today, scavengers complain that government security guards are scaring them away to protect the interests of unscrupulous junk dealers who are cornering the garbage business in the village.

Children, some as young as three years old are already picking rubbish, helping their family earn a living. There was no help from politicians, not even on Christmas day, scavengers say.

The cycle goes on every year. And the same story is told to us every Christmas eve.

Young scavengers wait for Santa to come, but he never showed up, they say. Santa - to many of the scavengers - are the people they voted to serve them. “They never came here, never. There is no help from them,” says Felicito, whose son and wife also help him dig for scraps.

On Christmas Eve, we decided to distribute books to children right at the garbage depot.

The books, about two boxes of them, were donated to the Mindanao Examiner by The Asia Foundation after we told them about the situation in Lumbangan. It was the second batch of books given to the village. The Lumbangan Elementary School also got books this year from The Asia Foundation.

We also gave out bread and small amount to each of the more than 100 children and adults too.

An old woman they call Lola (granny) cried to us as she tells her story and hardship of raising a poor family by digging for scraps on mountains of garbage in the village of Lumbangan.

“There is no one to help us. Please help us and tell the whole world that we need food and shelter and education for our poor children,” Lola says.

Another woman, Jacqueline, begged for help and money for her eleven-year old boy who is suffering from renal disease. “My boy comes and goes to hospital. We don’t even have money to pay for the jeep that will bring us to hospital,” she tells me.

Christopher Navarra, a video editor of the Manila-based Monad Studio, our partner, broke into tears. “It’s hard man, life is hard,” he whispers.

His assistant, Hader Glang, a freelance video man, is also witness to the difficulty of every people digging for trash in Lumbangan.

They were lucky because aside from us, a Muslim man they call the Sultan of Sulu, Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Muhammad Pulalun, also visited the garbage depot for the first time since he was proclaimed in 2004.

The 50-year old Sultan Pulalun distributed rice and canned sardines and noodles and promised to bring more. He later distributed more rice to victims of two huge fires in the villages of Camino Nuevo and Canelar.

From Lumbangan, The Mindanao Examiner team headed to a slum area where we distributed some 400 packs of Trust and Frenzy condoms to men at the tough neighborhood. It was all over in 10 minutes.

The condoms were donated to us by Aida Masuhod of the Family Planning Office of the Philippines in Zamboanga City.

The Mindanao Examiner, led by our publisher, Maritess Fernandez, went to Rio Hondo, a poor Muslim enclave, to give to children 75 packs of steamed rice and halal chicken adobo (cooked in soy sauce and vinegar, virgin olive oil with lots of onion and garlic).

Thanks to Swift Foods Inc. for the chickens. A village councilman Alibbon Asakil and his wife helped us in the distribution of the meal and it was over in half an hour. It was not enough, so we went to the nearest store and bought 100 kilos of premium rice and gave out one kilo for each poor family.

It was the first time, villagers say, that they received food and rice from a private group. Not even politicians go and visit them, according to Usman Ibrahim, a fisherman.

“They don’t like poor Muslims. We are discriminated and they are also afraid to come here and see our poor situation in Rio Hondo and Mariqui (villages). We don’t even have water and electricity, not even a descent health center,” he says.

The Mindanao Examiner and our international partner, the California-based L.A.-Zamboanga Times and its chief editor John Shinn; and the Monad Studio wanted to help more poor people, but we are only small players here.
We hope that more private individuals and civic groups, NGOs and other countries would be able to help the poor of Mindanao, especially the Muslims who are most neglected in this part of the country.

Nagpapasalamat rin ang Mindanao Examiner sa lahat ng mga taong tumulong sa amin upang mapaligaya ang halos 250 mahihirap na Pilipino sa lungsod ng Zamboanga.

Nais rin naming pasalamatan ang mga sumusunod: Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Muhammad Pulalun, ng Sultanate of Sulu; Swift Foods Inc.; Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils; Asia Foundation, Cecille's Pharmacy; Flavorite; Village de Zamboanga; Aida Masuhud ng Family Planning Office of the Philippines at mga miyembro ng Peace and Conflict Journalism Network o PECOJON.

Maraming pong salamat sa lahat ng mga sumusuporta at patuloy na tumatangkilik sa Mindanao examiner. Mabuhay!

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