By Sophie Passelecq

April 3, 2017

At first, I was nervous about going to San Isidro. I was advised to bring my own water, shorts and shirt to shower. There is no running water and no private bathroom; I would be far out of my comfort zone. Coming from a middle class family in Belgium, I was never exposed too these types of living conditions. Running water, a private bathroom, concrete houses with more than one room are self-evident to me. I realize now they are a privilege that I am lucky to be born in a different part of the world. 

I knew this was going to be a learning experience. Living on the other side. I don’t like to brand the poor as poor but it is the sad reality of their lives. The reality that they accept as “that is life”. Because they have no choice, giving up is not an option, being depressed and sad are not an option. Smile and learn to live in the moment, a wise lesson they taught me. 

The Filipino culture is a welcoming culture and I was warmly welcomed into their homes. They shared their food with me and gave me their bed. The little they have, they shared with me and they would ask me a lot if I were comfortable, if I would like to rest. Apologizing for eating on the floor, they were concerned for my well-being. While I felt unease but grateful that I had a mattress to sleep, it felt like I was taking the little they have away from them. I realized later that there was no need for me to feel uneasy, they were happy to host me and share their life with me. I learned about their many struggles and bringing attention to their cause is why I was there. 

The peasants get up at 4 or 5 am in the morning to work on their lands. They grow crops like talbos ng kamote (leaves of sweet potato), lemon grass, chili, bananas… Usually a women’s job, they will work hard all morning to harvest the crops, tie the vegetables together in bundles. At night others will take the vegetables to the market to be sold in the early morning. As I helped out on the field harvesting and tying talbos, I learned first hand it is a hard job working on the fields, in the heat. The lack of good tools to work the land, the dependency on the weather to rain, makes the harvest insecure. Few are the ones rich enough to own a carabao to help plow the land or a water pomp for irrigation. 

Most husbands will be gone during the week. They work in the city for minimum wages in construction or as drivers. Contractual work with no job security. 

The peasants have many problems, living separated from their families, job, schooling and home insecurity. The families work hard with the means that they have to try to create a sustainable life for themselves and most importantly for their children. Many sacrifices are made. The parents worry about their children. Through immigration offices they will try to find a job abroad so they can finance their children’s education. The parents will migrate to countries all over the world, accepting a job in unknown working conditions, dealing with different cultures and often exploited. The children are already at disadvantage from early age travelling long hours to school in dangerous traffic conditions. The children come back with injuries because 10 children had to ride the same tricycle to school with children falling off and hurting themselves. “Can you blame the children because they do not want to go to school?” the parents asked me. “Yet we have to make them go…”

On top of that, in the San Isidro community, the peasants are at risk of being evicted from their home, their community; they have been building for the past 20 years. A new train line, the MRT 7, is planned to pass right through their community. Their homes will be erased from the map and replaced with a train station, connecting Manila and the Bulacan province. Since they arrived on the lands more than 20 years ago, security guards have been present, fully geared militarily soldiers will pressure the peasants to leave using psychological threats of fear, burning their houses and destroying their harvest. Left with no other option, the families fight back, their land is agricultural land and so it is illegal to built a train line, yet the works have already begun… 

Read more of Sophie’s stories as PSET’s volunteer at http://sophielippines.blogspot.com/