By Lore Devlamynck
My second week in Negros was in Villa Esperanza, meaning hope, the villa of hope, then the garbage belt of Bacolod City and now ‘developed’ but still with a lot of garbage and glass. Along the way, I again saw a lot of children in the community, which as usual made me wonder who they belong to because they just seem like one big family. Then I was also told there are a lot of drug addicts here – a young boy, killed his mother because he thought she was a monster; some damaged houses for fun.
Here, a lot of people were forced to leave their lands and pushed into the squalor of urban poverty, with no option but to squat on public lands in an attempt to survive. It is law in the Philippines that in order to get a writ of demolition for squatters, whether on public or private lands, the government must provide a relocation site. Yet, I was told that many judges are corrupt, are friends with the landlords, or simply are not up to date with the law, and so demolition orders are issued even without adequate relocation plans.
You see in the urban poor a lot of struggles just to cover the basics of food, clothes, and transportation to work, and education of their children. I heard about families who struggled and saved money to gain title for their small land and house, and then a family member fell ill which meant having to re-allocate all the money they have to health care. If someone gets sick, it is a big disaster for the family.
The people of Villa Esperanza struggle daily to earn for their families – vending, driving tricycles or jeepneys, working on the ports as haulers or day labourers, fishing and collecting shellfish, washing clothes in middle class suburbs, working in construction, running small sari-sari stores, and working for the government in low-level positions. The outcome of such living and working conditions is ill-health: physical, financial, and emotional crisis for entire families. Many suffer and some die of malnutrition and perpetual hunger, ulcers, skin infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, undiagnosed and untreated diabetes and hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and kidney failure, and so on.
The following day, we met with the president of Villa Esperanza Small Fishermen Association who told me about the plight of the local fishermen. We then joined the fishermen to catch crabs. We did not stay for long because of the strong waves and wind but it was a nice experience. The fishermen have a hard job and yet can’t afford to own a land while on the other hand you see a nearby resort, which land has been acquired by a bussinesman through public-private partnership. The people didn’t even know this was public land and are questioning why it was never expropriated to the poor so that they would have decent homes and lives. These poor people hope to be empowered by education, but those who teach and organize are being tagged as rebels.
I was later invited to go to Nanay’s place for lunch. Again the food was really delicious. The people are so friendly and make sure their visitor has enough food no matter how poor they are.
When I got back to the office, I rested a little bit and read a book. In the evening Dr. Nelson invited me to go with him and his collegues to a seafood restaurant. The food was so incredibly good, again. 🙂 After that we went to the street celebration of the Chinese New Year. It was fun!
Coping with frustrating moments
My next visit was to Banago, also a fisherfolk community. I went with Georgie who is a really sweet guy, but not so good in English so we had to use sign language. That is not a problem if you only want to know the way or want to order food… but not when you want to know the struggles and the situation.
We stopped and waited somewhere for reasons I didn’t know so it was a bit frustrating. During lunch, I was not so sure about the hygiene or how the food was prepared but I decided to not think about that a lot. It was actually delicious and I liked it. It was just a bit weird because at first, only I and Georgie were eating. I opted not to ask why because I felt they would not understand me anyway. I didn’t want them to think that I was being disrespectful or something.
Lunch was over and I still had nothing to do so I tried to chat with the girl next to me who was working on shells. She accidently cut her finger with a knife. I tried to help by giving something to put on it, but she said; ‘it’s my wound!’ I was shocked because I just tried to help. Maybe she didn’t like me or something. But then I thought, she lives this life everyday. If I weren’t there, she would deal with it by herself. It was not a big wound anyway.
Then came a young diver who wasn’t good in English either but tried his best and we somehow understood each other. His father died of heart attack while diving. I felt so sorry for him. I asked if I could join the fishermen to the sea in the evening.
A few hours later, two girls took me to the shore where I saw a really nice sunset. But after that I waited and waited and still no one could talk to me. The night came and the fishermen started drinking. They said we could not go because the boats were not in the water anymore. Again I felt frustrated. I didn’t do anything this day and learned nothing about this community. But maybe I should have tried more to speak with them by sign language. That evening, we all just slept next to each other on the bamboo floor.
When I woke up, I hoped this day would be better. I didn’t want to think negative anymore. I never complained to the people around me (I did it in my head) because the people live here always like this and I felt like it’s not my right to complain about my needs or something. I could tell that this family is very poor because I didn’t see them eating. For breakfast we had just some bread an instant chocolate drink.
When I thought I would finally be going out to the sea with the fishermen afterwards, Georgie said that we would already be going to another purok. I didn’t understand why. Was I not welcome anymore or something? But I tried to not think about it and just follow.
We went to purok Riverside where I met a lot of old people who are really active in the urban poor organization called Kadamay. Really cool to see that oldies are also active. Very inspiring. ..
And one morning, one of them took photos of me sleeping. So funny! Maybe they never saw a white person sleeping :p As this was my last day in Banago, she organised a little party with karaoke and alcohol. This was a bit strange to do in the morning, but I decided to just go with the flow. I drank but only a little because it is still my internship.
Back in the office, we had an evaluation of my visits to Villa Esperanza and Banago where some of the people from these communities were present. I think it’s really good to have this because it helped me understand what happened in Banago where the language barrier gave me a lot of frustration .
Getting sick in Negros
Nanay Demit took me to a private hospital. The private hospital looked a bit like in Belgium, only smaller. It seemed very organised, and not packed with a lot of people because it’s too expensive.
Meanwhile, at the public Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital you will see the big difference as soon as you arrive. A lot of people were waiting. One of the was a guy who came from very far to have his pelvis checked. We had to help him get the bill because in this hospital you have to get the bill first before the investigation. The bill was P1,200 and because this guy is really really poor, we had to take him to the social workers. There they interviewed him and was able to reduce the bill to P1,000. It may sound like a small amount, but for the poor it’s still very expensive because this is only for the investigation, not for any medicines or surgery. Around the hospital, you would see a lot of people, sometimes two people in one bed, or people in the hallway. All the sick people who have to be in isolation are all in one room. I wonder if this is a good idea. I mean, wouldn’t the people with one disease just acquire another?
Stand up, rise up for LOVE!
On Feb 5th, we went to the One Billion Rising dance practice. One Billion Rising is the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history. The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistics that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls. Here in Bacolod City, there will also be an action for this on the 14th of February near the old city hall. I tried the dance on my own and I am hoping I can also go to this event.
And woohooo! Valentines day finally! We went to a resort outside of Bacolod City, somewhere near the mountains. Except for the rain, it was a really nice experience. I swam with the children and taught them how to swim – I really enjoyed that. Afterwards, we went back to Bacolod City for the One Billion Rising. That was also nice because I saw a few people from the urban poor community of Villa Esperanza.
Lore Devlamynck, a nurse taking up MA International Cooperation at Howest University in Belgium, is in Negros for her internship.