In the last year I have found myself living in three of four places where I wash out of a bucket. One thing I have noticed is that it makes you much more careful about how you use water. Every drop becomes precious, especially filtered or good drinking water. I still remember the shanty town in Manila and the small home where I was staying. There were about fifteen buckets and tubs of water stacked around. All possible rain water was collected and stored, a very precious commodity! Here in India this is also the case – the newspapers are filled with stories of drought at the moment. Officially on summer holiday, many of the government schools are staying open for lunchtime to ensure that the children receive at least one good meal a day (although my fellow Jesuits tell me that many of that money and food will make its way into the wrong hands). In these conditions it is a really important service that the school serves by teaching the children – who will the teach their families - about how to use, store and capture water wisely.
I am showing the science students the excellent BBC ‘Human Planet‘ series at the moment. Last week we watched an episode about living in the desert. As part of my preparation for the class, I looked at the annual rainfall figures here in Manvi and Pannur. What is very clear is that all the regions in the district have seen a drop in average rainfall, thus bringing them into the category of semi-arid or semi-desers (anything under 500 mms a year). This focuses the mind!
The Monsoon rains supply over 50% of India’s precipitation in 15 days so when they fail it is problematic. Trapping and storing water is very important. We have been teaching the children about rainwater harvesting – so that they will take this knowledge back to the villages. Exacerbating the situation here in India is the rapid melting of Himalayan Glaciers which is depriving the great rivers the Indus and the Ganges of their summertime source, thus extending the long dry season. Here in Karnataka the lifeline of the great river Krishna also flows through neighbouring Andrah Pradesh and also Maharashtra. The rapid building of Dams in all states and diverting parts of the river has politicized water to such an extent that conflict can easily develop. In fact it is striking that India’s extremes of hydrology, population and poverty presents large difficulties for water management. Agreement to release dam water down stream and across state boundaries makes the front page of the newspapers. As always it is the poorest who are hit the hardest by water politics and the corrupt water mafias.
Building pipes would help these children spend more time in school - Please help see link below. Even £10 can make a big difference.
Here in Manvi and Pannur there are two different sources of water – surface water and ground water. Climate change is making surface water less reliable, so there is more stress on ground water. India is the biggest user of ground water in the world with over 2 million boreholes providing 60% of water for irrigation. Ground Water is much more efficient for agriculture and cheaper pumps and electricity have changed the life of many of the farmers but the groundwater is finite – and shrinking – over exploitation means that bore holes run dry. Much of it is is also not drinkable and illness is common due to contaminated water and parasitic worms. The result is that in Pannur the villagers have to walk 6 kms a day to get safe water from the river. It always seems to be the women and children who have to carry out this arduous task. We have been asked to help – the villagers are proposing to lay a pipeline from the river to the village – which will have a big impact on the peoples lives. The land has been donated and the labour of digging and laying the pipeline will be free – what they are asking for are 960 20ft pipes (6inch diameter) and two 20-horsepower pumps. If you are interested in helping! Please do…. check out this facebook page and also you can donate a small amount online by clicking on the link below.
Click here to make an online donation.
Last weekend I went back to stay with the family who had kindly hosted me in October in Navotas. We had a great time singing karaoke till 3am – lots of Beatles of course! Navotas is a ‘squatter area’ i.e. what might be referred to as a slum area in Manila – overcrowded and under-served with utilities. Over the years it has become better established with electricity and running water in some areas, but there are still many areas where there is none.
That is why I was very excited to find out about this Philippino initiative – called ‘a litre of light‘. Fantastic! Just by getting an empty plastic bottle and filling it with water and household chemicals – and placing half of it so that it catches the sun. This ‘solar bottle’ could make a big difference to the life of many people around the world. It is also recycling waste products. I can’t wait to see it being installed in Navotas. The video below shows you how it works. You can also find more about it by clicking on their website – click here.
This wonderful project reminds me of another story i have just posted on my other storytelling blog – click here. A wealthy Chinese businessman was now old and wanted to retire. He called his three sons too him and said to them, ‘ I have decided not to divide the business into three, but will give it to the one of you who proves himself to be the best businessman. You can prove this to me by passing a simple test.’ Each son was given $10 and instructed to use the money to purchase something that would fill a big empty room.
The first son went and bought a big tree, after cutting it down, he dragged it to the room, it filled up about half the room with its leaves and branches. The second son went and bought the kunai grass that some of the farmers were cutting in their fields, this filled up most of the room. The third son went and bought a small candle for 25 cents, and in the evening after dark, he called his father over to the large empty room. He put the small candle down in the middle of the floor and lit it. After a minute he turned to his father and said, ‘Dad can you see any corner of this little room which is not filled by the light of the candle?’. He won the business.
Karen Carpenter is reincarnated in Navotas, Manila
Yes the phenomenon / curse (delete as appropriate) of the big brother of Karaoke – Videoke. It doesn’t matter how poor the family or how desperate matters are in Manila – there is always a videoke machine nearby. Another testament to the joy and resilience of the people here . But there are certain things a foreigner should always bear in mind – this is taken very seriously. Everyone seems unfazed about bashing out a tune, often without even a hint of irony. Coupled with the Asian principle of not losing face, criticising or laughing at someones performance is seen as very rude and may even provoke a violent reaction.
This phenomenon is Asia Wide – in 2002 the dictatorial ‘prime minister’ of Cambodia, Mr Hun Sen, closed down all the countries karaoke bars in order to stimulate production and the economy. Japanese newspapers, very sensitive to the Obama administrations demands, talk of ’karoake diplomacy’ i.e. singing to someone else’s tune. Back here in the Phillipines videoke is ubiquitous. In my family in Navotas the father is very accomplished and could hold a tune very well. He takes it so seriously that he wouldn’t drink or eat anything cold – in case it affected his vocal chords! Fr Agus from Indonesia, stayed with a neighbouring family, whose taciturn father didn’t say anything to him, the only way he communicated was through videoke!! So why this craze? Surely this is the power of escaping, briefly, to another place. Ballads are by far the most popular tracks – and everyone seems to have a dream and a microphone to share it with you.
For me, in Navotas, I was hooked after a reluctant start – I have a new love of singing (not sure it is shared universally). I instantly bonded with my family when they found out I was from Liverpool – ah the home of the Beatles – they said admiringly! It may have given them a false expectations of my singing abilities, but it meant for a long night in front of the videoke – going through the Lennon-McCartney back catalogue! I ended up pleading exhaustion …. at 11.30pm!
Getting ready for the celestial karaoke night
Anyway as St Augustine is alleged to have said ‘ He who sings well prays twice’. I couldn’t find where he said that directly but this i did find in CCL (93) – For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing about/to/for…..What do you think Augustine would chose to sing in a Karaoke night in heaven?
More than 50,000 people per sq km in Navotas
It has been very interesting listening to my companions reflections on their time in Navotas. One of the most challenging things for all of us was the lack of space. Not all of our familes had toilets (holes in the ground) – misleadingly called ‘comfort rooms’ here! The first adjustment to make was being able to perform our daily routines knowing that within 5 meters you could hear the voices of dozens of people – who where only seperated from you by a billowing curtain, or a flimsy piece of cardboard! Luckily I was able to relax quite quickly and get into the routine – but I think this was a bridge to far for some of my brothers!
The creative use of space became a source of wonder to me in Navotas. I remember when I was about eight and had my first airline meal, I was fascinated by how everything was designed to fit into the tray neatly. Plates, cups, were designed to maximise the space. In Navotas too, especially when I stayed with the Estayo family – everything was neatly stored, hung up, folded away – to maximise living space. Water, a precious commodity, stacked and stored, used efficiently for washing and shared generously with the poorer neighbours. I felt very comfortable with my families – but some of the other tertians had much more challenging ‘living quarters’ – constant flooding, fumes from cooking (asthma a big issue), corrugated huts soon becoming baking ovens. But I think once you get over the chock and adjust you start to see the incredible order and organisati0n that exists.
The slum areas in Navotas are incredible human colonies – full of energy and activity – carefully hidden from us was the suffering , tragedies and desperation. I remember the amazing series on the BBC last year The Human Planet, well worth watching, about how Human life is capable of colonising and adapting to such varying conditions – Deserts / Mountains / Forests / Ice Sheets – and there was a sense of fascination just being briefly part of daily life here. What seemed to be keeping so much of the community together, amidst the pressures and stress of Navotas were incredibly strong mother figures. I think that is where we as Jesuits should focus our support and training. Below is a small clip of my daily journey home through the narrow streets, as well as all the friendly greetings – see if you can spot the man preparing icecubes, the videoke birthday party and when I get lost – I am following Maricel (the woman in red). Apologies for my creeping finger covering the lense – its not easy being 6ft 2 – walking through such a narrow space!
These urban slum areas are growing at a huge rate – according to the UN 2006, was the first time when the majority of people in the planet lived in urban areas. So there is a huge migration from the rural to the urban taking place especially in Asia. This presents a real challenge to the political classes – particularly at a local level. How do we protect and respect the dignity of these people. They seem to be living in a constant state of uncertainty, corrupt local officials exploiting them, fires being started by unscrupulous businessmen who want to clear the area for development, relocation always hanging over them – as the government want to build stronger flood defenses, adn of course the weekly threat of typhoons, monsoons and storm surges. I saw many signs of hope in Navotas – but the Church needs to be on the front line as advocates for these vulnerable communities.
I have just arrived back from a very special 10 days of ’Phillipino Life Experience‘ living with two families in Navotas – which is effectively a shanty town in the North of Manila. As in many shanty areas – space is a real premium, so many houses and even ‘streets’ are built out into Manila Bay – with families and whole neighbourhoods precariously surviving on bamboo stilts. It has been an unforgettable experience of community, hospitality and new friendship. A very special place. Many people surviving on very little – but with a great joy and simplicity, sharing and singing. As I let the experience sink in, I will share some of my stories on this blog over the next few days. It is truly one of the great graces of the priesthood to be received into the heart of a community like this, and it was an honour to be able to celebrate mass with them, and join in their vigils and processions. Something I intend to continue to do whilst I am in Manila.
In Navotas - Space is at a premium!
The four pillars of this community seem to be - A) their faith, particularly their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, B) the family (often very extended!), C) Karaoke – every other family has a karaoke set, and yet more proof of the universal popularity of the Beatles (and perhaps more suprisingly also the Bee Gees and the Carpenters!) and D) TV! Soap operas and game shows are staple here.
Our stay was facilitated by a charity called PPF – run by lay people, who have been alongside the community for 20 years. Run by lay people – with a close connection with the Jesuits, they help to organise, running nurseries, housing schemes, scholarship schemes, bible sharing groups ( the dynamos of the community). I will be designing a website for them over the next few days. An impressive outfit with UN observer status – even though relatively very small.
The community here face many threats – forced eviction, poor sanitation, fires that are rumoured to be started by hostile political and commercial entities, and an incredible vulnerability to the challenging tropical climate and typhoon season. 2000 families are still in emergency evacuation facilities after the recent typhoon Nesat/Pedring. In the face of all this they are incredibly resilient and never give up hope. As one of them said to me – when you do not have much it is easy to rebuild and start again. Below is a video showing some of that spirit in the face of these problems.
Half way through the clip the children ask me to dance ‘Kendeng Kendeng’ from a popular game show – hence the smiles and laughter! This seems incongruous in the face of such difficulties but that is the infectious spirit of the place!
You can donate directly through the bank details on the previous post.