REEFer’s diary of Philippines trip : Part 2

At night we reviewed the list of distressed households at which REEF distributed either solar lantern or environment friendly cook stove a year ago (2012).  REEF has started its field operation in villages surrounding Candelaria. The goal of my trip for REEF is to visit the households, survey the residents, inspect the conditions of the distributed products, and measure the impact since REEF has provided aid.  We also reviewed survey questionnaire – a customized form of Grameen (aka village in Bengali) Foundation’s survey form – that makes sense for REEF and to be used to interview people.  We sat with a local barangay senior who could help plotting the addresses and sketch an itinery as the remote addresses are not available in Google map. Barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines.

Following days we started day long visits to indigent families. If the families had school age children and they were able to send the children to school (many of these people are not in a position to do so), we could not greet those children as we were visiting during daytime. For same reason we would also not be able to meet father or male household head or primary bread earner. Exceptions were seasonal workers. In most households female head was housewife.

The houses had a pattern – hard soiled floor, combination of bricks/soil/bamboo/plywood for wall, straw or asbestos or light corrugated material or blend of all these materials for roof.  Few slightly well-off households had cement or concrete floor and/or wall. None of the houses had toilets. Some of the houses had a small covered area used as bathrooms. Fishermen who lived next to the sea regularly threw solid body waste to the water. Most homes had one big room partitioned to two dens. Open pit cooking took place at one corner of the room. House conditions ranged from extremely shabby to moderate. I wondered how many of these houses would stand the next tropical storm. Many of the home owners could not afford, hence did not have electricity; I bet few stole electricity. The families likely could not afford full meal in a day and liquor consumption in empty stomach was commonplace. Education level of household heads varied from non-graduated primary to high school graduates. Median income of the households was below $10/month.

Walking on the unpaved dusty road we reached the first household where a young couple lived with 2 kids, father did agricultural work to earn livelihood. The mother was not expecting us, greeted us with a smile. We spoke with her and filled the survey form. Always straight questions would not result into assertive answers; observation, framing question differently and digging deeper would. Imagine a labor who does not have a steady income tracking basic accounting such as household income, duration of seasonal work, work hours, amount spent in electricity, time spent in collecting woods etc. She answered in mixed Tagalog and English.  She was able spell her name, to check whether I inscribed correct; if I was wrong she wrote herself. I expected to observer extreme necessitousness.  But at this level of society, I was astounded by the quality of basic primary education in the nation. Clearly this is a footprint of 450 years of Spanish and American colonies in Philippines. During Feb’13 inter island Sailing Regatta Hobie Challenge, REEF has distributed 400 solar lanterns to schools to be given to children in need. It was pleasant to see that one of the school kids in the household has received the lantern (d.light s2) from the school. The solar lanterns were set outside facing the sun. D.light s20 enlightened the evening and nights for ~10 hours daily while the mother cooked and children studied. After thanking her for her time we moved on.

Next household in the list was next door, a blind old woman stayed alone. She was away. So we left this Purok 1 (Philippines term for ward, identified via unique numbering scheme or distinct phrase) and headed to next Purok.  The next house was of a single woman who had a cashew tree. In dry season (typically March to October) the cashew trees bear fruits without fail. She went to sell cashews in the market. We told her neighbor that we would come back next day.  I could not stop appreciating her taste. She had a cheap flowery curtain to separate her bedroom from kitchen and rest of the open area, a small plant what she decorated with empty egg shells.  No garbage was piled up or thrown in the vicinity. The scanty shelter appeared to be clean and bore a look of a cottage.  In spite of poverty, she depicted a taste.

We knocked at the door of the next family. The grandmother gave birth to ~11 children. Grandfather was aged and had hard time quantifying the number of children and recalling the name of the children. Grandparents are now financially dependent on their children. DSC_3189 DSC_3191 DSC_3195This is the only family who did not take care of the solar lantern, the lantern was dropped over cooking stove and the solar panel was melted. We took the lantern back to send for possible repair.

We went to snatch a quick lunch from a store run by a middle aged woman. The woman runs a small shop adjacent to her house where she raises foster children. Her cousin sister was abandoned by her husband. With many kids, no shelter and no income the cousin landed in water. The woman was kind enough to accommodate the cousin at her home while the cousin helped her with household work. We pleasantly found that the cousin found next partner and would move with him with all her kids soon. She warmly welcomed us with homemade hot rice, fried chicken, pork curry, ‘halo halo’ (a traditional Philippine dessert) and home grown bananas.

BY Manimala Kumar

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