We sure had quite a year

A poor ChristmasOh, jingle bells, jingle bells/Jingle all the way! It’s time of the year again when streets are illuminated, houses are decorated, shoppers are treated, kids are awaiting for Santa to receive gifts. No civic citizen can ignore the other side of the story. There are mothers who lack means to cook a meal on Christmas Eve, fathers who struggle for livelihood on New Year’s Day and kids who never receive a holiday gift.

REEF hopes to assist the needy people year around, empower poor women and children and end generational poverty by employing clean technology. Another week to go before 2013 becomes past and REEF, a nonprofit start-up, can call it quite a year.

REEF was on the wheel on road and water. REEF became outreach partner in Philippine inter-island sailing regatta. 200 solar lanterns were distributed to children of Kanwan Elementary school. Volunteer visited the Filipino families who were either pre-qualified or newly vetted for Family First Program. More than 30 families continue to receive Family First program benefits as well as training and maintenance service on environment friendly cook stove and solar lantern. Typhoon Haiyan hit central Philippines islands. Along with numerous devastating effects the storm Yolanda plunged the islands grid into darkness. Some of the islands were always off the grid and overlooked by government. REEF will distribute solar lanterns directly avoiding relief agencies to be assured that the lanterns will reach intended people. 

Indubitably, REEF’s donors, volunteers and supporters have earned sincere thanks for making enlightenment a reality. You deserve the right to know what REEF, together with you could accomplish. I will come back to my readers in next month with a planned dream of 2014.

Wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

By Manimala Kumar

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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

Lighten up the poor, have a green treat – Merry Christmas!

The festive season has arrived. Houses are lit up. Gifts are piled up. Smell of goodies is in the air.

In contrast, there is no rosy picture for the unfortunates in a third world country. Christmas Eve is just like another day. The elderly works hard and can’t stop worrying about the economic condition of the household. The mother collects woods & cow dung to use as a cooking fuel and prepares a scanty meal for the family. For the children awaits a dark night.

REEFers aim to equip the poor families with high-efficiency, low-smoke cooking stoves that address environmental, economic and health threats. REEF distributes solar lantern to the households. REEF is also working to install solar panel in a multi family set up. Solar power in poor households does not only illuminate but also enlightens the future of the children who have to work during the day and will otherwise loose opportunity to study in the evening. Find more about us @http://www.alleviatepovertynow.org/.

Happy Holidays!

BY Manimala Kumar