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Building A Network to Feed the Hungry in Bukidnon

As a Provincial Leader of the Trinity Province (Philippines South), one of my responsibilities is to visit our mission stations in the far-flung areas of Mindanao.

One SSpS community serves the indigenous people of Bayawa in Barangay Siloo, Bukidnon province, which is home to 50 Higaonon families, who are connected to their ancestral land.

Partly due to its mountainous and hilly geography, Bayawa is isolated from the center of development by distance and bad or lack of roads. The community in Bayawa suffers from poverty due to meager and unstable income and lack of potable water.

The SSpS Sisters chose this mountainous area to minister to ten Higaonon families who inhabited the area then. The choice was made when they observed that the children had to walk for two hours to the nearest school, which was nine kilometers away.

With the support of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, the sisters started a school in the heart of the area and offered a basic education program from Kindergarten to Grade 6, with Higaonon teachers/volunteers. Soon the inhabitants grew to 50 families as more children became interested in studying. Their children are educated in the school that the SSpS Sisters started.

One of the services that the SSpS extend, In partnership with the Jesuits, is a feeding program for the children that nourishes the body and serves as a beacon of hope. Three times a week, the parents gather to cook lunch of rice or sweet potatoes, fish or meat, and vegetables.

The children often request their plates or lunch boxes to be filled to the brim so they can share a portion with their siblings. During one of these visits, I talked with the children while they waited excitedly for the food to be served.

But the excitement turned to disappointment when the food that arrived was uncooked. I did the next best thing – coaxed the children to sing while I re-cooked the rice. I was stirring the rice in a boiling cauldron, while listening to their song, which was actually the prayer before meals: “Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts…”

Every so often, I stopped stirring the boiling rice and put the ladle I used on top of the table. When I turned back to get the ladle, I saw a boy scraping it with his finger to get whatever grains of rice were sticking to it and then licked his finger to eat the grains. Tears welled from my eyes as I realized how hungry the boy was. Perhaps he had come to school without breakfast and was looking forward to a meal. These children often go to school hungry. I asked myself: How did I get the privilege of always having food on the table while others are deprived of it?

Compassion in Action

“…His disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late.  Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”  But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” Mark 6:35-37

I heard myself asking: “Can we do more?” The feeding program was held only three times during the five school days. I decided to network with people and agencies to provide funding for the remaining two school days. I was able to connect with the Aussie Friends of the Poor, a group of Australian volunteers, who aim to aid the helpless and victims of economic, humanitarian, and natural disasters.

Sr. Ewa Lidia Mazur, who shared her mission experience in the Philippines while still in Poland, was able to gather funds to supplement the money we had raised for the added two days of feeding. Local donors also gave whatever they could. Assistance came from ordinary people who felt the ‘hunger of the children in one remote village from across the seas’ and sent help to feed them.

I have been blessed to witness Compassion in Action, widening the circle of concern and care, forming a network of relationships across distance and space. One needs only to speak for these children and share their story and lead others to them.

Sr. Estela Parmisano SSpS
Provincial Leader-Philippines South Province

 

The new school building was blessed by the Archbishop José Araneta Cabantan in 2023.

Sister Estela with the fathers who were scheduled to cook the meal that day.

Sr. Estela cooking the food with the use of firewood contributed by the parents of the students.

The children eating their midday meal.

The children eating their midday meal.

Children on their way to the hut where food is prepared for the midday meal.

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