A FISHING COMMUNITY FINDS RENEWED HOPE
by Michael Waddell
hen our family arrived in the Philippines in 2016, we were surprised to learn that almost everyone living in Manila was from another province on another island. And they were delighted to tell us about their families, culture and heritage.
Consisting of more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines is one of the largest archipelago nations in the world. A diverse nation, rich in culture infused by both Spanish and American influences, the Filipino people are warm, fun loving and hospitable. But life hasn’t been easy for many people in the Philippines.
In 2015, the World Bank estimated that more than one fifth of the population – 22 million Filipinos – still lived below the national poverty line. There are many factors that contribute to the ongoing struggles of Filipinos: natural calamities (i.e., typhoons, earthquakes, etc.); low levels of education; high inflation rates during times of crisis and conflict; and failure to develop and support the agricultural and fisheries industries, among other things. Income disparity between the rich and poor is also an ongoing challenge.
Known locally as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines,” Capiz is a small province located on Panay Island in the central part of the Philippines. Situated in the Western Visayas region, Capiz is home to nearly 1 million people, according to the most recent census data. Unfortunately, many communities wrestle with poverty in this densely populated province.
Libas is a poor area located on the western shore of Roxas city in Capiz. Despite their hard work and determination, life is difficult for families in Libas. Many residents are fishermen who work on small privately-owned boats for long hours in rough and dangerous conditions at sea. Their wages are based on the size of the catch that day. But the catch is often less than desired, leaving fisherman with little to take home. This is in large part due to the overharvesting of the waters by foreign and Filipino commercial fishing boats, and the fact that there are so many small “fisherfolk” who are trying to earn a living from fishing in waters that have depleting fish stocks.
Besides fishing, there are few employment opportunities in Libas – many families struggle to put food on their table each day. The community also lacks the necessary infrastructure to provide clean drinking water and basic plumbing for bathrooms. In fact, it is not uncommon to see human waste being disposed of in shallow ditches running through the community. As a result, many residents suffer from waterborne illnesses.
PARTNERING FOR CHANGE
CBM recently began working in Capiz through an exciting new partnership with Kabuganaan Philippines Ministries, Inc. (KPM). This community development ministry is recognized by both the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, Inc. and the local association of Baptist churches in Capiz.
Although CBM’s partnership with KPM is new, the connection to Canadian Baptists goes back many years. During the ministry of Rev. Rob and Norma Coe (former CBM Strategic Associates), KPM (formerly known as Kipling Philippines Ministries) was founded with the support of Kipling Avenue Baptist Church in Toronto. At the time, KPM was established to support the church’s mission work in Lucero, a poor rural community in Capiz.
In 2010, Rev. Job Santiago, along with his wife Phoebe, became the administrators of KPM. They began to expand KPM’s ministry into other poor communities with a focus on engaging in integral mission – sharing the love of God in both word and deed. At that time, the name was changed to Kabuganaan Philippines Ministries to better align with their mandate. Kabuganaan is a local Hiligaynon (their vernacular language) word meaning “abundance” and better reflects their commitment to help vulnerable communities live abundantly in Jesus Christ.
Today, CBM is partnering with KPM in various ways that aim to alleviate poverty. Together, we are 1) supporting early childhood education for preschool-aged children in poor communities, 2) providing youth development programs, which include spiritual and leadership formation training, to help poor students complete a post-secondary education, 3) providing training in organic and integrated farming methods to secure an adequate supply of nutritious food for families and communities, and 4) facilitating livelihood projects to help augment family incomes. In addition to these activities, we are also in the process of launching several new programs that will address the needs of the poor.
A BEACON OF LIGHT
In 2015, KPM decided to expand its mission program into Libas to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed. After several community meetings and organizing activities were conducted, it was determined that the starting point for community development in Libas should be with the growing number of poor and vulnerable children.
In 2016, CBM partnered with KPM to build a small child care centre on a donated plot of land in the middle of Libas. Canadian volunteers from Penticton, B.C., helped construct the centre through CBM’s SENT program, which provides Canadians with hands-on global discipleship experiences. This child care centre has become a beacon of light in the Libas community. Today, preschool children are receiving quality early childhood education and are experiencing tremendous growth on many levels.
Finding qualified teachers who are willing to work in Libas is not an easy task. After the first teacher at Libas Childcare Center was forced to retire when she suffered a stroke, KPM was worried they would not find a suitable replacement. Thankfully, a vibrant and capable young woman answered the call. Celeste Martinez, a 24-year-old pastor with a heart for children and a desire to see them grow in their faith and knowledge of Jesus, began working at the centre three mornings each week, while continuing to serve as a solo pastor at a rural church 45 minutes away.
Celeste has grown in her sense of calling to these children and to the community of Libas. She has since resigned from her church, moved to Libas and is now serving full-time in the community – both as the child care teacher and a community development worker for KPM. Thanks to her commitment to these children and their families, God is using her ministry to build his church in Libas.
Last July, Celeste began a Sunday afternoon children’s worship program in Libas. More than 50 children gather each week to worship God, pray and learn more about Jesus. She was also asked by several women in the community to lead a Bible study, which Celeste is now providing on Friday afternoons.
It has been amazing to watch how God has used this little child care centre to reach an entire community with the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Issues of poverty are not easily overcome, but thanks to CBM’s partnership with KPM, social and spiritual transformation is taking place in communities like Libas.
Micheal Waddell is CBM Field Staff
based in Capiz, Philippines. Along with
his wife Melanie, he serves in the area of
Marketplace Ministry with local partners.