THE BIRTH OF A SPECIAL MINISTRY
Hunger of the body and spirit led the Community-Based Health Program of the Archdiocese of Ipil to address the growing poverty, hunger and disease among its parishioners in the early 1980s.
Found in the middle of the Zamboanga Peninsula, with Zamboanga del Norte to the north and the highly-urbanized Zamboanga City to the southwest, the Municipality of Ipil was a day away from hospitals that could provide proper health care for those plagued with various ailments or problema sa panglawas.
In its highlands especially, there was a tuberculosis outbreak, mostly as a result of poor health practices and the stigma of discrimination. With limited transportation and road access, parishioners from mountain barangays needed two days just to rest and get checked by town doctors, which meant that treatments were sometimes pre-terminated.
This led Fr. Federico O. Escaler, SJ, to establish a special ministry called the Community-Based Health Program or CBHP. Together with missionary sisters, he trained the pioneer Community Health Workers who integrated what the diocese calls gamay na kahibalo, basic information such as good hygiene practices or herbal medication to alleviate maladies one household at a time.
CBHP did not stop with health interventions, though. Its workers recognized that more than providing physical well-being, they had moral obligations to fulfill as economic and spiritual nurturers, and that often, both were intertwined.
PROGRAMS AND VOLUNTEERS
Since its inception, CBHP has grown from providing preventive and curative health care and reinforcements like feeding programs for malnourished children to providing livelihood projects designed to arm Community Health Workers with the right skill set to serve the people, while fending for themselves.
The ministry established CBHP centers in their parishes, the base of their ministry work. There, they offer reflexology, acupuncture, and herbal medicine that they themselves concocted. They have liniments like Makapa, a combination of madre de cacao, kalachuchi and pangyaman, and Sibuloy, a combination of sili, buloy, and luy-a; ingredients of these were grown in the center’s community-sustained gardens.
This machinery is run by over a thousand volunteers who act as leaders, teachers and healers in the barangays. Their diocesan-based training elevates them from being health care providers to becoming apostolates, applying Christian insights to the issue of contemporary poverty. Many of the modules focus on the interest of the common good, to not just give but to give sufficiently.
“Malipay na ko na maka-alagad sa Diyos (It gives me joy to serve God),” says 58-year old volunteer Crispina Calunsog Umbao. “Para nako, blessing na ang mga ginagmay na tabang gikan ni Lord (Being able to do every little thing I can is a blessing from the Lord).”
In return, the ministry provides their volunteers with hogs, chickens, and a garden to sustain them, the surplus of which can be sold for additional income. They also get special privileges in their community-run cooperative.
FAITH THAT FEEDS
Celebrating its 25th year this 2018, CBHP’s clout is recognized by the government and development establishments in Ipil who admit that institutionalized faith leads to faster mobilization of people and resources.
The ministry relies on critical collaboration or siakoy-siakoy, an interlapping of roles with the likes of the Provincial Social Welfare Development and the Red Cross Chapter of Ipil. Together with them, CBHP reaches out to other groups in need such as children with disabilities and those from different belief systems like the lumad Subanens and Muslims in the area.
They are also able to mobilize a Quick Response Team on the ground during disasters as in the case of the recent Typhoon Vinta. While government was mobilizing from their end, CBHP ably reached out to communities for rapid assessment and psycho-social intervention, and distributed basic goods. This activism allows the ministry to keep a seat at the table in the Provincial Council for concerns on agriculture, the environment and health.
For the ministry coordinator, Fr. Elmer Alforque, assisting in the physical manifestation of God’s healing has been instrumental in allowing those with physical and metaphysical suffering to turn to their faith.
“Ultimo katong mga nibulag sa ilang pagtuo sa una, makakita jud mi nga naghinay-hinay ug balik sa simbahan (We have seen people who once abandoned their faith return to the church),” he says. The answering of a human need, he says, ensures that the relevance of the church isn’t lost in everyday struggles.
While all these initiatives seem to run in a complex ecosystem threaded together by the will to do and be good, he says the Archdiocesan role is simple: to enable those who live in Ipil to escape the kadena sa kalisod (the shackles of poverty) and live a life of value.
And while the ministry itself admits that the challenge is to sustain everyone’s commitment to continue on to a half a century, they are confident that faith-based activism is the way to go. After all, faith itself has superseded the teaching that man cannot live by bread alone.
RAFI TRIENNIAL AWARDS
A former educator and now working as a freelance writer. Simply living her own version of life’s passion – music, mobile photography, story telling, road trips and food trailing! 🙂