MANILA, MARCH 31, 2008
(STAR) By Lilia Tantoco - On March 14, 2008, Chiara Lubich, founder and president of the worldwide Focolare Movement, passed away at her home in Rocca di Papa in Rome. Together with millions of others in 182 countries who, like me, have followed Chiara, I am saddened and I mourn her passing. However, there is joy in the sadness because of the legacy that she has left us.

The Focolare is not an organization. It is a way of life. What is this way of life? It is to work for unity by living the Gospel message of love, a love that requires giving our all since Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and He loved us by giving his life for us. At the same time we are called to love all, without exception or distinction.

Chiara’s way of life, a life of loving, has created an impact, not only on us who have followed her, but also on those we have come in contact with.

I remember the lahar victims in Pampanga, the tribe of Dumagats in the Sierra Madre mountains, the Aetas in the mountains of Bataan, the 200 Vietnamese families who settled in a village in Palawan, who were among those with whom we have come in contact. They thought that, like many others, we would go and give them relief goods and that would be the last that they would see of us. On the contrary, we kept going back, making friends with them, assisting them in their needs regarding livelihood, health and education, sharing in their joys and sorrows, being one with them. They were happy but also puzzled, and they would ask, “What makes you do this for us?”

The answer is simple. They were our brothers and sisters to love. They were, each one of them, Jesus to love.

Love means going the extra mile whenever there is a need.

One of the programs of the Focolare is “Sinag,” a hospital volunteer program started 20 years ago which serves the poor and indigent patients in government hospitals. Sinag is not a social project – it is an expression of Chiara’s life of unity and preferential love for the poorest of the poor. In overcrowded and understaffed government hospitals, the thrust of Sinag is to provide the missing ingredient in the process of healing – personal loving care. Sinag volunteers have countless experiences of loving daily, often requiring them to go the extra mile.

Once, a four-year-old girl from a remote town in Palawan came with her parents for treatment at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). She was diagnosed as having a hole in her heart that would require surgery costing P40,000, an amount her indigent parents could never afford considering that their trip to Manila was funded by kind friends and neighbors who pooled their resources together.

God, who cannot be outdone in generosity, helped the Sinag volunteers find help from the Philippine Heart Center that granted free hospitalization on condition that the child stayed in Manila for all lab tests that would take two months. Corresponding to God’s graciousness, a Sinag volunteer offered her home for the family to stay.

Other volunteers brought rice, canned goods, eggs, and other food items to help out. It was a shared adventure of loving the least of the brothers. The adventure continued after the child’s surgery as Sinag members kept visiting them, bringing them food and money. Now the child is a happy and healthy six-year-old. The parents bring dried fish for the Sinag volunteers whenever they come to Manila for the child’s check-up.

In the Focolare Movement, constant communication from the Center where Chiara lived with all the 182 countries makes life and love constantly circulate, thus making it possible for all to live the same life.

I experienced this when my daughter who lives in London was one of the victims of the London bombings on July 7, 2005. We were assured of the prayers of our Focolare family here in the Philippines.

But being alone in a foreign land when facing a difficult situation is not easy. However, we were not alone in London. The love of our Focolare family there sustained us through the excruciating ordeal of my daughter trying to recover from severe physical injuries and emotional trauma. The love that we found there was the same love that we were living here.

This was also the experience of the chief of the Vietnamese Village in Palawan. The Vietnamese in Palawan constantly felt the love of the Focolare there. One time the chief had to come to Manila for a congressional hearing. He was apprehensive since it was his first trip to Manila and he did not know anybody in the city. The Focolare members in Palawan assured him that the members of the Movement in Manila would take care of him.

True enough he was never alone even during the hearing. When he went back to Palawan he said, “It’s amazing that the love we feel from the Focolare here is the same selfless love that I found in Manila.”

We are currently building 40 houses in Quezon City and Pasay for the poorest of the poor among our brothers and sisters. Other houses have been built in Davao, Cebu, Tagaytay and San Fernando, La Union.

But even as we try to love, we meet resistance – ironically from those we are trying to reach out to. In Pasay, we are providing 10 houses for families who are fire victims. As we began to discuss the minute details of the plans and arrangements to build the houses, each one had his idea of how it should be done. We listened to each one, trying to understand their individual needs and situation. In the end, with all the love we could muster, we had to explain to them that we had to come up with one plan and one scheme.

Chiara is gone. But she has left us a precious legacy – a life of evangelical love that, if lived by all of us who have followed her, will create an impact not only on our own lives but also on the lives of the people around us.

The author is the head of Focolare’s New Humanity, the group that undertakes social projects.

Leyte village rises from mudslide tragedy with GK’s help By Patricia Esteves Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two years after a tragic mudslide buried the whole of Barangay Ginsaugon, St. Bernard in Southern Leyte and killed 1,200 people, the town, which many feared was doomed, is on the mend and the survivors continue to rebuild their lives and live with hope – thanks in large part to the work of hoards of volunteers and donors from Gawad Kalinga (GK),the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the local government headed by St. Bernard Mayor Rey Rentuza, congressmen and governors, other organizations like the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), Habitat for Humanity (HFH), the Japanese government, the AIG USA and Shell, among others, who all pitched in to provide decent homes and livelihood to surviving families and rehabilitate the town.

Today, a total of 330 houses have been built for the Ginsaugon survivors in various safe relocation sites with livelihood and public facilities.

GK has built 100 landscaped and brightly colored homes in GK Federation village in Ginsaugon.

A total of 230 homes were built by Habitat for Humanity in partnership with the Japanese government and the Philippine National Red Cross. Different charitable institutions have donated other public facilities.

The day care center was donated by Magsaysay shipping and the Japanese government donated a basketball court.

The outpouring of support for St. Bernard continues to this day, said Mayor Rentuza.

GK, for its part, said benefactors from here and abroad continue to donate their resources to build more houses for the surviving families in safe locations, away from danger zones declared by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

“Two years after that fateful day, the building of houses never stopped. GK has now shifted from re-building the lives of calamity victims into moving communities out of harm’s way,” said GK -Southern Leyte head Jerome Paler.

But while other organizations have merely provided houses, GK and the LGU are stepping up efforts for the livelihood and productivity of the beneficiaries.

Paler said the Southern Leyte GK team and partner LGUs have responded to GK champion Tony Meloto’s dream of “developing grassroots economy through the GK villages.”

Many local officials are spearheading or contributing livelihood programs to help the residents stay self-sufficient.

For instance, Congressman Roger Mercado has provided 200,000 coffee seedlings, 50,000 jathropa seedlings and a thousand seedlings of assorted fruit trees like langka and mangoes for the residents.

Southern Leyte Gov. Damian Mercado has issued a permit on sand and gravel extraction and the use of equipment for the houses and provided Anglo-nubian bred goats. Bontoc Mayor Pete Pustanes donated his own two hectare lot to GK, now the site of the Jollibee-GK Village.

Mayors, governors and congressmen are also doing their share in GK’s massive landbanking project for the poor.

Mayor Rentuza is working for the acquisition of land for two more GK sites in St. Bernard, while Hinunangan Mayor Romeo Gomez is working for the deed of transfer of a 20-hectare land to the Kapitbahayan.

Maasin City Mayor Maloney Samaco is also helping in the acquisition of more lands.

Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) official Silverio Gempeson championed the memorandum of agreement between DAR and GK on the 16,000-hectare Southern Leyte Settlement Project.

Michael Nunez of the Department of Trade and Industry is pushing for the implementation of the Global Kusina concept project, a processing center that will produce globally competitive products within the GK villages.

Department of Science and Technology (DOST) official Dominador Clavejo is working for the GK Superstore concept that will showcase and market GK products in the village via the Integrated Technology Infused Farming concept.

Southern Leyte State University president Gloria Markines-Reyes, meantime, is working for technology assistance for the growing of giant fresh water prawns; product development on boneless dried tilapia or talanggit; carabao dispersal for milk production and the provision of 10,000 keels of señorita pineapples.

TESDA official Rolando Juanillo promised to provide masonry and carpentry skills training with NC1 certification for the GK kapitbahayan teams, while provincial Tourism Officer Nedgar Garvez will work for the inclusion of the GK villages in the tourism portfolio of the province.

On May 24, GK Southern Leyte will hold a “Pasiklaban sa Mayo: Festival of Abundance towards 10-10-10,” a productivity challenge where every GK village will showcase their own produce.

Though much work still remains, Mayor Rentuza expressed optimism that they can get back on their feet and be a prosperous town once again.

“The tragedy is an eye opener for us. It was a learning experience and a challenge. We can look at it as a curse or blessing. We look at it as a blessing. A lot of people are helping us now. We have the same thrust with GK, which is to really alleviate poverty. The GK village is a showcase that we can have a first class town, first class village in a rural setting,” Rentuza said.

Kudos to GK full time workers

Paler said they couldn’t have done the massive work in St. Bernard without “the growing flock of GK full time workers who make the work faster, consistent and systematic.”

He particularly commended Ed Mulig, a civil engineer who has been very dedicated in his job as a caretaker in the GK Federation village in St. Bernard.

Paler said Mulig is one of the moving forces on the ground, especially during the rehabilitation phase of the New Ginsaugon communities.

Mulig gave up lucrative offers to work abroad and here to devote his time to serving his fellow southern Leyteños.

“At any given time, he is always there where he is needed, riding his reliable and equally ‘anointed’ motorbike, from Maasin to Silago at the northern tip of Southern Leyte to Pinut at the southern tip of Southern Leyte. No landslide, flooding and heavy rains can stop him every time he is called into action. The latest natural calamity that hit our province is the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that created havoc to the Municipality of Hinunangan. He was the first person to touch base and survey the mountain GK communities of brgy. Manlico and Libas,” Paler said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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