Go and rebuild my Church
“Each small San Damiano prayer group is like a grain of wheat thrown down. It grows in humility. It is a place to pray and to be converted through a very simple and direct formation. Through these groups we are helping other young people to discover the treasures of the Church”. (brother Mark, founder of Tiberiade community).
There are already several San Damiano prayer groups in Philippines where young people come together to pray the Lord. The prayer group of Sapang is a special one, because it forms a small community which carries out different social and spiritual projects and recently has achieved the status of nongovernmental organization and is called “Tiberiade Community Foundation, Incorporated”.
“Follow me!” (Jn 1, 43)
Nick Arambulo who is responsible for the San Damiano community in the Philippines comes from Talim Island, from the village of Sapang. He finished his elementary and high school on this island and then he moved to Manila to study a Bachelor of Science in Elementary education. After his studies he worked as a project coordinator in Japanese / Filipino foundation “Pagaalay ng Puso” in Malabon – Navotas, one of the squatters’ areas of Manila.
In 1996 some brothers of the Tiberiade Community from Belgium came to the Philippines for the World Youth day. They liked very much their stay in the Philippines and one year later they returned there. They wanted to start a San Damiano prayer group here as it existed already in other places and to keep contacts with this country. So they met Nick and encouraged him to run a first San Damiano prayer group in the Philippines. All the time Nick kept contacts with the Community of Tiberiade by e-mails and letters to share their experiences and to strengthen their friendship.
Some months later Nick decided to give up his job in Manila and to return to his native place Sapang to help his parents who needed a medical assistance. The villagers were surprised of his return because all the young people were trying to escape from Talim, to find a good job in Manila or even abroad.
Sapang is a village of around 4000 habitants situated on Talim Island in Laguna de Bay (the biggest lake of the country south of Manila (capital of Philippines), Luzon Island) Inhabitants of Talim Island are not in destitute, but they live very simply and they have to work hard to earn for their primary needs. As all the villages of this island are situated on shoreline, most of the people are fishermen. As on Talim Island we can find a lot of bamboo trees, people are also producing bamboo furniture. Others are involved in sewing, basket weaving or they are leading their own small home business – there are plenty of little food stores in each village.
“Come after me and I will make you into fishers of people” (Mk 1, 17)
Nick spent his days in praying, helping his parents and organizing activities for children of the village. He had a desire to deepen his spiritual life and so he installed himself in one abandoned house of Sapang and tried to understand what God really wanted him to do.
He decided to make a little altar out of stones and bamboo in his house. Some people from the village were really astonished to see him carrying the stones. They were interested in why he was doing that. They were curious to know what he was doing. Nick replied: “I will make a place for the Lord. I feel that the Lord is here and I want to make Him more visible!”
So he invited them to join for the prayer once a week, and gradually they became a San Damiano prayer group and committed themselves to pray every day. It was the beginning of a larger project that they could not imagine in that time.
In the same year, 1997, Nick received an invitation from brother Emmanuel of Tiberiade Community in Belgium to join them for a while and then to participate in the World Youth Days in Paris, France. It was his first visit in Europe. Nick was very touched by the spirituality of Tiberiade. There were so many brothers and sisters who came from well situated families but who refused welfare of the world to give their lives for Christ and to live in poverty and simplicity. Nick wanted to do something similar in the Philippines – to show people that they can’t escape from the reality but they can find God’s presence in every moment and situation of their life.
Before Nick returned back to the Philippines, he decided to consecrate his life to God and he became a lay missionary of Tiberiade.
The first project – Clinic
In that time the medical treatment in Sapang was not accessible. The closest hospital is located in the mainland. To reach the place you have to go by boat and it takes at least one hour. It was very difficult and painful for young people from San Damiano prayer group to see a lot of sick people who had no possibility to receive any medical service. They read in the Gospel that Jesus healed the people, but in the same time there were a number of individuals who needed a help. For this reason some of them started to attend a medical course in Manila to become the health workers and to give a first medical help for people in Sapang. By donations of friends little by little they started to develop a small clinic – San Damiano Health Center, and to provide traditional herbal medicine such as: herbal tees, syrups for fever and cough, ointments to treat the wounds and to resolve some skin deceases. It was an alternative way of treatment for people who were economically depressed. Sisters of the Visitation helped them by offering some medicaments to sell. Moreover, some doctors from Medical Action Group in Manila started to visit Sapang once a week and people could have regular consultations in the clinic.
In October 2003 a couple of Belgian doctors, Bruno and Delphine Verstraete, arrived for two years of voluntary service. They made a health survey of all the inhabitants of the village to discover the main health problems and their issues. The aim of this was to find out and realize the most effective and adequate solutions. They also improved the administration and the maintenance of the clinic, and organized a special training course for the health workers. Because of medical service available in Sapang, the San Damiano Health Center became known also in other neighbor villages.
In October 2006 the Verstraete family was replaced by another missionary family, Dominique and Chloé Deldaele, and now doctor Chloé is taking in charge the further development of the clinic. She assists the health workers in all the tasks of the clinic and continues to give them the medical course to improve their knowledge.
The clinic is opened daily from 9am till 5pm. In case of emergency it is possible to come to the clinic any time of the day or to request a home visit. It is possible to have a check-up by the doctor, to buy the most necessary medicine at a low price, to make a blood, urine or pregnancy test, and to check the blood pressure. The Health Center tries to provide all the necessary medicines requested by the World Health Organization.
The aim of this clinic is to maintain the availability of the medicine and to sell it at affordable prices, in such a way to ensure the medical help and to sustain the needs of the poor people. To make the clinic self-sufficient, the health workers initiated additional “income generating projects”, such as food processing: every day in front of the clinic villagers can buy prepared food of pork, vegetables or different Filipino specialties.
There were many diseases encountered in the daily consultations of the San Damiano Clinic which were in link with problems of managing the garbage. If the environment was clean and green people could avoid a lot of problems. So, the village officials and San Damiano clinic created the prevention program in order to avoid all these diseases to appear and to give a better health to Sapang. They installed trashcans on the streets of the village and chose two garbage collectors among the inhabitants of Sapang to collect the garbage two times a week.
Other health problems aroused because of lack of Comfort Rooms. By the help of donators, more than seventy marginalized families received a CR. These families engaged themselves to clean up the village. The mothers of these families are organized by districts and every Saturday morning they clean the surroundings.
An important point of the prevention program is to teach the younger generation to keep the village clean. Every Friday afternoon San Damiano volunteers together with elementary school students choose some part of Sapang and spend one hour to collect all the garbage there.
Motivation to have a clean environment was so strong that in 2005 Sapang received an award as the cleanest village of the island.
Nick played games with children and he noticed that sometimes the children were left without special attention of parents and they were just playing all the day. He thought that it was very important to teach them the values of catechism and to help them with their studies in school.
Once, a friend of Nick came to visit him. He observed that kids were always very interested to listen the stories. He proposed to make some kind of “Sapang Learning Center” where to handle kids. Even if in the first moment this idea seemed unreal, Nick wrote a project proposal to a Japanese organization and received a financial assistance to build a library.
A special “book campaign” has been done. San Damiano members asked to all their friends and different NGOs to donate books for the library. In this way they were able to collect the books needed, enough to accommodate the children. In May 2004 the library was ready to welcome the children of the village!
Now the library is opened every day for everyone. Here it is possible to find a number of school books, children books, and spiritual literature. This is also a place where villagers can buy school supplies – pens, pencils, notebooks, and receive such services as Xerox copy or computer works.
During the school year students come here to do their homework every afternoon. San Damiano volunteers are organizing special tutorial classes to help them to understand better everything they learned in the school.
In the Philippines the elementary school is free and obliged for all the 7 – 11 years old children. After elementary school they can continue their studies in high school (12-16 years). There is one elementary school in each village and four high schools available in Talim Island. The situation is quite difficult because of the large number of students and the lack of books and other school materials. In every class there are 40 – 50 pupils and teachers are incapable to ensure a qualitative education for all of them. The people who were able to graduate high school often find themselves working in the nearby factories. High school graduates can continue to study in college – two or four years depending of the chosen course. There are public and private colleges. Public schools are cheaper than private ones, but in the same time the quality of education is lower. Anyway, students have to go to Manila for their studies and it is very expensive for people of Talim Island. The families have to struggle to ensure their living and they are not always able to cover all the necessary expenses to go to college like tuition fee, shelter, transportation, food, books etc. Due to financial problems, intellectual capacities, potentials and talents of young people sometimes remain wasted.
While Nick was working in Manila, he already tried to get sponsors for some young people of Sapang and in this way to give them the possibility to study in college. By the help of donators he encouraged the youth, because he believed that poverty should not be an obstacle for receiving a good education.
Now this NGO together with the Community of Tiberiade and the French organization “Enfants du Mekong” tries to help as many students as possible. Nick considers that the aim of this support is not only to help them financially but also to give them a chance to open themselves to the reality of the world and to discover the most important needs of people and society. In the same time it is the way to promote the value of education. Nick believes that studying it is not just a self-centric activity. Each student should realize the importance of education for the country; each person is responsible for building a humane society.
San Damiano supports elementary, high school and college students. Every Saturday they come to San Damiano for “CLE” – Community Life Experience, where they receive spiritual formation and other formative trainings. The day starts at seven o’clock by common Morning Prayer. They take their breakfast together and they are dispersed in different working groups – gardening, watering, and cleaning. At twelve o’clock they return in chapel for short midday prayer after which follows the lunch. In the afternoon there is song practice, rosary and spiritual teaching. During this day they have also special time for being “in solitude together with the Lord” in adoration. In the evening they are invited to participate to the Holy Mass or the prayer of the San Damiano prayer group. Sunday afternoon they receive their allowance – school supplies for elementary students, financial assistance for high school and college students.
When students graduate their high school, they have to work like volunteers for one year and to participate in different spiritual and social projects of the organization. It is a special year to grow in faith and to discover more the needs of their village and to reflect on future plans. Also after graduation of college scholars have to render one more year of community service.
Saint Joseph the Worker Workshop
One of the ways to earn for inhabitants of Talim Island is to produce bamboo furniture. Since there are many natural resources on the island, San Damiano would like to help the people of the village to improve their economical situation by innovative and creative ways and strategies. The experience of the last years shows that demand for bamboo furniture in market is not as high as before due to growing number of furniture makers. Therefore the price of furniture is very low and people don’t earn as much as they need. It is necessary to find another ways of using bamboo.
Saint Joseph the Worker Bamboo Workshop officially started its work on May 1, 2006. The purpose of the workshop is to provide livelihood to out of school youth of Sapang. They produce small but valuable bamboo items – crosses, lamps, candle holders, frames, and other objects. This production is planned to be sold in local market and abroad.
In the beginning, the Saint Joseph Workshop concentrated on the education of the workers. Professional designers gave courses and helped those young people of Sapang to make the prototypes for the future production. Now the quality of the items has really improved and all the necessary tools and equipments for working have been bought. The administration of the workshop is also more organized.
Though the workshop is still looking for effective and regular ways to produce for the market, it is already making the items requested by some handicraft companies and friends of San Damiano. We hope that the workshop will be already self-sufficient on January, 2009 and that in the future it will provide a good and well paid job for local people.
“Everything starts by prayer!” says Nick “We are not only a social organization – we are a spiritual community! We have to motivate people to turn to God and give them something more than just an education or experience.”
San Daminano community’s day is organized hand in hand with prayer. It starts at seven o’clock by Morning Prayer. After breakfast everybody turns to his own manual work. At noon the work is interrupted by a little praising and gospel reading in the chapel. After the lunch and the siesta there is rosary and everyone goes back to his working place. The day is finished by
Vespers and half an hour of adoration, and even before sleeping all the joys and troubles of the day are put in the hands of Lord by Night Prayer.
Every weekend the meetings of different prayer groups are organized:
- Friday afternoon there is a meeting for children. San Damiano volunteers play and pray together with little villagers and in this way introduce them with catholic faith.
- Saturday evening the youth praises the Lord in the Chapel of the village using the structure of prayer proposed by the Community of Tiberiade. Once a month some members of this prayer group visit similar prayer groups in Manila thus to build strong relationships among catholic youth and to encourage others to pray.
- Every Sunday afternoon adults of the village arrive in the San Damiano chapel to pray and to discover God more deeply.
“Prayer is a communication with God who is our King and Creator. Through prayer we remain in His presence and He shows us the best directions for our life. Prayer can move the mountains” believes Nick.
O Lord, our Lord, how great is your name throughout the earth and your glory in the heavens above! (Ps 8, 2)
As a servant of SD community in the Philippines, I raise a grateful heart to the Lord who in His Providence has accompanied us throughout the years of our presence and ministry here in Sapang, Binangonan, Rizal, Talim Island at the service of His people within the parish of saint Dominic, diocese of Antipolo.
“It is the Lord who is at work!” This is a firm conviction of my great collaborator and spiritual father Emmanuel, when he started a ministry as God’s love among the least (poor).This has been a source of the strength and light that guides our steps in this local church where God has called us to reach out and to care about the poor.
God has been good and generous in showing His mercy and fidelity in spite of our human limitations and shortcomings. To Him the glory and praise for entrusting us a beautiful mission of building a Christians’ community, particularly among the marginalized and neglected ones. To all brothers and sisters who carry the cross of poverty, neglects, sickness and solitude, goes our commitment to continue journeying together towards the Father and to share His blessings.
So I challenge and encourage everyone with the same dream. I believe that we all need to take a part in this noble task of nurturing our people, especially, the needy as well as our young generation, so they may realize that our aspiration of growth and progress can be achieved by sharing our faith and by the promotion of peace and solidarity. We offer our mission for intersession of Mother Mary!
Our prayer, our friendship and sincere gratitude! God bless us all!