Positive signs as COVID-19 continues to impact Philippines

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Bacolod, the Philippines, are continuing to help people in desperate need as the community battles the effects of the Delta strain of COVID-19.

The Sisters have had a presence in Bacolod for more than 25 years, operating a Kinder School, providing food for children at the local orphanage, and operating an Outreach Centre serving people living in squatter settlements along the coastal shoreline of the densely populated city.

Sister Anne Dixon SGS said there is a stark difference between in the Australian experience of the pandemic and the Philippines experience.

“Australia has official figures, daily briefings and some sort of a plan mapped out, whether you agree with it or not. When we say we are not in lockdown, people presume we are going OK, but that’s not the case,” she said.

There have been more than 2.8 million cases and 45,500 deaths. Hospitals are only for COVID-19 cases or very urgent medical needs.

“We are not in lockdown because the country cannot afford to have more businesses closing down. Last year, we were in lockdown for many months. At that time, the Philippines Government provided a minimum of money and food packs to help some families, but they say there is no help for anyone anymore,” Anne said.

In October this year, the Government announced it would roll out its program to vaccinate the general adult population, having begun vaccinating health workers eight months ago. Currently, just 30 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Anne said children are among those to have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“There has been no schooling for nearly two years. The long-term effects of this are very worrying. Youngsters have lost the first two years of schooling and children are being forced to find money to help their families survive, despite being in lockdown,” she said.

“If face-to-face schooling ever returns, how difficult is it going to be to encourage many of these children to return to the classroom?”

Anne said that every day they hear of local people who are sick and dying.

“Our Outreach Centre is stretched to the limit as we try to help as many people as we can. We are on tenterhooks about our Centre Team’s health. We’ve already been quarantined once because of one member being COVID-positive. I equate it to playing Russian Roulette,” she said.

Despite all the COVID-related challenges, Anne said there are many positive signs in the Sisters’ ministry in the local community.

“With the wonderful support we get from the Good Samaritan Foundation we have been able to continue to run our Nutrition Program, feeding more families than we were pre-COVID,” she said.

“We have 236 families with 474 children between the ages of 3 and 11 receiving eggs, milk, fruit, vitamins, rice and two hot meals a week.”

The Sisters’ Street Feeding Program continues to help those who have nowhere to live and little to eat.

“Weekly, we are cruising the streets of Bacolod feeding hot meals to nearly 200 people – one week it’s tricycle drivers, another week it’s those who sleep rough around the cathedral and plaza, another week we go into our local squatter areas, and always dropping off meals to those who we spot along the way.

“Our Good Sam van is a well-known local identity now! It is disturbing to see so many hungry people, but so pleasing to be able to help them.”

An exciting new project is the Good Sams’ Livelihood Assistance Kit, Anne said.

“The kit is a dream we had since day one of the Outreach Centre,” she said.

There are now 27 families who have received assistance via the Livelihood Assistance Kit, five of them being from Anne’s Post-Release from Prison Program.

“Each family has received a loan to help them either recommence a small business they lost during our 2020 lockdown, or to help them to start a small business, particularly those just out from prison,” she said.

“The kits have helped people to start a variety of businesses – sari sari stores (small shops that sell daily needs), piggeries, online selling, ovens, weaving, and sidecars for tricycles.

“It has been wonderful to see these families grow in confidence and independence. We also encourage them to save a few pesos each week, and in our Centre Office, we have piggy banks for this!”

The work of the Sisters in Bacolod is supported by the Good Samaritan Foundation. Last year, the Foundation launched an appeal to raise funds for immediate emergency relief for the people of Bacolod facing hardship during the pandemic. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and can be made by visiting www.goodsamsfoundation.org.au/donate