Good Samaritan Sisters in the Philippines are about to embark on a two-year environmental project in Boulevard, a poor coastal community in Bacolod City, where garbage and pollution levels have become increasingly problematic in recent years.
According to Sister Grace Marcelo, Coordinator of the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre in Bacolod, the project aims to not only protect the local environment, but also improve the living conditions and health of the local people.
For the people of Boulevard life is tough. Most live in extreme poverty on less than $2 a day with limited access to basic infrastructure and services. Their employment opportunities are few, but they manage to eke out an existence through fishing, growing chickens, ducks and pigs, running small goods stalls or scavenging.
The majority of dwellings in Boulevard are makeshift shelters made from wood, cardboard or plastic. As squatters residing on privately-owned land, the people here are vulnerable to the threat of relocation. Significantly, Boulevard is also a small and over-populated area. Given these conditions, it’s not surprising that the local environment has become so degraded.
“Due to improper disposal of waste material, no regular collection of the garbage, and ineffective programs regarding environmental protection in the area, the coast becomes the dumping site for the residents of Boulevard and the neighbouring areas,” explained Grace.
“This practice leads to more serious problems in the area, such as water-borne diseases and illnesses, air and water pollution and flooding.”
Working in consultation with the local community, Grace and the team at the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre are currently developing a two-year strategy to counter Boulevard’s environmental problems.
This strategy will take a two-pronged approach: implementing awareness-raising and education activities in the community about proper waste management practices and care for the environment; and mobilising the community to participate in a massive clean-up of the area.
Grace said the team will also work to establish partnerships with different agencies to promote environmental protection in Boulevard and Bacolod City.
For almost 20 years, Sisters of the Good Samaritan have regularly visited Boulevard, supporting the people through a health and nutrition program, livelihood assistance and pastoral care. This latest initiative will build on that work and existing relationships in the community.
Grace is aware that the project will be challenging; some locals have described it as “mission impossible”.
“When you see how huge the area is that needs to be cleaned up, I understand how they feel. It’s like a hopeless case if you look at it,” said Grace.
“Some say that there’s nothing we can do about it; people won’t change, they will keep throwing rubbish in the coast.
“But there are those who are very grateful and appreciate our proposal. They believe that it’s a good project and they are willing to support our cause. They also believe that this will benefit them, especially their children.”
Grace feels strongly about the “Clean-up Boulevard” project”, as it has been called, describing “the cause” as “personal to me”.
“This has been my dream – to clean the coast, to restore it to its normal state,” she said.
“When I first went to Boulevard in 1994… the water was clean. We used to walk along the beach; we’d sit down on the rocks and have our lunch while enjoying the breeze.
“I was so sad when I came back in 2012. The water was contaminated, there was rubbish all over the place and the smell was very bad. It’s not good for anybody, especially for our children.
“One afternoon… I saw the children swimming and enjoying themselves, not knowing the consequences of their actions. I said to myself, ‘This is not right. There must be a way to totally restore it to how it was, or at least to minimise the water pollution’. I believe that environmental education and an intensive clean-up would help us attain this goal.”
While planning for “Clean Up Boulevard” is already underway, intensive work with the community will begin in early 2016.