March 2023

Fire destroys homes of 35 families in squatter area in Bacolod

When a fierce fire ripped through a squatter area in the Mambulok district of Bacolod in the Philippines on February 16, 35 families lost their homes and all their possessions.

Good Samaritan Sister Anne Dixon said the fire started from an electrical fault and quickly spread through the 24 dwellings, some of which housed more than one family.

“In these squatter areas, the dwellings are very close to each other, and multiple families may live under the one roof. There were 120 people, including children, who lost their homes.”

Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan Foundation has launched a special appeal to raise funds to support the families, who were closely connected with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan’s Outreach Centre.

“The actual dwelling where the fire started was the home in which we hold our weekly catechism lesson for little ones,” Anne said.

“Good Samaritan Sister Yoshi Suzukawa began this ministry some 30 years ago. Today, our partners in ministry do it. Our Outreach Centre team also supports the families in this area through our scholarship program and with medical and emotional support, which is very much needed at present.”

Anne said the families that were devastated by the fire were already struggling with poverty and daily challenges.

“All these families live from day to day, whether they are tricycle drivers, or work at the docks, or sell by the roadside, the money they make each day feeds their families that day. No work means no pay, means no food.

“A fire like this, which takes away the roof over their heads and whatever belongings they have acquired along the way, is devastating. How do they start again?

“In the immediate days after the fire, the men were needed to clear away the debris, so that means they are not working to get money for food for the family. And then they have to find materials to rebuild their simple squat.”

Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Anne said the Sisters and their partners at the Outreach Centre responded immediately to the needs of the families affected, but much work remains to be done to rebuild the homes lost.

“After the fire, the families were evacuated to the nearby barangay (neighbourhood) gymnasium. As news got out about the devastation, the mayor’s office responded, alongside the barangay, and our Outreach Centre.

“We have worked together to make sure the families are fed and clothed and now we are endeavouring to find basic utensils needed for day-to-day living for when they return to their new homes.”

Most of the families were now out of the gymnasium and living in makeshift dwellings as the rebuilding begins.

Anne said they were blessed at the Outreach Centre to have benefactors who have helped in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“Big boxes continue to be sent from Australia, filled with clothing and assorted odds and ends that can always find a home.

One parish in Melbourne is sending 13 large boxes to the Outreach Centre. “Six of the boxes have arrived so far and the clothing in these boxes has been distributed to these families,” Anne said. “Thanks to Our Lady of the Way Parish in Kingsbury, overseen by Good Samaritan Sister Helen Mills.”

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan from Japan had a long association with the people of Bacolod, having ministered there for many years and their benefactors also donated to assist in the rebuilding.

“The rebuilding is using bricks in the hope that future fires don’t totally destroy their dwellings,” Anne said. “With the money we will be receiving from the Good Samaritan Foundation, we can make them even more fire-proof. What a blessing!”

Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

The Sisters’ emotional support to the affected families is much needed in the wake of the fire and the dislocation it has caused.

“We had noticed that since the fire the school children involved have not returned to school,” Anne said. “They have no uniforms or school supplies. They also seemed reticent to leave their mums.”

However, after providing encouragement and school supplies to the children, Anne said they were slowly beginning to return to school.

“We have also been able to give money to the boarders who lost their college uniforms to help get them back to study.”

The recovery will go on for some time as families struggle to maintain their work, feed their families and obtain the materials to rebuild.

“We’re very grateful to the Foundation and to all those who support their appeal to help us get these families who have suffered so much back on their feet,” Anne said.

The Good Samaritan Foundation has launched an appeal to support the families whose homes were destroyed in the fire. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia.

To make a donation, go to the Donate Now section of the Foundation’s website, select the amount you wish to donate, click Next and nominate the Mambulok Fire Appeal (Bacolod) in the dropdown menu as the area where you would like your donation to go.

Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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