The Good Samaritan community in Bacolod, the Philippines, has come together to launch an eco-restoration project at a public park in a bid to foster the local ecology and create a space for the community to enjoy, both now and in the future, writes Debra Vermeer.
Known as Project Samaritan (or Project Bayanihan locally), the initiative started in 2020 when the volunteering mothers in the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre began cleaning the park each week to help minimise plastic waste. Once COVID-19 restrictions in the city were lowered, recipients of Good Samaritan Kinder School Tertiary Scholarships joined in.
Project Samaritan has received funding from the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific as part of the Creators of Hope initiative, which aims to highlight individuals or teams of youth across the Asia Pacific engaged in ecological service projects that are having a significant impact on their communities.
The aims of the project are:
- To renovate the existing park as an environmental park;
- To cultivate the soil, create compost, and vegetable gardens;
- To promote ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and recover’; and
- To develop spiritual life while doing environmental activities.
Good Samaritan Sister Grace Marcelo said she was delighted at the collaboration, which has seen the project come to life.
“At the Outreach Centre it has always been our aim to work together with all our partners and the wider community,” she said. “It gives me a sense of joy and fulfillment as we work side by side to beautify our surroundings.”
Grace said that restoring the parkland would bring benefits to the local community, aside from providing fresh vegetables for families to enjoy.
“The parkland can be used by children and families,” she said. “Once the parkland is restored, we are hoping to open it for a couple of hours a day for children to play. We will also organise a Zumba session on a Friday morning before our clean-up. This gives people in the community, particularly our senior citizens, the opportunity to exercise as well as socialise.”
The project includes plans for an Eco-centre in the parkland, which will be used for meetings, gatherings, or as a reflection venue for the College Scholars and parents. It will also be available for the wider community.
“Everyone will benefit from the fresh air and oxygen that the trees and plants will freely share with us,” Grace said. “The beautiful scenery and lovely flowers will also help relieve stress and tension for people walking past.”
Good Samaritan Scholar, Desirie Tiberio, said the project would help the scholars to grow both personally and professionally and was an extension of their existing relationship with the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre and its different activities.
“It had become routine for us to do something together on Saturdays with the Outreach Centre,” she said.
“However, due to the circumstances brought about the pandemic, most of the usual activities were put off. All of us were isolated in our houses for a very long time and it saddened us, as community works were postponed.
“When the lockdowns were lifted, the scholars gathered again for an educational talk where one of the Sisters shared a video presentation of the real condition of Mother Nature. We thought that maybe we could do something for the environment.
“When the Outreach Centre told us about cleaning the park, many of us readily volunteered because we thought that it was the best way to pick ourselves up, reconnect with others, and contribute to the community.”
Desirie said the scholars were looking forward to coming together for activities in the park and holding fundraising activities there.
“Both now, and in the future, that park will become a significant place that reconnects the scholars to the community and nature,” she said.
Desirie said that the group was inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical, which calls on people to start with small steps in protecting creation in their local community.
“Project Bayanihan is an example of an initiative that started with small steps in the hope of being able to help address the rising ecological crisis,” she said.
“Here in Bacolod, the pollution worsens each day due to poor management. More trees are being cut down, lands are commercialised, and bodies of water are running dry. We are hoping that through this eco-park restoration project we can create a greener community and reach out to others to help save the environment.”
For Grace, the project also helps to foster Good Samaritan-Benedictine spirituality. “St Benedict encourages us to regard all things as sacred vessels,” she said. “In the early days of our environmental programs, when we spent many hours cleaning up rubbish and educating people about the need to look after our surroundings, we talked of God’s Creation and our responsibility to care for and nurture it.
“We endeavour to see our God in each and every living creature. We hope this modelling rubs off on all who take part in our programs.”