February 2024

Hundreds left homeless in Bacolod after fires destroy dwellings

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan and the Good Samaritan Foundation have been working together to help families in Bacolod, the Philippines, who were left homeless after a series of fires ripped through their shanty dwellings.

By Debra Vermeer

Sister Anne Dixon SGS said nine fires had raced through squatter areas since just before Christmas. One of those fires destroyed dwellings in an area inhabited by blind people and their families.

“The housing was specifically built for blind people and their families in 1968, with no steps and stairs and other obstacles,” Anne said.

“Over the years, the blind people, if not already married, got married, and were permitted to stay living in the compound with their new family.

“Many of the blind residents work as masseurs in downtown Bacolod or provide home service massage to earn a living. There are also many who beg in the streets, accompanied by a family member. Those who do not have work are supported by their families.”

After the fires, only the concrete is left. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Anne said that once ignited, fires raced through the simple dwellings, destroying everything.

“The foundations and some of the walls were built of concrete, but the remainder was made from wood, bamboo or corrugated iron. In fires, it is only the concrete that survives,” she said.

Almost 150 men, women and children have been left homeless, with the latest fire occurring this month.

“The families were placed at the local school gym for a week and after that they were given temporary shelter on the outskirts of Bacolod,” Anne said.

“They will remain there until their homes are rebuilt by the Government and we don’t know a timeline for when that will be.

“This is further stress for the victims – having to live away from what they are familiar with, including work and moving around the compound confidently.”

The Good Samaritan Sisters have had a presence in Bacolod for more than 25 years, operating a Kinder School, providing food for the 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.

The Outreach Centre team reacted swiftly to help those affected by the fires, delivering food, hot meals and donated household goods, provided from its Street Feeding Program and Emergency Relief Program. Both programs funded by the Good Samaritan Foundation.

Boxes of donated goods arrived from Australia just in time to be distributed to those in need, including towels and linen, which were surplus supplies from Marian House in Melbourne, following its recent relocation.

“The donations were a God-send,” Anne said.

An Outreach Centre Team member with a visually impaired man who was a victim of the latest fire. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

The Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Foundation, Sonya Mears, was on the ground in Bacolod earlier this month on her first visit there since taking on her role, and witnessed the Sisters’ swift response to those in need.

“I was there on my first visit, to get up close to the Sisters and the ministries and see first-hand how our benefactors’ donations are being utilised,” Sonya said.

“And I can tell you the Sisters are delivering in spades. It is incredible what these women do.”

Sonya said the fires racing through Bacolod’s squatter areas and the compound for the blind made a situation of abject poverty even worse.

“When you have so little, the loss is just devastating,” she said. “I saw a little boy sifting through the rubble of what had been his home. It was heartbreaking.

“But I was impressed by the fast work of the Sisters. When something like this happens, they immediately form a team with other NGOs and social welfare organisations and make a list of all the people who are affected and what they need, and then everyone works together to meet that need.

“It was very uplifting to see the relationship of trust, formed by the Sisters’ decades of living and ministering in this community, along with that Good Samaritan kindness, and the belief that we are all equal, all human, that we can do this together and we can make a difference.”

The Good Samaritan Foundation was established in 1999 to provide ongoing finances and resources to the work established by the Sisters.

Donations can be made online at the Good Samaritan Foundation website. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia.

The fires raced through the simple dwellings, destroying everything. 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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