A joint project between Rotary Clubs of Red Deer East, Las Pinas-Camino Real, and West Naujan & Calapan

By: Deryle Generous

For hours on end, the terrifying wind of a typhoon continued to howl, thrash, and tear apart everything in its path. People sought refuge wherever they could. 30 or more survived under a small, hastily constructed shelter consisting of two sheets of corrugated steel and a few bamboo poles built over a shallow pit. The other 200 villagers tried to stay safe from flying debris and falling trees.

This typhoon was just another difficult challenge faced by the Alngan tribe of the Mangyan people on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. This tribe previously lived high in the mountains. The local bishop and medical society made annual visits as their commitment to helping the indigenous people living on this island. About three years ago, the bishop recommended they move down to some land he owned (about 10 hectares) making it easier for others to provide assistance. It also reduced erosion to the mountainside, since the indigenous people often had to cut trees for firewood.

The new home offered much easier access for the Alngan people for everything but water. Women and children had to climb two kilometers to a natural spring in order to haul drinking water for their families. A water system was constructed using the only material available – bamboo. The system worked for a while but soon wore out. The bamboo began to rot and leaks were common. Children were often sick and diarrhea was rampant.

In July 2016, a newly formed Rotary Club, the RC West Naujan & Calapan, decided to try and help these people. They knew that they did not have the resources to take this project on alone, so they reached out to the RC Las Pinas-Camino Real for guidance and support. Club member, Fernan Pujol went to Mindoro to assess the situation. He quickly formed a plan and presented it to his club. Fernan also did most of the design work for the project. Fed Sapitan has worked with our club, RC Red Deer East, on several projects over the past years and contacted our club member, Neil Swensrude to seek funding. Neil approached our board and outlined the urgent need to come to the aid of these people. On November 2, the board agreed to provide $8400 toward this project. By this time, another typhoon destroyed what was remaining of the old water system and the people were back to hauling water.

Once the money arrived, everything moved a furious pace. The very first purchase was a pair of water cans and a scoop for each family. This made it easier and safer to haul water in the interim. Even though several more typhoons swept through, construction carried on. By the end of December, two bathroom facilities were constructed. By the first week of January, all 2 km of pipe was laid and a cistern was in place. The faucets and concrete basins were installed and constructed by February.

Two questions that struck me when I inspected the project were: how did they build all this so quickly and how did they build so much using so little money? The first question was simple: construction took place so quickly because 50 – 60 villagers did most of the actual work building the system. Costs were kept low because those villagers working on the project were paid in rice and canned fish. Two skilled tradespeople were hired to lead the construction and teach the people. Many Rotarians volunteered their time and covered their own costs. Don Magno, husband of Charter President, Christina Magno, transported most of the materials himself. When we inspected the washroom and bath house, Ben Gonzalo proudly announced, “We built this.” I said, “I am so glad because this way, it really is yours!” This structure will also serve as a shelter when future typhoons arrive.

By the time our group from Red Deer East arrived, the project was completely finished (other than a small patch to be painted by delegates from the three clubs.) On February 15, with many villagers gathered around, several club members took turns to put the final touches as part of the inauguration. We also distributed rice to the villagers. In addition to our ceremony, Charter President Christina, a doctor, also arranged a medical mission. Villagers were examined by a team of doctors and provided with medicine and vitamins as needed. The villagers were also given donated clothing and a hot lunch. Fed Sapitan used donations from Red Deer East members to purchase an array of seeds and garden tools that will also be distributed to villagers. Over time, they will be trained in growing, harvesting and selling excess produce to sustain their families.

What we achieved: in a very short time, at relatively little cost, Rotary made a huge difference in the health and futures of over 70 families living in abject poverty. The indigenous people not only learned new skills but developed the pride that goes with completing a water system that is essential for the well-being of their families’ future. I hope this experience also gives them the sense that they are valued and their well-being matters. This project also brought together the talents and resources of three clubs from three different districts – a first in Rotary history.