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At Large

Where the homeless find dignity

For our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband Pie and I decided to forgo the usual gifts (our tiny home is already full to overflowing) in favor of asking friends and family to donate instead to Project Kalinga of the SVD community.

“KaLiNgA” stands for “kain, ligo ng ayos” (eat, bathe properly), an outreach program of the Society of the Divine Word dedicated to the memory and example of SVD founder St. Arnold Janssen. Every weekend, the center (next to the Catholic Trade premises on Oroquieta) opens its doors to homeless folk who can avail of a free bath and a simple (but substantial) meal, while undergoing values formation and counseling.

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As proof of how their beneficiaries come from all over Metro Manila, its founder and coordinator Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD, cites the time his friend Soledad, the wife of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, visited Kalinga with the wives of Cabinet secretaries. Among them was Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano, wife of then Foreign Secretary Alan Peter. Upon entering the center, Mayor Cayetano was approached by one beneficiary who greeted her by saying he had voted for her in Taguig. “If you’re from Taguig,” said the mayor, “what are you doing all the way here? We also have feeding programs in our city.”

“Oh, but, mayor, here in Kalinga we are not only fed, we’re also able to take a bath!” exclaimed the man.

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“Dignity matters even to the very poor,” pointed out Father Flavie, who heads the order’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation commission for its central province in the Philippines. He conceived the project and oversees its implementation. This is why, he said, showing us around the rather cramped space where beneficiaries wait their turn, take their meals and undergo counseling, “I kept in mind that it is important for our beneficiaries not just to be fed but to also leave our place with their sense of self-worth and dignity restored.”

This is most evident among the children in the center. Each one leaves the shower area looking refreshed, wearing newly laundered donated clothes and spending minutes preening in front of a mirror. They are then served a meal on a tray. On the day we visited, the menu consisted of rice, a vegetable dish and what looked like pork stew. Volunteers, that Saturday consisting of a group belonging to “Edsa 30” to commemorate the protest event’s 30th anniversary, helped with interviewing each arrival, shepherding the very young and very old through each step of the process, distributing the meals and counseling the beneficiaries on spiritual enrichment and life skills.

Mingling among the volunteers were former beneficiaries who have moved on from their homeless status and were “paying it forward” by dropping by on weekends. Father Flavie said they most probably end up serving about 600 beneficiaries each week.

Needless to say, Kalinga could use every form of help it could get. It welcomes donations in cash, but also in kind, such as toiletries like soap and shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as old towels, used clothes and foodstuff. These days, the denizens of Kalinga end up smelling particularly fragrant, since a friend of Father Flavie donated an ample supply of Heno de Pravia, a classic and expensive soap brand that I remember because it was a favorite of my maternal grandmother.

Besides Kalinga, “care” in Filipino, Father Flavie has also organized Project Paghilom (healing), which works with the families of victims of extrajudicial killings. “We don’t bring the two groups together,” explained Father Flavie, “because of security concerns.”

Although the Paghilom families also receive material help, the program is more focused on emotional, psychological and legal support. Group counseling helps them cope with grief and inchoate anger; recently, the surviving family members also put up a Christmas drama presentation, both to relieve the pressures of their situation and to share their stories with the public.

Care and healing — these were two gifts our family received in great measure over the holidays. Truly, in giving we are enriched!

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rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: At Large, Flavie Villanueva, homeless people, Project Kalinga, Rina Jimenez-David
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