After the Storm – Building The Pope Francis Village

After the Storm – Building The Pope Francis Village

By Marjorie Soldevilla

I have been involved with the Development and Peace committee at the St. Vital Parish for the past 3 years. Every year, our small group raise awareness and funds during Share Lent to support projects to help our sisters and brothers in the developing countries. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada and the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis is an amazing group that has been around for 50 years. It has supported 15,200 local initiatives in fields such as agriculture, education, community action as well as the consolidation of peace and advocacy for human rights in 70 countries. I for one is grateful that they have a long history of supporting many worthwhile and lifesaving projects in the Philippines. It is a membership led organization supported by parish collections, individual donations and government grants, principally from Global Affairs Canada.

Fellow Dev & Peace member, Jocelyn Pagtakhan Streimer and I recently attended the Manitoba Regional Assembly held at the Christ the King Roman Catholic church in Stonewall. During the meeting, Evelyne Beaudoin, President of the Development & Peace – Caritas Canada shared the following presentation of her trip to the Philippines with a Canadian delegation from the Dev & Peace – Caritas Canada from February 2-13, 2019.

The delegation travelled to the Philippines to celebrate with their partners the handover and inauguration of the Pope Francis’ Village, a major recipient of funds from the Dev & Peace. Evelyne was joined by Mgr Noël Simard (Diocese of Valleyfield, Québec, President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of the province of Québec), Sr. Georgette Gregory (Congregational Leader, Sisters of St-Joseph in Toronto), Ghislain Morin (National Council Member), Kelly Di Domenico (Communications Director – DP) and Jess Agustin (Philippines Program Officer – DP).

The delegation met with families and partners involved in helping build a community for families who were victims and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan that swept through the Philippines on November 8th, 2013. Already destitute, the families lived in makeshift homes on the shores where Haiyan hit the hardest. They also wanted to listen to the families’ stories and hear of their fight to build in an area where they would be close to their livelihood.

On February 10th 2019, they celebrated with the community of Pope Francis’ Village in Tacloban. A formal handover of houses was made to the target group organized into Pope Francis’ Home Owners Association (PFV HOA). On that day, there were blessings of and inauguration of the Pope Francis’ Village and a ceremonial handover of a four-hectare property where the 566 houses were constructed. Titles of ownership were given out to the families who were seeing a dream come true for them & their children. The delegates came back to Canada as witnesses to our Canadian Catholic faithful of the relief and recovery work of Dev & Peace and the Caritas network.

How long has Dev & Peace been working with Caritas Philippines on this Pope Francis Village project?

Following the reports on November 8th 2013, here in Canada we watched in horror at the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan. Dev & Peace – Caritas Canada supporters immediately opened their hearts in solidarity with their sisters & brothers in the Philippines by making donations & organizing fundraising activities. The Canadian govt also helped by announcing that it would match donations. $12,870,000 was donated, most of it eligible for matching.

In the immediate aftermath, Dev & Peace worked with Caritas Philippines in providing basic necessities in 9 dioceses & worked with the Church World Service to distribute aid. In addition, DEV & PEACE received $2.3M in funding from the Canadian government for a joint project with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), our US counterpart, to build 1500 temporary houses. But with over 900,000 families displaced & homeless, many tent cities & shantytowns began to spring up so Dev & Peace asked its long-time partner Urban Poor Associates (UPA) to come & help communities defend their land rights against government-forced evictions & remain near the sea & the city where they make their livelihoods. They helped establish associations for homeowners to allow them to benefit from government & other agency programs. In January 2015, a 12-hectare property was purchased at 5 km from the centre of Tacloban. A ground-breaking ceremony took place in August 2015. With support from Dev & Peace, its partners as well as $1.76M from the Philippine government, a 2-storey extension to the existing school and the first batch of houses are completed by November 2016. All of the 566 disaster-resilient houses are now completed except for approximately 40 which are to be completed by June 2019.

What is life like for Yolanda victims six years after the disaster?

Communities were empowered through the mobilization of Community Support Groups which left Haiyan survivors with many new skills in: Purchasing and supply, Communication & logistics, Financial matters, Construction (engineering, architecture, carpentry, etc.), First Aid, Housing Management, but most of all they have learned to defend their rights, to interact with the government, to secure land rights, to ensure their needs as citizens are being met. They have constituted FRANCESCO, “Pope Francis for Resilient and Co-Empowered, Sustainable Communities as a consortium of organizations composed of Dev & Peace – Caritas Canada and many of its partners in the Philippines.

FRANCESCO functions as the decision-making body of the project of which two elected leaders representing the community support groups are members. The aim of this integrated and people-driven intervention is to help the affected communities regain their lives and assets through resilient dwelling houses, rebuilding livelihoods, and continuous strengthening of their organizations so that they can fully participate in community governance and effectively engage the local governments.

People are still poor in the Philippines and need our help but much has been put in place to ensure that in the future, humanitarian aid and development aid are working hand in hand. Pope Francis’ Village is a model project & has been adopted by other NGOs & governments as the way to proceed after a natural disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan.

Is there more left to do in the Philippines? How can others support Dev & Peace’s efforts there?

Much remains to be done in the aftermath of Haiyan – many houses were also built by other NGOs as well as the Philippine government. Some have been largely abandoned due to practical reasons such as distance from livelihoods. The approach used by Dev & Peace takes a little more time because it involves those affected from the very beginning, enabling them to move forward together, building community as they proceed. The Catholic Church community in the Philippines is now largely involved in the process of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and rehabilitation but they cannot do it alone. Many of the 900,000 families struck by Haiyan still live in makeshift shelters along the shores, in areas where they are threatened by forced evictions and violence, even 6 years after the typhoon. Since the Philippines are the 3rd country in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, we have a responsibility as agents of this climate change to remain committed to standing beside them as they take charge slowly but surely.

While the in Philippines, the delegates visited Pasig, Manila, Tacloban, Leyte. They also visited Intramuros where they met with Cardinal Tagle, then to Baclaran to assist the Wednesday Novena mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help where 1000 people of all ages attended mass. They also visited Palo and then a coastal community in Barangay San Jose, spent time with rural farmers in Carigara, celebrating land rights and agricultural projects obtained through work with Dev & Peace partners, one of which is MCIC (Manitoba Council for International Cooperation.
“It was a life-changing experience for me. I am so proud of the work done by the local people in the Philippines to “build back better”. We listened to their stories, so full of resilience and courage, many of which showed us how strong their faith is but also their determination & joy in trying to make life better for themselves & their families.” said Evelyne.

The story of the Pope Francis Village was documented from the very beginning and resulted into a 47-minute documentary entitled “After the Storm: Building the Pope Francis Village”. It can be seen on the website :
BE A PART OF THIS AMAZING GROUP! Join the Development & Peace! Several Catholic churches in Manitoba have existing committees.

The St. Vital Catholic Church Dev & Peace committee members will be taking part in the Solidarity Walk on June 15th from 1:00 p.m. The walk will begin at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights ending at the Manitoba Legislative building. See you there!

HAIYAN AT A GLANCE: 171 Cities and Municipalities hit, 14 million people affected, 900,00 families displaced, 1 million houses damaged.

“After Yolanda (Haiyan), all that was left of our house was the kitchen. I felt powerless, I didn’t know what to do. Now we can finally sleep. Before, when it rained, we would have to get up in the night and move the bed around so we wouldn’t get wet.”

Mary who received new temporary housing from Dev & Peace.

People will live there, 5 km from the centre of Tacloban, 15 consultation and training workshops, 6 Community committees created to manage the site.