When government authorities started to clear the squatters from the slum areas in Manila, especially around the Pasig area, many were relocated to Rodriguez, formerly known as Montalban, in Rizal Province. One of its residents described it as a "human dumpsite". Sadly, thousands have been relocated to this area without job opportunities.
The result is that many families struggle to earn a living, making about S$7 daily. The majority of the people here are without regular work. Many work as scavengers at the nearby rubbish dumpsite areas. An eight-hour shift scavenging for plastic and recyclable items brings home only Peso 250 (S$7) on an average day. Social problems of gambling, alcoholism, abuse and drug addiction persist due to unemployment. Often families live from day to day, sometimes not being able to have food for a day.
In 2006, ICPE Mission Philippines began new ministries in Rodriguez, Rizal Province, a relocation site on the outskirts of Manila for the urban poor, to reach out to families. The aim of the Balikatan (meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder") Ministry is to empower these families to take responsibility for their own lives.
- To establish a community that journeys together to grow in:
- A personal relationship with God
- Personal development
- Skills development
- Understanding the call and skills of parenthood
- To build a community where each member can find strength, encouragement and support, helping them to move on with faith and hope in God
- To help and channel them to a better source of income
During the weekly sessions with the adults, members:
- Grow in their faith through Bible sharing, prayer, worship and formation as disciples
- Are helped to grow in their dignity and identity as God's beloved children
- Learn to support each other through the crises that confront them
- Build a community of faith that share the love of God with their neighbours
- Learn skills that empower them in their families – communication skills, parenting
- Discover and develop skills that can help them attain a sustainable source of income
A very important aspect of the Balikatan Ministry is to help its members establish some ways of earning an income. One of the livelihood projects that was undertaken by the ministry was candle-making. After undergoing a training session, Balikatan members produced handmade candles for sale for the Christmas season. They were willing to work hard and grateful for any help that was given them to earn an income as well as recover their sense of dignity. To support their income-generating initiatives, ICPE also makes small loans to the members to start small food businesses or stalls.
There are many children in Rodriguez and naturally, an outreach to children developed. From 2006 to August 2011, the Children's Ministry had different sessions catering to different age groups. These sessions included worship, prayer, teaching, sharing, fun and faith-based activities with the aim of planting seeds of faith and hope in young lives and helping them develop their potential. Initiatives include educational outings, mobile library, distribution of clothes, milk, multi-vitamins, and vaccinations, haircuts and medical first-aid care.
In August 2011, the focus shifted to the youth through the Seeds of Faith ministry. Aged between 12 and 16 years old, the youth members are challenged by material poverty and limited educational opportunities and exposure beyond their small village. Coming from large families with many children, some of them carry heavy responsibilities of looking after younger siblings, cooking or doing household chores. As they enter into adulthood, they are also faced with life choices and oftentimes do not have the resources available to help them in their decision making (e.g. choosing college courses or career possibilities). Furthermore, they are also part of the high-risk group that contributes toward the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the Philippines. Seeds of Faith accompanies the youths during these formative years of pre-adulthood, helping them transition into adulthood by making them realise their dignity as children of God.
- To strengthen the foundations of their faith in their personal relationship with God, knowledge of Scripture and the Church
- To help them apply their faith to their real-life situations
These goals are carried out through fortnightly sessions of catechesis, prayer, group sharing and discussions. To help the youth discover their talents and gifts, they assist in organising the annual Back-to-School Mass and volunteer their time to serve the younger children in the children's sessions. They also participate in educational or social trips to help them broaden their knowledge of the world. The ministry holds monthly birthday celebrations, annual retreats and special faith projects or health promotion projects (e.g. free vaccinations, multi-vitamins and milk).
The Children's Education Sponsorship was set up to empower the children and youth through raising sponsorships to support their educational needs and providing tutorial classes for those in need. Through the generous support of sponsors, the mission has been able to support the educational needs of some of the children attending elementary (primary) and high (secondary) schools. In addition, 105 children have received start-up supplies at the start of the school year in 2010 and 2011, as well as additional supplies for each semester.
Another aspect of ICPE's mission in Rodriguez is in providing health services. Due to the poor conditions, infants and children are very vulnerable to illnesses. The biggest challenge is the finances needed to see a doctor. As their incomes are low, or non-existent, many families cannot afford to bring sick children to the doctor or purchase the medication. This has resulted in deaths which may otherwise have been avoided. The response is to provide some funds for medical assistance where this is needed as well as helping to raise funds for those with ongoing medical conditions. ICPE also organises medical missions and is currently preparing for a dental mission.
There are many families who lack food and may not even have a meal on Christmas Day. Every year, the Balikatan Ministry identifies those families with no income and, together with other volunteers, visit their homes before Christmas. During these visits, volunteers share the love, hope and joy of Christ's birth through Christmas carols, a short prayer for the family, and then presenting them with a Christmas food hamper. This is called Reverse Carolling, as in the Philippines, the practice is for the homeowners to give a small sum of money to the carollers who visit their homes and sing. Depending on the number of helpers and funds raised, reverse carolling blesses about 300 families annually. Many of the recipient families are very touched as they worry that they have no food to eat for Christmas. The next Reverse Carolling will take place in the third week of December 2011.