Two weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to go with her on a project that involves community development in rural areas around the Philippines. For this preject, she’s focusing on educating the rural communities on safe sex and family planning as HIV rates and unplanned pregnancy rates are increasing. The problem is that the Catholic church in the Philippines constantly meddles with the lives of the people as well as the government (there is no such thing as a separation of church and state here) and continually insists on banning family planning as it’s “God’s will for men to multiply”. It’s really ridiculous, archaic, and completely disregards the safety and the lives of the poverty-stricken Filipino people. Although I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy, the church and the government deliberately keep the Filipinos poor and uneducated as it gives them more power.
This project aims to help the communities in Camiguin, a small island in the northern tip of Mindanao. I’ve been to Camiguin twice in the past, but both times as a tourist. It’s a very small and quaint island that used to be very peaceful, but now development is slowly undergoing and urbanisation, a quick growing population, and a lack of land is starting to be a problem for their community. I haven’t been to Camiguin in two years, but I’m here to help out with community work, not for a relaxing vacation.
We just took a day trip to Camiguin via an airport in the mainland of northern Mindanao since there are no direct flights to Camiguin from Manila. We took the 4am flight which arrived at around 5:45am, then we took a car for 2 hours to a pier where we then got on a barge to transport us to the island.
We went to the main town, Mambajao, where we held a seminar and a workshop with people from ages 13 and above. We were divided into groups of 3: one to target the adolescence, one to target the 20-30 demographic, and one to tackle the 40 and above demographic. My group focused on teaching the people from the 20-30 demographic, which involved a lot of young single mothers and couples who had at least 10 kids each. None of them really knew about condoms, contraceptive pills, and STDs. We honestly had a lot of difficulty teaching these methods of contraception as it heavily clashed with the church’s teachings, so we had to give a very simplistic argument to help them understand. We not only talked about the risk of life-threatening diseases but also of how advantageous family planning will be for their finances.
It was sad seeing those people being led completely unaware into more poverty and more hardships. It’s disheartening knowing how the powerful people in the Philippines like government and church officials intentionally leading these helpless people into more suffering. When I moved here to the Philippines for work, I honestly didn’t know how dirty their politics truly were, and even now I want to move back to Scandinavia; but then I think, while I’m here in the Philippines, is it truly right to run away from the problems their society is facing? Jumping ship is the easy way out, but if I want something to be done about the problem, then I should start doink something.
We took the last flight from Camiguin to Cebu, then back to Manila. This is an experience I will never forget, and I really hope for the best for the people in this country.