Stories of Hope: Divine Mercy Village (Part 1)

The municipality of Opol is located on the northwestern coast of Mindanao facing the scenic Macajalar Bay. Its proximity to Cagayan de Oro, the capital city in the province of Misamis Oriental, has contributed to its rapid urbanization, all thanks to the members of the rural population who are resolute in their dream to provide a better future for their loved ones.

STORIES   OF   HOPE

Divine Mercy Village, Barangay Patag, Municipality of Opol, Misamis Oriental

Rochelle Mordeno

by Rochelle Mordeno

Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Animator of the Columban Missionaries in Mindanao

The municipality of Opol is located on the northwestern coast of Mindanao facing the scenic Macajalar Bay. Its proximity to Cagayan de Oro, the capital city in the province of Misamis Oriental, has contributed to its rapid urbanization, all thanks to the members of the rural population who are resolute in their dream to provide a better future for their loved ones.

Enterprising women began to scour the city for work and whatever opportunity that emerged in order to earn a living. Able-bodied men became construction workers, taxi drivers and freight handlers to complement the meager earnings of their family members. With courage and determination, settlements slowly grew despite the absence of secure tenure.

But the emigrants’ optimism and verve did not match the level of support received from local authorities. Bureaucracy and political patronage manifested in the lack of necessary infrastructure, limited electricity and water utilities, obstructed access to markets, education and other essential services. These conditions severely affected not only the work of duty-bearers but also burgeoned impoverishment and illiteracy.

The Divine Mercy village is a case in point. Its residents, many of them survivors of the typhoon Sendong, did their best to meet their families’ basic needs. The response and support of churches, notably the Catholic Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, religious congregations, civil society organizations, government agencies and international donors enabled survivors to get back on their feet and start life anew.

This year, another type of calamity, perhaps not as dramatic as Sendong but no less daunting is the disquieting emergence of COVID-19. To date, it has claimed more than half a million lives worldwide. To curb the virus from spreading, the government issued health protocols and instructions: using facemasks, practicing social or physical distancing, implementing a curfew and liquor ban.  Rather than sitting by quietly and feeling anxious about the future and the risk of infection, residents especially the women and youth, are exploring constructive means to survive.

Putting Food on the Table

Irene Jimenez, a resident of the Divine Mercy village, knew what it was like to live in critical times, having experienced the destructive descent of typhoon Sendong. Now living through a pandemic, her concern for the health of her family due to the scarcity of food prompted her venture into square-foot gardening; she planted the vitamin-rich Malabar spinach (alugbati) on a 4 x 2 plot (eight square foot) within the vicinity of her small space at home. Came harvest time, she reaped more than what her family needed. Earning Php 55.00 (~$1.12) from the sale of alugbati inspired her neighbors to also venture into growing various kinds of produce in available spaces within and outside the perimeter of their homes.

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More residents are joining the bandwagon knowing that eating organically grown food contributes to healthier families. They eagerly learned about the nature and causes of COVID-19 as well, to dispel feelings of fear and anxiety. The community thus became more cohesive and supportive of each other’s needs.

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Watching their gardens thrive, Sendong survivors have reasons to smile and laugh again. Irene kept her first earnings as some kind of ‘good luck charm’. For her, the vegetable garden represents the hope in her heart that there will always be food on the family’s table.

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This is an example of the often-quoted maxim: “to see is to believe.” While preparing the plant beds, Concepcion Tabornal’s husband Joel, told her she was just wasting her time.  His skepticism did not deter Concepcion from doing what she believed will assure them of free fresh vegetables. Now that the assorted produce planted in her 9 square-foot gardens have flourished, Joel was finally convinced. Now he tends the garden, waters the vegetables and keeps harmful insects away.  

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Petrolina Arana and her husband are living beside an idle piece of land. Having very little to do because of the lockdown, the couple saw the prospects in using the land to generate some money, now that jobs are hard to find. With the consent of the lot administrator, they developed the space, planted different kinds of vegetables and set up a small fishpond with tilapia fingerlings.  The income they derive from these ventures is helping the family to live more comfortably. Thankful for his kindness, Petrolina and her husband have become friends with the landowner himself and even share their farm produce with him as a gesture of good will.  Indeed, it brings to light the saying: “In every crisis, there is always an opportunity.”

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(Note:  These are the first three of five “Stories of Hope” at the Divine Mercy Village in Opol.)