It was a hot Sunday afternoon when Richard, Bernie, and I visited Barangay 10, a squatter community in Bacolod city. We were dropping by to see Warlita, a PSHF field field worker. She was glad to see us and we had the opportunity to meet three of her five children. Karen (17) who is the second youngest, would like to become a history teacher someday. We also met her friend Maricel who lives next door. She is in her second year of a business administration course. It was nice to see both of them motivated in their studies and hopeful of getting a good job someday.
At the end of our visit, Warlita told us that she wanted to introduce a friend, Gemma, who badly needed help to build a new house. Gemma and her family were staying in a rickety house in the middle of this slum community. Strong winds brought about by a recent typhoon had led to an almost complete collapse of the house.
On the way to Gemma’s house, we walked alongside a river, murky and foul-smelling, because of the garbage dumped into it. Gemma’s and her neighbours’ houses were originally built on the murky silt from the river. In the summer season, the place ‘dries up’ when the water evaporates but it becomes wet again when the heavy rains return in June.
Gemma and her family (her husband Johnny and two children Jerry and Joshua) continue to live in their wrecked house. Nothing has been down since it fell apart because they did not have the funds to do anything. Gemma and her husband eke a living from selling snacks - boiled eggs and peanuts, and whatever income they get is spent on food and other basic commodities. Despite their situation, the family seems to be happy. Joshua, the youngest son, out playing with his friends, was summoned to come home to meet us.
After talking to Gemma, she led us back along a narrow cemented footpath to the nearest road to get a jeepney to take us back to the office. In sharp contrast to the slum community we have just left, there are two condominiums being built in the near vicinity. Bacolod is a booming city but the squatter areas remain.
The PSHF occasionally provides housing grants to the very poor. We want to cater to Gemma and her family’s obvious immediate needs but at the same time we realise the land where Gemma’s community stands belongs to the government and there may be an imminent relocation plan. We shall need to make further enquiries to know what is the best solution for Gemma’s situation.