“My friends, only those who can see the invisible, God in man and his providential actuations, can do the impossible”, a famous quote from the visionary himself, Fr. William F. Masterson of the Society of Jesus.
Continuing Fr. Masterson’s legacy, Xavier Science Foundation, Inc. (XSF) refrained from its traditional celebration of feast and party to a two-day immersion of giving and feeding the hungry in barangay Zamboanguita, Malaybalay City in Bukidnon on September 9 to 10, 2022. The event also commemorated Fr. Masterson’s 38th death anniversary on September 6 with participation from the Xavier University (XU) College of Agriculture and the XU Social Development Cluster through the Student Social Involvement and Advocacy Program (SSIAP).
The call to end the starvation of its people, especially the Indigenous Peoples of Sitio Mahayag is a program initiated in pursuit of the Philippine Renewed Province Plan (RPP) of the Society of Jesus. The platform to implement the Thrust 2 of the RPP with a focus on Feeding the Hungry Children and Creating Sustainable Livelihoods was established by Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, the Bukidnon Mission District (BMD) of the Society of Jesus, and XSF.
The T2 Platform supports the feeding and community empowerment program in the BMD piloted in Mary Mediatrix of All Grace Parish in Barangay Zamboanguita, Malaybalay City headed by Fr. Noel “Weng” Bava, SJ.
Fr. Weng shared that the mission was initially a supplemental feeding program for 20 children in the barangay and that it presupposes that they already have regular meals at home, with their weight strictly monitored, and with mothers able to provide actual marketing, cooking, and preparation of the children’s meals as a counterpart to the program. However, as the months’ progress, the number of children decreases with mothers not able to sustain their commitment. With this, the Parish explored reaching out to Lumad kids, who have been coming down from Sitio Balaodo, a village belonging to Agusan Province but nearer to the parish district in Malaybalay City.
He recalled that it was only about 50 malnourished Lumad kids in the area but as they continue to feed them week after week, the numbers grew to over a hundred. Often the prepared meals are not enough, even the parents and grandparents often line up for a chance to get a meal.
With this, XSF gathered up support from individuals and partners to facilitate a donation drive for food and clothing items to be given to 80 families, who were displaced because of the intermittent clashes between the rebel groups and the military. Most families also go down because they are running out of food, or they have exhausted their harvest of corn and root crops. Often, they also go down to sell abaca fibers for only Php270 which is not enough to sustain a family of five. They walk eight (8) hours to Sitio Mahayag in Malaybalay which is nearer compared to the two (2) days walk down to Agusan proper.
The children, those who can endure the long walk, would come along with their parents. Here they get a chance to have some hot meals come Fridays of the week as the parish usually provides the feeding on this day.
On September 9, we welcomed more than 100 children all eagerly anticipating the hot meal prepared for them. The hot meal of chicken macaroni soup with a piece of bread was whole-heartedly accepted with a small toy as a freebie. Their gratitude was genuinely expressed through their smiles.
It is very evident with the Lumad kids are unbalanced and deprived of nutrition of which most are underweight for their age, wasted, and stunted. Poverty and hunger are a cycle that Lumad families are experiencing more so now with the impact of the pandemic on upland communities.
Fr. Masterson’s impossible dream is to end poverty and hunger in Mindanao, the effort of providing nutritious food with support from kind-hearted individuals may not be enough, but rather the need for more sustainable and resilient reform of government programs. This could be achieved with the collaborative efforts of institutions, civil society organizations, academe, and local government units as well as the church.
In this initiative, a hopeful and promising outcome to address the problem shines through for the local government officials of Barangay St. Peters where sitio Mahayag is a part. They will coordinate with the parish for future engagement in sustaining the efforts of providing basic services to the Lumad communities. Beyond the borders and administrative jurisdictions, the BLGU will strive to support the program but requested to also be capacitated in new technology as they also lack the necessary tools and equipment.
XSF and XU team also provided materials and basic hygiene and sanitation items for the 30 Lumad students housed in the San Pedro Calungsod Dormitory.
Although it was a short time spent with the Lumad families in Zamboanguita, the challenge is still far larger and deeper.
The Parish of Zamboanguita with Fr. Weng’s leadership showed us that God’s providence is something that is possible if a man only truly believes in God. He added that the initiative, “Come, Feed My Lambs” is a desire that Christ could mean literally to prevent the hunger of HIS children but it could also mean to listen to their stories of woes, touch their hurts, and heal their various illnesses.