Throughout Palo, teams of Filipinos take on the exhausting physical work to clear garbage, trees, and the heavy fallen debris through Cash for Work projects. No matter the backdrop of waste, this is one of the most valuable contributions to the relief effort.
To provide anything—clean water, materials to rebuild homes and schools, and other necessities—you need to be able to reach communities via clear access routes. In other words, you need to clean up the mess.
In Palo, his work is more physical. Dax spends entire days under the scorching sun or pouring rain, knee-deep in heaps of garbage, directing teams of men and women who have signed up for the opportunity to clean their neighborhoods. His job is to guide the meticulously organized process and to keep spirits up.
“It’s important to bring people together,” he says. “The idea of people forming teams offers a good feeling. People talk to each other. At times they come across a silly thing and they laugh with each other, making things more normal than they were just a few days or weeks ago.”
Isagani Labong, a project participant and supervisor of a team at the San Joaquin Central School in Palo, agrees.
“Our minds are focused on this work and not on the trauma,” says Isagani. “We know each other well. We all live here. We went through this experience together.”
The men and women taking part in cash-for-work activities are paid daily rates (at the national minimum wage per national guidelines), and typically work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. CRS provides workers with heavy protection gear, including helmets, gloves, masks and boots.
In these initial months of the emergency effort, CRS has committed to provide 15,000 days of work, which will provide much-needed income for people in the area. With markets struggling to reopen and so many livelihoods devastated from the storm, the work opportunities help families buy food and start the process of rebuilding their homes.
“When this happens, the team stops and people will shout,” says Dax. “They will be asking, ‘who is she?’ and … will come and mourn over them. We have a kind of talk in our group just to relieve the depression, because they often know who the person is.”
Bodies are identified by the barangay captain and by family members, and the victims’ names are then cross-referenced against a missing persons checklist. Eventually, the family and the government remove the bodies for burial. Mass graves now fill areas in Palo, outside churches and even the St. Joaquin School.
“When I carry bodies, I just tell myself I want to be a good person—100 percent a good person,” says Isagani.
These incidents are thankfully on the decline and progress is visible each day as more streets are cleared. Community members taking part in the work describe this effort as therapeutic.
“The best part of this job is when you talk with the people, converse with them, allow them to be themselves,” says Dax. “Honestly, it’s quite a hard job to truly listen. When you listen, you really have to be with the person, embracing their spirit in a way. When people sense they are being listened to, they can share whatever they are carrying.”
“My message to them—and to myself—is to live it, maximize it. Don’t be too individualistic, says Dax. “Change things. Do something collective.”
Isagani adds, “God has given me a second life, so why not move on?”
Article and photos: Caritas Internationalis
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