We visited the depressed area of Sitio Kasagingan in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, Philippines last July 27, 2016 as part of Casa Esperanza of Angels’ community outreach program to help poor children.
“Our mandate is not just to help orphans but also to be of assistance to abused or abandoned children as well as those in very dire economic circumstances,” says Ronald Brown, Founder and Executive Director of Casa Esperanza of Angels Foundation.
Present during the outreach activity were CEA Executive Director Ronald Brown, CEA Treasurer and Activities Director Georgia Brown, and Communications director Manny Gonot. The group handed out snacks, candies, and other food items to the children in Sitio Kasagingan.
“It’s our first time to visit the area. We’re here to see first-hand the conditions in this poverty-stricken community and identify ways to help poor children and the people in this location,” shared Mrs. Brown.
To any outsider, experiencing Sitio Kasagingan for the first time can be an absolute eye-opener.
“What I distinctly remember is the smell,” says one participant.
The whiff of human excrement insinuates itself gradually into your consciousness as you walk down the pathway into the village and you know instantly that you’ve arrived at the center when the smell becomes most pervasive. It’s a poverty-stricken enclave of about thirty or so shanties with no running water and no latrines or sanitary toilets. People here, as it turned out, defecate behind the banana groves near the riverbank.
The area is a highly flood-prone part of town, which explains in part why people don’t build cleaner and more permanent structures here. During the rainy season when torrential monsoon downpours occur frequently in the Philippines, the low-lying banks of Tanjay River often get flooded washing away the shanties of Kasagingan inhabitants who are then forced to evacuate to higher grounds to save their lives and meager belongings. These disruptions usually happen two to three times during the rainy season.
The children are particularly vulnerable because of these evacuations. The school year in the Philippines coincide with the start of the rainy season in June and children from the village often lose their school materials during emergency evacuations. Some need to stop schooling altogether during these episodes to help with household tasks or to help care for younger siblings.
“When we arrived at the place at about 10 in the morning, it was relatively quiet – most of the kids were still in school and the few toddlers who were there to greet us were busy playing marbles in the mud.”
Many of the children display signs of severe malnutrition, gastro-intestinal disorders, fungal infection, and other skin diseases. Some of them appear to be inordinately too small for their age. Poverty at Sitio Kasagingan is taking a heavy toll on its inhabitants but the most adverse impact is on the growth and development of the children.
Oddly enough, people here seem to handle the grinding poverty in stride. The kids, in particular, appear to be actually happy with their situation.
“What amazed me was the smile of those kids. It’s terrific, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like there’s a wellspring of goodness in the hearts of these children and the light of hope and joy just shines through every time they smile,” said Manny Gonot, CEA’s Communications Director.
“If you’d see this place, you’d think people here are defeated and downtrodden. But those smiles speak otherwise. There’s hope and faith in those smiles — faith that says things are going to get better eventually,” added Mr. Brown whose mission to help poor children had taken him from a comfortable life in Georgia to one full of challenges managing an orphanage in China and now working to build the Casa Esperanza of Angels orphanage facility in Tanjay City.
“We heard the City Mayor Reynaldo Concepcion authorize an increase to the annual budget of the local Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office of Tanjay City during our courtesy call to his office last July 22,” mentioned Mrs. Brown.
“I think that will help alleviate the plight of these people to some degree and that’s definitely a step in the right direction. But, it’s a long-standing problem and we need consistency and vision to help these people for the long-term.”
Having grown up in Tanjay City herself, Mrs. Brown distinctly remembers how people from Sitio Kasagingan descend into the more affluent sections to beg for food during birthday parties, fiesta celebrations, and other occasions when homeowners are in a giving mood and food is plentiful. Indeed, such periodic sorties are part of the tapestry and lore of this small town in the Philippines.
“It’s a vicious cycle. Children in this community are often dislocated and most of them drop out of school even before completing elementary level. As a consequence they end up terribly under-educated and unskilled and they are forced to stay in the community breeding the next generation of poor children.”
Hope is essential when you try to lift people out of poverty. When you’re trying to help poor children, the hope, faith, and joy in those smiles are simply humbling and inspiring. Until next time, Sitio Kasagingan!