During the night between 7 and 8 February 2017, a large fire broke out in the Parola slum of Manila. In that very area, the Salvatorians with their local NGO Puso sa Puso are running the ALSA BUHAY program, a holistic combination of alternative educational initiatives in support of children and families.
This was not the first time that a fire broke out in the slum, and the reasons behind these occurrences are never clear: it might be an accident, as the homes are constructed with poor and flammable
material, and the use of stoves and candles for heating and lighting is very common. But it also may have been a deliberate action. It is a miracle that there were no casualties this time, as the starting point was close to a Liquefied Petroleum Gas storage that exploded. Nevertheless, according to official estimates, over 8,500 residents have lost their homes and possessions. Among those, a number of beneficiaries of the Salvatorian-run programs: 38 families of ALSA BUHAY’s past and present beneficiaries had their homes fully or partially destroyed and lost all possessions.
The local Salvatorian communities immediately responded and helped the Puso sa Puso staff to collect and distribute essentials such as food, clothes, toiletries, medicines and bedding. The very day of the disaster, the situation and the most urgent needs were identified and reported to SOFIA, which at once applied to the Irish Catholic organization Misean Cara for emergency funding. Fortunately the agency responded positively to the application and swiftly granted 8,380 €. Together with local donations and in-kind gifts from the Salvatorian community of Amadeo this amount helps to fund at least the desperately needed first aid. The local Salvatorians and Puso sa Puso staff were very moved by the generous support, exceeding even the help provided in 2015, when a similar fire disaster struck the same Parola slum.
Direct beneficiaries of the Salvatorian support are 80 families, that is, 320 children, adolescents and their parents/guardians living in the Parola slum who have totally or partially lost their homes. Out of these, 40 individuals are children and adolescents participating in the activities of Puso sa Puso, or former students. The lessons and most other program activities resumed shortly after the disaster, partially in makeshift locations and inside the livelihood center. This is because the container van where classes are normally held, is now used as storage for the small possessions that the families managed to save from the fire. Indirect beneficiaries are the other dwellers of the slum, approximately 60,000 people, and in particular those 5,000 who remained close to the affected area.
Beyond the immediate needs, the temporary homelessness and deprivation of livelihood of these 80 families continue to be major problems, to be addressed as soon as possible. (A higher number of families cannot be reached, given the limited number of volunteer staff available). Since most of the people want to re-build their homes there where they were before, Puso sa Puso will assess the demand and suggest the best solutions. If needed, SOFIA will approach other donors for funds for this second stage.
Fortunately, between the huge shadows there is a small but significant light shining through: one week after the conflagration, Puso sa Puso received an important recognition by the Department of Education (the national Ministry) for best practices and the high quality education the NGO is delivering in the field of Alternative Learning Systems. A heartwarming notice and appraisal of the successful work and dedicated commitment proven over the last seven years by the Salvatorians involved and their team, who keep on working notwithstanding the neverending difficulties and emergencies!