THIS CEMETERY IS FOR THE DEAD … AND THE LIVING

By Bellarme Milosi Lumbwe

 

Cemeteries are supposed to be where the dead are placed to rest in peace. That is the common and widely accepted knowledge among many of us, including myself… That is, until lately. When I came to the Philippines, I discovered that there can be life in a cemetery. If ever you visit this country, you might come across Manila North Cemetery (MNC).

I have been to Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and even the US of A and witnessed how people struggle with life, but not to the extent of spending it in a cemetery.

Manila North Cemetery sounds like a place for the dead. Well, that’s true, but with a slight difference to the common notion. Amid the daily burial ceremonies and practices there, people were also going about their own lives—working, eating together, celebrating special family occasions, courting a person you are attracted and all the rest of normal human activities.

I was told the relatives of the dead have to pay people to watch over and maintain the family grave, or else the grave might be transformed into somebody’s house.

There are many sorts of reasons why the poor people of Manila prefer to live there. The lot is free and there is available water, albeit unsafe. One can also avail of free electricity; all it takes is the gut and some climbing and electrical skills to tap illegally in an actual electrical post.

What I’m telling you is true and I have seen it with my own eyes. People choose to stay in MNC for a reason—they have raised their families there and to look for another place to stay is tantamount to uprooting their children from their natural habitat.

It is true that children did not choose to be born there. In fact, it is not a very safe place to raise children and families. And the dangers are very real.

Is there anything which can be done? For sure, yes! Throughout the Bible, God encourages His children to serve others. I purposely avoid to use the term “helping others” but I choose “serving others” because as Jesus Christ said in Matthew 25: 40: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Since it is unthinkable for us to help Jesus, we should instead serve others with our talents, resources, and energies.

You can choose to serve others on your own; that’s will still be fine with God, I think. But sometimes, you might choose to join other people or organizations to serve others, especially when you have seen them at work, sustaining lives of people in such areas.

You can join hands with us at Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) to serve others through various programs that the organization implement in this community. Here are some active programs which KKFI runs in MNC to bring hope to the hopeless one, the Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP), Child Development Center (CDC), Alternative Learning System and the newly implemented program “Happy Wives, Happy Community.”

You are always welcome to join our service to God by serving others.

 

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RISING FROM THE DEAD

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“We now live outside of the cemetery,” says Anna B. Villegas, 32, apparently with proud air about her.

Anna is referring to the Manila North Cemetery (MNC), where her family used to live. To her and thousands of others who reside there, the life-goal has been to be able to own a house or at least rent a place outside of the MNC.

Anna’s dream came true because of the $4,000 livelihood grant that the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) received recently from the United Methodist Women (UMW).

On March 8, 2017, the grant was distributed to 13 recipients and Anna was one of them. She immediately bought a pedicab for her husband, Joselito, who now uses it to collect recyclable materials like plastic and glass bottles in Manila North Cemetery and neighboring communities.

Before acquiring the pedicab, the Villegas couple were caretakers of tombs in MNC.

“It was difficult living in the cemetery, especially when it rains and floods,” narrates Anna. “It is not safe there and there are a lot of drug addicts around.”

She says she and her family are now “happy to live in Caloocan City” albeit, still making both ends meet.

“Our monthly room rental is P2,000 plus P1,000 for electricity and water. My husband earns an average of P300-P400 a day, enough to meet the daily expenses,” she discloses, adding that Joselito works six days a week.

The Villegas family is blessed to receive a scholarship grant from a Korean national that benefits three of her four children, thereby augmenting the family income. She proudly says that her children are honor students: Krishen Keith Althea (Top 3), Kyle Dustin (Top 6) and Kristel Keith (Top 9). The youngest is yet to go to school.

Anna has her church, San Pancratio Parish in Caloocan City, for linking her to the generous Korean benefactor.

Anna wants the best for her family. Though she is a graduate of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Housekeeping Course, she wants to prioritize taking care of her family instead of working abroad.

She keeps on learning and has attended workshops on candle-making, fabric conditioner-making and dishwashing soap-making.

She is also a parent-leader of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) City Link since 2012.

Indeed, Anna is worth emulating. She and her husband continues to strive to improve their lives, and the first step came when they brought their family out of the cemetery.

 

AGE DOESN’T MATTER

By Flor Tatoy

A 60-year-old mother of three sons, a good wife, a reliable provider, and a person with a good heart. That’s how residents of Manila North Cemetery (MNC) describe “Nanay” Lilian Tiglao. This impression was not different from that of the staff members of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI), who know her as a trustworthy, dependable and very strong woman.

Physically, though, Nanay Lilian looks very ordinary—her skin is tanned, her hair is cut short and blond, and she’s uncommonly thin, which she attributes to lack of nutritious food to eat. It is apparent that she has survived life’s many, many trials. But there’s one thing about her that’s remarkable—she always wears a beautiful smile.

She lives in a mausoleum inside the MNC with her husband and grand-daughter. Her sons have left them after they decided to take their respective live-in partners. Nanay Lilian provides the basics needs of the family and spends for her grand-daughter’s education, as well. She earns by scavenging and taking care of the tombs in MNC, from which she is paid P50 a month by the family of the deceased.

“Age does not matter. I can take good care of my granddaughter and help other young children too,” Nanay Lilian said.

“Masaya ako kapag nakakatulong ako sa kapwa ko.”

God’s provision has kept her family alive all these years, that’s the only way she could explain how they have been surviving. Despite her predicament, Nanay Lilian has a dream—for these young children to finish their studies so that they will be capable of helping others.

It was 2011, when Nanay Lilian came to know about KKFI through one of its social worker, Vince. She became a fan instantly, a firm believer of what KKFI is trying to achieve. She could tell that her dream and KKFI’s objective are aligned. So, she has made it a point to always get involved in its activities. Wherever KKFI needs her help, she was always there to give a hand.

Nanay Lilian, indeed, has been making herself available in almost all the activities of KKFI in MNC. She is even an active member of the SAMANTAGANOR, a group of caretakers of tombs and mausoleums inside the Manila North Cemetery (MNC) that KKFI helped organize.

In June 2016, she became an assistant teacher for the Supervised Neighbourhood Play (SNP) Program in MNC. The SNP is a home-based early childhood service for children ages 2-4 years old. It utilizes play as an approach in providing early stimulation activities that are developmentally appropriate for each target age of children in the community. It helps children develop relationships, skills, social values, self-confidence, self-respect and self-expression through unstructured time for play and socializing using the SNP manual of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Every day Nanay Lilian goes to house-to-house to fetch children and ensure that they will attend their classes. Even when sick, she still helped the main teacher handle the young students, teaching them how to write, draw, count and sing. She said she felt utmost fulfilment in what she does.

By helping KKFI, she is able to uplift the children by helping them finish their studies. Nanay Lilian does not feel she’s too old to extend help to the needy. She’s not the type who limits one’s self, especially when it comes to giving herself to others. She said that even a smile, a warm hug, or simple greeting of “hello” can impact the lives of young children. “These children only need our acceptance,” she said philosophically.