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Mendicancy and healthy relief

/ 01:54 PM November 28, 2013

On my way to Borbon town to check out the Gavino Sepulveda ancestral house, I observed many children lining up beside the road with hands outstretched while a number of men and woman had gathered at a road junction, ostensibly waiting for some good Samaritan to stop and perhaps distribute food. On my way back, someone did indeed stop, as I saw a truck with a person at the back handing out relief goods right at the road junction.

I was told by a relative one of the mayors of a northern Cebu town heavily impacted by the recent supertyphoon that, while food assistance is most welcome, he also fears it may result in mendicancy and dependence on some people who actually do not need such relief. He would rather have people donate building materials (galvanized iron roof sheets, nails and lumber) directly to those whose houses are clearly damaged rather than giving out food and more food directly to people who just line up the highway. The fear is that all this doling out may soon result in a mentality of mendicancy, of begging, among the populace who now see that sympathy can be harnessed to one’s selfish end. (There are agencies, both in the churches and in local governments that can direct your relief to those that deserve them rightly.)

But there, too, lies the rub: when to stop doling out food and when to start helping people rebuild their lives on a more permanent basis. The answer will be quite difficult for the people of Leyte, especially those in Tacloban City and the heaviest hit towns around the area. With no work to return to, people will have to continue to line up and be served food or to accept rice, noodles and canned goods, even amid all the controversial repacking and re-labeling allegedly carried out by the government.

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The question that immediately confronts those in the hardest hit areas is this: are noodles and canned goods safe to digest over a period of, say, three months on a daily basis? I believe it is time for health officials to come out in the open and inform the public of the hazards (or the absence thereof) of canned food as well as salt-heavy noodles eaten daily over a long period of time, especially among children.

Beggars cannot be choosers, of course, but if relief will only cause health problems later on, then the disaster of Yolanda will only have resulted in more disasters on a long-term, health-related basis.

* * *

I returned anew to Bohol the other day and in fact I will be in Bohol again as this article sees the light of day, to continue our photo-documentation of the damage to the churches and rectories there, a project to hopefully use these for a fund-raising project to help in their rehabilitation and rebuilding.

In my brief forays of the towns in Bohol a month after the earthquake, I must admit I did not see people lining the roads with hands outstretched. Instead, I saw and I’m still, seeing so many handwritten signs of thanks (“Salamat sa inyong hinabang”/Thank you for your help) on cardboard, on jute sacks or even on a simple cartolinas hanging outside of houses and fences of both the rich and the poor (judging from the size of the houses, of course). This is a testament to the successful distribution of relief to the people most affected by the calamity.

Thank you therefore to all those who have helped the people of the Visayas in their hour of need. Keep on being generous and if you can, help rebuild the houses that were flattened by the super typhoon. But please do it quietly and do not issue press releases about them. This is not the time for commercial advertising.

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