It wasn’t your ordinary Thursday morning in Pulang Lupa. At 7:30 our advance team – Lyn and myself – were there, tying a huge red bow around a brand new water purifier in front of Maria’s house, and around 15 neighbors had already gathered to see what was going on. Minutes later two trucks and a van full of men arrived on the scene. They were the local Mason chapter joined by a group from Manila that was visiting Palawan for a two-day convention. Among them was the National Most Worshipful Grand Master Avelino Razon Jr.
Since we began our work in Palawan, we have been fortunate to have formed many positive partnerships with other organizations and individuals working on various issues and projects in Puerto Princesa.
The Local Masons of Lodge 99, under Master Rolando Bonoan, had been to Pulang Lupa before, when the group donated some school materials such as writing pads, crayons, paints, and some wonderful blue portfolios for the children to carry their work home in. Last week they installed two water purifiers to help provide safe drinking water to the community. Because residents of Pulang Lupa don’t own the land, and therefore do not qualify for city water service, people are forced to use wells of questionable safety. So the water purifiers are a very valuable gift to the community.
The National Masons group had gotten interested in the community outreach work that the Local Lodge was doing and while in Palawan, carved out time to see the project first hand (as well as to cut the ribbon and formally present the purifiers to the Pulang Lupa residents). Much to our surprise, the very pleased Grand Master Razon immediately committed to donating five more purification units! This news was greeted by excitement from the community. The Masons then walked around Pulang Lupa to inspect some of the vertical gardens and speak to the residents. We now have 24 gardens set up in households, some with just young shrubs, and some filled with lush greenery.
The mission of Roots of Health is to empower women and girls to secure their right to health and freedom from violence, and to support and protect the health and well being of their children. This mission focuses on reproductive health education and child nutrition, and we realize the virtues of staying within the boundaries of that mission. But in many of the underserved communities in Palawan, the challenges all run into each other. Better nutrition necessitates better financial resources and that means more employment, but of course better education (and fewer children) makes better employment more possible. Good nutrition and good basic services in health (and especially access to potable water!) enable both work and education. We continually feel ourselves being pulled in other directions as we become more immersed in Pulang Lupa.
But somehow good local resources have begun to find their way to us and have enabled us to help facilitate services for the community that we ourselves do not provide. My husband Oscar is a Mason, and provided the initial connection between Lodge 99 and our organization. It seems that once the Masons visited our program site, they were hooked. (It is always a good experience to go to Pulang Lupa! The mothers and children are absolutely charming and everyone is open and friendly.) Mark Lim, one of the former Masters of Lodge 99, introduced his friend Richard Arambulo to the community and to our work, and soon Richard’s group, Bayanihan ng Palawan, sponsored one of the nutritional supplement sessions and provided new slippers for the children and many of the mothers. They also did a tooth brushing demonstration and gave every child a toothbrush.
Other local schools, businesses, and NGOs have also helped us to further serve the community. Anthony Palanca of Heavenly Desserts makes a special whole-wheat pan de sal (bread roll) as one of our weekly snacks for the children. Our neighborhood organic farmers, Simon Gill of Bountiful Harvest, and Keith Mikkelson of Aloha House, along with Philippe Girardeau guided Marcus through the creation of the different models of vertical gardens – an effort we originally considered a “special project” but one which has been taking on more and more importance. Keith’s wife Narcy has also been instrumental in guiding us through our first year as a community NGO. The ‘safe water’ organization, A Single Drop, advised us on the water purifiers and facilitated the installation. Our relationship with Palawan State University’s College of Teacher Education and College of Nursing and Health Sciences has developed and we plan to expand our programming in the university next year.
So the bottom line seems to be that while we focus on our mission, which is Health Education and Nutrition, we can serve as a magnet to attract other organizations and individuals – groups and people who want to help. Being able to facilitate their help and harness their energies makes it possible to provide expanded services in Pulang Lupa (and hopefully in future communities that we work in) while allowing us to continue to keep our focus on our mission.