21-year-old Singaporean Catholic Darren Chan shares his experience of reaching out to the poor during a recent trip to Iloilo
Darren Chan (extreme left) with some of the villagers that he met on the trip. Darren Chan (extreme left) with some of the villagers that he met on the trip.
I WENT on this mission trip with a group of 15 Catholics from Singapore from March 15 to 19 and it was my first time also travelling to see the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan which badly affected Capiz and Carles located at the north-west of Iloilo city.

It struck me that the Filipinos are very Christian-centred people as 80 to 90 percent of Filipinos are Catholics and Bible verses are displayed in public places, showing their love for God.

Fr Francis F Nicolasora is the parish priest of St Julian de Cuenca Church who hosted us during our trip shared with me his solidarity with the poor in Philippines and love for singing with the Church community. It was heart-warming that the parish is doing all it can for the poor in the country such as the gathering of used clothing, canned food, rice to be donated to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Children of Gigantes Island queuing up to receive clothing.Children of Gigantes Island queuing up to receive clothing.
Fr Francis’s parish is initiating projects to help the poor and get them involved to earn a livelihood. One of the projects is the piglet project in Dabong where donors from Singapore buy the piglets for the poor who will then raise them and sell them once they are mature. With the money from the sale, they can buy another piglet and learn to support themselves.

The other projects are the furniture shops, rice and pig-feed stores in Dabong where half of the money goes to the store owners who are the poor and to the church for their renovations. Villagers also save on transport as they do not need to drive to the nearest town which is a distance away to make a living.

Fr Peter John who is the assistant priest at the same parish said, “I feel so blessed that the mission team has chosen to help the poor and bring them joy.” He also shared with me the difficulties in getting young people involved in Church. He said, “Many young people have been secularised, they are drawn towards the secular lifestyle but the Church is engaging them in Catholic campus ministries in both private and public schools.”

Fr Nathaniel Gentizon who is a priest from the Church of Our Lady Of Candles shared that during Lent, he sees many new faces in church because they want to pray for their sins and the youth ministry will act out the Way of the Cross in the form of a play through the different stations. There is also a yearly recollection where youths and parents can share their experiences with each other and focus on the word of God.
One of the children in Dabong after receiving the lollipops bought for themOne of the children in Dabong after receiving the lollipops bought for them

I had the opportunity to attend a Mass celebrated by Fr Jomil from the Church of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. He shared with me that “during Lent, our homilies incorporate the message of happiness and reconciliation and when there are natural disasters, the people of Philippines have no one to go to but they still believe in God as they cannot do anything without God’’.  

I also visited Capiz where I saw one of the schools, Maindang Elementary School, where their library and stage had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Mr Ramie Capuyan, a young adult who founded Project P.U.S.H (People, Unity, Service, and Hope) is helping the school to raise funds for the school in terms of re-building the library and stage.

The school, which has a total of 352 students, has won numerous competitions in various subjects. Project P.U.S.H focuses on the development of schools and in giving every child an education and a future.

Remnants of the typhoon still remained with destroyed houses and palm trees but visiting Gigantes Island off Carles which was home to about 4,000 villagers was an eye-opener as it showed me that though people live in poverty, they are still happy.

I also had the opportunity of giving out used clothing to the children and adults, and they were very grateful in receiving them, clutching them tightly in their hands. It was a touching moment to see the joy on the villagers’ faces when they received the clothes from us.

The children especially enjoyed our interacting and playing games with them. They were all smiles and liked to take photographs with us as they hardly get visitors.

Mr Alberto Mayorbomo who is the overall-in-charge of the island said, “There is no television, no electricity, no running water on the island, the only means of communication is our cell-phones and we rely on the spring water from the mountains for our daily needs.”

The mission team and I had the privilege of meeting with Archbishop Angel N Lagdameo of Iloilo at the Archdiocese of Jaro. With some churches being destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, Archbishop Lagdameo told us that the main priority was not to repair the churches but to help those that are in need first.

“God inspires many to help the victims of natural disasters and it is encouraging to find God moving in people,” he said. “It is a pity that several ancient churches have been destroyed and it is not possible to re-build them, however, the victims are more important and when their houses are restored, we are happy.”

Through the meeting with Archbishop Lagdameo, I find that it is a meaningful experience to be with the less fortunate and by being compassionate Catholics we can help rebuild their lives again.

Fr Francis also brought us to visit Gawad Kalinga Village and the Sibol Learning School which gives out free education to the children till Kindergarten 2. The children then go out of the village to further their studies and scholarships are also given out by the village to outstanding students.

I also visited the St Vincent Ferrier Seminary where the seminarians are boys are from as young as 12 and they are already sitting for examinations to become future priests. This seminary helps those that aspire to be seminarians at a young age to build their foundation as a Catholic and to grow in their spiritual life. I am glad that many young people are considering the call to the Religious life.

Overall, this mission trip has made me realise God’s love and mercy in providing for the poor through others. I hope that through such trips, as Catholics we can help bring change to their lives and rebuild their spirits which may have been crushed by the natural disasters.

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