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Columban Stories on the Theme

Philippines - PREDA Recycling

PREDA - the People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation – was founded by Columban Shay Cullen in Olongapo City in 1974. It is famous for promoting the dignity and human rights of abused children. But it also has a Fairtrade dimension. More than 20 village and urban-based production groups make handicraft items that are exported by Preda. The project practices the Fair trade criteria and gives people incomes. The Tetra Bag Project is a Preda recycling project that has turned throwaway aluminum foil drinks pouches into raw material for livelihood projects for survivors of sexual exploitation, youth rescued from prisons, students, and dozens of waste paper collectors.

Philippines - Wonders of Waste Bags

Wonders of Waste Bags or WoW Bags refers to another livelihood and recycling project in the Philippines, linked to the Columbans. It is organised by Helen Mitchell, an Irish woman who first went to the Philippines as a lay missionary in 2002.

A variety of bags in all shapes and sizes are made out of recycled drinks cartons. There are also pencil cases, lunch cases for schoolchildren and zipper pouches which can be opened up into shopping bags. WoW bags are plastic but they are recycled and can be used multiple times. Helen says "WoW Bags has received a lot of support and encouragement from the Columbans both here, in Ireland and in England for which I am very grateful".

The project started in Pampanga - a rural area around 50 miles from Manila - but in 2009 Helen was invited by Columban Fr John Leydon to have an extension project in Malate parish, Manila. WoW also has a link with the educational project of Columban Sr Kathleen Melia in the southern Island of Mindanao and some of the profits are used to help support tribal Subaanen girls to attend High School. Helen has recently started a collaboration with the weaving project of Columban Fr Brian Gore in Negros, using some of the weaving from a similar income-generating project in a new range of bags.

Philippines - Living off rubbish dumps

Payatas is a massive open dumpsite used to dispose of the daily garbage of Metro Manila. But over time, this mountain of garbage has become home to about 80,000 people. Many of these, with no other options for survival, scavenge the waste for recyclables such as cans, plastic and newspapers to earn a few pesos a day. Disease and short life spans among these squatter families are commonplace in the makeshift community.

A regular worker there in the 1990s was a Columban Korean Lay Missionary, Columba Chang. She left her job in a bank to work amongst very poor people at Payatas. Children as young as eight years of age work there every day to eke out a living.

More recently, another Columban lay missionary from Korea, Sun Hee (Sunny) Kim, has worked at Payatas. Sunny is involved in a Thursday lunch-time feeding program at a local chapel. While the volunteers are cooking lunch, children attend a catechism class, have their hair cut at the barbershop and attend a simple clinic. Sunny treats minor wounds on a regular basis as infection is rampant due to the unsanitary conditions in which they work. She says:

"One day, when I was walking around the landfill with my friend who was visiting, I heard “ate - ate - Sunny” from a crowd of children at the end of an alley. I followed the sound and saw that they were children that I meet each week at the feeding program. When I got close to them, I saw that they were not playing but working, separating the plastic and scrap iron from the trash heap and making feed for the pigs by mixing water and food waste collected at the landfill. No longer could I see the children as playful. They looked different. There was no evidence of the child. They were hard at work among the rotting rubbish that might provide them with enough money to buy a meal for the day."

Season of Creation

In July 2019, the Columbans internationally decided to formalise a commitment to celebrating the Season of Creation (September 1 – October 4) throughout the Society. Between these dates Columban parishes, programs, projects, mission centres, and Columban houses in the 16 countries where Columbans work will take every opportunity to develop a greater appreciation of God’s love and care of creation, and develop empathy with people and places that are vulnerable and exploited.

Pakistan - Eco-friendly bags

In Pakistan, Columban Fr Liam O’Callaghan says, “the environmental crisis is the context in which we live here, the ‘signs of the times’, and scores of people are sick and dying every day because of it”. He feels that, “if mission does not respond to this context, then quite simply it ceases to be relevant”. Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, experiencing 145 extreme weather events between 1998-2017, leading directly to the deaths of over 10,000 people. In addition, the country has poor water quality and is predicted to be severely ‘water-stressed’ by 2020. Ecological education has become a priority and across Hyderabad Diocese the Columbans hold workshops in parishes and schools. Practical suggestions for parish action include tree planting and training people to avoid the use of plastic bags, which cause pollution and block sewage systems. The Columbans often give out eco-friendly bags made from old clothing.

US - Throwaway people

Columbans in the US, based at the border with Mexico, have added their voice to the faith groups suggesting that refugees from Central America are being treated as ‘throwaway people’ with their rights trampled on by the US government. They believe “that our moral standing as a society can be measured by our actions toward those most vulnerable among us”. They deplore migrant children being removed from parents and living in poor conditions in detention centres. The Columbans provide accompaniment, direct services, legal services, and humanitarian aid to vulnerable migrants. They welcome and support those arriving at the border. The Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, offers support to migrants. Fr Robert Mosher says:

"Nearby we have the international wall itself—an ugly, imposing structure of rusted steel running in a straight scar-like line across an undulating desert landscape just outside the city of El Paso, tall enough to ensure broken limbs in the event someone tries to scale it and jump from the top of its 18-foot height. People are occasionally found, injured and lying on the ground, at the foot of the fence, unable to go any further into a land they hoped would give them safety and peace. Many die in the attempt to cross in less-fortified areas of the border, in mountain wastes, lost and with insufficient water to reach a community."

UK - Living Simply

Columbans in Britain supporting LiveSimply Parishes and Schools. These have worked towards an award and often have recycling schemes and measures to reduce waste output and energy use. Some have banned plastic cutlery and disposable plates and cups. All educate about Care for Creation and valuing the gifts of the Earth, such as clean water and healthy food.

Peru - Composting organic waste

In the 1990s with no official garbage collection in an area of Lima, a group of people decided that they had to do something, so they started the Happy Worm project, which the Columbans support. Locals bring their compostable waste to feed the composting process and then the worms work hard to make the compost into organic 'humus' to use for growing plants and trees. This is all done methodically and cleanly with the compost covered with garlic skins to cut down on the smell. When someone brings their waste to the Centre they can get a bag of humus to take home, as well as a plant or small tree to nurture. In such a dusty environment, the Happy Worm is like a green oasis. Today it is a place for city councillors, university students and school children to come and learn ways of caring for their environment.