THE ISLAND of Negros has some of the richest soil and the poorest people in the Philippines. Fr Michael Cullen, a Columban Father, explained to me last week how his parish in Himamaylan is trying to raise families from subhuman living conditions to a life of independence .and dignity.
With a grant of £2,000 from the Little Way Association, Fr Cullen has bought fishing boats and nets for seven of the poorest families in his area. The revenue from the fish has raised the families' income above the poverty line and allowed at least one father to buy medicine for his children.
"He came to me with prescriptions from the doctor. He said: 'Now I can buy my own medicine'. It is a great consolation to me to know that this project is really helping," said Fr Cullen.
Fr Cullen who is on a brief visit to Britain, had originally planned to buy 12 ten hp power boats, but rising prices meant that he could only afford seven smaller boats.
"If we can get a fleet of the larger boats, the plan is to deduct a percentage from the monthly income of each boat owner and bank it as an extension fund," he said.
"When the price of another boat has been reached the group themselves will choose the next most deserving family."
Fr Cullen's ideal would he to buy land for every family. "I
would love to give ten hectares with a house to each family because with ten hectares, which is roughly 20 acres, a family could live quite well. It's a dream I have. Maybe some day it will come true. 1 don't know." In the meantime Fr Cullen has organised dressmaking and tailoring classes for local teenagers. If he can raise the funds he would also like to start
a carpentry school. He believes that these projects are an important step in building up a Christian Community.
"In this way I hope not only to free the people from lives of misery and restore their Godgiven dignity. but also to put into action the love that Christ came on earth to establish — a love that shares and radiates peace."