“Under the surface of the mountains, mining companies are drilling and tunneling and leaving a trail of destruction. Aboriginal people are fighting to maintain their lands and livelihoods, threatened by violence and intimidation and pollution. Our hosts today have shared stories of giant sinkholes appearing (in one case, the elementary school has literally disappeared as the ground beneath it collapsed), of threats made at gunpoint, of common people being disappeared or arrested under trumped up charges. They are ugly and difficult stories to hear; they would be horrific to live through.
Yet the people telling the stories have a different message as well-they are offering trainings and workshops on community development, they are struggling to find creative ways to preserve their ancestral lands and ways of life, they are incorporating new technology with old methods to do their best to preserve their communities…”
The Rev. Laura Marie Piotrowicz posted these reflections on her blog on Feb. 26, while visiting Cordillera, a mountainous region in the northern Philippines.Her thoughts captured what almost became a running theme of her 16-day visit to the Philippines-the tough struggles that Filipinos face and their indomitable spirit to overcome them.
Piotrowicz, a board member of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), and Elsa Tesfay, PWRDF partnership program manager, visited the Philippines Feb. 13 to 28, to meet with PWRDF partners.”My focus as a board member/volunteer with PWRDF was to meet with people, see the ministry in action, hear the stories, come home and share the stories,” said Piotrowicz in an email interview. “And wow, is there good news of life-giving ministry.”
Filipinos deal with many issues, including poverty, peace, human rights and the environmental effects of mining and climate change, said Piotrowicz, who is also rector of the six-point Parish of Pelly Plains, Anglican diocese of Brandon.
But what has been palpable is the commitment of PWRDF partners “to work tirelessly for a better world,” said Piotrowicz, who visited the Southeast Asian country for the first time. “[They] are not deterred by setbacks-rather they are empowered by success.”
PWRDF works with five partners in the Philippines in areas involving peace building, community development and farming. Piotrowicz said she and Musa visited an arts group that offers youth life skills and an alternative to drugs and crime; a rice mill that offers farmers “local and profitable options;” a fair trade fruit-processing plant; farming communities that embrace sustainable and organic practices; research organizations that support “justice-based education”; and an HIV-AIDS prevention program.
They also met with groups that campaign for sustainable mining, and those that document and support victims of human rights abuses, among others.Some partners have expressed a desire to receive assistance in the form of volunteer interns, who can help in such areas as information technology and research, she said.
“The friends we made were people of such commitment to their passion for peace and justice. They have seen difficulty and are strengthened to work for positive change,” said Piotrowicz. “We shared laughter over meals; we shared tears over stories of injustices; we shared hope as we explained our relative contexts and challenges.” They also shared “solidarity that comes from partnerships that have grown and evolved over decades.”
It was this “building and strengthening” of relationships that Piotrowicz considered to be the most important aspect of the visit. “The notion of community is very important, of having the space and ability to engage as equals, as contributors to the conversation and work,” she said.
Piotrowicz said this is what sets PWRDF apart as a development and relief agency. “We don’t just fund folks overseas; we really engage in a relationship where we learn from one another, are influenced by one another and are all transformed by the experience.”
Many issues facing Filipinos are familiar to people elsewhere, including people in Canada, said Piotrowicz. This makes PWRDF’s partnerships all the more important, she said. “A collaboration with partners will allow our work to focus on peace and justice in helpful and healthy ways…When we engage in partnerships like these, we’re aiming to embrace our role in humanity and in the broader environment, working to bring about God’s kingdom.”
Read the Rev. Laura Marie Piotrowicz’s blog about her visit to the Philippines here.