This is Jose Fabella Center . Officially what it is is “A residential institution that provides temporary shelter for strandees, vagrants and mendicants”.
In reality though, this Center meant for 200 temporary residents is bursting in the seams with over 400 residents—a lot of them not really there for ‘temporary shelter’ but have stayed on and on because they have no one.
Stroke victims whose family members have abandoned them – just stopped showing up in the hospital so that they were turned over to DSWD’s care, the homeless—a lot of whom have untreated mental disorders, those who have lost their homes in fires etc.
The ideal ratio of house parent to residents is 1:20. Here, it’s more like 1:174. No wonder, the stench assails you as you enter the men’s ward. Residents lie on a pool of their own urine and feces and they lie naked because there is no budget for diapers for them.
And in the women’s cottage, there is a stroke victim there who sits, waiting for anyone from her family to fetch her. She doesn’t seem to notice that she’s been waiting for years now. Or maybe she does because she sits hunched up and the slightest kindness you show her makes her sob.
My time and energy—together with the entire DSWD are filled with finding ways to make these centers do what they’re supposed to do and to be what they were meant to be—havens , restful and safe places from a cruel world that has turned its face away from them.
DSWD has 71 such centers all over the country—in various states of disrepair because they have so fallen through the cracks. This is what we inherited from previous administrations. And what we now endeavor to correct because it is such an unbearably grievous situation.
We would like to, as the Secretary says, be their family because they have no one—not one soul—in this entire world.
And I tell you this because I get a lot of messages and comments saying how this person or that person dissed me on their FB walls and how memes bashing me get posted. And a lot of those who send me this do so out of concern or rage. And there are some who want me to fight their battles for them.
And I want to say this.
STOP. My time and energies will not be spent fighting battles I’m not supposed to fight. I am not their enemy. They only need look in the mirror to know who it is that’s doing them the greatest harm. So no please, stop sending me other people’s garbage. You do me no favors when you do this.
The world they live in is not the world I live in.
I don’t like getting bent over things that don’t matter. And ‘what other people say about me’ falls under ‘things that don’t matter’—squarely.
Jose Fabella Center though bends me over. It grieves me. The man in orange shirt in the photo who has no underwear because he has diarrhea and there is no diaper and no staff to clean up after him each time he shits—well, that bends me over twice. And that he has Down Syndrome kills me.
But I have this vision in my head and it is floating around and it is of a highly improved JFC where this man would be in a sunny room that smelled clean and not this dark, dank room that, once you enter, the smell of shit and urine and sweat and god-knows what else hits you in the face. And he would be in diapers and he would be clean and lying comfortably in a bed with cushions.
And there would staff to care for him with love and affection because people with Down Syndrome are some of the loveliest human beings I know.
Yesterday was our Independence Day and I just kept thinking– isn’t independence the freedom to choose who it is you’d rather be?
I would rather help rebuild this country than waste my time, as my son said, on people with internet access and the thousand words of hate they spew but with no actual plans of helping.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Find the place inside where there’s joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”
The pain I feel when I am in this Center is immense. But there is this piece of joy I cling to and it is this: the vision of this man in a cleaner, happier center where the entire Filipino nation becomes his family. That is what burns out my pain.
Our country stands at the cusp of its rebirth but it can only do so with each of us doing what we can for the most helpless of its citizens. Kapit bisig. Bayanihan. That is the Filipino way. Walang iwanan.
There is a world that needs to be reborn in Jose Fabella Center. I wish you would join hands with me and attend to its birth.