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Fast or Feast

February 17, 2013

By Laura Marie Piotrowicz

Today, the first Sunday of Lent, was another day of eating here in the Philippines. A lot of eating! Naturally, this leads one to consider food sources and security issues.
We left Tagbilaran by boat for Cebu, where we immediately journeyed to Naga to tour the Southern Partner Fair Trade Corporation (SPFTC). The plant processes fruits, including mangoes and calamansi (a lemon/lime-like citrus fruit) into juices, purées, jams, and dehydrated fruit. Pectin is derived from seeds and skins. The plant also processes coconuts into dried fruit and virgin coconut oil, and coconut-based charcoal is being produced from the waste husks. Also being produced are spices such as turmeric and herbal teas (ginger, lemon grass, etc.) Any additional food scraps are fed to the vermiculture process whose resultant vermicast fertilizes the organic vegetable farm. The SPFTC has benefited from PWRDF support for some 20 years, and will be naming one of their mango trees after us- there will be a picture forthcoming of just how much I love that tree (I’m a literal and figurative tree hugger!)
After a snack of their juice and fruits, we returned to Cebu City to visit their Fair Trade store. After some shopping we were treated to a lunch which included some of FARDEC’s organic fair trade rice, and the passion fruit juice, vegetables, and fish were also locally sourced.
Stomachs full, our afternoon was spent indoors, meeting with 2 representatives of Teatro Obrero, an informal theatre group working in several communities throughout the Vasayas. This group works with workers on sugar plantations to provide free informal education and programming to youth. The young folks (as young as 3!) gather for specific dates such as the annual commemoration of the Escalente massacres or International Women’s Day, or around issues of concern such as dam-building or climate change. The groups then educate themselves on the issue and develop a skit and/or songs to present. These presentations are then delivered on the streets, and sometimes in schools or other public venues when invited. They are reaching audiences of up to 1000 people at a time, they’re going into sugar worker communities (where education levels are quite low and wages run as low as 80 pesos (2$) for a 12-hour workday. The youth are passionate about justice, the theatre provides them an outlet for their creativity, training in writing/acting/costume development/technology. It’s truly a good news story when 500 youth are empowered to make their world a better place for a minimal amount of money (around 8$ per youth per year).
Following some fruit snacks with the Teatro Obrero, and a quick clean-up break, we joined with our new friends from across the Visayas cluster for a solidarity supper. We ate- FARDEC rice, local fruits and vegetables, traditional Filipino meat dishes. More local fruits (those that are both common to locals and expensive specialties) were shared before a ‘talents or guts’ time, encouraging us all to share talents- or at least have the guts to try. It was a fun night where we recognized the challenges facing these various communities while celebrating the good work being done.
The feasting has been a showcase of local delicacies and much more than people here would normally eat. I think I’ve gained 10 pounds in the week I’ve been here. Yet (thankfully) nothing is going to waste. The feasting has been a demonstration of hospitality and joy as we gather to celebrate what it means to be partners. It is proof that a small amount of money can make a big difference when it partners with a great amount of passion and determination. In the midst of our joyful feasting we recalled those for whom we work, those who daily live a non-voluntary fast. We know that the abundance of food being shared here tonight symbolizes the abundance that we have to share, when we’ll be able to look back on the challenges as a part of completed history and tell the next generation that we were part of the movement which led to positive, effective change.

So we feasted, in solodarity and in hope. We shared food and stories and joy, we shared commitment to work with those who struggle in our midst. We feasted as a family, both in physical food and in shared compassion and solidarity. We feasted because God promises us all abundant life, even during times of fasting.

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