We left the Medical Mission in Santa Cruz this morning and traveled 30 minutes to a feeding site in San Pablo. Fr. Rudy the assistant Social action director is in charge of the feeding programs. His volunteers explained how a new site is opened only with the cooperation of the local parish priest and if enough volunteers are available to coordinate the cooking, weighing and reporting needed for RSM and Feed My Starving Children. Fr. Rudy invites us to see one of the livelihood projects, candle-making. He says it is only 10 minutes away.
The promise of a 10 minute trip turns out to really be 10 Filipino minutes, which means it is 30 minutes. Everything is slower and takes longer in the Philippines. The traffic is slow and congested filled mostly with Jeepney and tricycle drivers. We’ll drive for hours in what is supposed to be the country and barely get up to 50 MPH except when passing. The country roads are constantly lined with houses, businesses, shacks and deteriorated looking concrete block walls. It seems the city really never ends. Elmer our driver is very good. He has been Jerry’s driver for the past nine years. The Diocese of Manila supplies us with a van and Elmer for our driving needs on the mainland. This is a real bonus as we would never be able to drive around the Philippines and find anything. Rarely does a street have a sign in the country. I have no idea where we are most of the time. I look at the sun in the sky and figure which direction we must be heading.
We eventually arrive at the candle-making factory. But it’s really just someone’s home. The smell of smoke is in the air. We walk through the house into the back yard, then through an area where dog breeding and chicken breeding to an open shack with a tin roof. There is a fire smoldering. 5-gallon square tin cans filled with liquid paraffin sit on rocks over the fire.
There is a large wagon wheel on a stand about seven feet tall with 30 strings hanging that have already had several coatings of wax. We watch as they flip the candles on production wheel upside down so that they may be thickened evenly. Then the young man takes a ladle and dips hot paraffin from a pan below and gently pours it on each candlestick hanging. The wheel rotates so that he can easily move to the next candle.
I get good close up shots and also use my GoPro camera to get very close to the action. The smell of paraffin and smoke is regularly in the face and eyes of the worker. I turn my attention to a table nearby and there a man by the name of JR cutting the 6 foot long candles into 5” votive candles that are about 3/8 of an inch in diameter.
They produce 20,000 of these small candles a week. These candles are popular with the people and the churches. The candles come in a three pack. You light a white candle to pray for someone, a green candle to pray for more money and you light a pink candle for love. JR has been working at the candle factory ever since it opened six years ago. He met his future employer though the RSM feeding program. His son Matthew was severely malnourished when only three years old. JR has been able to make a living now earning 1500 pesos or $32 a week.
Other candles are also produced. Large Paschal Candles used at Easter and decorative candles as well. This livelihood project is a great example of the feeding site leading into economic growth for the people of the Philippines.
There are approximately 100 million people in the Philippines and 25% live below the poverty line. This is not poverty like we see in America this is third world poverty. I have never seen poverty in America that even approaches the desperate levels here. Statistics show that the Philippines have one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Social and economic inequality is a major problem. Unless action is taken the gap between the rich and poor will continue to widen. Thus the adage, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”