The family of Rodrigo Sabac live on the small island of Olutanga in the Filipino region of Zamboanga, Sibugay in Mindanao. The main source of income for people in the area is fishing, as well as farming small plots of land and cultivating seaweed. Forty-seven-year-old Rodrigo Sabac is an islander. His father is a fisherman and his mother looked after their eleven children. Growing up, it was always a challenge to have enough money to provide for the whole family's daily needs. Fishing is weather-dependent and when his father could not go fishing, the family couldn't eat. Rodrigo recalls that during the Sendong typhoon they were unable to go home for a day and a night and so they had to survive without food until other fishermen rescued them. At the time Rodrigo's main worry was whether they would even survive the typhoon.
Fishing is not an easy way to earn your living; you exist constantly between life and death. But for Rodrigo, there was little choice. He had to go out every night to catch fish to feed his family. Sometimes, it was rewarding and he would come home with many fish but there were other times when he came home with nothing. His mother's vegetable patch was what kept them going in the lean times.
Due to the lack of money, none of the 11 children managed to finish high school. They preferred to become fishermen than continue with their studies. Rodrigo's father died a few years ago. His mother is still alive and she continues to live in Olutanga with some of her children.
In 2007, Rodrigo married Arseline and they had four children. The eldest is in grade 4, the second is in grade 2, the third is in grade 1 and the youngest is just one. After his marriage, Rodrigo continued to earn a living as a fisherman despite the difficulties he encountered as he tried to feed his children every day. Sending his children to school was not easy if he didn't have money to cover the children's school supplies, transportation and school uniforms. Another struggle was the lack of state medical assistance for the poor. Rodrigo did not own a house and the family kept on transferring from one house to another especially if the landlord was not satisfied with their rent or if they were late in making their payments.
In 2012, Rodrigo decided to transfer to Ozamiz City with his wife and children in the hope of finding a better job. But it was a risky decision because he hadn't finished school and so had no academic qualifications and it was also risky in view of his age. He quickly found he was unable to provide his family with three meals a day and so he decided to apply to the 'Pedalling to Live' programme for assistance.
Under the terms of the scheme, you rent a tricycle with a view to eventually owning it. That's why it is called a 'Rent to Own' scheme. Participants pay the cost of a tricycle (25,000 pesos or $568) over a period of a year and a half but sometimes it takes longer. From the earnings that they make from ferrying passengers, they put 20 pesos a day into a personal fund to help their family and they also pay in 60 pesos a day towards the cost of the tricycle, which becomes theirs when they repay the tricycle's cost. After that, everything they earn is their own.
Rodrigo is determined that he will provide for the education of his children with the help of this scheme. But driving a tricycle is tough. Rodrigo has to wake up very early in order to earn at least fifty pesos before eight o'clock in the morning so that he can provide breakfast for the family. More hard work follows after breakfast as he tries to generate the income for lunch and dinner. The one thing that keeps him going is his determination that one day he will get a chance to improve his living conditions, especially now that he is getting older.
When I visited Rodrigo Sabac's family, I saw him lying on a bed in a very small and dark room. It was a very uncomfortable place to live. I noted that if there was a flood, because of the way the place is built, his room would be filled with water. The small room served as a bedroom, kitchen and living room. He looked so sad and depressed. I asked him what was wrong and he told me he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and advised to rest for six months.
He was worried about the daily needs of this family. At the moment the 'Pedalling to Live' project is providing rice and some basic needs to the family while his wife is working as a laundry woman. We were able to access basic medication at the city health unit. For now, Rodrigo is determined to drive his tricycle every day so that he, at least, has the income to buy enough milk for his one-year-old baby. He himself is on the second month of his medication and so hopefully after this he can transfer to our housing project.
After my short talk with Rodrigo I had many sleepless nights. I realised that even if I continue to work for many years in the community, it will never be enough because of the increasing poverty levels. But at least we are helping some families by giving them a livelihood and also by giving them hope that poverty is not a reason for them to lose their hope and faith in God.
Rodrigo Sabac's dream is that his children will be able to finish their studies. For this reason, he is very thankful for all the support given by Columban friends and benefactors to the 'Pedalling to Live' scheme and the 'Green Shelter Project', which are providing poor families, like his own, with the possibility to hope for a better future.
Virgenia O. Vidad is a volunteer member of staff with the 'Pedalling to Live' and 'Green Shelter' programme which was started by Columban priest, Fr Oliver McCrossan, who was assigned in Ozamiz City, Philippines between 1976 and 2012.
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