Philippines typhoon: Each new day is a better day

by Nick Harrop

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“It was like a war-film.” “It was like Miss Saigon.” “It was like a nuclear bomb had exploded.” “It was like the end of the world.”

I was last in Tanuaun in the Philippines in November 2013, just three weeks after the town was hit by Typhoon Haiyan. People I met kept trying to describe the disaster. They talked about the wind – so loud that they couldn’t hear themselves shouting. They talked about the storm surge – a 19-foot wall of water that swept inland, carrying trees and upturned cars into the wreckage of people’s homes.

Most of all, they talked about the destruction immediately after the typhoon: the dead bodies on the streets, the buildings damaged beyond recognition, the horror of realising that everything they owned had been swept away.

By the time I arrived, aid agencies like CAFOD were doing everything they could to help people cope, providing emergency shelter, food, clean water and essential household supplies. But the scenes around Tanuaun were still shocking.

Mass grave

I remember visiting the area in front of Assumption Academy. The school itself had been badly damaged. Its grounds were overflowing with tents, each occupied by a family whose home had been destroyed. Just a hundred metres away, through a gate, was a mass grave holding 1,000 dead bodies.

Coming back to the school, ten months on, is an emotional experience. The transformation is remarkable. The tents have gone, and children are playing on the land, which is, I now realise, a basketball court.

I learn that the last of the families left in early July, moving into wooden shelters provided by the local Church. In the longer term, the Filipino government plans to resettle them in permanent homes further from the sea: it’s too risky for them to live where they used to, in the 40-metre “danger zone” by the coast.

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Harvest Fast Day 2014: 11-year-old Elvis

by Sarah Smith-Pearse, Latin America team

Elvis outside the shop - Peru, CAFOD

Elvis outside the shop

Harvest is a time for sharing and making a place at our table for those who don’t have enough to eat. When I think of harvest, I think of my visit a few weeks ago to the shanty towns of Lima in Peru. One of the people I met there was Elvis, an 11-year-old boy, who helps his mum run their family grocery shop. My secret name for him is Superhero!

Elvis and his mum started the shop with a £250 business grant, which was provided by CAFOD’s partner EDUCA. Elvis’ mum won the money as a prize for producing the best business plan and used it to buy some scales, food stock and glass cabinets. Today, the family earn about £8 a week from selling food and basic household goods. This is enough to make a real difference to the quality of their lives.

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Their grocery shop is painted blue. Around it, there’s a pretty wicker fence. A poster announces ‘Bodeguita Cruz’ – meaning the ‘Little shop of the Cruz family’. Behind the shop, but part of the same house, are the rooms where the family live, eat and sleep. Continue reading

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Nicaragua: Carmen’s story

By Mark Chamberlain, Communications Officer

“I can remember when I was young, going to school without eating,” says 45-year-old Carmen Rodriguez. “Sometimes I would watch the other children with their food. It wasn’t nice seeing others eat when I couldn’t. I found it very hard.”

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Carmen, with seedlings in her vegetable garden. ASOMUPRO, Nicaragua - CAFOD

Carmen, with seedlings in her vegetable garden.

It is late afternoon here in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. This dry region of the country, two-and-a-half miles drive north from the capital, Managua, is home to some of the country’s poorest people.

Despite the poor quality of soil here, Carmen is growing vegetables in a small plot of land near her home. She shows me around an area perhaps ten-feet square, pointing to different vegetable types as she goes. “We work as a collective. We don’t have enough land, but we each work together and eat what we produce.” The ‘we’ Carmen refers to is the other women farmers on this dusty hillside, each helping the other – some growing lettuces, others tomatoes, others carrots and so on. “We’ve been working like this since 2012. Before that, there was nothing here.” Continue reading

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Harvest Fast Day 2014: Catalina’s harvest

Catalina holding produce

Catalina (right) with her mother holding some of their produce (credit: Nikola Ivanovski)

Catalina is 31 and lives in a simple, but beautiful home with her mother in the picturesque parish of Santa Maria Chiquimula, Guatemala. I’m looking at their garden packed full of reds, greens and yellows – alive with fruit, vegetables and herbs. The smell of fresh coriander and onion seeds is remarkable.

Catalina and her mother proudly show me what they have grown: rows of tomatoes, chillies, chamomile, mint, carrots, onions, cauliflowers, leeks, celery. A bed of herbs – not just for seasoning, but for medicine. There is a chicken coup bustling with healthy hens. And finally, a worm farm wriggling with nutrients for a new harvest.

But life hasn’t always been like this.

Make a place at your table this harvest to help more people like Catalina>>

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Novena to St Francis: Day 9

Today world leaders will gather in New York for UN climate change talks.

Take action: call on political leaders to tackle climate change.

Thank you for joining us to reflect on different aspects of creation through this novena. One more time we ask St Francis to intercede for us as we pray to God to guide our leaders to put those who live in poverty and the good of creation at the heart of their decisions.

Day 9 – For the love of creationLandscape in Simti, Colombia

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, honour and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

We praise you, Lord, for all your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
of you Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,Man in boat, Colombia
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise you, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise you, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.Kenyan landscape

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, coloured flowers, and herbs.

We praise you, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of you bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by you Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise and bless you, Lord, and give you thanks,
and serve you in all humility.

(Extract from Canticle of the Sun, St Francis of Assisi)

Creator God, we give you thanks for all of your creation, in its diversity, beauty and abundance. We remember that we are just one part of this creation and we pray that we may serve you in all humility as we live amongst all that you have made.

Forgive us for the times we have taken the gifts of your creation for granted, taken more than our fair share, or used them for our own ends without considering the consequences.

Guide world leaders to put those who live in poverty and the good of creation at the heart of their decisions.

Inspire us to come together and reach out in solidarity with our sisters and brothers throughout the world. And lead us all to play our part by making changes to better love our neighbours and care for your creation.

We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

St Francis, pray for us.

Explore our other prayer resources on the theme of climate and the environment.

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