Monday, 25 January 2016

Images in the Margins

Many years have passed since the first time I listened to a group of peasants and farm workers narrate their collective experience in the remote communities they lived in. Many of them walked on foot, with worn slippers under the heat of the sun, all the way to muddy roads, going through tense atmospheres at checkpoints to reach the concrete road of Metro Manila. Tears fell from their eyes as they shared their stories of struggle amidst the poverty and the repression they experienced from the hands of local warlords. 

It was not the first time I heard such stories. Political repression, harassment and summary killings were realities during the martial law years. In my work, I came across many individuals who shared their stories of fear and survival. Sharing their stories with people  in solidarity with them was a way of lessening the burden they carry in their hearts. Seeking sanctuary in the company of people who care, who willingly listen despite fear of reprisals may or may not lessen the fear and the pain they carry.

Several years later, that scene I personally witnessed in my encounter with the people I hope to work with again in the future, was repeated in the march of landless farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, who braved the heat of the sun, cold nights and the the kilometers of concrete road, to reach the city where their plight may be known by many, for their stories to be heard in asserting their right to the land they till which was taken away from them. The march demonstrated their collective resolve and perseverance despite the difficulties that  it entailed to them and their families. The road towards owning the land proved to be painful, many wailed after they felt they were not heard by the person they hoped would be on their side. 

What stories could they collectively carry in their hearts that made them cry out to the heavens?


Immersion: Author (second from right) listening to the story 
of a mangangalahig (scavenger) in Smokey mountain dumpsite
photo credit: Student Christian Movement
of the Philippines (SCMP)  

 I've listened to people defend their faith poignantly but turn their eyes away when approached by street dwellers. It was on an exposure in an urban poor communtiy when I was a student that I was learned first hand what their conditions were. We visited families living in an urban poor community about to be demolished.  The shanties were perched inside a wide sea of trash, where children grew up in shanties oblivious to the pungent smell from  their surroundings. Anxiety and despair were painted on their faces. Once upon a time, they hoped and dreamed of a better future for their family in the city; hoping that they could earn a livelihood so that they may send their little ones to school. Their hope changed eventually to desperation with the impending demolition of their communities hanging over their heads. Many shaved their heads, including the women, in preparation of the encounter.  


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