Because of the three “homes” we rotate between while living out of duffel bags and working out of three sites, sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night disoriented, wondering in the dark where we are now! “Do I need to go down two steps and to the left as in the sugar production staff house in central Tarlac province to head to the restroom, or do I go outside the bamboo hut and left to the outside bathroom at the farm for released inmates in western Tarlac province. Or do I go through the main bedroom in our Manila rented home containing the prison ministry office?” Since mid-February we have been staying in three different “homes” - sometimes all three within one week!
Cris Ann, one of our staff members said, “You are running here and there as if driving to the grocery store, yet taking three and a half hours each way! Aren’t you getting tired?!” Of course we get worn out, but how do you respond when you hear one of your Bible study group members just passed away? And, what would you say if you get a call at 11 p.m. from a member of our study group asking you to pick up the deceased’s son from the airport at 6:30 a.m. Because of bad traffic, you need to get up at 2:30 to arrive on time! Then you take care of the guests, attend the wakes, participate in the funeral and drive back to the muscovado sugar production plant.
Two days later you get another call at 10 p.m. from a friend saying, “Please help us... Please go meet my wife tomorrow morning at the Manila Bureau of Immigration, then go with her to the Department of Justice, then the U.S. Embassy.” This American friend outside Manila had been diagnosed three weeks ago with pancreatic cancer and, with the aggressive nature of the disease, needed to fly back to the U.S. for medical intervention, but was needing exit clearance from the country. His wife, a Filipina, had been given a run-around in the various departments. And so, we got up in our sugar production staff house at 3 a.m. to drive back to Manila to help, then returned to the sugar production site to check out a tractor for sale. Three days later we returned to Manila to drive our desperately sick friend to the airport where his son, arriving the same morning from the U.S., escorted him back home for intervention.
“So, you may not know where you are sometimes! But where are you now with the farm land for ladies released from prison and in need of a safe home? Is the place liveable?” A great question with a solid answer! “We’re on the way now to making it a welcoming and loving home!” We’ve set up temporary housing in bamboo prefab houses and bathrooms now with sinks and a kitchen. Our first lady arrives at our new site within a few weeks.
The end of January we rented a payloader to cut out roads and a pond basin for irrigation and maybe fish. Our most recent project is developing an area for 1,000 green lime seedlings which after a year and a half will produce limes every 10 days for great sustainability of the project. We had two wells dug, are now fencing the green lime area to keep out goats (they love eating all things leafy!), measuring out where each seedling will go, and are building hollow block boxes to contain them and the vermisoil they will be planted in.
Let’s move back a bit in where we are. Earlier in January someone asked us an unusual question. “Would you be interested in a solar to electric power generating plant?” “Of course we would!” was our response. We would have to pay quite a bit anyway to string electric wires close to a mile to the site as well as buy electrical posts plus more yet for electrical company hookup costs. A generous donor is having a generator plant built into a 40 foot container, solar panels and all, to be shipped to us - ready to be plugged in upon arrival. Think of it. We will be able to cut out the cost of electricity for the project here in a country rating among the highest in Asia in electrical costs.
Talk about boosting sustainability!! We will be able to use electric rather than diesel pumps to draw water from the ground during the dry season, allowing for more than one planting of rice and vegetables a year! And, we will be able to put refrigerators in the kitchens. But, here’s the catch. It's our responsibility to pay the 12% value added tax assessed on all goods made or assembled in the Philippines as well as imported from abroad. We also need funding to cover trucking fees to the farm site, the lesser customs agent fees, a base for the solar container and a security fence around it. We’re facing approximately $11,000 that we must come up with by May to make this a reality. Would you be willing to help make this part of the project a reality? You can do so by clicking on the button below.
Beyond our immediate funding needs for the solar powered electric generating plant, we need the following for other site developments.
1. rice planting this May and harvest in October: $5,500 (includes seedlings, organic fertilizers, labor, diesel for tractor, harvesting, hauling and storing). We’re sustainable after that!
2. a trellis system for vegetable vines (cement, sand, gravel, piping, welding rods, labor and seedlings): $4,300. We’re sustainable after that!
3. a tractor and basic implements for our inmates’ farm and sugar cane fields: $28,000 ($12,500 has come in! - $13,500 to go)
4. two hand-roto rooter tractors for areas hard to reach with a conventional tractor: $1,500 for two used ones
5. composting area for organic fertilizer: $5,500
6. six wells, housing, and hosing for watering rice and vegetables during the dry season: $9,000
7. eight 3-phase electric pumps to draw water from eight wells on the site: $3,850
8. sheds for equipment and harvested crops: $10,000
9. an office required by the Philippine government (a bamboo prefab house and office supplies): $1,300
10. two duplexes (permanent housing) for released inmate clients: $40,000 each ($80,000)
Despite the large amount of needs for this farm project, God has been faithful in providing that which is needed at just the right time. We’re confident He will do so here as well in whatever way He chooses. Our most crucial necessity at the time remains in the approximately $11,000 needed by May (just a couple of weeks away) to bring the solar-electrical generating plant into the country.
At the end of last month as a prayer request I had written: -"We are out of most HIV medicines and the order for the country won’t be arriving until June. I’ve set a few bottles aside for pregnant women, to prevent transmission to babies. When patients stop medicines the level of virus is no longer suppressed and they are much more likely to infect other people. The virus is also likely to mutate so the same medicine will no longer work in the future. Pray against an epidemic of resistant HIV."
Bongolo opened our HIV Treatment Center ten years ago in 2009. There are several patients, in particular a 16 year old boy and 19 year old girl, I’ve cared for personally since then. They are now in high school. Most people living with HIV now, take their medicine every day, and go to work or school. Without the medicine, infections take over, and there is AIDS, suffering and death. I couldn’t believe that because a bureaucrat left this line item out of the national budget, this fate was going to happen to these teens, the approximately 300 patients currently followed at Bongolo, some of my friends, the patients from this region of the country who would come to the hospital for treatment of their infections and the 38,000 people in Gabon on HIV medicines. It was horrific.
As an HIV Center doctor, I was aware of the problem before most people and had already placed orders in January and February which we had not received. Early in March, everyone became aware of the lack of medicines, and there were articles like, “Fear in Gabon: 38,000 people threatened with death from next week.” I asked our hospital staff to pray as we all know people touched by this problem. After we prayed, I went with the two HIV Center nurses and we set aside some medicine for a few key patients. The waiting room was overflowing with patients who had heard the news. We decided to divide up the few remaining bottles of pills one or two weeks at a time. One of the nurses went to the storeroom to get pill bottles or plastic bags to dispense the pills. The man who runs the storeroom asked, “What do you need those for? Why not use all those boxes of HIV medicine?” Eight cardboard boxes of HIV medicines had arrived late the previous business day!
UNAIDS and the World Health Organization have made arrangements for Gabon to get emergency HIV medicines from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have not yet arrived in the country. Pray for the rest of the medicines to arrive soon.
This great flow is yet another well in a village; the 50th well of this drilling season!
The volunteer team on the ground put together a large hangar overhang on one of the Envision site’s disabled ministry buildings. They also distributed trikes and corn to the villagers. And they visited a Compassion Site. It was amazing to see all the people gathered for the distributions, and to see the Compassion Site in Action. Children were learning about the bible, about health, singing songs and playing. Several older children gave testimonies on how Compassion has changed their lives and has given them hope.
Please pray for the volunteers that come to drill wells, as the heat is brutal right now and they will be doing very hard physical labor. Also pray for our own missionaries, John and Joanna, who will be drilling as well as our Friends in Action missionaries. March and April are difficult months here.
Praise God for our volunteers and their hard work.