A Real Blessing

by Juanita (Tita Nitz) Orquia Atendido

I was a volunteer catechist in St. Rafael the Archangel parish of Real, Philippines, when I met two Sion sisters in 1990 through the bishop here.

They had just arrived, and were looking for a place to start serving the people. I prayed straight away that the Lord would let them stay in our parish. Thank God, my prayer was granted!

Together, we planned what work could be done

The two sisters rented a couple of rooms in the town proper of Real at the beginning, before moving to the village of Kiloloron. Together, we planned what work could be done, and how we could go about it in our church community. First, we formed a liturgical committee in four districts, and helped the lay leaders in writing prayers, or in organising prayer groups.  This system is still in place today. We ran monthly seminars, in-service for catechists, and training of lay leaders from all the urban and rural neighbourhoods of Real.

In 1994, our area was visited by a strong typhoon, which destroyed many homes, especially those on the coastline. The sisters offered help straight away. After the immediate response to the disaster, the sisters encouraged us to learn to manage our long-term recovery. They accompanied me and another Sion friend to a month-long course to learn about microfinancing. Upon our return, we set to work straight away, visiting households, mapping their conditions and prioritizing the poorest of the poor mothers. We organized the women into groups of five to undergo training and upon completion of the requirements, to submit their proposal for a livelihood project. Upon approval, the fund was released to them. We monitored the project, and thus established an organisation called Kilos-Unlad ng Mamamayan ng Real (The Movement for the Development of the People of Real), or KUMARE, Inc – “kumare” meaning “friendship between women” in Tagalog.

The sisters encouraged us to learn to manage our long-term recovery

The central photo, taken during a celebration at one of the KUMARE sub-branches, Polilio, shows Sr. Oonah, NDS, and myself, dancing the “Tinikling”, a folk dance with long bamboo poles that represents the attempts of rice farmers to catch and prevent the tikling bird from stealing ripe rice grains from the fields.

Working with Sion sisters is really a blessing

Working with Sion sisters is really a blessing that I will never forget. They are sensitive to the needs of others, without any kind of discrimination. If they feel that you’re in trouble, they will offer help. For me, the most important part of my experience with them has been the formation. They gave me access to many different kinds of activity, including seminars, training, retreats and prayer, all of which have helped me grow both personally and spiritually. I have learned to take care of others, especially within KUMARE, with whom we continue in formation and other activities. Working with the sisters has been a real blessing for me, for which I thank God very much.

“My Lord, my God, bless the Sion Congregation.”