THE PHILSOUTH LINE: Visiting Katilingban

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/09 February) — On a bright Sunday I went to Katilingban, a quiet housing project for the urban poor, in Sinunuc, Zamboanga City, and interviewed few residents. I noted that the nongovernment organization Katilingban Para sa Kalambuan, Inc. (KKI) which means Society for Progress, just bagged the 2016 Stars Impact Award, an international award from The Stars Foundation.

While the award was for the NGO, I took interest on the residents at Katilingban, as the project in itself is a model for a housing project that should be emulated in other places. Housing projects are far from easy to manage and maintain, and Katilingban’s good practices should be looked into by other housing projects across the globe.

Ever since the project began, there have been at least 198 families residing in this village, with some having started planning and building their own houses as early as 1995. These 198 families have gone through processes such as social preparation, undergoing trainings and the like, towards sustainability.

But the houses were not given for free—the homeowners were made to realize that they had also responsibilities to attend to.  With no assistance from professional architects, the residents built the houses on their own, despite limited resources, relying heavily on construction materials provided from fund assistance by Manos Unidas and Cooperacion International.  Some of these homeowners have even employed their own home strategies to conserve in light and water that they made living as comfortable as possible.

A few were recalling their lives before settling in Katilingban. They had been squatters, and they were living in slums, yet paying meager rent for the space their structures occupied until they had to be driven out. Resident Maria Luz Bonocan was sharing how her family lived in fear since the squatters’ areas had been threatened with arson. Another resident, Ignacia Martillano, thought of those fears for demolition of their houses without any place to move to. Others in the village had similar recollections.

“Addressing the issue on human security is our continuous goal, our mission,” Fr. Angel Calvo, a Claretian missionary, shared.  To this day Fr.  Calvo as president of KKI has been supporting the urban poor in their quest for a solution on this societal dilemma. “We are building communities, not just houses,” he added, as he explained further the difference.

I looked around Katilingban, a community once visited by Queen Sofia of Spain all the way from Madrid, and listened to more stories from the residents. The warm smiles from hospitable faces from one street to another make you think of how they had overcome obstacles as families and grew as a community.

Once squatters, now homeowners–some thought. Indeed.