MINDANAWON ABROAD: People-to-People Relations

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 27 Oct) — This year is the 60th year of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Switzerland. We already know that, and many events of this year already highlight those official links between our two countries. But what about the non-official or to put it in another way, the people-to-people relations between the two nations? Are these informal links also as strong as the governments?

Yes, is my unequivocal answer. And there are two existing NGOs that I can readily present as proof that relations between Filipinos and the Swiss are just as strong and committed.

First is the Theresa Laden or “Theresa shop” named after the famed Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The founder, Monika Bauman, was a nurse for 20 years in the small village of Jegenstorf near Bern. In 1992, Monika was with a group of Swiss who were invited by Filipino NGOs as part of an international solidarity campaign for the Philippines. There in the slums of Manila and later in the countrysides of Mindanao, Monika and her friends found themselves face to face with the poverty of the Philippines.  “And my first impression was, my god, those slums…I could not take it. How can it be possible that people have to live like this?”, said Monika in a recent interview with the Tambayang Pinoy Swiss or TPS.

When she got home, Monika knew she had to do something for the Philippines, not only for the poor people that she was able to meet, but also for the NGO workers who were risking their lives to work for change. “They hoped for a change, they wanted change and they needed our help,” said Monika. So she and eight women volunteers started Theresa Lädeli (or “Theresa’s little shop”) which sold second-hand items donated by the Swiss and sent the money to help in the Philippines. They operated on the motto: “Bring what you do not need, take what you need and give what your heart commands.”

Twenty five years after, the little shop has grown into the Theresa Laden and the number of Swiss volunteers is now 20, all giving their work gratis. In the Philippines, it has about 30 NGO partners with four main NGO stations, in General Santos, in Davao, in Valencia, Bukidnon and in Cagayan de Oro. It supports farmers cooperative stores, a pharmacy in Davao for the urban poor, and cooperates with up to 30 schools in Davao including schools for the lumads or indigenous peoples. It has a website: www.theresaladen.ch.

The Island Kids Philippines or IKP, meanwhile, was started by another Swiss, Thomas Kellenberger. Thomas left the police force in Bern in 2007 to start the IKP , which helps street children and dumpsite scavenger children in Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. On an ordinary tourism trip to Camiguin that year, Thomas had a chance encounter with a 10-year old child, Tanya. His group had given Tanya money to buy them bottled water, and when she disappeared later, they thought their money was gone. But Tanya had come back with the water and the exact change and this honesty had impressed Thomas, so much so that he decided to help Tanya more concretely. Said Thomas then: “It came to my mind to build up a foundation. It was strange for me, but I knew exactly what to do, it would have been God’s purpose for me.”

Thomas and his group also had passed by a dumpsite in Cagayan where they saw people, among them young children, earning a living from the garbage. “Then I was not thinking anymore about white beaches or touristic things,” said Thomas. “From this time on, I was interested in this poverty.”

Ten years later, IKP has a foundation in the Philippines and an association in Switzerland and Germany to help support the children and abandoned youths. It helps send poor children to school and helps their families with jobs and livelihood programs. It also has a website: www.islandkids.ch.   (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their views on Philippine issues as well as their experiences in their adopted countries.  Brady Eviota is volunteer editor of the Filipino community network of canton Berne newsletter. He has a three-member staff, all volunteers)