Sharing last few centavos with a neighbor during the Covid-19 pandemic—when scarcity and food insecurity is as real as it comes—is an act of true love and compassion. It must be.

This rare gesture was displayed by members of the North Home Owners Association Inc. (NHOAI) as they implement their organization’s program called, “Damayan.”

The title was apt. “Damayan” is a Filipino word for “sympathy” or “sharing in one’s burden.”

The NHOAI is based in Manila North Cemetery (MNC), an area that the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) serves, especially in the areas of livelihood and education.

KKFI, through its Community Empowerment Program, assisted the NHOAI by conducting leadership trainings and community education. It was during one of these sessions way back in August 2017 when the MNC residents came up with a decision to form the organization.

The group’s primary objective is to push for their right for a socialized housing located outside of the cemetery. Living inside the MNC compound has haunted them for years. People look down upon them and the stigma has cut deep into their collective psyche for years.

But thanks to “Damayan,” the first successful program of the group, they are slowly regaining their lost confidence in themselves.

The idea of the program is derived from an old practice of Filipinos whenever someone dies. Our ancestors would donate any amount to the surviving family members.

Fast forward today. Damayan tries to systematize this ancient practice.

There was a time when the organization did not allot any budget for events such as death or sudden illness of a member’s close relative. When these sad incidents happen, they would individually reach for their pockets and share whatever they can. When the program was started in 2018, the group was able to provide support intentionally and systematically.

They choose core group leaders to take charge of the collection from members and to turn the collection over to the committee chairman. The total collection serves as the organization’s share in hospital and burial expenses.

The program is limited to organization members’ first degree relatives for the purpose of efficiency and viability. The organization initiative is comparable to establishing the small community’s own health insurance.

To date, the program has already supported more or less 20 families, who received financial assistance from late December 2018 to the present. Nine members had received a total of P28,708 under the program.

“Marami po ang naitulong ng NHOAI Damayan program, lalo na po doon sa mga pamilya na nawalan ng mahal sa buhay,” according to Nora Soliman, one of the core group leaders.

A member, Leah Cuatara, confirms the help Damayan provides to them: “Kahit sa maliit na halaga kapag pinagsama-sama ay napakalaking tulong na po sa mga nangangailangan.”

Anna Villegas, president of NHOAI, said the organization is not only for the members whose close relatives died. She added, “Marami nang natulungan ang Damayan, mapabuhay man o namatayan.”

The residents of MNC are poor but their willingness to help each other out is abundant. They are the personification of living together in harmony.

Acts: 20:35 says it’s better to give than to receive. They may not have memorized the verse but they are certainly living it.

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