'We can't just be praying': How priest brought hope to Tondo community amid quarantine

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 05 2020 10:27 PM | Updated as of Jul 06 2020 11:58 AM

Fr. Melky Ulkat and Caritas Manila’s volunteers distribute grocery vouchers in Smokey Mountain, Tondo. Photo by Xyza Cruz Bacani for www.projectugnayan.org.

The Smokey Mountain in the populous district of Tondo was among the largest dumpsites in Manila for decades. It was a community for thousands of scavengers who found "kalakal" - garbage sorted, picked up, and sold - that served as a lifeline for those without any other means.

The dumpsite was eventually closed, and housing was constructed. It was renamed to Paradise Heights and in 1989, the Risen Christ Parish was established.

"When I first arrived in Smokey Mountain, I was shocked and sad about the level of poverty," said Fr. Melky Ulkat in a series of stories by www.projectugnayan.org.

Ulkat, who is from Indonesia, has been living in the Philippines for 10 years and is now serving at the helm of Risen Christ Parish.

A majority of residents in the area are scavengers and typical families only earn P100 daily. So when the entire Metro Manila was placed under enhanced community quarantine due to the threat of COVID-19, many lost their sources of income.

"We can't just be praying all the time. We need to do something," the priest said.

With masks and latex gloves on, he and his team of volunteers walked long distances on some days to reach households in need and distributed gift checks while following safety measures instituted by the government.

"Our volunteers distribute gift checks from morning until noon. They get tired, but they tell me that they are happy because they are serving their community," Ulkat said.

He said that the distribution reminds people that the church is not only there to pray for them, but also to give relief.

Among the volunteers of Caritas Manila who lent hand to Ulkat in helping the Tondo community was Rosario Dalagan.

"I miss my husband, and he misses me, too. But serving our community is important," 53-year-old Dalagan said. For her, helping the residents of the community is a source of fulfillment.

Providing immediate food relief to families in the informal sector affected by the lockdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic has been at the core of Project Ugnayan -- a collaborative effort of the biggest names in business.

Helping millions of Filipino families through Project Ugnayan has been made possible with Caritas Manila, ABS-CBN’s Pantawid ng Pag-ibig, Jollibee’s FoodAID, Asian Development Bank’s Bayan Bayanihan, and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF).

In the darkest times, the Filipino spirit shines. Visit www.projectugnayan.org to see stories of hope in the midst of the pandemic.