The country in difficulty was my own

The story of a young Italian physiotherapist at the Pag-Asa Community Centre of Tagaytay, Philippines. For him it was a life-changing experience.

“Always in search of something that would make me truly happy, I had tried everything. Here I have come to see that the happiness I longed for was never to be found in material things. There was another truer and deeper happines still to be discovered.” When Daniele De Patre arrived at the  Pag-Asa Community Centre he began to experience something that would profoundly change his life. The faces of those people and those poor environments, often seen on television, suddenly became tangible.

In Tagaytay, in the Philippines, homes are constructed with only one room, dirt floors and without running water. Families do not have access to community health care services and there are no employment opportunities.

In this rural area many children are left to themselves and often have no legal identity, so that they are excluded from the most basic social services such as education, health care and economic assistance. They are left at the mercy of inhuman work and criminal activities.

With support from Azione per Famiglie Nuove the Pag-Asa Community Centre carries out numerous activities in the fields of health, education, professional training and provides ongoing support for 400 minors. The clinic is equipped to offer medical care for permanently disabled patients, and this is where Daniele was a volunteer worker, and where he came to know of a new theraputic approach, one based on continual interaction and a relationship of mutual exchange between patient and caregiver. While translating the letters that the children had written to their supporters from around the world, Daniele felt that he was drawn into their world. He perceived their joy, the hardships and hopes of these young children, which he then saw face to face when he personally visited the barrios.

Life in Teramo, Italy, where Daniele comes from, was just a distant memory now, as were those 26 years spent in working and going out with his friends. “Seeing situations of such deeply rooted poverty,” he admits, “was hard to accept. But slowly, slowly I also discovered a solidarity and generosity among the people, that the country in difficulty seemed perhaps to be my own because of its indifference, isolation and closed spirit. . .”

“Once,” he tells, “we reached such a muddy barrio that it was impossible to climb the hill wearing our flip flop slippers, so Heero and I left them at the bottom of the hill at the end of the road. When we came back they were gone, but two days later we found them again at the community centre.” Then he countinued, “I’ll never forget that day on which we went to visit one barrio and it was raining so much that we lost our way, but three children then ran up to us under the rain and were so happy to guide us in the right direction. During those months at Tagaytay Daniele found in each act of generosity what he had been searching for: “Life is far more than what can be measured with numbers.”   

Everything he had in his wealthy life in Teramo was free and taken for granted. Here it had to be obtained under much difficulty: food, clothing, medicines and everything else. “I would like to place my stone,” he writes, “into the building of a world in which me and my brothers and sisters can eat the same way, have the same kinds of schools, the same clothing and time for play without having to sit and beg for alms, to have a roof over our heads, and a bed to sleep in at night, so that finally a more just world will not remain forever just a utopian dream.”

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