By Angie M. Veneracion

Fr. Rey Daguitera is Parish Priest of the San Pablo Apostol Parish located at Velasquez St., Tondo, Manila. The Parish community consists of 16 barangays in Tondo, District of Manila City; with an estimated combined population of more than one hundred thousand families, mostly informal settlers, majority belonging to the poor, if not, the poorest of the poor.

On October 207, a hectare of land (10,000 sq.m.)  was made  available  to  the  parish by Cardinal  Rosales and by the Ayala Corporation to be developed as the new center of the parish’s formative activities. 

The property now houses a Covered Court and Multi-Purpose Center, a Youth Formation and Social Center. These Centers serve as a library, a venue for formations, livelihood programs, small group seminars and various activities for the parish youth. It also has an orphanage called the Shelter of Joy and a library with computers made available to students and scholars in the community.

The Shelter of Joy Orphanage is housed at the Youth Formation and Social Center. (l-r) Fr. rey Daguitera, parish Priest, Art and Angie Veneracion and Ms. Melanie Torres, Servant Leader Shelter of Joy Feeding Center.

The new Church that has the “biggest cross in the world” completes the parish complex envisioned to be a community of peace and love. Said infrastructure development and programs are aligned with the mission of the Canossian Sons of Charity congregation, where Fr. Rey belongs; dedicated to the education of children and young people through catechesis in schools, orphanages, youth centers and other works of charity towards the poor and the neglected sectors of society.

Fr. Rey’s biggest challenge is how to alleviate his parishioners’ struggle with hunger and state of poverty. The reality is that, even the best teachers and intentions “cannot teach the hungry.” People, engaged in the day-to-day grind of survival, lose their dreams in the process and no longer aspire to improve their lives. Fr. Rey wants his parishioners “to be able to dream again and to see that God’s kingdom is still within their reach.”

In one of his readings, Fr. Rey found out that the bulk of the country’s food produce comes from farms in the provinces. Handling and transport from food sources cause 50% of these produce go to waste before they reach the commercial centers and markets in Metro Manila. He thought that there must be a way to eliminate these wastages. Why not grow food right in the middle of the urban community, where transporting produce from farms to consumers will not be needed? The produce will be readily available for harvest in one’s own backyard. The farm to table concept was adapted for replication by the parishioners.

Fr. Rey, together with the parish ministers and pastoral workers, tapped the help of the parish benefactors and the Bureau of Plant Industry, and were readily assisted in the supply of planting materials, seedlings, and greenhouses. The open areas were planted with upland kangkong, tomatoes, eggplant, and okra, while the greenhouses provide shade for the lettuce and leafy vegetables. Coconut husks were processed, reducing waste and providing planting materials for mushroom production and container gardening. Aquaponics and hydroponics were set up to maximize fish and vegetable production in all available areas. Seminars were conducted to showcase the project and help the parishioners replicate the projects in their homes. Food self-sufficiency themed posters were put up to let the parishioners know about the garden to table projects and encourage them to engage in the same.

Fr. Rey shows Art, his hydroponics project that he located at the roof-deck of the Center.

The multiple projects still lacked something. There has to be a food source that will address both sustenance and health. Malnutrition and poor health ails the community and must be addressed. Continuing to explore possible food production projects, Fr. Rey came across rabbit production. He read that raising rabbits can be done in small spaces at home or in one’s backyard, in rural and even in urban communities. Rabbits, being very quiet by nature, are neighborhood friendly, even providing odor-free cold manure that can be readily utilized as fertilizer. They can be cared for by children and stay-at-home parents and relatively easy to manage. On top of these, rabbits provide one of the healthiest meat available to humans, providing the highest protein and the lowest fat and cholesterol compared to other farm or backyard-raised meat.

He immediately visited Aven Nature’s Farm with a mission to explore rabbit raising that will complete his Integrated Farm Project in urban Tondo District of Manila City. He, together with his fellow parish priests and lay ministers attended the seminar conducted by Art Veneracion at Baliuag, Bulacan; to gain enough knowledge to pursue the project, to taste rabbit dishes and be convinced of rabbit meat’s palatability.

New Zealand White, medium-sized rabbits are the best choice for meat production.

Fr. Rey next invited Art to conduct the seminar to benefit the parishioners. He consulted with Art on how the parishioners can be involved in the project and how it can provide both nutrition and livelihood. They agreed to launch a rabbit dispersal project, where the dispersal beneficiaries will be provided with rabbit breeders that they will care for in their households. The rabbit recipients will provide the space and the man-hours.

Art Veneracion conducting the seminar on Commercial Rabbit Production conducted at the San Pablo Parish Cafe Canossiano.

The parish will give assistance in providing materials for the cages and feeds. The kits produced will be bought by the parish, to be utilized in their feeding programs and the excess production will be sold in the community as frozen meat. They may also be served as specialty dishes at the Cafe Canossiano, located at their Youth Center, for another income stream. Said arrangement will make the project sustainable and will benefit both rabbit raisers and the parish.

Beneficiaries will be chosen from the seminar attendees who show interest and have enough space and time to care for the rabbits. Parish ministers and lay workers will supervise and see to it that the project is successful. 

The preliminaries and preparations are all in place. The Rabbit Meat Production Project of the San Pablo Apostol Parish in Tondo, Manila is all set to go. With God’s guidance, coupled with focus, and persistence of the project proponents, the project has no way to go but succeed. The dream to improve the people’s lives in this poor urban community will be realized.