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In Masbate, a farm opens gates to addicts

By Juan Escandor Jr. MASBATE CITY --- With no restrictive indications, say enclosure or fences inside the sprawling 300-ha. farm, Fazenda da Esperança (Farm of Hope) or Fazenda, located in Milagros town in the island of Masbate, could be mistaken for a kind of a resort with cabana-type quarters and two-story bungalows surrounded by bushes, trees, flowering plants and manicured lawn to wit. But the physical look the Fazenda evokes deceptively conceals the sprawling farm’s real intention of its establishment. It is a facility for persons who seek healing of their addiction from drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or any other kind of addiction or behavioral problems. Insanity cases are not accepted. Brandon (surname withheld to protect his privacy), 37, a Fazenda resident, has attempted suicide three times while he was in the police force after quitting a teaching job. The first suicide attempt left a bullet scar on his skull and the other two attempts show the blade scars on his left and right wrists. He is a step away from finishing his one-year healing program and counting 10 days to return to his loved ones when the Bicol Mail talked to him a two-story bungalow which the ground floor serves as production area for dairy products from the cows they raise inside at the farm. Unlike other rehabilitation facilities for addicts, the Catholic-run Fazenda does not impose so much restrictive regulations to the residents who want to be healed of their addiction or personal maladies. In fact, Brando said they were accepted in the facility because they have written commitment to volunteer themselves to the program with three pillars to live with---work, spirituality and community. He said he struggled for six months to accept that he was admitted to rehabilitation facility but he went on and finally found the determination to finish the program. It was difficult, he said, living inside a place of different people with different backgrounds, personalities and ages. Brandon became an alcoholic which brought him to his lowest point in life. He suffered from depression and attempted suicide because of forlorn love. His girlfriend left him for another man that hitched him to a roller-coaster ride to self-destruction. He said his daily regiment at the Fazenda working and doing other tasks at hand serve as a therapy that made him realize the importance of positive activity in one’s life rather than dwelling on negative thoughts and actions. “I have learned to make God the center of my life which I believe would always lead me to always do good in life,” Brandon said, while sharing about the result of their regular reflection of passages in the bible and Christian teachings with his co-residents as an activity to cultivate the pillar of spirituality in them. Brandon said there are 32 of them in the Fazenda of which eight are “programmers” or program facilitators who assist and counsel them in their activities and tasks. He said the facilitators are former residents of Facenda who had finished their programs and went further to finish the training for facilitators then offer their voluntary work to run the facility. One of them is Dindo, 50, who manages the production of plain and flavored pasteurized milk and mozzarella cheese processed downstairs of the living quarters. Brandon added that 80 percent of the residents seek healing from substance addiction and 20 percent are suffering from various addiction cases. He said aside from dairy products, they also cultivate organic vegetables like lettuce which they sell to sustain the operation of the facility. Gian, 33, said his continuous stay of 10 months made him resolute to finish his one-year healing program at the Fazenda, despite persisting temptation to back out from the program during his early months as resident. His addiction to crystal meth (commonly called shabu) ruined with his girlfriend and family and greatly stressed out his parents. He decided to voluntarily enter the facility last June 2016 on his father’s birthday. But Gian said in his first two months of stay at the Fazenda, he continued to be tempted of going back home and slip back to his old lifestyle specially that he was not used to manual work and the new environment he was into seemed unbearable and immensely different from where he came from. He said he used to work and have a good-paying job in a multinational corporation until he was kicked out because he was already negligent in his work. Gian said he is looking forward to finish his program which he intends to be his gift to his father who will celebrate his birthday on June 25. However he does not intend to go back to his home city and instead plans to establish residence in Masbate to avoid relapse from his addiction. “I want to stay in a new place where I can choose new friends and people I deal with,” he said. After being hooked into drugs for 29 years, Edward Yosores Jr., 40, has been sober for two years now, after he finished his rehabilitation program at the Facenda. Yosores, after finishing his program, has been offered and accepted to administer and manage another Fazenda site, a smaller facility in Naga City in a seven-hectare farm. (The Fazenda in Masbate was established in 2000 and later in 2009 the Facenda in Naga City with maximum capacity of 12 residents was put up in partnership with the Archdiocese of Caceres.) He reiterated Fazenda’s core belief on the ‘pillars’ of work, spirituality and community guide them run and administer the facility without any psychologist nor doctors to give them professional guidance. Originating from Brazil 33 years ago and inspired by Focolare Movement to help drug addicts change their ways through work, spirituality and community, Facenda has spread in different parts of the world and had reached the Philippines with its facility in Masbate island the first one established in the country. The Focolare Movement, founded by Chiara Lubich in 1943 in Italy as a means to survive the World War II, generally promotes the ideals of unity and brotherhood that has spread in 182 nations. Focolare, an Italian word that means fireside, was the movement’s name because during the World War II, Lubich’s group read and studied passages from the Bible to live with by the fireside. Yosores said they believe that addicts understand each other regarding their addiction and behavior notwithstanding the different personalities and characters they have. He said what is important is for them to become is to open up about what inside of them so that they can help each other. Yosores said the daily routine of Fazenda residents include at least eight hours of work in the farm, prayer and reflection and exchange and sharing of what is in their minds regarding their relations with each other and their learnings. He said the belief in God and Jesus Christ is the center of everything they do inside the facility Yosores said that to complete the one-year rehab program the residents decide for themselves to follow the regiments inside the farm. They wake up at 4 a.m.; take their breakfast at 5:30 a.m.; meditate and reflect on the Bible passage to live on for the day at 6:15 a.m.; then work at the farm until 11:45 a.m. with a break at 9:00 a.m. Yosores said that after lunch the residents take their sieta, then, at 2:00 p.m. they start working again until sundown. He said on Mondays, they have sharing activities in the evening about how they practiced the three pillars of Fazenda for the past days. On Tuesdays, they study catechism, he added. When Wednesday comes, they share “the word of life” or the selected passage from the Bible that they have chosen to practice early in the week. “For example, if we have chosen “act of love” a resident can share how he practiced it like if one resident took care of other’s laundry being dried when the rain came,” Yosores narrated. He said on Thursday, they do the same regular routine and when Friday comes, they watch movies together, usually inspirational movies. “But we don’t watch news,” he quipped. By Saturday, Yosores said, it will be a half-day work and then on Sunday they rest and attend the mass together.

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