The Unshakeable Spirit

“For me, cancer is a rite of passage – from darkness to light, from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope, from confusion to enlightenment.  Above all, from clinging to self-pride to warming up to the love, support, and concern of others. As in all struggles, we are not alone.” – Eve, writer and activist, battling with leukemia

The first time I saw Eve a few years ago, my first impression was, ‘Well, she looks like a Roman Catholic nun.’  Can she even break a glass?  Yet, as I would later learn about her life and struggles, beneath that gentle face was a tough persona.  

Thus, it was with a heavy heart that I went to the Women against Cancer (Kababaihan Kontra Kanser): Nurturing the Nurturers benefit-soiree of the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) last October 29.  The benefit-soiree is an annual event to honour women development workers who are cancer victims.  What began as a fundraising activity a few years ago became a regular event to help women development workers afflicted with cancer.

CWR is one of JASS’ partner organizations in the Philippines.  It shares the same vision as JASS – that of empowering women, which includes supporting women and their collective efforts. 

Before the actual day of the soiree, I was able to obtain a copy of Eve’s inspirational message.  As I began to browse the message, I cannot continue reading even the first paragraph.  My tears fell: her words rarely have spaces; her sentences do not even have periods.  It is obvious – she is having a lot of difficulties with even the most basic typing task.  Yet she managed to complete the task, with her writing flair unbroken.

“I have every reason to worry.  I don’t have money and I don’t have health insurance, which is not unusual for ordinary activists like me.  Being a writer does not make one rich, especially when you are a freelancer, and most of your work is dedicated to advocacy for the poor, especially for the emancipation of women,” says Eve in her message, as read by her sister.  Eve is currently undergoing chemotherapy, making it difficult for her to attend the benefit-soiree.

Even with her message, she did not forget to connect her situation to the larger societal context of her illness.  Universal health care is an alien term in the Philippines, she says, as government moves to further reduce budget for health services and institutionalizes the privatization of state hospitals, to the detriment of the poor people who have no means or access to health care.

This makes me reflect again something that I have known all along: If writing is your skill, use your writing to make oppressed women’s voices be heard.  If you have multi-skills, use all your multi-skills to the hilt to empower women, to empower the people.  Women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs), indigenous women leaders, and women peasant organizers put their lives on the line so women and the rest of the people can live in a just society.

Fighting the unjust system is one thing; fighting cancer is another.  Years of struggle in the women’s movement has now been coupled with cancer, one of the most formidable human afflictions.  Yet women like Eve continue to give her all for the women’s movement, for the broader people’s movement.  

We who are relatively healthy have much to learn from Eve.  And from all women development workers who have struggled and are still struggling with cancer.  It’s about time we honour women development workers who are dedicating all their lives for women’s emancipation, cancer notwithstanding.

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