Hi friends & family!
I've spent the last week in Cavite City (a few hours drive from Manila) on the first stop of my "mission-work tour". There were two main goals to accomplish in Cavite: firstly to feed the street children and secondly to assist in a small, one-room school.
Thanks to the donations from my supporters, I was able to fund a feeding for street children everyday from Tuesday to Saturday. The kids arrived at the church at 4pm, and with the much-needed help of the church members, I led games, songs, stories, and of course, we provided a meal. On the first day, 40 hungry but energetic kids turned out. By the last day, 75 kids came and packed the church!! Every single child was fed, and I could see the joy they experienced from the games and songs. Each morning, I assisted the teacher in the preschool-gr.2 one-room school in the church. I taught phonics for their English and read a story everyday (which was translated into Tagalog by the teacher).
Unfortunately, I can't show pictures of these experiences, as my digital camera was stolen midway through the week. On the bright side, whoever took it surely needs it more than I do (they'll likely sell it). As sad as I was to lose it, I actually found I was more present with the children for the rest of the week - I wasn't distracted with taking the best picture, but I was fully engaged in the activities.
Let me rewind to the start of the week though...when I first arrived in Cavite, I was truly terrified. I was dropped off at a church in the slums, but my friends in Manila told me I'd be taken care of by the people there. My room was small and dank with bare concrete walls. My bed was a few wooden benches pushed together with a blanked laid on top. My roommates were ants, mosquitoes, and cockroaches. While the church had a toilet, there was no seat, no lever to flush it, and no toilet paper. And for bathing, they provided a bucket and a scooper to pour the water on myself. All of this sounds negative, but really, it was a blessing for this experience to breakdown my heavily ingrained wants for comfort and indulgences. The truth is that the Filipinos in this church took wonderful care of me during my stay. They provided a personal aide named Edmond - the 28-year old caretaker of the church and supply teacher in the one-room school. He always made sure I was content, safe, and well-fed. By their standards, they were truly pampering me. I'm very thankful for that.
While I don't have time here for many stories, let me just give some background on Edmond. He works full-time in the church for 150 pesos a week ($3.50 Cdn) - enough for him to eat three days a week (the other days he goes home to his parents' for meals). This is all the church can afford to pay him, but he's so happy to serve the community in this way. He was once a gang leader and still has permanent scars from those days. He explained how the slums in Cavite are entrenched not only in poverty, but in crime, gambling, addiction, rape, and prostition (eg. prostition is the "norm", not the exception, for girls as young as 15). These things and poverty are so interconnected, but I can't say poverty leads to crime. Surely it puts pressure on people to act out of desperation or depression though. Edmond is poor, but is so good and compassionate. I respect that him and the church here want to offer not only feedings and schooling, but of course they offer something spiritually. This gives the people who are feeling hopeless something encouraging and bigger to live for, and is often the reason why people like Edmond now give more than he would take back when he was a gang leader. I hope that those who don't agree with religion can still recognize how this can be a good thing. Personally, I'm trying to serve and feed the poor with no strings attached (with no religious pressures), but I do appreciate helping people in every facet of their live - physically and spiritually.
Anyways, thanks for reading this essay! All my posts won't be this long, but I decided to write so much because tomorrow I'm leaving again to another city (called Caloocan) for a week.