Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life in Urban Poor Manila - An Inside Look

My friends and family,

I've now served in Manila for a total of two and a half years. While I've learned so much about the rich culture, languages, and lifestyles of those in urban poverty, I still have a long way to go in comprehending what life is actually like for a street child in the Philippines. It's very easy to fall for stereotypes and generalize about their experience from a few brief trips. Unfortunately it's even easier to degrade their stories by comparing them to our own privileged backgrounds. By overlooking what they have to offer and contribute to society, sometimes I've found myself pitying them and searching for ways that I could be the saviour to their struggles through my own means or gifts. I thank God for sternly rebuking me whenever I robbed someone of their dignity with my own pride. If we care enough to take a deeper look, we can see that everyone in poverty has their own unique gifts and even valuable resources that can empower them in their fight to overcome their situation.

Our programs at IT Tender are not meant to be a crutch for a debilitated community, but rather a spark that illuminates their own gifts from within and encourages them to study, grow, and provide again for their families. All of the clients in our programs live in poverty, but each of their experiences are so varied. Each of them tell unique stories - some of abuse and suffering, some of resilience and faith, and many of great dignity in the face of an inherited poverty braved for generations. Many of our clients are homeless children and youth who sleep on the street. Some collect and sell scrap metals or plastic bottles, some search through fast food garbage bins for food, and some sniff industrial solvents to escape hunger pains. Others who attend our programs are known as "informal settlers". They live with their families in shanties of wood and corrugated metal, they have loving and hard-working parents, and they sometimes sell various products in the street at night to afford to go to school.

Recently, a photographer named Charlie Beck from Seattle came to get an inside look into our community here in Manila. His purpose was to promote our programs and to capture the varied and colourful lifestyles of the urban poor - lifestyles that are often oversimplified into black and white or blurred into the greys of our limited views on poverty.

This is what he saw...

Our small but dedicated team at IT Tender
(some of our staff were actually our clients before joining the team)

The mother of one of our Simula Learning Center (preschool) students shows her home and proudly shares how all of her children are studying and even excelling in their studies.

This hardworking grandmother washes clothes for her family.
Our photographer Charlie puts down the camera to join in on the karaoke - one of the favourite pastimes of Filipinos.

This community of informal settlers is right behind our drop-in center.
A basketball net can be found just about anywhere in the Philippines.
The parking lot in front of Starmall - where I live in an apartment on the 5th floor.

Cecille de Jesus teaches our students at the Simula Learning Center. 

The jeepney is the most common form of public transportation in the Philippines.

These kids live in a unique community called Sucat - an almost rural community on the outskirts of the city. You might recall that we started reaching out to this community a few years ago through a simply feeding program. Now we are providing educational assistance for many of them to attend elementary and secondary school.

Jessibel is now attending high school through our sponsorship program.

Fernando with his boys. He can typically be found tending to his vegetable crop or fashioning simple grills for cooking which he sells to other families in the community.

"Sari-sari" stores are simple shops that sell all sorts of goods for daily life.

"Pedicabs" are another common form of transportation - a bicycle with a sidecar.

One family's colourful collection of "tsinelas" (slippers)

Our Nightlife program reaches out to runaways and abandoned street kids.

Late at night the market is wide awake and traffic is bustling.

In other news, I was encouraged by the visit of a good friend from Canada named Carly Thomas. She is currently teaching science at an international school in China, but she decided to spend one week of her vacation helping out here at IT Tender. Also, at the beginning of the month I attended the International Teams East Asia Conference in Palawan, Philippines. Missionaries serving across Asia and around the globe came to share their testimonies with one another. Recently, I was also able to take part in a discussion at the Philippine Christian University on the topic of Philippine policies and laws. My perspectives where broadened with regards to government policies here and their influence on those in poverty. My teammate Ate Gela coordinated the event.

Pastor John and I shared some stories about our programs at IT Tender at the 2013 International Teams East Asia Conference.
Giving the opening prayer before a forum at the Philippine Christian University
Thanks for reading! Take care and God bless.



  1. I love this post John! The words "a spark that illuminates their own gifts" are running round in my head and I love it :)

  2. Ditto for what Rhoda said ;v) Amazing pictures - so complex, that ministry must be!

  3. Dear John,

    I am Rorie R. Fajardo, program manager of media and democracy projects of the UK-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in the Philippines.

    I am interested to link up with your photographer-colleague, Charlie Beck. I take interest in community photos he took here during his visit. Could you link me to him? I tried to search his contact details in the web but I got it wrong.

    I would appreciate your positive response. I could be reached here:

    Email: peranatinito@citizenaction.net, peranatinito@gmail.com
    Office phone in Quezon City: 376-5550
    Mobile phone: 09053154986

    Thank you.


    Rorie R. Fajardo
    Program Manager