As one of our goals for 2011, Lady Hiva and I have wanted to get involved with community service. In Washington D.C. we had the opportunity to volunteer in Miriam’s Kitchen with some friends and loved it, so we wanted to keep the tradition going here in Manila. I contacted a member of JCI (Junior Chamber International) here in the Philippines and we decide to meet this past Saturday. Lady Hiva came for the first part of the meeting, but because of an LDS Stake Young Women’s Values Conference she could not stay the whole time.
JCI made up of a group of young men and women ages 18-40 that actively give back to the communities they live in. Hiva and I were able to attend part of their annual entrepreneur summit—which brought back memories of many entrepreneurship conferences planned and held at BYU-Hawaii. They are also doing community service, intercultural peace and religious conferences for youth, and sponsoring education throughout the world. Meeting all of these giving and energetic business people got me excited to serve alongside them too!
I went on a tour of some of their community outreach in one of the poorest areas of Manila—Tondo. Tondo is referred to as ‘Smokey Mountain’ because it once was the rubbish dump for the city. There is over 40 years of trash degrading there. Smokey Mountain is home to several thousand families. They live off scouring trash to find metals, plastics, or anything else that may be of value to resale.
Our first stop was at a local charity called Gawad Kalinga. I met Tito (uncle) Nonoy, who is the leader of Gawad Kalinga and to a larger extent, of the Smokey Mountain area. My tour guide from JCI, Rich, pointed out that the large dark mountain behind us was actually trash. I was starting to see where the name was coming from. Tito Nonoy took me on a tour of the projects GK is doing. They have medical clinics often and he was excited to tell me about the new clinic and drug store JCI has built for them. GK also employs women who make crafts out of donated used materials. I watched as they made jewelry, lamps, vases, and bags out of old magazines and sewed old tarp-like announcement signs (the ones you usually see at events) and plastic wrappers to make durable handbags. These women are able to supplement their children’s diet doing this work. I was impressed with their patience as they rolled miniature strips of paper into a bead using glue and a nail. The finished products are actually really beautiful. I bought a few and the women went through all of them to find “the prettiest one to give to my wife.”
We then toured the “Field of Dreams” baseball park. It was up the road and we had to drive past piles of garbage to get there, but then it opened up into a beautiful field. JCI donated the time and money to level out a large portion of the trash and cover with top soil for a baseball park. The teams that play here compete all over the Philippines and last year qualified to play in tournaments in Europe and Taiwan. There was a team on the field practicing when we walked up. They all stopped to come and shake my hand. I told them I play baseball and with a smile, one of them gave me his glove and I played catch with them for a while—I need to get my arm into shape before I do that again. It has been YEARS since I played catch!
I had to take deep breaths and blink back tears to see the excitement of these kids playing sports and how through the game they are able to see all the opportunities out in the world if they work and study hard enough. I saw their mitts, old but well cared for, their faded caps, and cleats with holes in the toes that made up their uniforms. But they were happy and extremely athletic.
We drove down to a community of buildings built by the government to get people off the garbage area. Each building houses over 125 families. The structures are bare minimum cement buildings, but at least they are not out in the rubbish to sleep. Bags of food and clothing hung out of the windows for storage, and bright colors adorned everything I am assuming to add something pleasant to the area. We stopped at a playground that JCI sponsored and of course the kids wanted their photo taken. Even with the 2500 families that do get to live here in real buildings there are thousands more still living in shacks on the dump area.
As we were leaving we stopped at a large event ran by two other local NGO’s—Youth Focus and WE, both of which are very active all over the country and especially here in Tondo. They focus on education and medical welfare of the children from pre-school until they go to college. Today they had partnered with TOMS shoes to give out shoes to the children.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I am an advertiser for TOMS shoes, but what I experienced today was beautiful. If you are not familiar with TOMS, they have a company pledge that for every pair of TOMS you buy, they donate a pair of shoes to a child in an under-developed country. I knew they did this, yet knowing they do it is nothing compared to actually SEEING it done. One of the coordinators of the project said this is the first time TOMS has given the shoes in a country that they sell the shoes in. Usually they give to children in countries like Africa or Cambodia.
Large groups of children and parents were gathered all around the pavilion where they were handing out shoes. Their faces were alight with exhilaration. A registration booth checked in the children one by one and their first stop was to have a cartoon version of a lesson on how to keep your feet clean and not catch disease by walking in the trash without shoes. Next, the children went to have their feet washed before being fitted for shoes.
I took photos as I watched the first few batches of children come through. I am not sure who was more happy, the children, the parents, or the people volunteering.
Each child was given a registration paper with their shoe size written on it, a copy of the cartoon character showing how to keep your feet clean and a number for order to receive their shoes. One little girl about 3 or 4 had a near panic attack when they took her papers away while she had her feet washed so they would not get wet. She was very protective of those papers! After that we let them hold the papers. It was so cute to see their eyes full of wonder as they sat—their little bare feet dangling off the chair—listening to the introduction before having their feet washed. The joy on their faces as they walked away with a new pair of shoes was unexplainable; again I found myself blinking back tears of gratitude for all the wonderful people here both those that live here and those that want to give service.
I had enough of just taking photos, I handed my camera to Rich and I knelt down to wash feet. Each child was wary at first with some stranger taking off their shoes and putting their feet into a tub of water. I am sure they were especially shocked that some white guy was willing to wash their feet. They would smile and squirm because it tickled as I lathered up their toes and massaged the dirt off their heels. As I knelt there washing their feet I understood a little more of what Christ meant when he said, “Behold your little ones…” They are so pure and loving, without guile and prejudice. It was my humbling pleasure to wash their feet. To, for a fleeting moment, let them know they were important and loved by so many people.
Some KLM flight crewmembers came out to help on their layover too! It was amazing to see them all jump in and help. I stood up to take some more pictures before we left. As children bounced up and down in excitement and rejoined their families, I watched parent’s eyes too light up with joy and thankfulness. They would take hold of each other’s hands and start home with the familiar constant chatter of a few happy children.
It was then that I knew Hiva and I would find ourselves back here to get to know everyone and see if there is something we too can contribute.