June 02, 2012

Pedicures at the Trash Pile and Glass on the Field

For the last month I was able to be part of a 10 person steering committee that planned a community service project for the Pasay Stake (again, a collection of 5-7 congregations in an area). This committee, and similar committees in Stake all over the Philippines, was asked by the leaders of the Church to come up with a community service project in our area. For several meetings we explored ideas and discussed personal contacts we all had to make this project work. Most of all we wanted it to be a meaningful project for both those offering the service and those would be receiving the service. Eventually we reached out to JCI Manila. Lady Hiva and I have become close to several of them over the last year at different service projects all over Manila.
The Steering Committee at one of the planning meetings

The Committee (minus a few) with JCI and Gawad Kalinga Representatives

JCI was willing to meet with us several times as we planned and eventually we decided to support their ongoing community service project out at Tondo’s Smokey Mountain. If you are a follower of our blog, or if you live anywhere near Manila, you know that Smokey Mountain is a large area that was, and in some ways still is, used as a trash dump. Families live there either in tents right on the trash, or in large overcrowded concrete housing built years ago by the government. Days are spent scavenging for trash that can be recycled or resold. The reality of these families’ lives is hard to imagine if you have never seen it for yourself. (If you want to see some of the other projects Lady Hiva and I have been involved with out at Smokey Mountain, just click on the Smokey Mountain tag in the right side menu bar)

This kid was the first to greet us when we arrived and the last to leave as we left. He even started to call me "Brother Dust too!"

A typical home

We all met together early in the morning and had one long train of cars and jeepneys travel out to Smokey Mountain. When we arrived I think both Gawad Kalinga (the local NGO that has a permanent presence at Smokey Mountain) and JCI were surprised by our sheer numbers—all wearing bright neon yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests. One of the JCI members said to me, “Wow, you have such a large group! And how did you get so many youth so excited to come serve?” Now, religiously speaking PRIDE is seen as a bad thing to have, however, in that moment I must confess I was so proud of our youth. Again if you have not read our blog in the past, you will see how inspiring they are to us and how much time we are able to spend with them. Even if it seems like I am constantly telling them they cannot do this, or should be doing that. They are truly exceptional people and that is something I am grateful for. We did not just have youth there though, we had middle aged people, we had our grandmas and grandpas there. We were all enthusiastic to be there to work!

The group was so big we ended up splitting into three large groups. One group painted and cleaned a school center ran by Gawad Kalinga volunteers so kids can get an education instead of being pulled out of school to scavenge for money too. The other group made the walk up to the Field of Dreams that JCI had donated the resources a few years ago to build on top of the large trash pile. There we pulled weeds and picked up trash that was starting to show through because the children were using the area so much. The weeds piled up and the Field looked better and better by the minute. Those working were so happy to see the progress they had made. A couple of the guys that had been picking up glass that was showing through the dirt were full of stories about all the different “treasures” they had found buried under the turf—cellphone covers, underwear, spoons…etc. And to think that when I was playing baseball growing up we worried about how soft the dirt was around home plate for when we slid—that is nothing. Yet this Field, glass and spoons or not, has produced some national tournament winning teams and the people of the community are proud of that fact.

Out on the Field if Dreams

The third group focused on the children that live at Smokey Mountain. They set up a long factory line of Relief Society women each armed with soap, nail clippers, a basin of water and a small chair in front of them. Over the course of two hours they gave lessons on hygiene and the importance of keeping your hands and feet clean (something important to understand when you live in a trash pile),  gave pedicures and manicures to over 200 children and afterwards provided each of those children with a pair of new slippers and a small hygiene kit donated by members of our Stake (Lady Hiva and I were happy to put to use all those hotel shampoos and lotions I have been collecting).

It was so special to watch the different aspects of service happening. From the kids being enthralled in what the Relief Society (one of the oldest women’s organizations in the world) women were doing for them, to watching the classrooms transform as walls were washed and book shelves painted. There were so many moments that I was touched too see quiet acts of kindness take place.

One such act was as we were walking back to the Gawad Kalinga school from the Field of Dreams (about a 10 minute walk) there was one man in the Stake that has Asthma and was having a hard time breathing because of the strong winds (there is a large storm coming—typhoon season is here—so the wind is unusually strong). A few of us stopped to take it slow with him as needed to. It got to a point he hardly breathe at all and had to stand with his hands on his knees. He had literally given all he had to perform the service. Just as I was thinking about running to grab a car and come get him, one of the other men with us, picked him up and carried him almost the full way back. Again, it was special to see another giving all they had to offer to help someone in need. (If you have not noticed I am a softy when it comes to things like that).

Some other times that I was able to see quiet acts of service was watching the feet/hand washing. These children showed up and only so many could be cleaned at a time, so they asked a few of them to come up and sing. Being musically talented, as we have found many Filipinos are, these children did not back down. I watched two, a boy and then a girl, sing a-capella and put their WHOLE heart into it. Both of them were frail and thin and covered in dirt head to toe, but their voices were beautiful and full of life. As they sang, one a Mariah Carey song and the other a Filipino favorite “Pag-Ibig,” the other children joined into to sing too.

As each child had their hands and feet watched and nails clipped, they were sent in to get their new pair of slippers. I happened to be standing next to the table they were giving out the slippers and overheard this conversation:
Relief Society sister giving out the slippers: “Oh, dear one, you need to have your feet washed first.”
Child: “I am finished.”
Sister: “Oh, your feet are clean? Why are you walking in the dirt? Where are your slippers?”
Child: “I don’t have any ma’am.”
Sister: “Well, in that case, here are some brand new ones, just for you.”
This conversation was full of love and kindness. This child literally did not have any shoes to wear. No wonder his feet had been dirty before. After the event was over, stories were being told among the volunteers about how some kids had such dirt and callouses on their feet it was hard to scrub off or how their fingernails were peeled back and full of dirt from digging. It was then I started to grasp the realities of these small cute little people’s lives. I watched their faces closely as they took their gifts and expressed thanks. Some put on their slippers immediately. Others held them like precious gems still in their new plastic bags. Others completely left their old slippers  full of holes and wear right where they took them off. One little girl, probably about 3 years old, even walked by with slipper almost 10 sizes too big, but she was SO proud to have them she would not trade them for anything else!

It was a wonderful day. I think on all sides of the service project left with gratitude in our hearts for all that we have, and all that we have been given. 

We were waiting for one Jeepney to start and while we waited Lady Hiva made friends with these guys. They loved her!

Some of our volunteers and some of the Gawad Kalinga volunteers after the event!


  1. What an amazing service project! I wish we had been involved in it. We want to have you over for dinner soon. I'll email you. :)

  2. i loved the service project. you were right, i wish i couldve been there. i wish they all had flipflops that fit. hiva is so beautiful.