Yesterday (Sunday), a group of people from work and I participated in a weekend feeding at Rise Above Cebu. For about $80 USD, we can feed some 500 plus people a meal of rice soup with vegetables, and I think I saw chicken, which helps supplement limited resources. Rise Above is a community center with a library (no books), a small dentist center, a central kitchen, and they teach anyone willing to learn to help lift them out of poverty and hopefully into a steady job in the near-distant future. I’m sure there’s more, but this is what I saw.
Rise Above is right off the Guadalajara slum, only fifteen minutes by taxi from where I am staying, and the whole event was one of the most earth shattering and heart breaking afternoons of my life.
There was a lot to take in, and while I was actually in the slum for maybe 20 minutes handing out food tickets for the meal, I was almost floored by what I saw. Makeshift shelters that had been knocked down by some means and partially rebuilt with sheets of galvanized metal and miscellaneous building materials. ‘Solid’ structures were far and in between. Roosters and goats wandered around along side the local mutts, some of the goats were tied up with little bits of twine. Some of the children were half clothed, or not even wearing flip-flops, which is the preferred footwear of choice here (I got mentally really angry at Tom’s Shoes who built their business around the one for one model, where they donate shoes to children in need and I saw plenty of people who needed basic elements of survival. I’ve seen them focus mainly on Africa and there are plenty of other places in the developing world that could use a little TLC, too).
The meal was cooked in a giant cast iron pot. When empty, I could probably climb into it with another person and there would be room to spare. After all, we fed a decent number of people off a very well spent budget. The feeding was divided into two waves- 1) children and 2) the elderly. To receive a meal we took little tickets out into the slum and handed them out to the kids. No ticket, no meal. And for the most part, kids as young as five and six were already refining their con skills. By this, I mean we would give one kid a ticket for their siblings and when we would ask how many they would say, “Two. No, uh, four, no uh, five, no seven.” (Big families are very common here, small families, especially single children, are the rarity). And they would keep pulling tickets out of our hands until they had however many they wanted and would run away.
Some of the bigger kids would shove the littler and younger kids out of the way/to the ground so they could try and gain an advantage over snatching tickets. However, considering that I have significant height over the kiddos and they come up waist high, I held the tickets above my head and deliberately gave the tickets to the quiet kids who waited their turn and the littlest ones who were bullied by the bigger children. I may never be canonized as a saint, but I do prefer to go out of my way to dish up justice in whatever small manifestations I can. I know life isn’t fair, but when the kids instigate a Running of the Bulls just to get a hot meal, anyone’s inner saint shines through.
After the Running of the Bulls/ Handing out the tickets, we returned to the Rise Above Center to finalize the prep period. The tickets said they meal would be served promptly at 3:30 and at 2:45 kids started lining up outside they gate trying to work their way in. Little hands poked under the fence and several kids scaled a wall (by standing on a motor bike I can only presume) and were yelling directly at us to let them in (It was the cross between Mad Max and a zombie movie). There was a crazy fast exchange between the mob of kids and the volunteer staff at the center to get down, as well as some of the people from work relocking the gate as kids who were playing inside the fence were unlocking it to tease the kids waiting outside.
One of the management staff at the company I’m working with is Austrian, and her brother and her brother’s friend have been hanging out in the Philippines while I’ve been here and apparently to the kids, the friend looks like Jesus. (Almost 85% of the country is Catholic, and a total of 92.5% of the country is Christian according to the Census). Hearing the kids call “Jesus! Jesus!” as they waited for their meal was memorable- the Philippines is so devout in their faith that the people who came late to get their meal yesterday were those who left to the slum to go to Sunday Church. (To be fair, today, Monday, I was told I was the spinning vision of the Virgin Mary, so I think if I were to describe the Philippines it would be 1) “Saying hello in the local tongue us ‘Have you eaten’ / every, everything can be traced back to food and 2) they are very devout to their faith).
Everyone brought their own dishes and containers for food- I saw several regular bowls, a couple plates, various plastic food containers, leftover plastic ice cream tubs, and a handful of plastic pitchers and cups to take their meals in. My best guess is that each kid took their food back to their families and they all shared what little they had.
While I can only speculate, it was heartbreaking to see the slum. Years worth of garbage was everywhere (even the goats didn’t want eat some of it and goats eat just about everything). It was one of those instances where you just want to blindly rally the troops when you get home and do everything you can to make things better for these people. Guadalajara is unlawfully there. If the property owner decided they wanted to develop the land, they would have one week to vacate before permanently being displaced.
Moments like these lend themselves to reflecting on all that you have- both tangibly and intangibly, and reflecting upon your privilege. I was able to go back to my apartment, which has one person living in it despite people in the slums packing a whole family into a space this size. Running water, clean water to drink in abundance, electricity, a bed. I have food a plenty, both in the refrigerator and dry goods on the shelves to last me several meals. I have as much fresh produce as I feel inclined to carry back from the store. Most importantly, I’m here.
I was talking to some of the other interns about them coming to visit Oregon. And we were trying to convert money without calculators and it turns out just the air fair round trip is what students pay here on average for one year of university. (By American standards university is cheap and to Filipinos, they think college is ridiculously expensive, as does every American student). I’m very convinced that after my stint in the dorms this year I want to have enough extra space in my next living arrangements at least for couch surfers. So friends who road trip or travel abroad have a place to crash. You never appreciate a place to sleep with running water to take a shower quite like you do when you’re traveling. I would happily share couch space and floor space for stories.
You never fully appreciate all that you have until you start giving what you have, whether it is your time or your resources, It really drives the point home.