The first morning after our arrival in Olongapo City, the team visited a slum settlement in a previous dumpsite named Tambakan, the word for trash in Tagalog. The homes sit on a canal that is home to much of the city’s waste water, and it floods much of the community at least once a week. We spent time with children in the area, which became a common thread of opportunity over the course of our time in various parts of the country. The backboard to the basketball goal in the background reads Batang Pag-Asa or Children of Hope. It’s hard to see this reality play out in the lives of the children that call this place home. Scattered on the basketball court are trash receptacles because this area has become known for trash and recycle collection, a reality that takes a toll on the residents.
In 2010, I befriended a man named Bill in this neighborhood who walked the streets of the city collecting glass and plastic in effort to produce some kind of livelihood for his family. This is the story of many of the men in this area. Over time they lose a sense of ambition and resort to minimal pay sorting trash or cleaning out sewers by hand for the city. When I ran into Bill this time, it was evident the last 5 years of manual labor in his 50s had taken their toll on his body. When I asked him if he was still working, he told me he had no work.
The prison system in the Philippines is in disrepair. On all three islands to which we traveled, we visited some form of detainment center, be it a holding cell, a long-term prison or a detainment center for youth. The most common issue with the penal system is the lack of proper administration in the judicial system that allows for a speedy trial, which is internationally considered a human right. Here, 17 men reside in a 10’x20’ cell with two beds, one toilet and one pot for cooking food. While the bars don’t make for a clean picture of the men, I found it important to capture the reality of their moment. Over half of them had been there for 3 months for allegedly committing petty crimes. Unfortunately, this time is very short compared to the men and women who have resided in prisons and detention centers for years and have yet to receive a legitimate sentence, some of them even a court date. Jesus’ words that identify himself with the prisoner and the need to visit them resonated with our team over the course of our time.
Father Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary who has fought for justice for vulnerable women and children for over 30 years in the Philippines. We had the privilege to sit with him for over an hour and hear the tumultous journey he and his organization PREDA have had over the years fighting child abuse and sex slavery, unfortunately promoted most heavily by the presence of the US military in Subic Bay, just outside of Olongapo City. The sex industry is still alive today and takes advantage of impoverished women seeking some way to provide for their families or children. Cullen fights against this in addition to the child incarceration issues that have been an ongoing issue in the Philippines for some time.
The team had the opportunity to tour the boy’s home created by PREDA to be a refuge for young boys in conflict with the law, most commonly from Metro Manila. Inasmuch as the home met the basic needs of the boys, we also learned that many of the vocational training opportunities they had provided for the boys had failed due to the lack of trained personnel to fulfill responsibilities related to auto mechanics, farming, woodworking and the like. It was a wake up call to the idea that an orphanage type setting, particularly for troubled youth, is a very difficult paradigm to manage.
These children are among the residual effects of the sex industry in Barrio Barreto just outside Olongapo City. These children stay out on the streets late hours depending on the charity of western men who frequent the area. Some sell bags of peanuts or chips, others simply beg. Just after we shared a meal with these children, the young girl took her half eaten chicken leg out to her mother to eat, who also shared with another young girl as they walked away. Moving these children away from such a vulnerable situation (particularly for girls reaching their teenage years) is complex and requires much more than the sharing of a meal. But it was all we could do that evening to sit with them, let them enjoy a meal and learn a little bit about them.
To conclude our time in Olongapo City, we hiked into the mountains to visit our Aeta friends. The Aeta are an indigenous people group who have largely lived away from cities in the Philippines. They have sought to maintain their heritage, though in recent years, due to land-grabbing by corporations and the government, the Aeta have found themselves having to participate in the city. Some walk miles daily with heavy loads of charcoal or vegetables to sell at the market in different cities. We were able to visit a community we have visited over the years and share a community meal with them, provide some clothes to the women and children, encourage them in the Scripture, sing with them and do a short drama presentation.
Chris Cameron, member of our South East Asia team, is also a recording engineer by trade. He and fellow musician and intern Richard Gowen hosted a recording and music writing seminar with a group of young guys at a center for youth in conflict with the law. These centers exist to house boys who have been sentenced or are awaiting sentences as minors. Unfortunately, many of them have waited years just to receive sentences for petty crimes due to the lack of proper administration in the judicial system. We were able to record and produce 13 live tracks for them young guys to listen to. They were encouraged to continue writing music as an expression of the challenges they face in their current circumtances.
G.O.D. Int'l representative Clark Miller has been serving full-time in the Philippines since May 2014. He has been working consistently at the Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth teaching a variety of seminars to the boys. Clark's experience doing basketball camps with his dad since he was six years old enabled him to conduct this camp. Basketball is the most popular sport in the Philippines and these camps provide organized opportunities for meeting goals and learning fundamentals.
Rina Miller teaches expecting mothers at the Cumpio Midwife Clinic in a town called Tanuan, about a 15 minute drive outside Tacloban, along the coast. Maternal and infant health is a complex issue in the Philippines. Women are often not educated regarding the childbirth process and are not treated with care in the hospitals, often confused into making decisions that are convenient for the hospital and not best for the mother. Midwives provide an alternative to scary world of hospitals for expecting mothers. Rina volunteers at the clinic twice a week assisting births and educating women to be fully informed on how to care for them and their babies in this most vulnerable season of life.
Over 400 language and literuature students were in attendance for our Insights into English seminar at Eastern Visayas State University. The studetns showed up eager to gain further understanding of the English language. When I asked various crowd volunteers why they want to learn English, they gave answers related to helping the Philippines economy be ‘globally competitive’. It was apparent this was a concept discussed in one of their classes, and is at the heart of the strongly emerging call center industry in the Philippines.
Our team had the opportunity to split up and each of us sat with 30 or so students and asked them questions about their lives in the Philippines, their education and their aspirations upon completing college. There is such a need for quality education at the collegiate level in the Philippines, an education that will thrust the people into meeting very fundamental needs in the country instead of becoming another statistic as an overseas Filipino worker.
From Olongapo, we traveled south to Tacloban City, most well-known for its destruction after Typhoon Haiyan. Over a year and a half later, one can still readily observe the blue Samaritan's Purse relief tarps and other equipment that have turned into permanent solutions for people who have no recourse for rebuilding their lives. Though most land on the edge of the water has been officially deemed ‘no-build zone’ the poor rebuild in these areas because of the accessibility to the market and their inability to purchase land or afford rent.
Richard Gowen facilitates an activity during a character values seminar that he taught in a primary school in Tacloban. Primary education provides children with the necessary foundation for valuing education into the future. One aspect of the public schooling in the Philippines that I have always appreciated is there emphasis on building characters and values in children. They dedicate the first part of each day to a "Values" class where teachers cover different character traits that make up a responsible person. We were able to participate in this at this school every morning for a week.
The team visited Cabalawan, a remote transitional settlement for people who lost their homes in the typhoon. We partnered with a ministry committed to doing a children’s program and feeding for the children of the community each week. While the bamboo homes were not meant to be permanent solutions for the residents, many of them are in no hurry to leave due to the lack of options. We were grateful to see the presence of a large communal garden that provides the residents with fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. The organization of this settlement with separate structures for different families allows for the responsibility of maintaining a space and also allows air flow from various directions. It was to be the nicest transitional community we visited during our time in Tacloban.
A transitional settlement popularly known as ‘the bunkhouses’ were built near the coast after the typhoon to house the many people whose homes were destroyed there. The conditions are suitable for a place people should live for maybe a month or two, but 20 months later, the environment is taking its toll on the people. Our intern team was able to offer an after-school program for 90 minutes every day for a week. While the children had a great time and were able to receive a meal as part of their participation, we were struck by the need for the residents to receive education and empowerment that can allow them to not feel stuck in living situation that produces a myriad of challenges for adults and children alike.
We met Jovic Roldan in 2007 when he was living in a squatter village outside a dumpsite, where he was employed to sift through trash for 12 hours a day collecting plastic and trash to sell for payment of $2 a day. Jovic’s energy and joy against the backdrop of this environment impressed us and we have been working with him since. He joined us for the entirety of the 3 week internship and was a great asset in working with children.
Ty and Meg Mathews met Jackie Perez (left) in 2013 when they visited the bars in Barrio Barreto to learn more about the sex slave industry. Jackie had left her home province to begin dancing at a club and raising money. After meeting with her a few times, Ty and Meg learned of her aspirations to be a midwife and raised support to stop dancing and attending midwifery school. We had the opportunity to visit Jackie during this trip and encourage her as she finishes up her studies and begins gaining experience attending births.
In the States, we don't see where our trash is ultimately deposited. In the Philippines, however, we have learned about and served in multiple housing areas on the perimeter of dumpsites wherein people have resorted to digging through trash for hours on end to provide for their families. Just to the left of this photo is a small settlement of houses that is home to about 150 families. Walking through the community, it is difficult to take a single step without stepping on trash. We asked Jovic, who grew up in a similar environment to this, what toll it takes on the people. He replied, "When you grow up in it, it just feels normal, the smell is what you have always smelled. But I thank God that he has given me a hope beyond this struggle."