PLUS Project, 2008

Philippines � Learning, Understanding, and Service

After returning from two weeks in the Philippines , people usually ask me, �How was your trip?�� This year, without much hesitation, I can honestly reply, �Exhausting but successful.�� This was a record year in a number of ways.� With eight of us traveling together, six of whom were SU students, this was the largest group I�ve taken.� We also raised a record amount of money this year for our charitable work, roughly doubling what we had raised in the past.� Such numbers are a blessing in terms of the work we can accomplish, but a real challenge to manage wisely and effectively.� I believe I can report to you that we did our best and accomplished a great deal of good for many people who struggle daily to meet their most basic needs. Just last week, I came across a news article which discussed the effect of the rising cost of rice on people in one southern Filipino town.� In order to feed themselves and their families, more and more people are turning to begging, theft, and prostitution.� While I cannot say I noticed an increase of such things in the areas we visited, I know very well that poverty pushes people to do things they otherwise would not.� There are the dirty children I often see waiting outside of the malls in Manila, hoping to be given a shopper�s loose change, or the 19 year-old prostitute with two children who told me she does what she does for her children, who she hopes will not have to travel this same road.� Of course, as I mentioned before, I know we cannot save everyone.� We do, however, impact the lives of individuals in very real ways.

A boy selling toys on the streets of Manila

After years of hearing about a community of workers outside of Lipa city, we finally made a trip out to the batuhan, or rock quarry, where nearly a hundred families live.� They make their living by extracting rock from the mountainside and breaking it up manually with hammers.� While their meager homes can hardly keep out the elements, and their salaries leave family members with significantly less than $1 each per day, what left the most lasting impression on me was the sight of children working alongside everyone else.�� On our first day visiting with them, we spent a little time carrying bags of sand up a steep hill where it was being mixed with cement.� We would dump the sand and return down the hill with the empty bag to have it filled again.� At some point it dawned on me that the boy who was shoveling the sand into our bags was 5 years old, the same age as my oldest son.� While my son has chores, this boy has already begun his life of hard labor.� I suppose that what we do for a community like that is never enough, but I am pleased to report that because of the generosity of so many friends in the U.S., we were able to distribute rice to every family there, bags of either 55 or 110 pounds.� Given the fact that rice has nearly doubled in price over the past few years, it was gratifying to be able to do so much.� Including the families at the sugarcane plantation, and a number of people living in town, we delivered over 9,000 pounds to people who live on very little.� (That brings our grand total over the years to about 30,000 pounds).� Again, thanks to so many of you, at the end of that rather long day it was good to know that hundreds of people were going to bed with full stomachs, and would continue to do so for some time to come.

At the batuhan, with some boys working (and posing) in the foreground and one of the larger homes behind


Those of you who have followed this program over the years may remember the name Aivan Rapirap.� This year, on our second day in the Philippines , I grabbed two of my students and headed off to visit Aivan and his family.� Since they lived in the same neighborhood as the house we were rebuilding, it was a short walk of several blocks.� When we arrived at his house, however, they were no longer there.� I was told by one of his neighbors, a woman named Lita, that the family had moved back to Quezon Province in search of work.� While a bit disappointed, I knew this was not uncommon for the squatter families who live in this area.� This same neighbor, knowing of the work we do, proceeded to tell me about another family a few doors down that she wanted us to meet.� And so we walked down the street and through an alley to meet the Santos family.� While I never met Mr. Santos, who was out all day working, I did meet Mrs. Santos.� She and her eight children live in a house that is 5�x11.�� They have a small cooking area outside, where they do their washing and bathing as well.� I never discovered where and what their toilet is.� As I stood there, doing my best to smile and chat with Mrs. Santos and Lita, I tried to imagine how tightly all ten must be crowded in that small room as they lay down to sleep at night.� With the walls decaying and the roof full of holes, I was unable to comprehend how they survive the rainy season. Later, one of my students confessed to being glad she had worn sunglasses during that visit, so as to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.� The Santos family was one of the families, then, that we were able to help, albeit modestly.� None of her children had been able to afford the uniforms, notebooks, and supplies they need to go to school, and so we took care of that.� We also bought them bags of groceries, toiletries, and other items as well.�

The Santos family inside their home


There are many other individual cases of people whose lives have been touched significantly by your generosity.� Aiza is the daughter of a hard-working carpenter.� We have helped her pay tuition and expenses for her college education.� I had previously told her that if she received good marks, we would pay for another year.� This May she came by with an envelope full of slips of paper � her report cards and receipts for every expense during the past year.� Needless to say I was happy to provide her with the funds to pay for her final year of college, after which she will be able to achieve her dream of being a kindergarten teacher.� I also let her know that when her little sister, Apple May, graduates from high school, we can talk about sending her to college as well.� For me, helping young people achieve their potential through education is one of the most rewarding gifts I believe we can give.� And Aiza was not alone, as we were able to help a number of other struggling college students as well.� I suspect my students will not soon forget Jun, a young man of considerable intellect and drive who works so hard to achieve his academic dreams.� He certainly impressed us by finishing a Rubic�s Cube in 39 seconds (after which he explained he was out of practice).� However, it was his account of combining studies and work with a financial situation that often leaves him hungry and forced to walk the 3 kilometer trip home at the end of the day that really moved us.� In the US , where so many students take their education so lightly, Jun taught us all a valuable lesson about its real value.

Rebuilding the home of �Nanay Basi


There was some manual labor for us to do as well.� There was the dirty work of tearing down the dilapidated home of Nanay (�Grandma�) Basilia, full of cockroaches, mice, rats, and huge spiders, before a new home could be rebuilt.� There was the day of painting the kitchen and dining area of a shelter for abused children outside of Manila.� (And I have to say, as the former owner of a painting business and a complete fuss-budget when it comes to painting, the students really impressed me.� We were able to do more than I hoped without a drop of paint left on the floor at the end of the day.)� That was a good day, and the children and staff were really pleased� enough so to spend a couple hours teaching us various Filipino dances on the roof of their building in the 90+ degree weather.�� (If anyone wants to learn the Papaya Dance, feel free to ask any of the SU students.)� Back at the other shelter in Manila, there were guitar, dance, English, geography, and self-defense lessons for the kids during our time with them.� I always leave that shelter, however, wondering who learned more, the kids or their American �teachers.��

Kids singing at the Kanlungan shelter in Manila


And while there were times of joy, laughter, and the feeling of accomplishment, there were plenty of personal struggles as well.� Whether it was visiting the Santos family, or Joseph, the boy who had been devastated by bacterial meningitis, or seeing hundreds of people living in a trash dump, salvaging their living from Manila�s garbage, we all were left with unanswered questions.� What are my responsibilities?� What can I realistically do?� Will this experience change me forever?�


Visiting with the Agojo family


As for me, I still struggle with these and other questions as well.� At times they weigh on me heavily, and by the end of the trip I�m left exhausted, wondering if I want to come back.� However, when I return and look at the photographs, remember the people I spoke with, consider the difference we made in a few people�s lives, I know I need to return.��� Echoing in my head is, �To whom much is given, much is expected.�� And while it wears me out at times, it gives me great joy as well.� To all of you who have so graciously supported our work, without the benefit of looking into the eyes of the people you help, please know that you have my most heartfelt thanks and gratitude.� We did make a difference.



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