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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Portraits of Poverty in the Philippines

By Kirk Noonan
Nov. 14, 2010

Throughout the capital city of Manila there are thousands of reminders that 30 million impoverished people live in the Philippines. In open fields, on hillsides, wedged between buildings and even in the medians between major thoroughfares are squatters — thousands of them. In an attempt to give such families a better life, major swaths of land throughout the Philippines have been designated as squatter relocation camps by the government.

Each week Convoy of Hope feeds 30,000 children throughout the Philippines, which is situated in the western Pacific Ocean south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam.

Earlier this year, Raul Manuel, Convoy of Hope’s country director in the Philippines, led a Convoy of Hope team to three camps to see the international children’s feeding initiatives in action.

“God isn’t asking, ‘What will you have to give?’” said Raul as the team drove to the first camp on its itinerary. “He is asking, ‘What do you have in your hands right now, and will you offer it to those who are in need?’”

That question set the tone for the rest of the visit.

A young mother’s battle
Yachts bob on Manila Bay’s gentle waves. Taxis zip through the shadows of sparkling skyscrapers carrying well-heeled businesspeople to afternoon meetings. Along the shoreline, tourists sip colorful cocktails in tony restaurants. This section of Manila is one of the city’s most treasured.

But only a few miles away, down near the ports, where mountains of the city’s trash smolder 24/7, thousands of families eke out an existence in an area called Baseco — it’s one of the most impoverished places Convoy of Hope feeds people.

“Life is very hard here,” says Josephine, a 26-year-old single mother of four, as she sits in front of her one-room shack on a sweltering day. “Sometimes we have no food or water.”

Josephine has plenty of tears but little — if any — income, security or healthcare. According to Josephine, her husband left for another woman and now she washes the neighbor’s laundry for cups of food. It’s hardly enough.

“My dream,” she starts to say, but pauses to gather her emotions, “is that my children will be in school one day and have a better life.”

She admits hope has proven to be elusive lately, but she has seen rays of it at Christ’s Mission Church where her oldest son takes part in Convoy of Hope’s international children’s feeding initiative.

“We’re blessed to have the feeding program,” she says. “The Word of God helps us face this hard life.”

In neat rows inside Christ’s Mission Church, which sits in the middle of the dump, dozens of children quietly listen to Fe Malinare, who helps her husband, Noli, pastor the church. Today, they teach parenting classes to young mothers and hygiene principles to some 40 children.

“This church is here because of the feeding program,” says Noli Malinare. “Convoy of Hope is a great help to our church and this community.”

As the hygiene lesson winds down, several workers bring in huge bowls brimming with Convoy of Hope’s fortified rice meal that has a local twist including meat and vegetables added to it. Josephine’s 10-year-old son carefully grabs a big, blue bowl and takes it back to his table. He eats slowly, savoring every bite. He doesn’t talk to the other children or leave anything to waste. When he finishes, well after all the other children, he quietly returns his bowl and spoon then uses the new toothbrush he received at the church to brush his teeth.

He’s fended off hunger another day. But back at his family’s shack, his mother and siblings are not as fortunate … until a neighbor invites them over for some rice and broth later that afternoon.

On this day, Josephine’s entire family has beaten hunger. It’s a huge, but short-lived victory because there is always tomorrow.

Bible boy
Tucked on a verdant hillside in Montalban, Rizal, which is 45 minutes outside downtown Manila, sits a small house wrapped in corrugated tin. Laundry hangs on rusty wires, a garden grows, a big pig sleeps in the sun as chickens peck the ground beneath banana trees. It would be an idyllic place if food wasn’t in short supply.

Twelve people live in the cramped home. Mattressless beds are shared; there is no running water or indoor bathrooms. Standing at the kitchen table reading a well-worn Bible is Pevin, 9 years old. His mother says he constantly pores over Scripture and that the only trophy he has ever received is the crisp, clean T-shirt he is now wearing. Inscribed on the shirt are the words, “I am a member of the books of the Bible book club.”

“I know all of them,” he says shyly as he runs his hands over the words on his shirt. “I’m very proud of this shirt.”

Pevin says he has promised himself that he will work and study hard so he can become a pastor when he grows up. Though the family scrimps by and has trouble finding enough food to eat, it’s evident that Pevin and his siblings are very loved by their parents.

“Life is not always easy here,” says Anicia, Pevin’s mom. “But we are thankful for Convoy of Hope and pray that they will continue to provide food to feed our children and others in this area.”

At a nearby church Pevin sits in a plastic chair eating a bowl of noodles. He smiles easily as hundreds of other children eat too. “I’ve become very healthy by eating Convoy of Hope food,” he says. “I am happy here because I know I will be fed.”

Driven by big dreams
Without complaint Kate squats under a sprawling tree to wash the family’s dishes. The 10-year-old begins with the cups, then dunks the bowls into the soapy water followed by the forks and knives. After rinsing the dishes she takes time to inspect each dish and utensil. Satisfied they are as clean as can be, she dries them then carefully carries them into the house.

The tiny house is clean and tidy. The concrete floor is swept regularly. Pictures, certificates of achievement and chalk-written phrases such as “God Bless Our Home” cover the cinder-block walls. Everything seems to have its place — including Kate.

Though her family lives in a squatter relocation camp just outside Manila, she is a straight-A student who writes regularly in her slum book (diary) and has big dreams that she hopes one day will pull her entire family out of poverty.

“I don’t want to live here for the rest of my life,” she says. “I dream I will be able to help my parents transfer to a much nicer home someday.”

Kate is not a spoiled kid, nor is she dreaming of becoming the next Hannah Montana. Every day is a struggle for her family, and she just wants them to have a better life.

“It’s very difficult as a mother when your daughter says, ‘Mama, there is no food,’” confesses Kate’s mother.

But recently, Kate enrolled in Convoy of Hope’s feeding program. According to her, it’s been life changing.

“The food gives me assurance that I’ll have something to eat,” she says. “It helps me memorize the lessons from my teacher.”

It also allows her to dream big dreams. As she sits down to eat a bowl of noodles in her family’s humble home she pauses, looks up with tears in her eyes and says, “Thank you. The food you give will not be wasted!”

KIRK NOONAN serves as communications director for Convoy of Hope.

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