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Laika’s Community

September 21, 2007

Though I have not started my actual job (this will happen after I leave for Mindanao on October 2), my schedule has picked up here. In the past week I have done two urban immersions in which I went into local communities and stayed with host families and took part in daily activities while learning about the political issues affecting the people.

My first stay was hosted through Kairos, a Catholic organzation that works with squatter communities to organize the people to fight for their own justice. Many squatters in Manila are former farmers who have been forced to flee their lands due to economic hardship. As though it is not enough that they live in shanty villages, many without water and sanitation, now the government threatens to demolish these villages in the name of big business.

The community is right off the highway, after exiting the jeepney, we walked around a corner and saw the community. This was only my second observation, the first thing that struck me was the smell. I cannot fully describe what the stench of this sewage-filled river is like- even as I think about it now, I feel a bit queasy. And I’d thought maybe the smell would pass or I would get used to it, but as I lay on the floor of Laika’s one-room shanty with the other 6 members of the family later that night, the smell kept me awake.

Laika’s mother was unbelievably kind. She was constant in offering me snacks (coconut milk right from the fruit, fish cooked whole on a skillet outside) and spent a great deal of time just talking to me about what life was like here and the dreams she had for her daughters. In the evening of my second day there seminaries from Redemptorist Catholic Seminary in a nearby part of Manila. It was good to be able to share with them. They had all come from the provinces and this was their first exposure to urban poverty. It is so different than rural poverty, they said. At least out in the country there is clean air and space for the children. In urban poverty the air, water, and land are all filthy.

And the children are small. When I first meant Janine, Laika’s youngest sister, I thought she was about 6 years old. She was so small and quite. Janine is actually 10, almost 11. I took to her immediately and she held my hand anytime we walked somewhere so I wouldn’t get lost. She shared her toys with me though she had so few, her favorite was her bottle cap collection. There were no real rules to the game, just shuffling them around. Coming from a country where a child’s happiness is a commodity that Disney, Mattel and other corporations sell, the sight of her so in awe of toys from garbage moved me.

Though I was inclined to stay on with them longer, Kairos had arranged for me to go to another squatter village that night. This village was by the airport, right beside the barbed wire fence that partions off the runway. I must have flown over it on my way into Manila. The smell was not nearly as prominent here, but the noise from the planes was so loud that anytime one flew overhead, the shanties’ tin walls would shake.

The house I stayed at here was larger- three rooms, one of which was a sewing cubby where the mother made handcraft rugs to sell on the streets. Getting into the home was difficult. It was on the second floor so to enter one had to climb a wooden ladder from the street. I quickly learned that there was no water there- on this particular day they didn’t have the 2 pesos (4 cents) to fill get their container filled and since the father was at work there was no one strong enough to carry it up the ladder. I have no idea what they were doing as far as using the toilet, I didn’t ask.

When I left the shanty town on my third day of the exposure, I didn’t look over my shoulder- I was on the way to the promised land of personal space and running water. There can be no true solidarity when one can fall back on other resources, but I am ashamed to say in that moment I just didn’t care. I was not strong enough to stay there.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    September 25, 2007 10:22 pm

    Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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