The Philippines is unlike anywhere I have ever seen. Growing up in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, I thought I knew what poverty was. I’ve watched homeless men and women stand on the side of the road and beg for money. I’ve volunteered at food banks and homeless shelters and seen a glimpse
of what life is like for the extremely poor. But none of it even compares to the circumstances people are dealing with out here.
For about five weeks now, I’ve witnessed how hard some of these Filipinos work, and for almost nothing. They sweat and toil for usually less than an American’s minimum wage,performing jobs like trimming the grass by hand or peddling people around on a bike for only nickels per ride. These people are out all day in this extreme maritime climate, and then they go home to a house held together by bamboo and a floor composed of dirt. They’re completely surrounded by garbage and stray animals; the floods that are a result of monstrous typhoons are virtually inescapable, and don’t even get me started on the mosquitoes.
I thought I knew what distress was until I walked the trash-plastered streets of Tondo City. I thought I knew what emptiness was until an old man tapped me on the shoulder and begged me for pesos. I thought I knew what adversity was until I listened to a sweet mother cry as she explained the struggle she finds in trying to feed her son.
I thought I understood poverty, but I was wrong.
Poverty means living in a toxic wasteland that would be deemed unsanitary for anyone in the United States. Poverty means spending your entire existence in need of money and hoping that someone, anyone, gives into your pleas. Poverty means working as hard as you possibly can and still going hungry. Poverty means praying every single night for a better life. Not only because you want one, but because you need one.
The point is, it’s easy for most of us to pretend like this place doesn’t exist. It’s easy to continue our privileged, comfortable lives, engulfed in our own “first world” problems. But there are remarkable, valuable people out here in the world suffering. No life has any greater worth than another, and who is to say otherwise? There are families here that deserve more than what they are enduring. There are mothers all around the world who just want better lives for their families. I have seen the difference Mentors is making in each of their lives and the overall success of the community. It’s truly remarkable and inspiring. Most of these women can’t seem to express their gratitude enough.
“Salamat! Salamat! Mabuti ka na!”
“Thank you! Thank you! You are good!”