I spent a few weeks volunteering with True Manila and thanks to my family and friends in Austria I was able to collect money and help the kids and families there. A few people asked me why I’m helping so much and if I think that this would change anything. To be honest: No, I can’t change every single life of them and I can’t change that there is so much poverty and inhumanity in this world. But I can’t just look away and do nothing, just because I was lucky enough to be born in a wealthy country. Edwin always says: “If you can’t help 100 kids, then just help 1 – that’s better than doing nothing”. If you help, you improve the lives of these little kids for at least a few hours. And the smile of these kids is priceless, helping there gave me so much energy and motivation, even when I was tired and exhausted I kept going. Because if I was in that situation, I would also be thankful for every act of kindness.
I still try to process all these impressions in the communities. Everyone knows that there is poverty in many parts of the world – but what does this really mean to the affected people? There are also poor people back home, but poverty in a developing country, is not comparable to poverty in western countries. It’s not the first time that I travel through poor countries. I have seen a lot of poverty and it has changed the way of how I recognize and reflect about the world already years ago. But in Manila I spent more time in these communities and got to know the people and their stories. It gave me a complete different way of experiencing and understanding what it means to have less or nothing.
I tried to write my experiences and impressions down, but no words can do justice to the daily reality there. What really impressed me, was that between all this poverty and sad living conditions, people are really friendly, welcoming and grateful. Especially the kids are always smiling, making fun and are open-hearted and happy to spend time with you.
I have never been to a city where so many homeless people are living. No matter in which part of the city you go, you always see a lot of homeless families with kids, even babies, in the streets. The kids run around and sleep on the streets next to busy roads, in parks or in front of shops – really everywhere. The kids are hungry and don’t get food on a regular basis.
In the area where we helped there are people living in small basic houses or they are homeless and live on the street. Every kid has a complete different story. Some kids live with their parents and some are orphans who try to survive on their own or with their siblings. Sometimes there are parents, who don’t care about their kids, some have mental problems, others work so much to make a bit money and don’t have the time/ nerves/ possibility to look after their kids. So the kids are often left alone, in places that are really not meant for them.
We went to different communities to help and these two places especially got burnt into my mind.
The Silent Village: There are families who are living in the cemeteries between the graves. We went to the Southern Cemetery where about 30 families with 60 kids are living. The cemetery is huge, if you enter it you feel like being in a village. There are small streets where people drive around with their vehicles and there are even small local shops. The graves are often built in house-similar buildings (like mausoleums). The families live there between the dead and use the graves like furniture.
The Hidden Tunnel: This community lives under the ground in a tunnel which is located under a bridge. There is one way which is around 1,5 m wide and 1,60 m high and on the right and left side there are little spaces where families live. You can’t stand there properly and you have to watch your head because there are open power lines and cables everywhere. It’s completely dark, there are only a few lights which lead you the way. It’s wet and dirty and you can barely breath because the air is so bad. When it rains heavily the whole tunnel gets flooded because of the polluted river next to it. It’s hard to believe that even little babies are living under these conditions.
The kids on the street are often very dirty and don’t have proper, clean clothes because they don’t have regular access to water. Many of them have problems with their skin because they sleep on dirty streets with sick animals and bugs. Once I could watch how they manage to wash themselves: There was a 20-liter canister of water standing on a small table in the street. The 2-year old girl was placed under it and a bit of water was poured over her. Another time the kids could use the hose of a neighbor to shower, in the middle of the street, without any space of privacy.
Some kids are begging for money and food and walk around on the roads between the cars. Edwin told me that it happens regularly that kids get injured or even die because they get hit by cars, busses or Jeepneys. They are so little and the drivers just don’t see them in the chaotic traffic.
Once I saw a few kids playing and laughing, so I went there to see what they were doing. I watched them, realizing that these kids don’t have a single toy with which they could play with. They play with insects, stones or they play hand clapping games. They catch for example spiders and gamble which spider runs or climbs faster.
Most of the kids don’t go to school. The parents have no money for school, even when it’s a public school, you have to buy a school uniform and school supply and the kids have to be clean. And that’s often not possible for the street kids. An important step out of poverty is access to education. True Manila enables kids to go (back) to school. It costs around 3€ a day to send a kid to school (including school supplies, school uniform, fees and food).
In the last few weeks we helped in different ways. Listed below you can find the main projects. If there were donations like clothes or Christmas presents, we also distributed them.
Meal distribution for kids
We brought fresh cooked portions of food (eg. noodles, rice with meat) and fruits at small local stores/ street kitchens in the community. Then the kids gathered for getting food. All of them had to sit down and be quiet, so we could give every single kid some food. They had to behave, otherwise there would be chaos. It depends on the received donation, but if there is a bigger one, Edwin is able to organize meals for a few hundred kids. Costs: The cheapest meal costs around 0,50 € (rice with a bit meat), if you add a juice and a sweet roll as desert it’s 1 €.
Local stores & street kitchens
Food bags for poor families
Each food bag contained for example 2 kg of raw rice, 2 packs of instant noodles, 2 food cans, 2 packs of instant cocoa, and a few bananas and apples. That’s what one family needs to survive for another whole week. We drove around with a scooter to bring it to the homeless families or we visited communities like the Hidden Tunnel and gave each family one food bag. The value of one food bag was around 4 €.
Trip to the Park
One day we took a Jeepney and went with 40 kids, three moms and four volunteers to a playground in a park. The kids ran around and played so excited and happy, it was heartwarming. Usually they hang out on the streets, so this was a great opportunity for them to get out of there for a few hours.
Costs: entry fee: 0,20 €, lunch: 0,80 €, ice-cream 0,10 € (each), Jeepney: 16 € for 50 people and 5 € for each volunteer. (Info: Beside the free volunteers there are volunteers from the community. This is another way to support these people: The volunteers are teenagers from poor families and they get a little bit paid for their help.)
It was hard to write down all these impressions with True Manila because of this wide range of feelings I experienced: sadness, compassion, anxiety and dismay and on the other side happiness, kindness, humanity, gratitude and hope. If you are travelling and you want to see the real side of a city or country, join initiatives like this. Helping at True Manila was the best of all my travel experiences so far, especially because of the amazing people, their positive appearance and their smiling faces. The people I met there where amazing and I’m really grateful that Edwin showed me this side of Manila.
If you want to join or help True Manila visit True Manila on Facebook for more information.
Continue reading about my first experience with True Manila: Sharing Culture & Friendship.