We have arrived! We landed here in Manila late on Friday night and got going first thing Saturday morning. We spent Saturday morning and early afternoon with Project PEARLS. Their site is located in a small squatter community in a neighborhood of Manila called Ulingan. The community is literally located in a garbage dump on the shore of the ocean and the main source of income for most families is coal. They make the coal themselves by collecting scrapwood and burning it in homemade furnaces. The men collect and burn the wood, the women bag it, and the children go through the ashes for nails that they can then sell by the kilogram. needless to say, they lead lives of great hardship.
The children rarely have shoes that fit properly, or any shoes at all. Their food source is mainly scraps of bones from the garbage dump that they boil down to create soups and their homes are regularly flooded during heavy rains. PEARLS runs a feeding program for the children as well as a scholarship program. The litclub serves the older girls in the program. Pam and i got to observe the club which is run by a group of four young volunteers who are fun, excited and passionate about our work.
I was personally shocked by the amount of garbage, mud and intense coal fumes in the community, but Pam said it is actually very similar to Kibera in its look minus the fumes. Something we both noticed is how much people work in this community. Everyone is doing something productive, there were very few people just sitting.
After the program we went to a local fast food chain to celebrate the August birthdays. The kids LOVED it. They got to play, eat and be children. Melissa, the director of PEARLS, said that often the kids can't come to program because they are working, so it was a joy to see them actually have time to just play dance and sing. At the same time, they are all so mature. They helped clean all the tables voluntarily, and they all brought some food home for their families in doggy bags as many of these young children are the sole caretakers of younger siblings.
The people of the Philippines are generous, kind, light-hearted and believe in the power of good work. The work of PEARLS and Real Life is incredibly thoughtful, and it shows in every detail of their programming, which fits so perfectly in to the needs of the communities in which they are located.