One of the best opportunities while being in the Philippines was the chance to give back to the less fortunate in life. The income disparity in that country was, and still is, insane. Travel any distance outside of Manila and you’ll see it in droves. For that matter, go a couple city blocks in Manila and you’ll see it.
The first chance I got was with Gawad Kalinga, basically the local organization equivalent of Habitat for Humanity. We traveled slightly north of Manila, to the provine of Bagong Silang. Our task was to help paint the province’s school and fence.
When we arrived, we noticed the school building already fully painted. Slight miscommunication on the organization’s point, but no matter. The fence, which turned out to be a wall, was begging for our paint brushes and rollers.
Our group of about 20 divided the wall into sections and got to painting. Under the blazing tropical sun, we made short work of the job at hand. And since we’d brought enough paint for the school building, we had plenty leftover.
The local villagers, noticing this, begged our assistance in helping to paint their shops and houses. Some poor souls didn’t even hesitate to await our response, slyly sneaking away with a paint bucket or two to complete the job on their own. I couldn’t find much fault with those thieves. These people were used to being ignored or let down by their leaders, and so they took matters into their own hands.
We did ultimately agree to help them, and so we wandered deeper into the province to find the way they lived. Buildings scattered all about, with hardly a rhyme or reason. A sari-sari store (convenience store to us Americans) seemingly every 3 or 4 houses apart. Homes didn’t seem to have doors, leaving their private lives exposed to the whole community.
Men walked about half naked, trying to keep cool from the hot summer sun. They watched eagerly as we painted. Women seemed to all be wearing pajamas in the middle of the day, most with a baby attached at the hip. Some folks were bathing themselves in the streets, lathering themselves with soap and then pouring a tabo over their heads.
Children ran around in groups, playing this game or that. Until they spotted the white guy in the group.
“Ang puti! Ang puti!” they would yell, pointing at me in amazement.
“They’re telling you you’re so white,” my friend told me.
“Thanks for noticing,” I’d reply back with a half smile.
We continued painting their storefronts and homes. Some of the locals joined in. Most just watched and told us how good a job we were doing. I can’t deny the questioning feeling of, “You look able. Why don’t you lend a hand as well?” But I suppose I shouldn’t have judged these men and just focused on providing the aid we came here to provide.
After finally running out of paint, I had a little more appreciation for the thieves. At least they went to paint it on their own. And saved my white skin another hour or two in the blazing hot sun.
When I arrived back at my apartment, I had new appreciation for the modern appliances I was afforded. Cool indoor airconditioning, a hot shower. Things I’d only complained about previously if they’d ever stopped working. Suddenly, they became things I had to be grateful of. Easily forgotten, of course, but something I still try to be mindful of even today.