A HEART FOR THE PHILIPPINES
When I lived in Manila for two years, I spent Saturday mornings with a street children’s feeding program called Street Dwellers Outreach Ministries Inc. We would open the rusty gates of a small church in one of the poor urban areas and welcome families from nearby shanty villages for fun, fellowship and food. We would serve the children hot chocolate (despite the hot weather!) and then gather to sing songs of praise and worship. Oh what a joy it was to see the children jumping around and clapping their hands, swingin’ and swayin’ and smilin’ to the lively beat!
While I took the kids to play games and do art projects, Alfredo—the ministry’s co-founder and director– would preach a sermon for their parents. We would end by serving a hot meal and eating together.
Overall attendance was sporadic–between 10 and 50 kids–but one small group of about 10 girls came back week after week without fail. Each time they would leave saying, “Magkita tayo sa susunod na lingo Ate Ali…mahal kita!” (See you next week big sister Ali… love you!). We would shower each other with hugs and kisses. Then they would leave in the sweltering heat for their shanty village, or what locals call, “squatter area.” I would stand waving good-bye until I couldn’t see them anymore. My heart ached every time.
Week after week, the bond with the children- particularly with the “posse” of girls- grew stronger and stronger. Though my Tagalog-speaking was mediocre at best, and they knew only a bit of English, it didn’t matter. Just being there –laughing, singing, watching them perform dances they had choreo graphed themselves–bonded us as sisters. I considered it a great honor, privilege and blessing beyond measure.
When the time came to leave the Philippines to move to Singapore, I felt I was leaving a part of myself there with these kids. I had grown to love them as my own, or what I can imagine a parent’s love to be like. I honestly didn’t know if I would see them ever again. The thought was painful to ponder.
No longer seeing the children each week remained a great source of sadness for me during my first few months in Singapore. They had been such a big part of my life there and now that I was in this new place, I felt paralyzed with a deep sense of loss and yet a new feeling of responsibility.
After several months, I decided to make the trip back to Manila. I got in touch with Alfredo and asked him if we could plan a reunion with some of the children. You see, the “street” environment is such that the kids have the freedom to run on their own, which can make it difficult to pin them down. But Alfredo and his volunteer assistant, Nonie, knew where the children stayed. It was definitely worth a shot.
I arrived at the church early, feeling eager and anxious. As I hoped and prayed for each little girl, I didn’t know who would show up–would anyone? The next thing I knew, I was tackled to the ground, surrounded by giggling girls. I looked around and to my amazement, nearly every single little girl I had hoped to see was there! It was truly a heavenly reunion and one mightily answered prayer.
DREAMS TAKE SHAPE
The eldest of the group–Justine–was graduating from high school the following week. She was the “ring leader” who always brought the girls and took care of the little ones. She was one of my main helpers and translators on those Saturday mornings when I struggled through broken Tagalog to teach a lesson.
I was thrilled about her successful completion of high school. She planned to get a job at Jollibee, a local version of McDonalds, to start making money to help support her family– a common practice in the poorer communities. She dreamed of college but it was just too expensive.
Afterwards, Justine remained in my mind, her dream stirring in my thoughts, “Hmm, how much would it would cost to send her to college? How can we make her dream a reality?” I asked Alfredo and Nonie, who had known Justine for years, about her academic standing and ability. They confirmed she was definitely capable. Cost was the only barrier.
I was reminded of the ancient proverb, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27).
That was the end of the conversation and the beginning of a new heartfelt mission: to find a way to support Justine (and the other girls as they come of age) through college.