Thursday, 20 October 2011

How the other half live

Yesterday, invited by Father Mac, we took a break from curriculum planning, and went out into some of the very poorest parts of Cebu City to see his feeding programme. Departing from Lourdes parish, Fr Mac, along with six student volunteers, themselves Don Bosco "scholars" - students who couldn't afford to pursue their studies but who are supported to do so by the Salesians; takes food to children, mothers and others living in abject poverty around they city.

Three times a week they take cooked rice, lentil stew, some vegetables and a little meat. Some people arrive with containers to collect the food; plastic plates and spoons are provided for those who come empty handed. The main recipients are mothers who come to collect food and take it home for their children to eat after school; and children, called from in amongst the shacks to come and eat. Poorly clothed and barefoot, the children none the less mostly wore beaming smiles (and loved having their photos taken!)

We know that the TVED students, with whom we'll mostly be working, are poor: the training is designed to offer opportunities to out of school youth who couldn't otherwise study; but the poverty we saw at the feeding programme was another thing altogether. Not an easy thing to see, but a very important reality to be aware of.

This is a daily reality for many here in Cebu. But, equally, it should be added, it is also not the daily reality for many other Philippinos. It would be very easy to present only this reality, or at least to emphasise it. It is those things which shock us and which are outside our normal realities which most draw our attention and comment. And it is good that we are shocked by what we see, because this shouldn't be anyone's reality.

We are less conscious of photographing and writing about shopping malls that wouldn't look out of place in a Western European city, or laden meal tables, or fast food chains or the ubiquitous starbucks. But these things are also just as much a part of life here, and are the daily reality for many Philippinos, just as poverty is for many others ... and of course everything in between.

A land of contrast and diversity, Philippinos are rich, middle classed, poor, destitude, and everything in between; but right now the poverty of some very hungry children is fresh in my mind and is likely to remain imprinted on it for ever.

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