As a part of the global social enterprise project, we visited two garment factories in the Philippines yesterday. Today we got up early and went to visit Center for Community Transformation, our client’s feeding program for street dwellers.
As I observed the workers in the garment factory and the street dwellers, I cannot avoid comparing my life and lives of the people I know with theirs. The workers in the garment factory are engaging in very mechanical tasks – cutting fabrics, folding and sewing, ironing clothes, boxing. They work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, get a lunch time break by lining up and eating at the dining hall. I can’t imagine living that kind of life. How exhausting it must have been, repeating the same thing, day after day, year after year.
Worse yet is the lives of the street dwellers. Although I have seen many of them in China, but never to the scale of the ones in Manila. In 1 district alone in Manila, there are 50,000 street dwellers, people without jobs, identifications or even names. In the 13 districts, there are more than 600,000 of them. How is life living on the street of a developing country? Men wandering around, conduct robbery and using drugs. Women engage in prostitution. Teenagers who can’t read or write properly and not going to school. There are so few ways to break out of this generational poverty.
Often people who live on the upper end of the society are too busy enjoying drinks in nice restaurants, selecting beautiful pieces of branded clothes, talking about the latest trends and fashion and concerts to go to. They forgot that people who live in poverty exist, in this same world. The teenage girls who came from villages, hoping to find a job as a house maid or a server in a restaurant, ended up getting all of their money and IDs taken away, and forced into prostitution. Teenage boys who has nothing left, living under bridges, on the river banks, relying on drugs to sustain them until age 40, maybe age 50. When I was observing the children waiting for food from the hands of the NPO workers, my heart sunk so deeply. One of them was a pretty little girl with long straight hair, just like my hair. She was looking on the ground, killing ants as the worker directly her to say Catholic prayers (Philippines is a very Catholic country). Her look was so innocent. I could not accept the fact that she would most likely turn out to be a drug addict or a sex worker in the future. What type of future is that?
What the NPO workers said was right. For people like them, the biggest issue is trust. After living on the street for years and years, with no one to rely on, no one to turn to, they have lost faith, in almost everything. No one would be there to catch them when they fall. No one. Most of them do not even want to tell the NPO workers or government social workers their true names. They are in denial. They gave up.
I thought there was one more thing, and that was hope. When we went observing a microfinance program for the former street dwellers who wanted a change of life (they’ve done through the feeding program, savings program and retreat program and exhibited self-control) and the program coordinator told us to say something to them, I thought I would say something that gave them hope. I told them that my grandparents were living in conditions similar to theirs and that my mom was a very strong, entrepreneurial woman just like them. And now I am at a great university. And if they try hard and not give up, their children, too, can have a good life.
I am glad I get to meet these people today. I thought I had almost forgotten who I am and where I came from. I hope I do not get buried in Manhattan. I hope one day I can live the way I want and work for the people who mean the most to me. My wish is that day comes sooner than later.