The past two days have been a bit of a blur. Thanks to the 12 hour time difference between here and Toronto, I end up waking up multiple times during the night and being incredibly sleepy during the day. Yesterday I went for vespers, adoration and dinner at the Provincial House and I hate to admit it, but I kept falling asleep (for the WYD people reading this think first mass in Rome). It also did not help that during adoration they turned off most of the lights. Hopefully not too many sisters noticed!
As expected the Filipino culture is so different from what I am used to in Canada. When people go swimming here they wear tshirts and shorts on top of their swim suits (which I totally agree with….the less people who see my love handles the better!) A few people also seem very surprised when they learn that I’m from Canada, “But you Asian!” is a comment I receive a lot! But by far the funniest comment:
“Megan, if you are Indian why do you (nods up and down) instead of (does Indian head bob)?”
On Sunday afternoon I went with Sr. Jojo to mass at the nearby parish. The kids/teenagers who VIDES helps are in the choir for the children’s mass. They were so incredibly friendly and sweet and they have amazing voices! One of the teenagers (Jennifer) is a VIDES success story, she recently passed her nursing exam and has a bright career path ahead of her. After the service ended I noticed the church was packed again, Riza (VIDES volunteer) told me that on Sundays from 6am to 8pm straight they have mass every hour! And this is true for all the churches there!
Today morning I was feeling really homesick L But that soon changed because after breakfast I went to the VIDES office for my first day of work! In the morning I spent my time reading about the different outreach programs VIDES runs and in the afternoon I accompanied Sarah (Social worker who works with VIDES) to a village called Pasay. VIDES has a program called the Alternative Learning System (ALS) at the Don Bosco School. It is targeted at poor youth who in the past have engaged in criminal activity and as a result have been out of school for a long time. Every weekend they have classes to help them pass a government exam. Once they pass this exam they can start attending a regular high school. Today was high school enrollment day so the plan was to go to Pasay to pick up the kids who had recently passed the exam and then go to the nearby high school to enroll them. When we reached Pasay I was surprised, the place where the kids lived was more of a building with tons of families squeezed into it. We walked through this long path where on one side were small openings to family homes. On top there were rooms as well (like attics). Throughout the path there were kids playing, dogs, cats, roosters. The level of poverty was shocking and to my even greater surprise when we stopped outside a family home, inside I saw Janice (one of the children in the choir at Mass). I had no idea this is where she lived! When I saw her at Mass she was dressed in her Sunday best and was laughing and joking with all the other girls. Even today she was all smiles. I couldn’t believe that someone who lived in such poverty could be so joyful! After that initial shock wore off, I made an attempt to talk to some of the kids there with the help of a Tagalog phrase book I had. Only problem was that I have terrible pronunciation and a lot of the time the kids did not know what I was saying. They were still very friendly though and kept gathering around me. As we were waiting for the kids who needed to be enrolled, Sarah told me about how some of the parents are not very supportive of their kids going to school.. Finally we rounded up the kids and took them to the school. At the school they had to fill in some forms and wait in some long lines. Finally at around 3pm we were done and we headed back home. When we arrived back to the VIDES office Sr. Jojo was there. She told me that when VIDES first started the ALS program in 2003 the villagers did not support them at all. In fact when the volunteers and sisters would teach the kids they would spit on them and throw garbage at them. Over time though they had changed their minds after seeing how great the kids were doing. She also said that behind the family homes in Pasay there is a canal which is very polluted and during the monsoons when there water level rises, the homes get flooded with this polluted water and kids have to either sleep outside or in those attics I saw. Some of the kids’ parents were even in jail because they were caught stealing trying to provide for their families. As a result some children are largely unsupervised. When asked if they believe in God, some of them express doubts in His presence due to the fact that they have no one to care for them. It was really heartbreaking to hear all of this and by the time I got back to my room I was feeling very very grateful for all the blessings I have in my life. Even my room seemed a bit more luxurious in my eyes (even though it may still have a cockroach or two). Overall it was a day full of surprises, I cant believe I have 6 months more of this!