Bryan: Philippines, Visit 1
We visited Abby, a girl my wife sponsors, yesterday (mid-July) in metro Manila. She’s almost 21 and just graduated from university, with a degree in psychology. She’s been in the program for probably 14 years, but had never gotten a letter until my wife, Ginger, started sponsoring her 5 years ago. They’re pretty close now. But both were very nervous about the visit.
We started off by going to the center – the organization center that hosts the sponsoring. They have counselors, activities, etc. The kids are required to participate in various activities, largely geared toward building skills and keeping them out of trouble. We met various people from the center, then went to Abby’s home.
She lives with her grandmother, her dad, an aunt, a couple cousins and a few others. Her mother left about 18 or 19 years ago. Abby has seen her once since. Both her dad and aunt work, so there are two incomes in the home, which is a bit unusual. Her dad is a traffic cop. I’m not sure what her aunt does.
As is typical, the visit with the family was pretty emotional. It’s always emotional for Ginger. This one also was for Abby’s grandmother. It’s pretty typical for the mother/grandmother/aunt – whomever is raising the child – to cry. I think it has to be pretty special to meet the woman who has put her granddaughter through college. Abby was pretty touched, as well. The relationship has been pretty strong with Philippine kids, as they learn English in school and can communicate better.
The below picture (with Abby’s cousin) is a path between structures to get to the home. You’ve got to walk down a few increasingly narrow paths to get there. The buildings are all either cinderblock or stone/coral block. They don’t use wood in this climate, as it doesn’t last well. Tin roofs. They don’t have the money to add windows to many of these, so they are very dark. And very small. Privacy is a pipe dream. Walking to her home, down one of the wider paths, we walked by a boy, probably ten, who was taking a shower on the path. That’s where they have the space. I also saw people shaving, et cetera on the path or sidewalk. They have had electricity in the home, but it probably isn’t more than a couple bare bulbs. You can see power lines in the pictures. They have running water, which is huge. I suspect it might not be more than one faucet at the house. And they carry water to where they need it. Many of the kids we visited in Africa had to walk/bike for a mile or more to get a jug of water. I didn’t see anyone biking the water jugs around in the Philippines so far.
The center director told us Abby’s home was better than nearly all the other kids in the center. Probably that two-income thing.
The monthly fees my wife sends pay for school fees, medical insurance, some food, the counseling, etc. Medical insurance is unusual. Some countries have it and others don’t. For instance Rwanda has it, but Uganda and Tanzania don’t. Probably another sign of a slightly more developed country.
Overall, the Philippines seems to have a much more developed middle and upper class than the African countries we visited. It might just be Manila (compared to, say, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Kigali, Accra). I’ll report back after seeing some outlying areas.
We did drive a few hours outside of Manila on Sunday. Definitely some more decent infrastructure. Gas stations with fast food restaurants. Lots of McDonalds. Not bad roads. And then people in conical hats farming rice paddies with water buffalo. That adds to my thoughts that the outlying areas might be less developed. There was also a pretty serious effect of the Mt Pinatubo volcano eruption in 1992. It caused the US to shut a naval base permanently, which, I’m sure had a devastating effect on that area.
This vehicle is a Jeepney. They started as surplus jeeps that the US military left behind. They were turned into mini-buses. They hold about 20 people plus a driver and cost literally pennies for a short ride. They are highly decorated and pretty entertaining to watch. This one is pretty boring. You can see they get pretty crowded too. But they are all over! Some routes more than others, but everyone rides them. The red signs in the background are for hotel rooms. P195 is just over $4. The P375 is $8. Sound like pretty ritzy joints.
This is the turn into the final skinny path to Abby’s. This is essentially some other family’s front porch, with all the laundry, bathtub, shoes, etc. (And the faucet.) The guy in the orange shirt is our guide. When we do this we have a guide all the time. We need someone who can make problems disappear and that’s what they do. The fun part is that they are typically tour guides (or safari guides). Avito (in the orange shirt) is used to taking tourists around. Then he gets a gig like this. “OK we’re going to the dirt-poor village, where no tourists ever go on a bet, to find a building where there’s people waiting for us. Then we’ll go visit this very poor family’s home. They’re expecting us. Here’s a phone number to contact to get directions.” The fun part is that most of them really get into it. They become part of the event. Translating, facilitating. In this case, Avito could easily have stayed in the truck and waited for us. But, nope. He wanted in on it. We wound up going out to lunch (my dime, of course) – the entire family, guide, driver and us. Pretty wild.
In Ghana two years ago, we had a guide who was rather stuffy. He had his routines and spiels that he didn’t want to vary from. Especially visiting the slave castles (which are worth the trip to Africa, by themselves). So we drug him to two obscure villages. He very quietly observed what we were doing and went everyplace with us. A couple days later, he was dropping us at the airport. He went into his canned speech, thanking us for our business, etc. Then he stopped and said, “But mostly, I want to thank you for what you’re doing for the children of Ghana.” And then started wiping away tears.