“I want to make a difference but I don’t know how…” this seems to be my much loved line nowadays. How can I make a difference indeed if I myself have been besieged with an infirmity that seemed to rob me out of the will to live at times?
Then I remember, “The power of the words is mightier than the sword”. So, with this comes the ember of impetus ablaze in my heart that with my lexis I would be able to convey the stark reality of the world we live in.
Everyday, I hear tragic stories about death and poverty. They come as one…nobody can contest that. I personally had a glimpse of these sufferings first hand. I would never get immune to heartrending stories about scarcity compelling me to exert a little effort to lessen if not to entirely eradicate this problem.
How many of us know that approximately 246 million children work? That 171 million of them work in hazardous conditions? That 134 million children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never been to school? I guess not that many because I too wasn’t aware at first of this.
To make the number easier for us to comprehend let us take a closer look in our own country, the Pearl of the Orient- Philippines. More than one out of three people live in poverty. They are out in the streets but most live in slum areas scampering in tiny abode made up of rubbish vulnerable with the threat of deadly diseases.
Our country is not all about hidden treasures that voyagers professed to be. Behind the cascading waterfalls, magnificent beaches, splendid chocolate hills, and the breath- taking perfect cone volcano is the disheartening truth that our country is filled with fraught people living helplessly everyday with barely a scant of food to eat.
I could still vividly remember that afternoon. After more than an hour of searching for the house of *Marlon who was recommended to us by a friend to take care of our dogs while we were having a vacation in Manila, I was greeted by a boy about three years old with his toothless grin. He was wearing only soiled shorts with mud covering his face.
When I asked about his father, he pointed me to their house- made of tarpaulin. It clearly came from the banners used in the Peñafrancia fiesta. The roof was nothing more than a dirty plastic covering. The inside of the house was visible because of big holes that adorned the plastic walls. I needed to bend upon entering for fear that the whole house would crumble upon me.
There inside the house, Marlon and his wife with other seven small children shared a bowl of noodles. I heaved a moan of discomfort. The sight left me repulsive -not to the dirt surrounding me but with the ugly reality shouting in my face.
Marlon has no job. He was just laid off from his work as a janitor. How can a family with ten mouths to feed survive each day? The empirical study that links illiteracy to poverty seems to be the predicament in his case.
The help we gave him surely lasted for only several days. I knew that he would found himself again confronted with where to get the food to feed his family.
Living with Alms
In one of the busiest street in the heart of Bicolandia, Naga City, near the line of banks and malls was another revolting spectacle. A mother cradling in her arms a malnourished baby. They were there day and night waiting for mercy from generous people.
The mother despite of grubby ragged clothes looked young maybe in early twenties. The last time I visited Naga her stomach was round again clearly she was expecting another baby.
Her situation is not much different to children selling sampaguita on street, or those young and old parading around the roads, knocking on the car windows pulling other people’s shirts to give them a glance and perhaps with compassion enough to give them several pesos for their food. If not, they would end up foraging amidst the garbage piles all over the city looking for something to stuff their grumbling stomach.
Race with Death
On the way to Manila, you would find out how severe the problem is in poverty. As soon as you enter Quezon area, you would see children racing with cars begging for some pesos amidst the danger they were into.
Then upon arriving in Manila, you would be greeted by children hanging in the moving cars to clean the shoes of the passengers or rushing in the multitude of cars to sell rags. An impending peril awaits them- their lives equivalent to some coins.
The race to totally exterminate poverty seems to be still elusive in the hands of poor Juan Dela Cruz. The poverty threshold differs but there is that ever present hopelessness that hampers the decent life being aspired by every family.
Children suffer more than the adults in this game of poverty. Their lives are always in gamble. They are victims long before they were born.
It was supposed to be a happy Sunday for me and Ma. But instead of the usual dinner in a restaurant for Mother’s Day, we opted to visit an institution that caters to less fortunate people giving them hope to live.
Most of those who were there are children- angels who were born not only poor but with handicapping conditions. There were *Mayeth and *Boboy who have cerebral palsy and could barely talk, *Calvin who was autistic, *Ryan who was mildly retarded and countless other children who were under the care of strangers because their own families abandoned them.
We spent that day full of bitter sweet memories. We heard mass and played with them. Then with their caretakers we were told of how they were abandoned because their family could hardly support their needs.
We ended up that day with a void in our hearts knowing that there were innocent lives in that shelter waiting for generous strangers to pass by so that they could continue living.
How many times have we watched on television about abandoned children on street? How many times did the news flash about dead babies found inside garbage bag? They were thrown like junk in the pile of litter only because their parents could not afford another mouth to feed.