I visited the Philippines, as part of my sabbatical from 15 July to 6 August 2019. This is a blog post recording my experiences in Tondo and Bagiuo working alongside the Purple Community Fund (UK) and Upskills+ (Philippines). Thank you to everyone who has supported me in this venture, both in prayer and financially, it’s very much appreciated.
The most recent entry is at the top – you might want to scroll down to the bottom of the page and read upwards.
And Finally …
My clock and certificate taking pride of place on my study wall. “Time in the Philippines is time well spent.”
Tuesday 6 August
There’s so much to consider for myself and the impact I may have had on those I’ve met, spoken to, prayed with, trained and got to know. Many people have said that I have given them so much but, as is often the case on these trips, they have given so much to me. I have learned so much about joy in the midst of the most difficult circumstances human beings can contend with. And yet life goes on: work, school, love, children, laughter, pain, sorrow, joy … I’ve been humbled, again and again, by their generosity of spirit and love of life and for the way they welcomed me into their hearts and homes.
I’ll miss them all dearly but they will live on in my heart and my prayers for a long time to come. And, if you are the praying kind, do say a prayer for the staff, volunteers, livelihood workers, beneficiaries and families at Upskills+ Tondo and Baguio.
I want to say Maraming Salamat Po to (mum) Jane Walker for the opportunity, and the trust she placed in me, to undertake so much training – it was a great privilege for me to be able to do so.
If you’ve been touched by some of the things you’ve read in this blog and all that PCF and Upskills+ are doing to support some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, do have a look at the Purple Community Fund website to find out ways you can help.
Flying back from Manila to Heathrow Airport – I finally arrived home after 25 hours hotel to door 10.00 pm (5.30 am Philippines time). My body clock was a bit disorientated. Took this photo just as we were coming in to land at Heathrow.
Monday 5 August
Sadly, my last day in Tondo and, indeed, in the Philippines, included a full days staff training looking at: Managing Conflict; Assertiveness and Gibbs’ reflective cycle! And what a fabulous group of gifted, compassionate, caring and committed people they are. It’s been a privilege to get to know them these past three weeks and to have the opportunity to lead two days of training for them. The evaluation forms were quite excellent and you can tell they’ve really grasped the training and the concepts I was trying to put across through the comments they’ve made.
Later in the afternoon there were lots of goodbye speeches and songs and tears and cake with some lovely things said about me. I think my greeting (which I said to everyone I met): “Hello, good morning, how are you today?” Will live on long after I have gone. Love always wins through as does a smile!
And finally, and certainly not least, these are the lovely ladies (Yolly, Wanuita, Evelyn and Emily) who provide 100’s of meals for breakfast and lunch 6 days a week, starting at 5.00 am. They really appreciated my popping into the kitchen every morning and thanking them after every meal. They signed the attached letter. I was deeply moved when they read it out to me.
Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August
All seminars were cancelled on Saturday because of inclement weather – flooding across Tondo and many roads impassable. Managed to get to the centre and spent the day talking with staff and some of the beneficiaries who go there for their breakfast and lunch every day.
Sunday was a bit lonely as plans to attend church and meet up with folk for lunch and dinner were cancelled because of the floods. Spent time updating this blog page and finalising my staff training for Monday. Also took the opportunity for a bit of a lie in!
Friday 2 August
Woken up at 4.00 am with heavy rain and thunder (and didn’t get back to sleep – I’ve since found out this was tropical storm Hannah!’). Not surprisingly, there was flooding on the roads around Pedro Gil station in Manila – I just didn’t expect it to be 18″ deep. I needed to catch a train to Balintawak so I decided to copy what the locals do and go for it … glad I was wearing my shorts and that I’m 6’1”. I’m wondering how families cope in their shanties in Tondo when the rain is like it is. To say they must be flooded is an under-statement. I’m also wondering if my vaccinations will be enough to protect me against any waterborne diseases! It was that, or miss out on …
A visit to the satellite Upskills+ centres in Bulacan and Pandi where families from shanty towns across Manila were relocated about five years ago. Some seem to have settled well, having moved with their immediate neighbours, and others have yet to make their house into a home.
All schools and colleges and some government buildings across Manila have been closed today because flooding. It’s rained non-stop for 36 hours. They say it’s a Typhoon and I quite believe them! This means I’ll probably have to students to reach tomorrow.
I spent an inspiring evening of friendship and testimony with this discipleship group in Tondo, Manila. I’m always humbled by the faith people have here and their love of life.
Thursday 1 August
A full day of training for the fabulous Upskills+ staff looking at leadership (characteristics and qualities) values (inherited core & aspirational) and compassionate resilience. A very thought provoking day for them all – and me – but productive in the longer term. More on Monday! Pleased that my M.A. in Missional Leadership is being put to good use – alongside my theological training, of course, and my experience in pastoral ministry.
Wednesday 31 July
Visited the old dumpsite on the mountain where some families have relocated. It’s amazingly fertile and many are growing their own vegetables both to eat and to sell. However, their houses are still shanties but at least they have space around them and the air is clean. It’s a bit of a hike to get there.
Spent the afternoon in the shoe workshop with the Tatay’s (fathers). Emmanuel gave nearly £2000 to help buy machinery for this project earlier in the year. Roy, who has been a cobbler his whole working life, has been training the fathers and he made a pair of flip-flops just for me. He said he’d never made a pair so big in all his life!
Tuesday 30 July
Spent time with the ladies in the ‘ring pull factory’ this morning. It’s amazing the quality of the items they produce. Such a lovely group of ladies who are mostly on ‘flexi-time’ to work around their families. It seems to work for everyone. Had a lovely conversation with Jamielyn about her faith in Jesus and an answer to prayer for her daughter.
In the afternoon I led a session on leadership for the parent volunteers from satellite centres across Manila. Some journeyed 4 hours to get there. Such a lovely group of ladies – and one man (far left on the back row)! They really do an amazing amount to support Upskills+ in their area. The certificate is so important to them and will be framed and put on their walls. And no, I’m not standing on a chair!
Monday 29 July
I had planned to have a relaxing day doing nothing until Maya contacted me asking if I wanted to go to the Senate Office with a friend of hers – Dr Chau! I didn’t need much persuading. RevPACman meets PacMan Pacquiao
Because all the museums etc, were closed were drove to Tayaytay City which is a bit of a tourist attraction about an hours drive south of Manila. I couldn’t resist the carrot cake in this fabulous coffee shop with this amazing view.
Sunday 28 July
Attended The Feast a lay led Catholic church, founded by Bro Bo Sanchez, in the International Convention Centre. It holds 4,000 people and there are four services every Sunday. It was amazing and inspiring and uplifting with fabulous worship (and strict 20 min sermons because if the time limits) and yet very Catholic when it came to the Eucharist. Such a contrast from last week.
I actually went to the above with Dr’s Joy and Lyn Malinit who my wife met at a conference in London, and whom I met also. Afterwards we went out for lunch with their mum to a Pancake House, then to SM, the third largest mall in South East Asia and then back to PICC for an evening concert #TAG – Truth and Gratitude, with some stunning performances from ‘Feast’ young people from across the Philippines performing excerpts from musicals. My fave, of course, was Les Miserables. There was a surprise appearance from 4th Impact, who, I must confess I had never heard of – apparently they took world by storm via X Factor. Boy could they sing – hugely impressed.
Saturday 27 July
Spent the day leading seminars for college students. I asked them what they were hopig to achieve in their lives, some said teachers or policemen, but one said she wanted to marry an Englishman – at least she was honest. I have to say there is something slightly nauseating about the age of the white men compared to their mail order brides around Manila. I can’t decide who’s most in the wrong.
Friday 26 July
Visited Naic, a site where 1000 families from shanties across Manila were relocated just over a month ago. Roland Matus, General Manager of Onocom Philippines, was with us and they have offered to draw up plans for a purpose-built building for a centre, school and livelihoods. Lots of dreaming taking place here. However, there is currently no infra-structure in place – it’s almost set up for self-governing with the strongest overpowering the weak. And, whilst the houses are much better than the shanties they were living in before, they are half-finished and (in my view) poorly built and with no electricity supply. In addition, the water source is contaminated with many of the children carrying skin diseases.
Finally decided to go to the Robinson’s Mall round the corner for a meal. I’ve managed to do with breakfast at the hotel and lunch at the centre thus far, but I’m feeling a little peckish. It’s an amazing place with more food outlets / restaurants that I’ve seen in my life.
It’s such a contrast to the shanties and I feel embarrassed eating here – spending a months wages for some on a meal. This was also the place where I was propositioned on several occasions. It seems that whilst having a large nose in the UK is often a source of ridicule, here it’s considered sexy!! I’m a Gwapo …
Thursday 25 July
Visited a few more families and I never cease to be amazed at peoples welcome and hospitality. Nanni Nida who has just had a pacemaker finished, Nanni Juanita (one of the volunteers in the centre kitchen) who shares her house with 10 others. Joyce who lives on her own in nothing more than a Rabbit hutch. Whilst I’ve had a few photo’s taken with those I’ve visited, I’ve not taken photo’s of the inside of people’s homes – it just doesn’t seem right to do so – though I’m sure they would say yes if I asked.
My audience for an afternoon of teaching on how to be a good parent (because I’m a perfect parent, of course) looking at ‘loving your child’ (which included a section on the five lurve languages) ‘being a good disciplinarian’ and ‘helping your child build character.’ We even had a conversation about ‘sex’ (which I’m told is a taboo subject and which my interpreter, Jiselle, was, at first reluctant to interpret) which seemed to go well! I have a way with words … Great fun and a very receptive group of mothers – about 80 in all – whom I’ve met, before and after, during my time here. They call me “Sir, pastor, Gwapo!” At least they won’t forget me in a hurry!
Wednesday 24 July
Back in Tondo – met Maya, a Filipino living in London, who’s setting up a foundation for sexually abused children in the Philippines. Visited a number of families to pray with them. I can’t decide if praying for them is the least I can do or the most I can do. Some people are living in the most unimaginable conditions – we treat animals better than this – and yet they have such a positive outlook on life. It’s humbling. A word I come back to again and again.
Monday 22 July
The morning was spent training parent volunteers on leadership and the afternoon was spent downtown with Pastor and Pastora. No photos!
Last photo in with my wonderful ladies and their Gwapo. What a wonderful blessing they have been and how moving their speeches were at our last meal together. I bought some ice cream – a once a year treat for them. I also ate with my fingers – it’s surprising how much easier eating fish (any guesses what kind of fish it is?) is with your fingers when trying to separate it from the bones.
Sunday 21 July
Needed a change from rice and so taught my ladies how to make eggy bread – with a little ketchup on the side.
Spoke at Pastor Leo’s church ‘The Sower Church of the Nazarene’ the highest church on Baguio mountain and it was a real struggle to get there. I preached on Nehemiah 8:10 ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Whilst only about 50 present, the worship was intense and uplifting (I knew many of the songs). It seems as though when people are worshipping all their cares and worries slip to one side and they focus heavenward. I’m humbled by Pastor Leo and Pastora Lyn’s faithful service. We have so much to learn from their approach to church. This was followed by a bring and share lunch. I passed on the stewed chicken feet – though it smelt delicious and so was the sauce. However …
Saturday 20 July
A great day teaching on leadership and preparing for employment with a group of young people – all of whom are sponsored through PCF.
Friday 19 July
So, I’m into my fifth day here in the Philippines, having spent 3 days in Manila / Tondo and this is my second in Baguio. I’m currently in the PCF Centre on the dumpsite in Baguio. There is very little phone connection. No wi-fi and it’s been difficult to update my blog because if this, so it will be updated when I get back to Manila.
It’s wet, damp, mosquitos everywhere – the dumpsite is on marshland – and I’m feeling more than a little chilled. All my clothes are damp when I put them on – though my conditions are much better than the 15,000 who live here.
I’ve visited some of the families who live on the dumpsite – I had the privileged opportunity to pray for them too. The dumpsite (or dream site as some refer to it) is a maze of narrow streets and cobbled together houses, though most of them are built of concrete, with tarmac main roads, not at all like the shanty in Tondo. Families are proud to live here and value the support of the community they live in. They say they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. My M.A. dissertation was on the theme of community and so it shouldn’t surprise me that they enjoy living here, but it does.
Editha has lived here for 53 years, since she was born in fact. She owns a store and has set up an internet café on her premises. Some of the residents are quite entrepreneurial. I guess that comes from making a living collecting plastic, glass and tin on the dumpsite.
Lazarus (53) has lived here for 25 years and makes his living out of buying and selling. When I was first introduced to him, I asked him how he was, he replied, with a twinkle in his eye: “I’m still alive!”
This is Thelma (20), with her mum Agostina, who is graduating from college in English and she has aspirations to be a Secondary school English teacher.
Beatrice (33) has suffered from heart failure since she was nine and hasn’t left her home during that time. She lives at the bottom of a steep hill that was a struggle for me to walk never mind her.
In the afternoon Pastor Leo and my ladies (I call them my security detail) went on a sightseeing trip around Baguio City and I treated them to their favourite meal BBQ chicken in a fast food chain called Insala.
Thursday 18 July
Travelling from Manila to Baguio on VIP coach! Very comfortable.
I thought it was a four hour journey but it turned out to be six hours. I’ve since learned that Baguio City is the summer city not because it’s warm and sunny, but because people come here for rain and the cool air of 17’. I sat next to Oman who had travelled from Saudi Arabia to spend four days in the cool and rain. I guess if you’re in constant 40/50’ plus you can understand.
I met Pastor Leo, pictured with his wife Lyn, who is my host and intreperter for my stay in Baguio – he took me to the centre on the dumpsite where I was introduced to the ladies who are looking after me during my stay, breakfast, dinner and tea (L-R): Meribel, Agnes, Grace and Leah, along with the social worker, Angeline (who’s a spitting image of singer / songwriter Danni Nicholls) fortunately, they all speak English!
Wednesday 17 July
This is Jomar who will be my guide and interpreter whilst I’m in Tondo.
Jomar is one of the first children Jane met when he was 3 yrs old. He went through school and college through sponsorship from PCF. Jomar is now 23 yrs of age and is well known, and obviously well loved, in the community. He still lives their sharing a house of two rooms which he shares with his sisters, cousins and nieces – 8 in all. Jomar sleeps on the kitchen floor!
Jomar gave me a further tour of the dumpsite and find there is clinic, market and internet cafe. Normal things for everyday life when everyday life is far from normal. I was quite taken back. The quality of life here is pitiful. Many people have long term health issues that are not easily remedied due to a lack of finance and location. However, many inhabitants work in the city and commute from here and many children and young people attend school. PCF currently supports nearly 1,000 students through school and, for many, that is a 12 to 16 year commitment. More sponsors are needed as they have reached their current capacity. Great to meet Simon Lewis who has a vision to build a gym on the dumpsite. More info here
The hotel is quite some distance from the centre and I’ll be making my own way each day so Marcel (who heads up the livelihoods) showed me how to do it via Trike, Jeepney and Train. Being 6’1″ creates lots of problems when everything is designed for people under 5’6″ – I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve bumped my head on something or other.
Tuesday 16 July
Up early so I went for a walk through the surrounding streets. Very humid, even at 7.00 am. This is breakfast Filipino style. Filipino’s eat rice with EVERY meal – guess I’ll get used to it.
A group from Burgate school in Hampshire are coming to the end of their stay so I tagged along in their mini-bus to the Upskills+ (name of PCF in the Philippines) centre in Tondo. Jane took me on a tour of the dumpsite – which has to be seen to be believed. I know I’ve seen photos and videos and knew something of what to expect, but it doesn’t prepare you for the putrid smell and the dank, sticky air which seems to cling to your skin and clothes.
Child labour is growing in Tondo as families feel the loss of income after the dump site closed. Many children work to support their families through scavenging. This is Melissa who attends the morning sessions in the local government school (5.00 am to 12.00 noon). Her 8 month brother is under the umbrella while she shifts through the leftover foods from the fast food restaurants for pieces of food for her mum to refry tonight – known as Pag Pag. Melissa is eight years old. She’s a student, baby-sitter and providing an income for her family. I’m lost for words. It’s an all too familiar sight.
Monday 15 July
Arrived in Manila Airport at 6.40 pm (7 hours ahead) after a 13 hour flight which was surprisingly comfortable – I even managed to get a few hours’ sleep. I met Jane and Marcel at the airport. I’m booked into the UCCF Shalom Christian Hotel and ready for a good nights sleep. However, I find it quite amusing that they are asking guests to follow a ‘proper decorum’ by keeping noise to a minimum and my room is right next door to the Korean Methodist Church who are singing their heads off and disturbing my sleep. Hmmm … time to put my headphones on.
There are 7641 islands in the Philippines – many of them tropical paradises. However, there are also areas of extreme poverty and I’m going to the Luzon where I’ll be visiting families who live on rubbish dumps in Tondo (north of Manila) and Baguio (the summer city of the Philippines in the north of the Luzon). I think I know what to expect through videos and photos, but I’m guessing these won’t really prepare me for the reality of life in those places.