I never imagined myself spending my Saturdays in a place that most normal people would look at as a dirty and disgusting place, but for people who have lived in poverty all their lives, it is a place where they might survive through starvation and more. In the past, I was just an ordinary girl who liked to read books and study my school lessons seven days a week. Back then, I was not fully aware of the depressing situation of the kids and their families in Ulingan in Tondo, Manila, Philippines, a small slum community inside a dumpsite which is surrounded with charcoal factories. I had never realized before that the people in this place need a helping hand with the situation that they are in.
I started volunteering in Ulingan last November through a non-government organization based in the US called "Project PEARLS." This organization, headed by Ms. Melissa Villa, aims to help underprivileged children in the Philippines by giving them peace, education, aspiration, respect, love and smiles. It was an early Sunday morning and it was raining when I went to Ulingan for the first time in flip-flops. I was not expecting the garbage, dirt and vermin swimming in the water that my feet would be submerged in. When I arrived at the learning center where the feeding program for the kids takes place, I was immediately saddened by the sight of them. Malnourished children had their faces smeared with dirt; some had sooty faces from working in the charcoal factories at a very young age, their bodies sporting soiled clothes either too small or too big for them, and some even have no clothes at all. Their feet, which should be clean, were instead muddy and shoeless. I was speechless at that time, thinking long and hard about how to help them in any way I can. The first thing I ever did to help was to tell them a story. The title of the book was There's a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss. I was amazed at how a simple story can distract from the reality that they are in, even for just a minute. After that first time I volunteered in Ulingan, I knew that my early Saturday mornings were already claimed by the kids in Ulingan to whom I wanted to give P.E.A.R.L.S. as much as possible.
I always cherish and appreciate these Saturdays that I now spend helping, volunteering and teaching in Ulingan -- a place where people like me are needed the most. It was overwhelming to think that the love and patience you give to them comes back to you a hundredfold. The kids that I taught come up to me, their hands filled with grubby paper bearing a simple letter of thanks to me for giving them time and never getting tired of teaching them something new. The older boys and girls join the kids in listening to what I say and teaching them was the best experience that I could ever have at this time in my life. Even though there's the reality of sometimes not even having time for myself anymore, my mind is already set on a wonderful future that might be waiting for them as time goes by and P.E.A.R.L.S. continue to rain down upon them. Reaching out to the kids of Ulingan has not only done them good, but has also made a really good change in my life, too. I think of myself as a lucky person because at this young age, I was already able to make a difference in my own simple way. That's way I stand up for peace, education, aspiration, respect, love and smiles for the underprivileged children not only in Ulingan but also in the Philippines. I will never quit.
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