True Manila Manila, Philippines

Thirty years ago, there was a boy. He lived in the streets. He had no parents to take care of him as they weren't doing well themselves. One morning he saw an American couple walking down the street, he followed them for a few hours. At first they didn’t understand why he was following them, he waited outside their door for a few hours. Eventually they realized that maybe the boy is hungry. They give him something to eat and drink. A few days later, the couple walked in an area quite far from their home, and from where they first saw the boy. Here they saw the boy sleeping alone in the street. They realized what a long distance the boy walked the other day just to get something to eat. Every now and then the couple brought food for the little guy. After a year they moved back to the United States. They gave him their address and asked him to be in contact with them. They sent him letters every few months and eventually they started sending him money to go to school. And indeed, the boy used this money for school, and later he even finished college. Thanks to this great couple the boy was able to leave the streets and get an education. He didn’t fall prey to drugs like his friends and brothers who lived in the streets. Later on the boy also re-connected with his father and sisters.

During my stay in Manila in October 2016, a friend of mine told me about a local man named Edwin, who lives in Manila and conducts special tours named "True Manila". In this tour you have a chance to really get to know the city and to help and volunteer with the locals who need the help. The guy thought that I would like this kind of active tour. Immediately I sent Edwin a massage saying that I would like to join a tour. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I trusted my friend who knew me and knew this would interest me. Edwin straight away cleared off 2 hours in the morning. He asked each one of us to give a donation to buy the kids some food during the tour. I was so happy to have the chance to help and do something meaningful with my money. I spent a month and a half in this amazing country, with the most king, gentle and courteous people that I have ever met. And for the last two days of my vacation I was glad I had an opportunity to reward and help a few children who need this more than I did. I invited a girl from Hawaii that I met at the hostel to join me, and right away she immediately accepted and was also glad for the opportunity. When we arrived at the meeting point, I felt a bit uncomfortable, as if I was not supposed to be here. It was a poor neighborhood, crowded and dirty, with wire fences separating the roads. But soon enough, as we walked down the street with Edwin, I realized how much soul these streets have. I didn’t feel threatened at all. Although all the difficult situations that these people faced with, things that we never realize, they have so much happiness within them, they smile, hug, love, laugh and play.

First, Edwin invited us to his house. He thinks that in order to help this community, we need first to see how and where they live. As we entered the house, there were many children greeting us. They all looked about the same age, which was surprising. We climbed up a wooden crowded staircase. In each of the 4 floors we climbed, one of his sisters lived with her family in one crowded room. After a short acquaintance we went to the street, immediately some children jumped on us and were happy to see us. We gave them some candies that we brought beforehand and also we bought some candies from other children who sold them on the street. 30-50 children gathered around us, they sat so patiently while waiting for us to serve them food and drinks. This situation is opposite of what you expect from street child, who have nothing to eat.

Something about the Filipino nation caught me, they are so friendly, gentle and polite. I didn’t feel any danger at all in this country, even though I was a girl travelling by myself. After we finished serving the cookies and drinks, we went to the market and bought a big bag of rice to cook and serve the children. Some of the kids were in bad condition, wearing ripped clothes and with wounds. But the way they acted didn't reflect the way they looked. They didn’t look poor at all. They smiled and continuously hugged us in order to say thanks. They need this warmth and attention. They are just kids.

The plan was to go up and cook the rice, but we couldn't leave the children and therefore followed them to an inner court yard, with a community kitchen and many simple dwellings. We walked among the houses and played with the children. I entered one of the houses in order to see how they live. The room was quite bare with hardly any furniture, only mattresses and occasionally a TV set from the 1980's. I can't start to describe in what terrible filthy and crowded condition they live (and these are the lucky ones that have roof over their heads). Despite this, the people do not seem miserable at all. Only in our culture we see them as such. Only after a successful hour of taking photos and mingling with the kids, we returned to Edwin's house.

He opened his computer and started telling us stories. He started with the same story I started here. He told the story so emotionally that I felt I could touch his soul in his eyes. I felt that he had some personal connection to it and that there was something else in his story. When he finish I realized something, I looked deep into his eyes and asked him: was that boy was you? He answered: yes!

It was an emotional moment that I will never forget, I felt like I had known him for many years. I didn’t believe, I couldn't understand this. It was unbelievable, from a street child, to a family man with a house and a job. I could never really understand what he went through in life because I never lived on the street, especially as a small child without a family to take care of you. I looked at him and the three of us started to cry and hug. It was a very emotional scene. After that he showed us some photos of the American couple 30 years ago, and also a photo of him that they took. It was amazing, it turns out that the couple came to Manila in order to volunteer to build houses for those in dire need. That’s the reason why they were so sensitive, helpful and caring to little Edwin. A year ago he was able to raise some money and he flew to visit them.

He showed us a video how he surprised them at their home, it is evident how difficult it was for him, and how strong the connection is between the couple and him. It was an amazing video, really emotional, Edwin shed a tear when he remembered this moment.

Later he showed us photos of the children from his project, and a photo of a child sleeping on a carton alone in the street that he took back in 2012. This kid touched him especially because he could see how comfortable the kid was at the carton. He saw this kid in some more photos from his project and then realized that he is one of the kids that come to his tours.

He decided to help him, he invited him to eat with them every day. He also rented him a room so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the street, and even paid him school tuition. It was like his story all over again. Later on he decided to adopt him. The kid's name is Evan. The boys came to greet us and we saw him, smiling and happy. You couldn't imagine that he was a street kid not so long ago. We hugged him and he was so happy. It is so amazing to see those stories alive and breathing in front of your eyes. So emotional and humane. Edwin him self is living day by day, he doesn't have a lot of money. He's doing these tours because that’s his way to help those children, and do what he's really good at. He spends every free moment he has on this project, and feels fortunate that he can feed and somehow rescue these children from the streets.

10 years ago his home was burnt down by fire, and nothing was left. He showed us photos and told us how people came from all over town to help. Even rich people and people with high status jobs who don’t know him, came and helped to build together a new house. It is so amazing to hear all these humanitarian stories, and what people can do for each other even though they did not know each other before. I left there with great satisfaction, that I got the opportunity to hear all these amazing stories and to meet all those special people, and most of all that I have the power to help them. The story is not ending here; this is only the beginning of something greater. I know that the photos and spreading the word about this project can be really helpful, and in this, I want to take a part in the "True Manila" project also.

Until next time, Daphna.

For more detail about this project you can visit the....

A small movie about True Manila I found on Youtube:

The End


(c) Daphna Stern

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