Joy in the Face of Poverty

  • by Shala Graham
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As I looked out the window from the back of a jeepney in the small community of Matictic in the Philippines, I wondered if the people in the community that we came to serve really lived in poverty…or if they were even aware that they were poor. My eyes saw poverty in the makeshift homes with rusted tin roofs and dirt floors, but I also saw hearts that glowed with joy, something the rich can’t buy. So I often found myself perplexed, questioning what is real poverty because of the encouraging spirits of the Filipino people.

As you can probably tell, in this month’s newsletter, we’re taking a break from our typical nonprofit design topics so that I can share the amazing experience I had partnering with nonprofits to serve people in the Philippines just a couple weeks ago. If you were one of the many people or businesses who donated to my mission trip, thank you! You rock!

Did you know?

Almost 28% of [Filipinos] are poor. A family of five can be considered extremely poor if it is earning P5,458 ($126) a month or just enough to put food on the table. The same family has to earn at least P7,821 ($195) if it wants to satisfy other non-food needs such as clothing. (source: Poverty level in Phl unchanged since ’06)

Only July 1, 2013, I left the DC area with eight others on a church mission trip to support the work of Food for the Hungry (FH) in Matictic, Philippines. I extended my stay in the country in order to visit the children that SW Creatives sponsors through Compassion International and to visit my mother’s side of the family, ending my journey on July 13. Each leg of this trip was packed with life-changing experiences and, in some cases, gut-wrenching realities. Because there is so much to share, the Compassion International visits and family visits will be a part of future blog posts. As you continue to read and watch the video, I welcome you not only into my trip, but into my heart and mind.

The Mission Trip: Serving the Children of Matictic

Within the course of a week, our mission trip team of nine people completed a wide variety of service projects, including home visits with water filter distribution, disaster relief training with disaster kit distribution, and an overnight sports camp. We stayed in the home of a family with a team of volunteer mothers cooking Filipino food for us and washing our clothes (that was awesome)! We didn’t have air conditioning or hot water, but we did have plumbing and a safe place to stay. I usually woke up between 4:00 and 4:30am to have my personal devotional time before breakfast was served at 6:30am. After breakfast, we usually had a team devotional and meeting, then served from 8am until dinner with the customary morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack (I do miss my snack time)! Here are the ways we served the community.

Home Visits and Water Filters

Did you know?

A  complete school uniform for a child in Matictic is roughly $7.

One of the first and last things we did in Matictic were home visits. Our team split into two groups, completing about 20 home visits. During the home visits, if the family received a Sawyer water filter last year from funds raised by the Reel Water Film Festival, the video team interviewed one of the parents to document the impact the water filters have had and any problems experienced. The results were great! Families who previously purchased mineral water were now able to use that money to either pay bills or buy more food or school supplies. Families that primarily used well water no longer struggled with sickness due to bacteria contaminated water.

´┐╝For families that did not have water filters, we provided them with one and demonstrated how to use it. We added dirt to their typical water to further demonstrate the filtering power. The families were commissioned to share the blessing that they were receiving by allowing their neighbors to come by and filter water for their own families. One of the local pastors, Pastor Mong, set up a community water filtering station and tasked one of his church members with managing it. The station was set up on the “porch” of their home, which was right next to the community water pump. They devised a system that allowed the community members to quickly get filtered water while another jug could start to filter water for the next family in need.

I got to visit both of the FH children my husband and I sponsor in Matictic, Kimberly and Josue. Kimberly was waiting for six years by the time we sponsored her, and Josue was waiting for three years. During the visit, I learned that Kimberly’s father works in Manila as a laborer during the week to support his wife and four children. Kimberly’s mom gave me a cute red and white coin purse that she made from plastic bags! Both of Josue’s parents work in Manila to support the family—his mother as a maid and his father a laborer—leaving Josue to live with his aunt and cousins. He wrote to us saying that he was going to finish his studies and go to college to pay his parents back for all of their hard work to meet his needs. It was my privilege to give and demonstrate a water filter for both of these families!

Disaster Relief Training and Disaster Kits

We visited the five elementary schools in Matictic, partnering with the local Fire and Rescue team. First, the fire and rescue team taught the students how to handle various emergencies, including safely turning off a propane tank that was out of control. Apparently, propane tanks are common household items for cooking. We then took the students into their classrooms to watch a puppet video to teach them about the things they needed in a disaster kit and what to do in a disaster. Next, we practiced getting under their desks and covering their heads, then heading out to the courtyard and staying covered. We also did drills with them to reinforce what they needed in a kit, either by making play-dough and asking them to make things they needed, or doing relay races that challenged them to successfully identify kit necessities. I quickly learned that I’m far too big to fit under a Filipino child’s desk and I need to keep learning how to speak Tagalog! Finally, we distributed a total of 1,000 disaster relief kits to the 3rd graders in each school, with the extras left for the teachers to decide which children would need them most.

Sports Camp

Every summer, FH hosts a sports camp for kids that are going from primary school to high school (graduating 6th graders). They find that this transition is critical, because the lack of a high school in Matictic challenges families to make the larger financial commitment of paying for transportation to and from school. For many children, high school graduation is a lofty goal. Both the financial burden to get there and the financial needs of the family are often too great, so kids, more often girls, drop out in order to support the family. My mother can attest to this as she dropped out of high school in the Philippines to help support her family.

Did you know?

Approximately 25% of children in Matictic don’t finish primary school and 50% drop out in high school. (source: Food for the Hungry Philippines)

The theme for the camp was “Pass It On,” with a focus on sportsmanship. I was honored to do one of the devotional lessons around the camp scripture and sportsmanship, which they needed to put into practice as the 70+ kids were divided into two teams for a multi-event competition. I got to lead the surprisingly popular sack races, while others oversaw volleyball, badminton, basketball, chess, and a swimming race.

This camp was extra special because it was at a new, nicer facility that included dorm rooms with 3 bunk beds in each, a private “comfort room” that included a sink and shower, and a super awesome swimming pool (even by American standards). At home, the kids often sleep on mats on the floor with their siblings, so having their very own bed for a night was a treat. We also had three meals and two snacks, which is far more food than they usually have at home.

With extra money that we had in our trip budget, we paid for everyone to have free swim in the pool! Many of the kids had never swam in a pool as they typically swim in the local rivers. Kids were jumping in from everywhere, doing flips into and from within the pool. The team served as the base for chicken fights and also worked as water taxies, shuttling kids on our backs through the pool. Swimming under water with two kids holding on to you is not easy!


What can you do?

If you made it through this entire article (or short report), thank you for sharing in this journey with me. After all of this, you may be asking yourself, “What can I do?” Well, there is a lot you can do to support the work in Matictic!

  • Sponsor a child in Matictic through Food for the Hungry. It’s only $35 a month! FH is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
  • Donate to Food for the Hungry’s program in Matictic. You can help purchase school uniforms, general school supplies, buy a water filter for a family, or pay for additional disaster relief kits. To make sure your donation gets to Matictic, send your donations to:
    Food for the Hungry
    Attn: Heidi Hatch / Matictic
    1224 E. Washington St
    Phoenix, AZ 85034 
  • Or donate to next year’s Philippines mission trip to continue the work.

Before I left, I donated to FH enough cash to purchase over 25 school uniforms on behalf of SW Creatives. I encourage you to do something as well. Feel free to contact me at shala@swcreatives.com or 301-891-0111 if you would like to discuss how you can support the children and the community of Matictic!


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