It was a 45 minute drive into into the outskirts of Manila, down the crowded, busy streets filled with "tricycle" drivers and other smog-producing vehicles. Street vendors hawking their goods to the passersby can barely be heard over the noisy engines. As we drove farther away from Manila's skyscrapers, it became clearly evident that we were getting into one of the poorest parts of the city. Closer to Jen Rina's home.
Just beyond a canal that moved sewage and dirty water through the area like a slow-flowing, stenchy river, we stopped in front of a building that looked like a typical home in this part of Manila...made of cinder blocks, with a tin roof.
"Not bad" I thought. I have seen worse houses in other countries...the mud/dung huts of Kisumu Kenya, the scrap houses in Guatemala City and outside of Lima, Peru. No, this house didn't seem that bad. But it wasn't Jen Rina's house. My guide, a Compassion staff member named Nonoy, led me out of the car and beyond the curbside home. We made our way down a garbage-lined alleyway, to an open area behind that house. Nonoy stopped at the highest point in the alley and pointed to a small shack at the bottom of the hill.
"There it is."
My jaw dropped. I fought back the tears. No...this can't be it. No way my sponsored child lives like this. If I didn't know any better, I would guess that some young boys gathered scraps of wood, tin and cardboard to put together a makeshift clubhouse. The entire home is smaller than my master bedroom. It's built up against a cement building, just so the family could have one solid wall in their home.
I walked through the doorway and stepped into the dirt floor home. Inside, with a huge smile on her face, was the little girl I've been corresponding with for nearly six years now. She's adorable. Shy. Soft-spoken. So much hope in a face that lies down on a moldy mattress every night. I wrapped my arms around her and just held her for a few seconds. Her mother was there, along with her baby brother and one of her older brothers. Daddy was out working at a construction site, trying to earn his 250 pesos per day...about $5.68. Less than six bucks a day to feed his family of seven. Oh yeah, and pay the rent each month too.
I don't know why, but I always had it in my head that Jen Rina didn't live like this. Her letters spoke of the chores she's responsible for around the house: cleaning the kitchen, occasionally cooking, helping with the baby. Little did I know that the kitchen was actually a pot, where the family lights firewood to cook each night. For all the preparation I had done for this meeting, I wasn't ready to see this. Nonoy told me that her family doesn't even own this shack, they rent it. They can't afford their own home. This is one provided to them for $15 a month. And they still struggle to make the rent. My heart was breaking. Somehow, I felt like a bad sponsor. If I were only doing more, perhaps she wouldn't live this way.
I held this precious small-framed 11-year old in my arms and told her how beautiful she is. How proud I am of her for the good marks she's getting in school. Her latest report card says she "exhibits leadership qualities."
My heart wanted to say "Come with me. Come back to the states. I can give you so much more." How American of me. "I can fix your problems because I have more money." Truth is, Jen Rina is happy. She knows her Lord and Savior. She even sang a worship song and read a letter for me while I sat in her tiny home.
And that's what my $32 a month is for. My sponsorship through Compassion International makes sure that Jen Rina's basic needs are taken care of. She gets after-school tutoring, help buying her clothes for school, hygiene education, a hot meal...and she hears about her Savior, Jesus. This is who Jesus was talking about, when He said the last would be first. I'm so glad she knows Christ.
We have so much in this country. And perhaps it takes seeing something like Jen Rina's home to put things into perspective. One of the folks on this trip said, "We are the ones Jesus was talking about, when He said it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. We are the rich man."
Yes we are. And it is our duty...our mandate from God Himself to use our excess to help those who have little.
I'm so glad I got to finally meet Jen Rina. I will never forget it. And I hope that the little bit that I give can someday help her break the cycle of poverty in her family...so her children will never know what it's like to live in a rented shack made of scraps.