For the past two nights, our crew has been stationed in the Philippine capital of Manila. It’s a modern city reminding me a lot of New York or LA– a city that doesn’t seem to sleep that is resident of over 12 million people. Upon arrival, has been such a shock to our system after spending several days in some very rural areas (islands of less than 500 people for example), where folks are without running water and you take showers with buckets and bring your own toilet paper.
It’s a country of contrasts because in Manilla, everything you could possibly need or want as a Westerner is here. You could start your day off with Starbucks or a Krispy Kreme donut. You could go to the mall and buy a new outfit at The Gap or Forever 21. You could dine for dinner at Pizza Hut or TGI Fridays. Folks in the business district of downtown can be seen carrying Guess purses or in designer stilettos. Folks at the airport all talk on IPhones.
But, as with most major urban centers, it is not the whole story.
It is a city of contrasts. The urban poor, living in shanties in the slums are in this city only a few km from the high rises of folks wearing Chanel perfume. For these slum dwellers, life is difficult and assistance is needed from NGOs for basic survival. The necessity of organizations like Feed The Children comes into play because government social services (which we expect in the US as a given) are limited, if existent at all. Children are malnourished and drop out of school. Children go unsupervised and play in garbage dumbing grounds. Children grow up without dreams of ever leaving the community in which they were born.
Furthermore, it is easy to go on trips like this and think this world of contrasts is a problem of a far away place. But it is a problem of my home land too.
America is a world of contrasts. For every luxury apartment in Manhattan, there are hollers in West Virginia. For every millionaire on Wall Street, there are thousands of single mother on welfare. For every child growing up entering college with bright eyes, there are multitudes inner city kids struggling to get their GED.
We are a rich nation with the poor among us. Like our Filipino friends, it is easy to ignore.
Even in counties like Fairfax Virginia where my church is located we also have a homeless problem, a large one in fact. Makeshift shelters are made every night in the woods with tents, tarps and sleeping bags around the corner from some very large shopping malls and 4,000 square feet houses.
Tonight at dinner, a Feed The Children staffer and I were trying to make sense of our experiences in this world of contrasts. “Why don’t more people share?. . . Why doesn’t the government do more about these problems? . . . How can the rich have poor literally in their backyard and do nothing?”
It’s a frustrating place to be in thought– to try to make sense of the senseless. The only comfort is to think that at least you are supporting an organization that is trying to do something. But then that is not always enough to satisfy the injustice.
All guilt, frustration or apathy put aside, if we are ever going to make changes, human changes to these worlds of contrasts then we have one important task before us. We must wake up and simply see it. The Philippines has given me new glasses.