Following the opening of the new UMCOR Philippines office, I traveled throughout the Philippines as part of UMCOR’s Ministry with the Poor initiative. In my travels, I met dozens of children. As a mother who recognizes the opportunities that grace has brought into my life and the life of my daughter, I have a special place in my heart for children living in poverty.
300 families are living in a community along the railroad on the rubble of their recently demolished homes. In the chaos of displacement, children have stopped going to school and there is no potable water or health care.
In another community, temporary shacks were built on compacted trash in a garbage dump. The area is prone to flash flooding from the nearby river and the kids walk through the filthy flood water to go to school. Many children had numerous sores all over their little bodies.
While many parents work, the jobs barely provide enough money for food. I heard of one family with five children who each had a day of the week that they would eat. Can you imagine having to choose which of your children will eat today?
Hope and Possibility for all Children
While my heart aches, I am encouraged that in spite of extreme circumstances, the children still have hopes and dreams shared by all children. The communities are filled with laughter and kids running around climbing trees and poles. They loved having their pictures taken and were not shy about taking my hand and leading me through their neighborhoods.
Like all parents, those I spoke with in urban settlements want their children to have a better life. When we asked children what they want to be when they grow up, the answers are typical of children everywhere, “doctor, nurse, teacher, PRESIDENT.” What potential is being lost under the weight of extreme poverty? What gifts to society are we missing because children are not given the tools to fully realize them? As long as they have dreams and the will to achieve, don’t we have the responsibility to give them the opportunities? Child by child and family by family, I am certain is within our means to transform lives.
We met with potential partners in Manila who are already doing great work to give families the foundation to lift themselves out of poverty. Gilead is providing shelter, educational scholarships and life skills for 33 children who were living in extreme poverty. The Inner City Development Cooperative is helping families build businesses and savings accounts. Central UMC has a weekly feeding program for children and provides scholarships. The Task Force on Urban Conscientization is empowering families to follow up on resettlement packages and create a path out of poverty.
I am thankful to have met these families and those seeking justice for them. My colleagues who are responsible for program development were quick to identify ways that UMCOR can join the response to urban poverty in the Philippines. The term “Be there . . . Be hope. . .” took on a deeper meaning to me. UMCOR leverages hope into action to strengthen communities, empower those who are oppressed and help every child of God reach full potential.
Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR Staff Writer