June 21

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The Eyes of Poverty

Today I got a real first hand experience of poverty. The Webster dictionary describes poverty as one who lacks the necessary food, money or material needs to support themselves. This definition does very little to put a face to those who are in true poverty. Today I set out to see the faces of the children in the most need. Theirs is a heartbreaking story but one that needs to be told.

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In America we really can’t understand poverty. We have homeless shelters, a welfare system and halfway homes so the poorest typically can have a roof over their heads. In a third world country, poverty takes on a whole new meaning.

These are the stories of the beautiful children we met today around the Philippines.

Juan is a fourteen year old boy. He shares his humble home with his eight brothers and sisters. They take turns on who can eat each day.   His family relies on the ocean to catch fish. Today is especially hard for his family since a typhoon is coming. Because of the rough seas, they cannot go fishing. It breaks my heart to think of them weathering the storm in the tiny shack they call home.

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Think back to your childhood. If you were like me, you ran into your parents bedroom and hopped under the covers when a storm scared you. Now think about Juan and his siblings during the storm. They are in a shack on the beach and will not only hear the winds but feel the rain. They face a possibility of drowning as well. I admire Juan. He was friendly and didn’t ask for food or money. He smiled and spoke to us.

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Patrick used his money to buy Juan a peanut butter bar. He was so happy and raised his shirt to show us his full belly. It felt good to know we made a difference in Juan’s life if only for a day.

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Within feet of the US Embassy in Manilla, there is a walkway where some of the poorest children live. I witnessed one such mother and her children. They live on the jagged rocks and sleep among the garbage that washes up on shore. The stench is unreal and roaches run over all their stuff. Today she told me was a good day. A passer buy had given her some change so she was able to buy a bar of soap for her boys to bathe. I watched as the boys jumped into the filthy bay water with that bar of soap. They don’t even have the dignity of privacy or clean water to bathe. Yet this mother was happy and eager to talk to me. She was proud of her family and didn’t worry over her existing circumstances.

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Perhaps the saddest sight was that of a pregnant woman and her infant. The baby only wore a soiled diaper and was crying. The mother was sleeping on the very hot pavement. This was her home. She relies on change from those walking by to eat. Can you imagine the stress she must have on being able to feed another child? Where to give birth? I so wished I could bring them to America and give them a fighting chance.

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And yet there is hope. These all were beautiful people. The children smiled and were friendly. All were eager to talk to us and didn’t beg for money. They were simply grateful to be alive and present in the moment. Couldn’t we all learn a lesson from them?

In closing, I am reminded of the prayer of St Francis.

Lord make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal life.