We’ll be coming back High five, high five! What about you? What about you? High five! Your turn, high five! Oh no it fell! Aww she got shy! Don’t be shy, let’s do it again, high five! This summer I joined NAFCON, The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns for our annual medical mission to the Philippines It was such an unforgetable experience Today, Tondo, Manila is synonymous with poverty, crime and violence. What was once the wealthy capital of the precolonial Kingdoms of Luzon The envy of many ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms, Has been submerged into centuries of subjugation and corruption. In fact, today, Tondo is known to be the most densely populated community on earth. With an estimated 180,000 people for every square mile. More than ten times than that of Tokyo, and eleven times than that of Mexico City, Almost a million people all smooshed into an area eighty times smaller than Singapore. And despite being within the country’s seat of power, Tondo has been the face of poverty in the Philippines. It remains one of the poorest communities, Where malnutrition rates among the children are the highest. Many residents earn less than $10 a day working in the harbor and nearby factories. While many more earn less, Working as street vendors, pedicab drivers, and even scavengers in mountains of garbage. Tondo is home to the infamous dumpsite known as “Smokey Mountain” And the often overlooked port community of Baseco. While much of the garbage of the past has been removed from Tondo, Poverty and its notoriety as a violent slum area remained. When people found out we were going to both Baseco and Smokey Mountain For our annual medical mission, Many have warned us to be careful, And there are even those who told us not to go. In many of these barangays (communities), basic services that many of us take for granted Are non-existent. Whatever is there remains inadequate to care for the well-being of its people. NAFCON, in partnership with the Foundation for Philippine Progress, and local grassroots organizations and institutions such as CREST, Manila Urban Poor Network, and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila-School of Medicine Joined forces with the local community To bring much needed medical and psychosocial services, And health education to the people of Baseco and Smokey Mountain. The people of these communities are often stigmatized for being criminals and burdens to society. They are seen as lazy and often blamed for their own misfortunes. Yet, despite all of these stereotypes, being there in this mission was more than eye opening. Learning about the needs and the conditions of these communities from the people themselves, Was a much-needed reality check. The misfortunes of these communities are the results of centuries of exploitation and oppression. A broken system that continues to trap generations of our people Into a never-ending cycle of poverty and violence. Learning from them makes one really question the stigmas and stereotypes thrown at them. Distorted images used to justify the neglect and exploitation of the poor. They are not the criminals we were told to be afraid of. In fact, they made us feel welcomed and safe among them. They are not the lazy people responsible for their own misfortunes. In fact, many of them are working hard to break the cycle of poverty. Despite not having much resources, Many of them are genuinely giving all of their hearts and souls to serve their communities. The children of Smokey Mountain and Baseco, Are not the notorious little criminals that must be jailed at a young age. In fact, their smiles will not only melt your hearts but also give you hope. Looking at their eyes while listening to their stories will inspire you to do better. To be better. What they need is access to quality education and holistic medical and social services. What they need is to be seen and be respected as human beings. Being among them reminded me of my own childhood in Angeles City. It reminded me of growing up near a slum neighborhood and the infamous red-light district. It reminded me, not just of the many inspiring people I’ve met, But also of the immeasurable strength of a community coming together. Being in Smokey Mountain and Baseco, Reminded me of my own privileges and how I can do better to serve the people, To serve our people. What they need is not saving but understanding. Understanding that they are victims of this vicious cycle of exploitation. Understanding that saving them is not the same as empowering them. Understanding that the only way to break this cycle is to come together, To unite and to take actions to bring the changes we want for our people. Thank you everyone for helping us despite the typhoon!