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Inspired By Manila

Wheldon Curzon-Hobson

Published: 2010
Categorie(s): Non-Fiction, Body, mind & spirit, Inspiration & Personal
Growth, Self-help, Motivational & Inspirational, Personal Growth, Social
science, Children's Studies, Poverty & Homelessness, Social Work,
Developing Countries, Volunteer Work, Travel, Asia
Tag(s): Motivation Inspiration Manila Philippines Children innovation

Chapter 1
This is the story of the extraordinary people and the successful, innovat-
ive projects I saw during my visit to Manila in 2010.
Prior to my visit, I thought there was little hope for the uneducated,
malnourished children living in such extreme poverty. However, I have
now seen projects that are empowering millions of these beautiful chil-
dren and their families with positive values and real possibilities, and I
am filled with hope for their future.
There are still significant problems in the Philippines, but I truly be-
lieve the more good news is shared, the more we can encourage each
other to believe and work together to help realise a positive future for
the urban-poor communities in the Philippines and around the world.
Please read this ebook and email it to all your friends. You have my
permission to freely reproduce in any format, but please credit myself
and include a download link.

Wheldon Curzon-Hobson
Wellington, New Zealand

Chapter 2
25 October 2010

I landed in Manila at 5pm on a public holiday and drove through the

relatively empty streets with my young taxi driver pointing out note-
worthy sites. About us roared cars, motorbikes and buses, their horns
blaring. My driver sounded calm so I sat back and enjoyed the ride. I ap-
preciated how he weaved between buses and swerved to gain an advant-
age as we passed run-down shops and houses that were dwarfed by
massive bill boards displaying beautiful young people and glamorous
Huge single rain drops started hitting the windscreen, slowly at first,
then they joined forces to form a torrential downpour. The motorcycles
skidded to the side of the road, but we persisted, sometimes slowing to a
halt, barely able to see the road past the squeaking windscreen wipers.
We made it to the SM EDSA mall near where I was staying. The rain
continued to pour but the driver, determined, leapt out of the car and
asked the locals for directions. We proceeded slowly, while the passen-
gers on the motorbikes and bicycles valiantly covered themselves with
umbrellas and sheets of plastic.
Children played on the street, getting absolutely soaked. In their
eagerness to help us reach our destination, two boys helpfully gestured,
one towards one end of the street and the other in the opposite direction.
Then a flash of lightning revealed the green gate of my guest house. I
clambered out of the taxi and was warmly welcomed inside where I
climbed the marble staircase to my large room with ensuite. I unpacked
as the lightning flashed and a rooster crowed, infuriating the dog next
door who barked crossly at his neighbour to be quiet.
There were celebrations nearby as the local elections were concluded.
Fireworks exploded well into the night and then the tricycles, which are
old motorcycles with sidecars, transported the party-goers back to their

houses. The rooster-next-door, being a very sociable creature who
needed to converse with his friends now that the firework barrage was
over, cried out to his many friends around the neighbourhood every
hour on the hour. The dog wasn’t at all happy with this turn of events
and he and the rooster frequently had disagreements, the dog always
winning, but the rooster restarted the duel the following hour.
At 6.30am I opened the windows to reveal a fine day with sunshine
falling onto the buildings and barbed-wire fences of our alleyway. I
looked forward to my first challenge of catching a train to Makati City
where I was meeting Bel, who had been very generous in helping me
with my arrangements in Manila.
On the way to the station I found more roosters tied to poles on the
corner of the road. They incessantly pecked for food and preened them-
selves as a few stray dogs gave me suspicious looks.
I circumnavigated the enormous SM Mall and passed the sign inform-
ing me that transport was a breeze now they had developed the new
transit station at North Avenue. I climbed the footbridge underneath
which hundreds of vehicles roared around the intersection, everyone
seeming to know what they were doing as they frequently changed lanes
under the stern gaze of the traffic police.
There is a hierarchy of horn blowing in Manila: the bigger you are the
more you are entitled to blow your horn. So, a car doesn’t tend to sound
its horn unless in mortal peril, while a jeepney uses its horn to tell a car
to get out of its way, but it cannot do the same to a bus who has sole
right of way regardless of pretty well everything.
I headed up to the station where I patiently waited in the significant
queue to buy a ticket and board the clean, modern train. The possibility
that rush hour had passed quickly disappeared two stations later when
the passengers surged in so tightly I understood why we needed air-con-
ditioning to maintain oxygen levels. I had arranged to meet Bel at a large
department store near Ayala Avenue station but, despite the helpful ad-
vice of shop assistants and police officers, I couldn't find it, so I gave up
and relaxed beside a fountain between enormous shops and hotels and
texted Bel. She managed to find me, accompanied by Nelson who took
photos and generously assisted us throughout the day.
Bel is a beautiful woman with a delightful smile who married an Eng-
lish doctor and left for the UK shortly after her oldest daughter Rachel
was born. She brought her three daughters back to visit family and
friends and always encouraged her children to befriend the "outsider,"
those who might not be included as part of the "in-crowd," perhaps

because of their ethnicity or because they were different from the other
Bel’s brother Reggie was an entrepreneur who employed people from
the slums. When he died unexpectedly, his driver told Bel their hopes of
owning decent homes were dashed because Reggie had been planning to
help build them homes. In memory of Reggie, and another brother and
uncle who also died, Bel and her cousins in the UK founded the Padua
Charitable Fund. Her family now work in collaboration with other
NGOs to relieve poverty, financial hardship, homelessness and distress,
whilst advancing education and promoting good health amongst the
poor of the Philippines.
We travelled by car out of Makati to meet Jun and Fe at their church,
then we followed them past the security gates to a squatter neighbour-
hood in Paranaque. These urban poor communities spring up on tracts
of unoccupied land and the owners may decide to allow the people to
stay, but in order to protect the neighbourhood, they put in private
On the left wall as we entered were dozens of individual pipes taking
water to the various households, and on the right wall were dozens of
power lines strung up against the fence. In front of us were peoples’
houses made of wood and corrugated iron. They were small and dark,
sparsely furnished, and in some of the doorways mothers were sleeping
with their children. We twisted and turned along the uneven pathway,
frequently having to stand back for motorcycles taking passengers or
goods further into the neighbourhood.
A smile and a warm greeting came easily to these people and it came
easily to me also, not because they lived where they did and the stream
passing their back door was obviously filthy, but because they were
genuinely friendly and wanted to convey their greetings to this tall white
man they had not met before. There was nothing pitiable about these
people, there was no shame in their eyes, they were genuinely friendly
and it was a pleasure to meet them.
We carried on to the project which Bel’s Padua Fund had assisted
Couples in Christ and the Rotary Club of Manila to develop. Jun ex-
plained, with a quiet humility, how those wanting to become a part of
the community had agreed to live together in love and respect and
hadn’t just built their own house, but had collaborated to build all of the
houses. They had agreed to care for the whole community and pay a
small amount per month so that in twenty years they would own the
land the houses sat on.

These brightly painted dwellings that housed more than one hundred
and fifty families were a beautiful sight after the dark, dank environment
of the squatter neighbourhood. They were small, but they were construc-
ted out of concrete with secure roofs, and there was a solid pathway
between them allowing the sun to shine down and the children to play.
Jun had given up his job as a banker to use his considerable expertise
to develop this neighbourhood. Jun and Fe believed that in order to help
a community succeed, they needed to be role models. So they and a
number of like-minded couples had moved into the neighbourhoods and
befriended the people who lived there. They experienced first-hand the
problems such as power blackouts, and they also understood what was
required for its continuing success. They saw a need for a preschool, so
they set up preschool classes. They saw a need for the community to
own its own governance, so they encouraged a number of the existing
dwellers to take up leadership roles and become responsible for looking
after other members of the community.
As we arrived, everyone came out of their houses and shook hands.
The children dashed forward and pressed our hands to their foreheads
as a mark of respect. Fe and Jun frequently stopped and took their time
to hear some news or discuss an issue.
A group of five young children sang a song for us, with obvious pride
in their ability to remember the words. Then we visited the three-storey
community centre which included a library and a space I thought might
have been a garage but was, in fact, a meeting space. More people joined
us, smiling and extending their hands in greeting, and I saw how this
was an important place for these vibrant people to meet and decide what
was best for their community.
Bel started joking with the children and they laughed and joked back.
It was this quality of loving that had enabled her to create something
good out of the immense grief her family had suffered. Even prior to the
death of her brothers and uncle, she had taught poor children to speak
English. I imagined her classes filled with smiles, but also concentration
and a desire to do well, so they could make the most of their opportunit-
ies in the future.
One of the men bought us bottled water and a crowd of women and
children gathered. Jun explained that the teachers at public schools were
on holiday because of the local elections, so the older children were at
home. He also explained that the fathers were at work and their earnings
contributed towards their children's education. These people were not so

much the recipient of charity, as co-partners in developing the opportun-
ities for their neighbourhood.
We said our farewells and made our way back out through the
brightly coloured, well-lit project to the squalor of the dark houses sitting
atop dank water. But here too the people smiled and extended warm
greetings. The teenage boys joked with Bel and she laughed with them as
Fe greeted the children who flocked to her. They recognised her as a
teacher of both education and the values of a world where love and re-
spect are held in the highest regard.
We returned to our cars and drove to another project called Cubicsite,
developed by Couples for Christ/ANCOP. As we entered, three women
pushing a cart filled with linen gathered around and greetings were
shared. I was introduced and they welcomed me as if I was now a friend
because I had come to spend time with their community.
They were taking beautifully made linen placemats to the retail chain
that sold them. They proudly showed me the label "Rags To Riches,"
which guaranteed that every one of the placemats had been individually
checked to ensure it was of the highest quality and was worthy to have
the label of their community. The retailer was so impressed it had placed
an order for at least five thousand and had organised the supply of new
linen with which to make them. In return, the retailer was paying them a
good amount per placemat which wasn’t surprising as they were beauti-
fully created, hand-woven in bright colours.
We entered the brightly painted community where Fe lived and we
were greeted enthusiastically, particularly by the children with gorgeous
bright eyes and happy smiles. The women who were weaving enthusi-
astically showed me their work. They were in the middle of fixing a
placemat that had been slightly too small and were keen to demonstrate
why it had failed their quality control. We discussed their work and
latest news before climbing a three-storey building with a pre-school on
the first floor. As we waited to find the right key, I looked out at the
densely populated neighbourhood nearby that was constructed of cheap
wood and corrugated iron and was such a contrast to the simple beauty
of the buildings in this project.
Finally the door opened and inside was an immaculately ordered
room filled with tables, chairs and resources. Fe explained that twice a
day during the week they held lessons for sixteen children at a time. The
members of this community also paid a small amount per month to help
pay for their older children’s education.

I was struck by the possibilities these people were creating for them-
selves. The children were being educated, everyone lived with the
shared values of commitment and responsibility, and adults were work-
ing outside of the community or developing their own industry along-
side their friends, thus strengthening the bonds of community.
I found it hard not to open my heart to these people. They were so
generous in wanting to share their love and ideas with me, and I couldn't
help smiling and playing games with the children. Jun asked if I would
like to come back, to share my life with these people? I looked around
and realised the question was not, would I like to come back, but how
could I not?
I said goodbye to Fe and Jun at the project, then said my hurried
farewells to Bel and Nelson at the corner of an extremely busy intersec-
tion where I leapt out of the car, enthusiastically thanking Bel for taking
a day to show me the two projects. Feeling immensely privileged to have
met such amazing people, I made my way to the train station where I
queued behind a hundred people in order to get my ticket and squash
onto the train.
Bel had said my heart might break seeing the people and the world in
which they lived. My heart had broken, not because of their plight, but
because of their love and generosity and the way in which they were
working together to create a better life for their community, and particu-
larly for their children.
After getting off at my stop I bought a few supplies in the mall, then I
passed the still open bank which requested that firearms be left with the
security guards at the door. The guards saw me reading the sign with
some incredulity and we all laughed. I greeted the roosters and the dogs
and waved away the recommendations from the small vendors to buy
their products. Then I returned to the house, inspired by my first day in

Chapter 3
27 October 2010

I caught a jeepney the next day; a fantastically decorated, converted

jeep in which a driver and two passengers sit in the front and up to
twenty Filipinos sit along the sides in the back. Luckily my jeepney’s trip
finished at my destination of Quezon Memorial Park so I didn’t run the
risk of getting completely lost. I climbed on board, trying not to bump
my head, then with a gunning of the engine we were on our way.
Suddenly there was the beat of a drum and a young boy handed out
small brown envelopes with writing in Tagalog. He returned to the back
of the jeepney and, with his back to the passengers, he danced and sang
to the rhythm of the drum as we careered along. After the song had fin-
ished, he gathered up the envelopes into which people had put coins. He
paused in front of me and I gave him a 5 pesos coin, enough to buy a
small bread roll. I hoped that wasn't too much or too little, but by the
way he grinned I realised I had perhaps been overly generous. The two
boys leapt off the jeepney and the singer gestured with a smile towards
me. The driver also smiled at me with the few teeth he had left and I
realised my small gesture had been appreciated.
I enjoyed watching how close the other vehicles came to colliding with
us. However, I had complete confidence in our driver and his regular,
emphatic use of the three horn system: the single horn was merely an an-
nouncement he was there, two blasts instructed people to move out of
his way, and three horns warned that a collision was imminent. At one
point a woman requested a stop, perhaps a little late to be safe, but the
driver obligingly crossed six lanes of traffic, to the accompaniment of
many horns, to drop her at the desired stop.
We reached our destination on the side of a vast roundabout with sev-
eral lanes of traffic. I almost fell out and, after asking for directions,

headed for the underground tunnel, a recent addition to the area allow-
ing people to cross safely.
I met Rafael, Cesar and Carlos from The Likhaan Group at The Co-
conut House. It was here that I was introduced to the coconut. Now I’ve
seen coconuts, I’ve drunk their milk and eaten their flesh and even parti-
cipated in a coconut shy or two, but I had absolutely no idea it was such
a valuable resource that could be utilised in so many different ways.
There is a serious possibility that the Philippines will further develop
this resource and bring wealth, particularly to the rural poor. I'm not go-
ing to share all their secrets, but I am going to tell you about their ice
cream. It is an absolutely delicious gourmet ice cream that costs the same
to produce as normal ice cream, but the beauty of this product is it is ac-
tually good for you.
Cesar enthusiastically described the many and varied uses for the
amazingly under-utilised coconut. Then we started to discuss other pos-
sibilities across a range of Filipino products, particularly those to do with
agriculture. The Likhaan Group has been fostering innovation since the
early 1970s, when they travelled the country presenting seminars on cre-
ativity and innovation. However, with a change of government adminis-
tration, their message of dynamic creative innovation lost favour and
generally they haven’t received any further government endorsement or
encouragement. Yet they have continued to persist, despite attending
meeting after meeting where they have received a negative response
from local and national government. With a smile and a customary
Filipino tap on the upper arm, Cesar explained that they passionately be-
lieve in their country and what they are doing, and because of this they
will never give up.
We discussed projects they have helped, and continue to help establish
throughout the country. It is amazing to read their documentation and
read about the numerous successes they have achieved across so many
areas and age groups despite the difficulties. They believe Filipinos are
highly capable and intelligent people, so they continue to make presenta-
tions particularly to students, encouraging them to be creative rather
than critical during their high school and university studies. Then we left
to visit a project, the taxi driver navigating his way through the streets
filled with vendors selling their wares, either perched on the side of the
road or darting amongst the traffic to sell to the drivers. As we travelled,
Rafael explained they had become involved in this project amongst the
urban poor simply because there was a need and so they had stepped in.
It was the same Filipino generosity of spirit that had driven him to

empower business people over the decades. He had merely heard about
the need, said he was available, and had used his skills to encourage
people. There was no formula, just a willingness to help others and de-
vote a little time.
We stopped outside the Escopa Housing Project which was the first
on-site, medium-rise housing project for low-income families in slum
areas created under Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, who is now the Speaker
of the House of Representatives (Congress). The project started in late
2003 and was completed in early 2005, being delayed by a community
organization which opposed its construction.
The entranceway was dark and there was a puddle of water in the cor-
ridor. We climbed the stairs that were in a state of disrepair and turned
into the next corridor whose floor was rough concrete. At the end was a
group of teenagers sitting on benches and a woman called Donna, who I
later discovered had a sixteen year old daughter, but looked like an older
sister to the teenagers.
They all greeted me as "sir," and gestured to the long bench set up
against the open concrete window at the end of the corridor. They in-
sisted I took this comfortable seat, making me feel rather like I was sit-
ting on a throne, so I asked Carlos to sit beside me. We were introduced
and they outlined their project to gather up the rubbish in the apartment
building, separate it and organise for it to be collected so they could get
money for the recyclable products.
The teenagers were wonderfully enthusiastic. Even those who
struggled to speak English smiled and contributed to the discussion in
Tagalog. They had made an application to the local council with the help
of Rafael who had designed the flier explaining the aims of the project.
Rafael had told me earlier he was now too old to relate well to teenagers,
given that he had just retired and had grandchildren, but he stood be-
hind them with a smile on his face that showed how proud he was of
their efforts. He had encouraged them to get together and brainstorm
possibilities for projects they could develop within the building and this
was the result of their planning.
Returning to New Zealand, I heard that as there are two youth mem-
bers interested in arts and design, Rafael has arranged for two of his con-
tacts who have fine arts degrees to assist the group to add value to the
recycling and develop saleable products from the recycled rubbish.
We then discussed their lives and I found out that between five and
eight of them lived together in family apartments so small they had to
use all the space available, including sleeping under the table with

dividers to give them some sort of privacy. Most of them went to high
school and a couple were already at university, studying science and IT.
One of the boys was a hairdresser and he charged 50 pesos per haircut,
the cost of a loaf of bread. He said it would cost me four times that much
to have it at a proper shop, but he would give me a haircut for free. We
all laughed, acknowledging I have virtually no hair. Then we talked
about all sorts of other things and laughed and joked, as teenagers do.
Donna brought out a cake she had made especially for me, plus a
couple of bottles of Sprite lemonade. They insisted I have the first bite
and, realising Donna wasn't going to give any cake to the others until I
had eaten some, I had a bite and declared it was delicious. Then we went
through the same ritual with the Sprite which they wouldn't touch until I
had drunk some, and they rummaged around finding cups for everyone
I felt completely at home, even as the rain poured down and we had to
move further and further back from the open window, into the darkness
of the wet corridor. We continued talking, Carlos joining in with the
jokes, and watching him and Rafael I could see why they had not only
become involved but had continued their commitment to this com-
munity. It was here, in this damp and dark building that they were chan-
ging the world in what may seem to be a small way. But sitting there
amongst the smiles and laughter of these wonderful people, I saw the
world changing before my eyes, and experienced again the hope for a
neighbourhood that is empowered to care for each other.
The seeds of possibility had been sown here by Rafael and Carlos and
Cesar, not as a concept, but as a reality. These men chose to continue to
visit this community in person, rather than pass on advice from afar. I
had been in Manila for only two days, but I had already seen how prac-
tical hope could be made a reality through people who were willing to
personally invest and become a part of the communal lives of others. As
I shared their friendship, I also saw how they could help me to open my
heart to love others. I realised that helping the poor could empower me; I
wouldn't just be giving out of a sense of duty, or as an act of charity to
the poor and oppressed; it was as an act of friendship, and spending time
with each other was what friends do.
The rain continued to pour down as we reluctantly stood to leave. Ra-
fael gave up on finding a taxi and flagged down two tricycles. After
waving goodbye to the group and expressing my hope we would meet
again, I got into the sidecar, insisting that Rafael travel with me so I got
to the right place.

The traffic was bumper to bumper and the driver took to the footpath.
We got bruised and battered, and then we headed on up to the LRT sta-
tion where Rafael insisted on paying for my ticket.
When I had to change trains, Rafael and Carlos waved aside my prot-
estations and insisted they'd help me find my way through the mall to
the other station. I thanked them for my extraordinary day, then I passed
through the turnstiles and realised there were no signs to show me the
platform to North Avenue. I turned to ask a security guard and saw Ra-
fael and Carlos still in the crowd gesturing for me to go to the far plat-
form. They could have so easily turned and left, but they had waited. It
may not seem to be a big thing, but it made a powerful impression on
me. I waved in thanks and headed home.

Chapter 4
28 October 2010

On Thursday I attended a seminar hosted by the Philippine Children's

Ministries Network. I sat beside Marge, who has a gorgeous one year old
boy and works with over three hundred families, helping them to im-
prove the well-being of their various communities’ children.
Marge’s eyes are filled with passion and concern for the families. She
sees her work as giving a voice to those who don't have a voice, and to
help them believe in themselves and make good choices. Even when she
was young she was involved with helping others; it is something that
comes naturally to her. It isn't that she doesn’t get tired and frustrated,
especially while looking after the well-being of so many others as well as
a young baby, but she sees her work as being true to herself and her
country. It is who she is; a passion burns within her to ensure these fam-
ilies are well looked after so the next generation will be free and em-
powered to fulfil their potential.
Marge's husband works to help eradicate child trafficking. As well as
this, he volunteers for the United Nations and does web design. He is a
quiet, non-assuming man who seemed confused when I asked why he
did what he did. His response was that was what you did in life: you
helped others. He was equally nonplussed when I asked him how he
coped when faced with a problem that appeared so vast, and how did he
motivate himself to continue. He merely shrugged and said he wakes up
every morning, goes to work, and does the best he can so he can make a
positive difference. He is sure he is where he is supposed to be, so he
willingly contributes his time and skills.
Josefina is the director of the Philippine Children's Ministries Net-
work. Josefina, or Pine as she is known, is one of those truly beautiful
people, with a genuine smile and a deep concern for the well-being of
the children of the Philippines. She has been working for the Network

since the beginning back in 1998, when networking was uncommon. The
Network was inspired by Patrick McDonald, who became the Interna-
tional Director of Viva Network, but at the time was a young Danish
man working with street children in a project in Sta. Cruz, Bolivia.
Through his insistent talking about the possibilities of networking, the
first Consultation on Children at Risk was held at Jagatai City, Manila in
November 1998, and at that meeting of thirty-nine organisations, PCMN
was established with Josefina at the helm.
Josefina and others spent a number of years organising meetings and
establishing the personal relationships that are at the heart of the Net-
work. This early work of exploring positive ways of collaborating was
crucial to the ongoing success of the project. It meant that the different
organisations were assured their endeavours were empowered rather
than hindered by working alongside other organisations.
The success of PCMN is in no small way due to Josefina’s humility
and openness of spirit. As a result it has developed into a large national
network, organising training right across the different issues of children
at risk. One of their recent successes is the training of workers on the is-
sue of child trafficking, and the education of more than fifty-thousand
children in areas where it is particularly prevalent, such as the provinces
of Samar.
Josefina's ability to bring together different organisations has proved
highly successful. It has inspired other networks throughout Asia, and
PCMN is now made up of more than two hundred member organisa-
tions and networks, all collaborating at the family and community level
to transform the lives of children.
Josefina is determined that this generation of children will not be lost.
In her quiet, unassuming way she advocates for the well-being of chil-
dren with the government and other NGOs, developing relationships
and ensuring that progress is achieved. She passionately believes in
these children and wants to finish the work the Network has started. She
continues to form new relationships with strategic partners she believes
can accomplish the most, some of whom are from poor areas themselves,
with limited financial resources. I realised by talking to Josefina that real
progress was being made by people who were not only passionate about
restoring the well-being of the poor of their country, but who were mak-
ing themselves available to be on the ground, assisting at a local com-
munity level.
Fe has been working for PCMN for the past ten years. She has a
humble yet determined way of speaking that leaves no doubt as to the

strength of her convictions. She was born in the provinces and was put
to work as a child in a family business. She experienced first-hand the
oppression of a young spirit and suffered the entrapment of child labour.
As a result, she is determined to ensure every Filipino child will enjoy a
genuine childhood and be freed from the oppression of poverty.
Fe believes that if we open our eyes we can see everyday opportunities
for sharing what we have. Her example was a visiting pastor at her local
church who worked in the southern provinces of the Philippines
amongst the Muslim poor. He finished his presentation at their large
Manila church and as he sat, she noticed that the soles of his shoes were
worn down. Fe knew she didn't have much money in her bank account,
but after checking with her husband, she passed the man some money to
buy new shoes. The man was taken aback by such generosity and
thanked them for their kindness.
Fe insists you don't need much to help another person, you just need
to keep your eyes open. If we close our eyes to others, we can’t see the
possibilities, but if our eyes are open, we can contribute even in the smal-
lest of ways.
On their Facebook accounts I have followed Josefina and Fe’s travels
over the past weeks around the Philippines, and seen how they are
working tirelessly to free children from the evils of poverty. These two
women and their Network are making significant inroads into what
seemed like an insurmountable problem twenty years ago.
That afternoon I was introduced to the sheer scale of change that was
taking place in the Philippines. Over the coming two weeks I would visit
numbers of other NGOs and discover that millions of people born into
the oppression of poverty are being empowered to create new lives in
communities filled with opportunities and loving relationships. All this
is possible through the work of people like Josefina and Fe who are not
satisfied with enabling the poor to merely survive, but passionately be-
lieve in their potential as fellow Filipinos.
We finished our conversation and had a group photo; the Filipinos
love their photos. Then Josefina and I headed off into the light rain. I
thanked her for an inspiring afternoon and left to make my way over to
the far station.

Chapter 5
29 October 2010

I stood at the Ayala Avenue bus station with what I thought was an
accurate map of where I wanted to go in Alabang. Each bus has a driver
and another guy who encourages passengers to board his bus. I pointed
at my map and asked several of these men if they could take me to my
destination. They shrugged and said no, which I couldn’t understand as
all the buses’ signs said they were heading for Alabang. Eventually a
man told me his bus would take me there. I jumped on, not at all certain
if he would drop me in the right place, but I didn’t have a choice, so we
headed South on the congested highway.
Immediately the driver began playing the movie GI Joe on the screen
above him. We had surround sound and bass enhanced speakers so the
bus rocked with the explosions on the screen, which the driver fre-
quently craned his head to view.
The bus emptied as we travelled south, until I was the last person and
we pulled up to a bus station. The driver wandered away to relieve him-
self against a shed and I got out and waited for him to return. He ap-
peared very thoughtful as he stared at my map, then declared that I
wanted to go to the town centre and I should jump back on because that
was where he was headed.
It was only a short trip and as a farewell gesture, he waved happily
and asked if I was American. I replied I was a New Zealander and he
laughed and welcomed me to the Philippines.
I asked the guy directing the jeepneys if there was one I could catch.
He assured me there was, but after several passing us by, he decided the
one I needed left from a different corner. My appointment was soon, so I
asked a tricycle driver if he could take me to the SOS Village. He looked
completely blank, but a second driver assured me he knew where to go,
so after agreeing a price, we roared away.

We stopped outside what appeared to be a state institution. The tri-
cycle driver waited until I was informed by a security guard that this
was not the place. The driver and the guard had an animated discussion,
then we were off again, this time to the right place.
I climbed out of the tricycle, stretched my back, and entered the SOS
Village office, where I was greeted with much enthusiasm. I met Em-
manuel Leyson who ushered me to a comfortable seat, expressed his
gratitude at my coming, and asked me why I wanted to write a book
about the positive things in the Philippines.
Emmanuel is called Mr Leyson by members of his staff, and papa by
the children. I shall call him Emmanuel, in keeping with the first names
in the rest of this book, but there is something truly extraordinary about
him that earns the respect of both the terms Mr Leyson and papa.
When he was young, his parents preferred that he stay with his pa-
ternal grandparents in the provinces because he tended to wander away
from their house. His grandparents owned a shop where travellers
stopped before they progressed into the mountains, and it was here Em-
manuel discovered the wonder of listening to stories. However, as he
grew up, he was always the one listening and not the one talking, and
this bothered him. He decided he would do something about this so,
while he was in seminary in New York, he got very choosy about who
would be his spiritual director. Inexplicably he was drawn to a priest
whom no one particularly liked, but there was something Emmanuel
found unique about him and so finally, with much courage, he knocked
on the man's door. The priest, although initially dumbstruck that anyone
would ask him to be a spiritual director, listened to Emmanuel and
learnt of his desire to speak rather than just listen. He paused, then ex-
plained that listening is as much a part of the conversation as talking, so
Emmanuel was in fact conversing. Profound as this may have been, Em-
manuel wasn't having any of it and insisted he wanted to be the talker
rather than the listener.
The priest suggested he should read a book. Emmanuel looked at the
impressive and beautifully bound selection of books arranged on a vast
bookshelf and was rather upset when he was passed a worn paperback
from the bottom level called How To Win Friends And Influence People. It
wasn't at all what Emmanuel had been expecting, but it was exactly the
right book for him. And the priest, whom no one particularly liked, was
exactly the right man for his spiritual direction.
Emmanuel runs personal development seminars for staff. In these he
always provides a space for people to share their stories because he was

once provided such an opportunity. It had been the right time for him to
share his story, and the pain and anger that had been bound up within
him for many years was released, and he found both physical and psy-
chological healing. So now he always finds time for people, and particu-
larly children, to share their stories. Often a child will stay behind after a
group session to share with him. Although he is a busy man, he will in-
vite them to talk because he understands this is an important step for
these children to discover healing and new possibilities.
He is not too concerned about how many diplomas and degrees SOS
children gain, he is more interested in whether they have developed a
wholesome, positive, loving way of living. And this is what he and his
staff model. They show the children they genuinely believe in them by
allowing them to share their stories and, by listening to them, they dis-
cover what is needed and what is best for them.
Emmanuel shared a couple of examples of how listening or under-
standing is important before acting. He told me about a well meaning
foreigner who longed to help the poor in the best way possible and so,
when he discovered a family didn't have any mattresses to sleep on, he
went out and bought them mattresses without consulting the family. He
was scheduled to return to his home country, but when he returned he
visited the family and found the mattresses had never been used. The
family preferred to sleep on the hard floor.
Another example Emmanuel told me was of a man who travelled to
the Southern Islands of the Philippines amongst the Moslem community
where there was extreme poverty. He had refused to accept the gifts of
the villagers because he knew they couldn't even afford to share an egg
with him. Yet if he had accepted the gift he would have acknowledged
that they were equal and at one with him.
Emmanuel and I talked for well over two hours. I have always found
stories shared face to face have a powerful validity because they are not
just about the words, but about the person telling the story. It is a unique
experience: the sharing of each other's humanity, the bursts of laughter,
the tears that come to the eyes, the emotions swelling within, the triggers
of one’s own memories.
Emmanuel explained how important it is for a child to be able to tell
their story because by doing so you are saying to that child, “You are al-
lowed to be who you are, right here and now. In the future you may
have a different story, but the story you want to share with me now is
the one I want to hear.”

Many of the children at the SOS Villages throughout the Philippines
don’t have happy stories. Emmanuel once asked children to draw a fam-
ily tree and when he returned to the classroom he found that the chil-
dren hadn't started. They explained they were ashamed of their parents
who were criminals and prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet these were
their stories and it was through sharing them that they began the healing
Emmanuel remembered the most revered Director of SOS Villages was
a man who spent much of his time visiting the children and their famil-
ies and hearing their stories. He was often found in kitchens while meals
were being prepared, listening to stories. When he left, many cried as he
was so appreciated for his ability to listen.
Emmanuel then told me about how SOS Villages were changing their
emphasis. They firmly believe in strengthening the families to ensure
children don’t reach the point where they need to live in a Village but
can be supported in their communities. They recognise that the very best
chance a child has is to remain a part of a strong, supported family. The
result is for every child living in a Village, they are providing resources
for nine children in the community.
The initiative came about because people like Emmanuel listened to
others and changed their policy because of what they heard. It means
that in a few years SOS Villages will be engaging and resourcing over a
million children throughout the Philippines.
We made our way out of the office into the wonderfully pleasant sur-
rounds of the village and strolled across to the staff lunch room where I
was served rice, meat and vegetables.
We sat down with B-Etta who has the same warm, welcoming eyes as
all the other staff members I met. She was born into the middle classes,
and while she was growing up, she wanted to invest her life into doing
something for the poor. She thought that by doing law she would be able
to achieve her aim, but after two years studying she could not figure out
any way in which she could use law to help the poor and so dropped
out. She was thrilled when a position became vacant at this SOS Village
in Support Services where she has worked for fourteen years.
B-Etta believes that it is important to always let the children visit her in
the office and share their stories because it is not only good for them but
it is good for her, keeping her focussed on her work goals. There was
nothing formulaic in her answers, she genuinely cares for her work and
the children who live around her. If she struggles to get up and go to
work in the morning, she finds this is dispelled when she gets to work

because there is always a sense of this is where she wants to be, and
where she finds fulfilment, amongst these extraordinary staff and
Then it was time to meet Beth who is an SOS mother. These are wo-
men who live in a house in an SOS village and care for the children. Beth
opened the door and, in that beautiful Filipino way, invited us into her
home with an extraordinary sense of open generosity. We were also
joined by one of her daughters, who I immediately forgot wasn't her bio-
logical daughter as they treated each other with such close warmth and
friendship. Emmanuel stayed with us for a few minutes to ensure we
were comfortable, then excused himself to return to his work.
The house had tall ceilings and was immaculately clean. Beth and her
daughter were perfectly groomed and adequately fluent in English to be
able to freely converse. Emmanuel had told me this was something that
aroused concerns from those interested in supporting SOS Villages be-
cause on visiting they find well nourished, educated young people living
with positive values. On seeing this, fundraisers sometimes don't think
they can raise money for children that don't appear needy.
Emmanuel had shrugged and said they had made a decision not to
show images of how the children are when they arrive at the Villages be-
cause they often have behavioural issues, little education, and a low
sense of self-worth. He has no interest in propagating this image of chil-
dren to the world; he wants to show what happens to a child when they
are loved and listened to, and have become a member of a healthy
Beth was an SOS child and stayed in a Village until the age of twenty-
one when she started work as a medical transcriptionist. It was tough to
survive on the small wage she earned and she had no spare money after
paying her board and food and bills. She persisted because her real
yearning was to become an SOS mother, and the organisation encour-
aged people to get some experience of the world before returning to
work in a Village.
She developed a bad back working long hours and was instructed to
take a month off work. During this time she heard she could be a Village
Auntie, someone who fills in when a mother takes a holiday or is ill. She
leapt at the opportunity and, after a period of time and extra training,
she became a Village mother.
Beth absolutely loves her work and her children. A small boy came in-
to the room and instantly jumped on her knee and they spent the rest of
the time having cuddles. It was so obvious she was a very special person

and the love she shared meant that her children had an extraordinary
possibility to succeed in life.
Here again was a sign of hope. In this case it was one mother and one
child, but through the work of NGOs like SOS Villages, through the love
that so many people like Emmanuel and Beth are sharing with these chil-
dren throughout the country, there are millions of children being healed
and empowered to grow up with positive, generous attitudes and values
within supportive families and communities.

Chapter 6
30 October 2010

I found myself awake at 4.30am so I stumbled out of bed, keen to write

more about the new friendships I was developing in Manila. It made me
feel good to recall the young people who are learning positive values
within their communities, the mothers who are developing their own
businesses, the inspirational people who are befriending and empower-
ing the poor, and the locals who lean out of the windows of their beat up
old buses and greet me, a foreigner, with a wave and a smile.
Later the smog is thick over Makati as I approach in the train and
catch a bus to Alabang market. I don't think there are such things as set
fares. But even though the man charged me more for going a shorter dis-
tance than the previous day, and I didn't have GI Joe, the driver more
than compensated by playing some long-forgotten American soft rock/
pop songs at night-club volumes. We all hummed and tapped along in
an ancient bus that seemed to only have three gears, and was struggling
to comply with the highway sign stating that we had to achieve a minim-
um of sixty kilometres per hour. Then we were passed by a super-
charged Subaru and our driver, perhaps a little envious, decided it was
time for the foreigner to experience a bus drag-race. Our driver targeted
a bus slightly in front of us, and accelerated and somehow overtook it.
The other driver wasn't having any of it and he accelerated. The result
was a race between two buses that were probably not roadworthy for
doing thirty kilometres per hour. Then I saw the real reason for the race:
there was a toll bridge ahead. I have no idea why they needed to get
there first, but they were both determined to win, so with rivets popping,
exhaust belching and the engine sounding like it was going to explode,
we charged headlong towards the tolls. Then just as we were about to
win a glorious victory, our driver suddenly applied the brakes, hurling
us back into our seats as he struggled to maintain control of his vehicle.

When I sat back up, I realised the other driver had gained half a bus
length on us and had actually swerved across into our lane so he could
go through the toll gate first. It was like a Formula One race where both
cars try to brake as late as possible into a corner, except in Formula One
the cars would have collided and gone spinning into the barriers. To our
driver’s credit, even though the barriers came close, we managed to
avoid what appeared for a moment to be certain death.
The bus in front pulled up to the toll gate and the man in charge
leaped down and gave him a right bellowing with much gesturing.
However, he let both of us through. The other driver obviously felt ad-
equately rebuffed as we easily overtook him, our driver giving him an
icy stare.
I didn't go into the Alabang market as Princess and Chock were meet-
ing me at the bus stop, but I enjoyed watching the locals arriving. Every-
one was very friendly as I sat there on the step. The drivers offered me
all sorts of transport solutions which I declined with a smile, and they al-
ways smiled back and gave me a wave.
A mother was selling small sweets and cigarettes on the side of the
road. You can buy the lighter, but generally the idea is you purchase a
single cigarette, use the lighter, then toss it back into the basket. The wo-
man was sitting with her toddler, and along the other end of the stairs
sat what might have been her older daughter or another young member
of her community, who was helping her that day.
The mother brushed the little girl's hair, much to the girl's annoyance,
then went along the steps, leaving the toddler by herself. The girl was
not at all happy with this arrangement and, after scowling in her
mother's direction for some time, decided to sort things out for herself.
She shuffled towards her mother, and on the way she saw me. She
stopped and stared as though I had just landed in a spaceship. Then she
carried on to her mother.
After a few minutes the mother returned to her original perch and the
little girl followed slowly behind, taking her time so she could have an-
other look at me. I smiled in greeting and she paused, this time deciding
I warranted a few questions. She asked me this and that, not seeming to
mind that I didn't understand a word of what she was saying, and then,
when she had satisfied her curiosity, she said "Bye bye," and walked
back to her mother.
By now most of the locals who had taken up residence in the area had
said hello or had waved and smiled in greeting. I was beginning to feel
quite at home as bus after bus roared in, dropped off their passengers

and picked up whoever they could before another bus honked, demand-
ing they move away from the bus stop.
I was waving in response to more greetings from a passing bus when
Princess and Chock arrived. They lived nearby so had missed out on
both GI Joe and American pop music, however they had planned my trip
to make sure I encountered all possible forms of Philippine public
The first challenge was to ride a tricycle. I had ridden a couple already,
but never on the back sitting sideways with no helmet, my sandals rest-
ing on a steel bar that was perilously close to the chain. They are not
made for people of my height, so my head had to bend at almost a ninety
degree angle as I was unceremoniously thrown around from one pothole
to another.
Gingerly getting off at the shops, I met the other members of the
Rotaract Club of Manila Metro. They were either at college or high
school, studying a wide range of subjects from mass communication to
IT to education. They greeted me enthusiastically, then all fourteen of us,
plus another passenger and several pots of food, crammed into a van
and off we drove towards Cravat.
They joked and kidded around as a group of teenagers do in the back
seat, and once again I was asked if it was true New Zealand had more
cows than people. I was just explaining that it was true when I spotted a
Philippine cow eating pale grass on a sodden field. I commented that it
didn’t look at all like a new Zealand cow and Chock assured me it was a
small one of its variety.
Chock is a member of a Rotary Club and had encouraged most of the
boys in the group to join the Rotaract Club for people aged from their
late teens to early thirties when he was their history teacher at his Boys
High School. We all laughed when he said he didn't have a clue how the
girls managed to join the group. He has a quality about him that makes
you want to laugh, frequently, and with genuine happiness. He is a very
passionate man and while he is quick to laugh, he is equally quick to
confront the challenges in his society. He has recently co-written a
screenplay about the life of the poor in Manila that has been made into a
full-length feature film. He is also writing books, describing the history
of the Philippines from the perspective of the Filipinos.
Chock and Princess formed this project, The Big Kuya, four years ago
and here they were, yet again, travelling a significant distance to contin-
ue to bring hope and positive values to the new generation of children.

Chock was born in the slums and his mother died when he was nine.
His father lived a life in and out of prison and suffered from tuberculos-
is. He always said he would make sure he lived to see the day Chock
graduated from college, and indeed he did, but died shortly afterwards.
It is to his and his mother's grave that Chock will go on Monday, a na-
tional holiday called All Saints' day, when people visit the tombs of their
ancestors and show their respect.
Chock goes there every year and I'm sure he's aware that his parents
would be incredibly proud of how he has positively taught and encour-
aged the young people at his school and the Rotaract Group. He says he
does what he does as a way of giving back to those who supported him;
I'd say he has done that with a great deal of interest.
We reached the end of the van journey and found some tricycles to
continue into the countryside to the Rotary Village. This community of
brightly painted houses has more than a hundred families, and there are
signs showing that at least four different charities collaborate together on
what was previously a dumpsite.
Princess and Chock showed me the library the Rotaract Club has set
up as one of their projects. They have stocked over three quarters of the
room with a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. Chock explained that
although the parent Rotary Club of Manila Metro helped out when the
task was substantial, they achieved pretty well everything through their
own fundraising, one example being a theatre play the previous year.
The library was perfectly clean and tidy, as was the large hall where
the teenagers set up the chairs. They had everything organised by the
time the children, ranging in age from approximately four to nine, ar-
rived to fill the hall.
They stormed in enthusiastically and sat waiting excitedly, then one of
the girls turned and saw me, and commented to her friend. Then more
turned to check out the stranger, most of them smiling and waving until
the show began, and what a show it was. It was one of the most vibrant,
beautiful, happy events I have ever witnessed. Each member of the
Rotaract Club had a role to play and they contributed not just with en-
thusiasm, but with genuine love and affection for the children.
First up was a game. I have no idea what the rules were, but it in-
volved some of the children holding hands to make an arch and other
children racing round to find the right arch to hide under. It brought in-
stant hilarity, the children yelling and screeching, the teenagers doubling
over with laughter. What was even more wonderful than the joy of the
game was that there was one little girl who looked very hesitant, and for

the first few times she couldn't find the right arch to stand under, but
each time she looked confused, immediately one of the Rotaract assist-
ants gently showed her where to go and she gained in confidence, be-
coming part of an arch and doing it all by herself.
The game went on for well over ten minutes and could have gone on
for much longer everyone was having such fun, but finally they moved
back to the seats where another member of the Rotaract Club led the re-
fresher on the topic of generosity they had discussed the previous week.
During his animated talk, it was not only the comments of the teen-
agers that made the presenter laugh, but also the comments by the chil-
dren. They were so funny that the teenagers almost fell on the floor in
laughter. Then they presented the pictures the children had drawn dur-
ing the week, making sure everyone had time to explain their drawings,
before moving on to an imaginative exercise intruducing the topic of
The children were asked to keep their eyes shut and the teenagers
made sure they did, but in such a fun way that the children tried their
very best. It was then time for Chock to do the talk in a relaxed, personal
style and the children didn't lose concentration, even when Chock was
overcome by the hilarity of the others’ jokes. He is a natural story-teller,
and I could see why he inspires his students with his enthusiasm and
After this the children drew their hands on a piece of paper and wrote
their responsibilities on the fingers. At this point the teenagers gently
moved to those who needed help to draw or write and helped them. It
seemed that the older teenagers became part of the family of the little
children, giving them a reassuring touch on the shoulder, or stroking
their beautiful dark hair, or giving them a cuddle on their knee.
Not that the fun and games were over. There was still a singing of
Happy Birthday using their "woo woo" theme song, with their arms
whirling around their head. And to finish it all off the girls in the front
row had practiced a Hip Hop dance especially for me, which they per-
formed brilliantly. It must have been at least five minutes long and they
remembered all the steps, while the Rotaract group applauded and
yelled out encouragement whenever they did a difficult dance move.
After the children had gone, I had lunch with that amazing group of
young people from the Rotaract Club. I asked them why they gave up
every Saturday, even this Saturday which was a public holiday, to be
with the children. Their answers were various, ranging from one who
did it because it was his inspiration in the midst of a busy school life, to

another who did it because they wanted to help the children, to another
who said the children inspired them.
I realised there was never going to be a right answer to my question
regarding motivation. Every one of us has a different reason for caring
for others, whether they be adults or children. It isn't the reason that is
important, it is what we do as a result. I thanked Princess and Chock for
bringing me to share in that one session, but in my heart I was thanking
them for the years of dedication and love they had sown into the future
lives of these extraordinary teenagers and children, and the hope they
are bring to the future well-being of their country.

This is the end of Part One. I am currently writing the rest of the
ebook. This will include the inspirational stories and successful projects
of Gawad Kalinga, Microventures Inc., Center For Community Trans-
formation, Philippine Christian Foundation, Pangarap Foundation, Jesus
Loves The Little Children Foundation and Servants Asia.

Please email me and I will send you a

copy as soon as the next part of the ebook is completed with a link to

If you would like to contact me for any other reason, including public
speaking engagements, please email

Wheldon Curzon-Hobson

Food for the mind


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