Letter from Manila

  • Stephen Clark

Manila from the air image: ICN/JS

Manila from the air image: ICN/JS

A few times each day a helicopter passes overhead and lands on the helipad of a five star hotel near Manila bay, a service to guests who would prefer to avoid our famous traffic. Its flight path goes over the national sports stadium in whose covered alcoves the homeless sleep and store their handful of belongings… so close, and yet so far.

The distance between rich and poor here is greater than anywhere I have seen in the world. Unbridled capitalism and endemic corruption work synergistically to ensure an ever growing underclass and untouchable and increasingly isolated elite.

Added to this, are the aspirations of the middle classes which can counter compassion and build walls against the poor. It all chips away at our humanity and increases separation and isolation.

A big event like the Papal visit for example, sees the homeless shunted away by the government, dehumanized as an embarrassing problem.

We must seek out a new way, of compassion and dignity. Everyone has a story but not all have a voice.

I read a post some time ago and the chap who told the story was just sitting down for lunch at a simple outdoor carinderia (café) when a homeless man came shuffling along with a few bags in tow. He invited him to join him for lunch and they got talking. The homeless man had not always been so. He had worked all his life; he and his wife had a good home and life together until she became ill. Hospital bills quickly mounted and exceeded their savings until he had to sell his house and property to continue treatment. (Whilst the Philippines is a developing country, the medical fees are set at first world prices.) Eventually she died and now he was left grieving (although without regret) and had nothing left.

He was making his way back to a province where he had relatives who might take him in and so his host bought him a bus ticket to that town and they parted company. Sometimes a few minutes to listen and a few pesos can lift someone up.

How easy it was to help; how much easier not to bother to engage though, like in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Compassion is the better choice; the better choice for rich and poor alike.

Yours Sincerely

Stephen Clark
Manila
Philippines


Tags: Philippines, Stephen Clark, Manila, Poverty

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