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Living Amongst Death, Pt 1

January 17, 2016

Before I left home I went to the travel clinic for a typhoid booster. The nurse who administered my shot was asking what we were doing in the Philippines. When I told her one of the worksites was for a group of children who live in Manila North Cemetery, she stopped. “Wow. I really try not to complain and find gratitude every day. But that’s quite a reminder that at least I don’t live in a cemetery.” 


Entrance to the cemetery

Manila North Cemetery (MNC) is a huge community of roughly 10,000 people. Many of the residents get paid a minuscule daily sum to keep the family plots clean, and in turn end up living there instead of commuting back and forth. The benefits include a huge wall around the entire 54 acres, with carefully guarded gates at the entrance. Since cemeteries are built on higher ground, that means no flooding during typhoon season. 

The mausoleums are often made of stone on three sides with an iron gate entrance. When storms arise, families are protected from wind, rain and debris. Several residents set up stores in their mausoleums with snacks and supplies for sale so it’s possible to make it awhile without leaving the cemetery walls. In Filipino culture families will visit their loved one’s grave forty days after death and one year after death, for eternity. Living in the cemetery actually makes it easier to pay respect as they visit each member. That may be where the benefits end.


One of the residents shows us her home.

The government does not recognize the residents of MNC. If they don’t acknowledge those 10,000 residents, they don’t have to provide any government funding for feeding programs or education. They are not counted in any census or infant mortality rates. And if they’re not born in a hospital, they have no birth record. According to the government, they don’t exist. They’re merely ghosts wandering the cemetery, clinging to life any way that they can. 

As if that weren’t enough, water is hard to come by and electricity even more so. The really “rich” can afford a car battery to charge electronics or provide a bit of light. Every two weeks or so they take the car battery to be charged. But whether families have light or not, it’s best to stay close to “home” once the sun sets. With such a huge population so close to each other, rape and violence are too common to count. 

This is the environment from which the children come. KKFI runs a preschool program out of a local UM church and offers transportation to/from school, a high protein meal, and an education. Transportation is a key player in this equation, since it’s too hot and the children are often too weak to walk. If they can’t make it to school, they don’t get a meal, becoming even weaker; thus the vicious cycle spirals downward. 

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