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Life Amongst Death, Pt 2

January 21, 2016

As I said before, our group had been informed of the community living in Manila North Cemetery (MNC), and KKFI’s involvement. Since the government won’t provide any support or programs, that’s where KKFI steps in. Half of our group set out for Sta. Mesa Heights UMC, which hosts the weekday preschool for the littlest residents of the cemetery. After a short Jeepney ride (local transportation around here…looks kinda like a cross between a hearse and a school bus?) we walked into the classroom. 

Scratch that. We walked into the back alley behind the church, which had been covered by some tin roofing to create a classroom in the spare space between buildings. If there’s one thing we’ve noticed about Manila, it’s that they don’t waste space. Buildings seem to be stacked one on top of another, with absolutely zero space in between. A couple of fans helped to circulate the 80 degree heat around the classroom, and 26 adorable three-year-olds were sitting in little plastic chairs, practicing their counting in English. They all looked like stifled deer when we approached, but continued counting nonetheless. My guess is they don’t receive many classroom visitors, especially Americans. 
 

Manila North Cemetery Preschool Class

 
And they are tiny. Compared to most preschoolers, these kids are clearly malnourished and in need of much more than they’re receiving to survive. 

We eased our way into the classroom, allowing the teacher to lead, but jumping in where we could. We taught some songs, helped distribute their snack, and enjoyed free play with the (partially incomplete) puzzles and blocks. These kids were pretty shy, not really sure what to do with a bunch of extra helpers in the classroom, but curious nonetheless. It took them awhile to open up and play with us, but soon enough those walls came a tumbling down. 

Next came Duck, Duck, Goose. Since we didn’t know how to translate to Tagalog, we played Pusa, Pusa, Aso (Cat, Cat, Dog). It seemed like a simple enough game, but with how shy these kids are, many of them didn’t want to get up and run once they were “aso”-ed. The few brave ones who liked to run around the circle often continued running just for the thrill, whether or not they got tagged and their turn was over. 

It was a joy to hear the laughter and see those sheepish grins slowly break through. Yet after just a few hours, they all piled up in the Jeepney and were transported back to their homes. In the cemetery. 

These kids know no different. But they should. They should know a life other than sharing a home with their deceased ancestors. They should have a yard to play in where they don’t have to worry about trampling over a buried body. They should be able to eat more than once a day and not have to fear leaving their crypts at night. 

I can’t help but think of the three-year-old I fostered this past year. While he certainly has not had an easy life, and has faced more horrors than most will in a lifetime, he is nearly twice the size of these little ones in Manila. So many children in so many parts of the world suffering through no fault of their own. And I can’t help but hear the wisdom of the Lorax once Dr. Seuss so artfully gave him a voice…”unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” 

The question is…what are we going to do?  

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