A Well of Hope

Village Well, Tarlac, Philippines

a Philippines Travel Experience

A year ago this week, I went on a vacation I will never forget. My husband and I joined several members of his family (immediate and extended) on a trip to the Philippines to visit the country of their origin. My husband was born and raised in Canada, but he is second-generation Filipino. His mother, a first-generation Filipina, was born and raised in Manila.

*Warning: The Philippines has many beautiful sandy beaches and tropical trees, but you won’t find any of those pictures here. Instead, you will see the things most people wish to avoid seeing, including: poverty, tombstones, barbed wire-topped concrete walls, and crumbling houses; but you will also see the smiling faces of the lovely people who reside here.

We arrived in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, on January 26, 2019, exhausted after approximately thirty hours of travel time, including two layovers.

Arrival in Philippines
Arrival in the Philippines. Exhaustion is written across our faces after travelling for approximately thirty hours around the world. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

As we rode a shuttle from the airport to our hotel in Pasig City, I was rendered speechless as I witnessed the traffic situation in Manila. Cars, motorcycles, jeepneys, and tricycles drove all over the road, switching lanes with little warning, cutting off other vehicles, and blocking opposing lanes of traffic when making left turns. Pedestrians walked right in front of oncoming vehicles, expecting drivers to stop. I couldn’t take a good picture of the traffic while riding in it, but if you search “Manila Traffic Jam” in Google, you will see pictures that accurately depict what this growing problem looks like.

 

Did you know? The Philippines loses 3.5 billion pesos a day of business due to traffic congestion, according to a study conducted in 2017 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). That’s an equivalent of over ninety million Canadian Dollars (or over sixty million US Dollars) per day! It can take anywhere from three to four hours for commuters to travel to work during rush hour. Many people have to leave at three a.m. in order to start their six a.m. shifts on time and they don’t get home until after nine p.m. at night (source)!

In the midst of all this traffic, people stood in between lanes holding out bottles of water for sale. Cases of these water bottles were stacked on the curbs and boulevards. For those selling water to drivers, this was their livelihood and how they supported their families. For others, however, there were simply not enough jobs to be able to afford a roof over their heads. We saw homelessness everywhere, including in the rich business district of Makati.

Homelessness in the Philippines
Homelessness in the Philippines in the district of Manila. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Homelessness in the Philippines
Homelessness in the Philippines. A family sitting on the boulevard with a baby in a baby crib in the Makati district of Manila. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

The morning after our arrival, we travelled from our hotel in Pasig City, Manila, to Tarlac City in the Province of Tarlac where we would be meeting with distant relatives. Along the highway, we saw squatter homes stacked haphazardly on top of each other, rising several stories above the surrounding treetops. These structures are made from cinderblocks, plywood and sheet metal and have no electricity or running water. In the event of severe weather, such as typhoons, or earthquakes, these structures will collapse like toy blocks.

Squatter Houses Philippines
Squatter Houses, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

We arrived at the Huat Chan Asian Seafood Restaurant in Tarlac City around midday and were ushered to a private room on the second floor where we were greeted with tables covered in steaming plates of various seafood dishes. Soon after, relatives began trickling in and the tears started to flow as relatives who hadn’t seen each other in over fifty years held each other in tight embraces.

Family Reunion, Tarlac City, Philippines
Family Reunion, Tarlac City, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Family Reunion, Tarlac City, Philippines
Family Reunion, Tarlac City, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

After the reunion, we travelled to the small village where my mother-in-law’s parents and older siblings lived for a few years. Her father worked as a forest ranger, so he moved the family around a lot before finally settling his family in Manila so his eldest children could attend university. It was in Manila where my mother-in-law, the youngest child of six children, was born.

In Tarlac, we drove by the rice fields still owned by the family and saw the small one-bedroom house where my mother-in-law’s parents and eldest siblings had lived briefly before her father moved the family yet again. We also visited the small village cemetery to pay our respects to several deceased relatives.

Family Graves, Magdalena Cemetery
Family Graves, Magdalena Cemetery, Tarlac, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Finally, we visited the grounds of the elementary school where the eldest four children had gone to school for a few years before the family moved to another province.

Guevara Elementary School
Guevara Elementary School, Tarlac, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Guevara Elementary School
Guevara Elementary School, Tarlac, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Down the street from the school, the family gathered around the well that served as the only means of fresh water for the entire village. My husband’s grandparents had donated the well’s pump to the village as a gift to the residents and the pump is still being used to this day.

 

Village Well, Tarlac, Philippines
Village Well, Tarlac, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Reminiscing around the Village
Reminiscing around the village well, Tarlac, Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

On the drive back to our hotel in Manila, we took a detour to bring home one of the relatives who lived along the outskirts of Tarlac along with a trunk full of gifts brought from Canada. We meandered along narrow streets pockmarked with potholes as piles of garbage rose along the street edges—some areas barely wide enough to fit our van.

Concrete walls topped with barbed wire rose on one side of the street and crumbling houses on the other. I stared out the van window, sobered by the bleak view laid out before me as my eyes filled up with tears, aggrieved that people have to live in such conditions.

Poverty in Philippines

Poverty in Philippines. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Despite the abject poverty we witnessed during our stay in the Philippines, I was inspired by the fact that the people of the Philippines still have room in their hearts for the fruit of the Spirit—love and kindness, joy and peace, patience and generosity. Hotel employees greeted us with genuine warmth each and every day and even people we passed on the streets paused to greet us.

I never once witnessed any road rage incidents from drivers trying to make it through the daily traffic clog. Unlike here in North America, nobody yelled or screamed, cussed or displayed rude gestures at each other, and car horns were only used to signal a lane change, never to display signs of anger.

In addition, relatives displayed their generosity by giving us gifts of beautifully embroidered pashmina scarves, leather change purses, and delicacies. We also saw many beautiful places in the Philippines which I will share in a future blog post.

Our trip to the Philippines wasn’t the perfect vacation. We experienced exhaustion and sickness during our two-week stay and had some trouble adjusting to the food since we’re not big fans of seafood. However, my husband and I felt so welcome during our stay.

I’m thankful to be a part of the Filipino community through my marriage. This is a community that lives and breathes their faith and it shows in their interactions with everyone around them, even to an outsider like me.

The Philippines has been brought to the world’s attention over the past two weeks with news of the recent eruption of the Taal Volcano in the Province of Batangas. When we visited the Philippines in 2019, part of our travels took us to the Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City, which overlooks the Taal Volcano.

Taal Volcano in the Philippines
In front of Taal Volcano in the Philippines the year before it erupted in 2020. Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

 

Taal Volcano, Philippines

 

Sadly, approximately half a million people within a 14-kilometer radius around the volcano have been displaced due to the eruption and have lost their homes and livelihood. For more information about the devastation of the Taal Volcano eruption, see an article published on January 19 by CNN Asia here.

Please keep the people who have been affected by the volcanic eruption in your thoughts and prayers. If you have the means, you can also give a monetary donation through the Canadian Red Cross International Disaster Relief Fund (donate here) to assist with evacuation efforts and provide for the immediate needs of impacted persons. Alternatively, there are various Go Fund Me campaigns collecting donations to assist with recovery efforts.

Like my husband’s family who once donated a well pump to an entire village to bring them hope in the form of running water, we all have the power to provide a well of hope to those who need it most.

With love and blessings,

A Small-Town Girl at Heart

You are not alone.

You. Are. Loved.

Unconditionally.

I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.

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