Monday, November 19, 2007

first week in a nutshell

This is a message that Joern, our cast manager, sent out to UWP's worldwide staff. I thought that it summarized our first week so well, that I should share it with you...

I wanted to send you all an update about our first week here in Manila. It has been such a rich, incredible, eye-opening, beautiful, sad, empowering experience that it is hard to find the words to do this week justice.

To begin with: approximately 75% of Manila’s population lives in poverty. Having been to Bangkok last year, I can say that the Thai capital is a wealthy city compared to Manila. Here you are confronted with poverty at every street corner. Every part of the city seems to have large slums. The team in Manila (Luis, Yamil, Scott, Margaux, Ana and Paul) has done an amazing job of setting up the city for our cast. I spoke with a friend of mine, whom I traveled with in UWP in 1998 and who currently works for Lufthansa here in Manila. He said that if you can successfully bring a cast to Manila, you can practically go anywhere in the world. Thank you Manila team for everything you have done for our cast!

The CI sites the team organized represent the essence of what we are trying to accomplish in Up with People. They are truly relevant. They are truly educational for our participants. And they are truly leaving a lasting impact with people in need.

I had the chance to go to two different sites so far. On Friday I worked with a Habitat for Humanity project. Seven cast members are helping to build homes for 384 families on a small compound in the middle of a slum. Each family will receive a one-room apartment of 20 square meters. The cast is intricately involved in finishing the project by the beginning of December. This project is not just being there for a few hours, posing for some photo opps and leaving again. But it is carrying thousands of bricks per day. It is painting countless window frames and walls and it is working alongside Filipino volunteers (including the future home owners) over a total period of 3 weeks (13 full days on site).

Just today I went to a school project for poor children, which is sponsored by an NGO and the city’s welfare office. The children receive the school uniform, supplies as well as a stipend to be able to go to school. Otherwise their families couldn’t afford sending them and would rather have them support the family income by begging or selling things in the streets. Before our group started working with the children we were invited to visit the squatter area where the families of the children live. Hardly anyone of us in the group has ever seen poverty like this. These families live in shacks in an extremely tight quarter. These huts are built out of old wood, metal scraps and other garbage. The grounds are swampy and filthy water is around most of them. Families of up to 12 are crammed into damp little rooms. It was extremely depressing to see. BUT, the friendliness, the spirit and the smiles of the residents were truly remarkable. They invited us in. They asked us to take photos of them. This content for the life that they have was very inspiring.

Apart from our CI we also had a great regional learning day. We went to a museum to learn about the history of the Philippines, saw some colonial buildings downtown, went to a housing project that was built on the ashes of a shantytown and had a traditional dinner with music and dances. The contrasts of the day were enormous. From the beautiful music and red carpet in the restaurant to families with little kids who practically have nothing...These are just a few experiences providing you only with a little snapshot of our experience so far. As I said when we were in Thailand last semester, I can’t imagine the UWP program without going to developing countries anymore. It is such an invaluable experience for students in order to become global leaders. In order to understand the world, it is absolutely needed to spend time in places like the Philippines. And to see how much the cast is gaining from this experience and how much they have embraced the challenge shows the importance of these four weeks already.

--Joern Gutowski, Cast Manager

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