By Uday Broca, Global MBA student working with
We have seen and experienced so much in this past one week that I don’t really know where to begin. The journey to the Philippines itself would be an apt start I guess. After an exhausting last few days in Cergy, cleaning, packing and clearing out our rooms, I made my way to CDG airport on Sunday morning. I was booked on China Southern Airlines. After doing some research online, showing horror stories of passengers about the cabin crew not knowing English, baggage and visa problems at the stopover in Beijing, China, I braced myself for the 25+ hour adventure ahead. Surprisingly, the flight was actually very nice, comfortable, great food and some very warm and friendly cabin crew. I landed on Monday night and made my way to the LP4Y (Life project 4 youth) training and development center with a very helpful taxi driver showing me the sights and sounds. I tried getting a few hours of sleep in preparation for the long day ahead. Our first day at LP4Y was at one of their centers in Tondo, Manila. This center is dedicated to helping
young mothers from Tondo integrate within the Society. Tondo is one of the poorest squatter areas in Manila, where the thousands of families live on incomes of 150 pesos per day. These families have been long forgotten by society and the government and have no real hope for a better future. LP4Y’s center looks to develop the social and business skills of these mothers, helping them to reach a stage where they can be ready to start their own business or enter the job market. The schedule involves 3 steps: study, work and guide. During the 'study' stage, they learn business basics, computer skills, English and general knowledge. During the 'work' stage, the mothers sit together and create hand- titched figurines that they then help to sell in the market. The 'guide' stage is very important; LP4Y volunteers guide the mothers in thinking about their future. They help them develop a CV, create short and long-term goals, do a lot of self-analysis and overall give them hope to dream of a better future.
After meeting the mothers, we went on a visit to where they live as that would give us some real perspective on the ground realties. Coming from India, I have seen my fair share of very poor slum areas with the harshest of living conditions. In spite of this, I was not prepared for what we saw. I cannot describe in words how bad the conditions really were. Filth, garbage, dirt, muddy disease-ridden water surrounds the area. Families live in the tiniest of houses with no electricity or any level of sanitation.
Their primary mode of income is going through trash and selling things at the junk shop. As we made our way deeper and deeper inside things got even poorer and sadder. Yet, everywhere we went we were greeted with a smile. We found out later that culturally the Filipino smile does not depict happiness; it is often used to hide embarrassment, sadness and a feeling of helplessness. A few hours spent there really opened our eyes as to how fortunate we truly are and that all our supposedly “big” problems are nothing compared to what these people go through every day.
The next day we made our way to another center at Old Balhara, another neighborhood as poor as the one we had seen at Tondo. This center is aimed for young adults (17-24) that have been excluded by society. The students here work on the packaging, sales and marketing of an organic soap with medicinal values. Our visit started with a training session organized by AIESEC Manila on HIV and Aids.
It was wonderful to see the students being so inquisitive and open about the subject (which is taboo in Philippines). All the students asked some very pertinent and intelligent questions. After the session, we went around the neighborhood and bonded with the young adults.
Soon it was lunchtime and a treat was in store for us. The students decided to cook a grand feast for us in appreciation of the work LP4Y is doing. Ampalaya or bitter melon is one of the traditional vegetable of Filipino cooking. The students made a concoction of this with a secret ingredient that we had to pry out of them. Along with this there was fresh water melon, tofu and soya sauce with onions and chilies. After a prayer for the food, we all sat down and enjoyed the wonderful meal together and exchanged stories our different lives. We could see a marked difference between the new students and the ones that have been at the center for some time. These older students were much more confident and open about everything and we now know that the LP4Y Life centers really do work wonders!
As the day finished, we got a real sense of the work being done and are now very excited to help out this wonderful organization. Our mission over the coming weeks is to understand the organization better and streamline their funding needs. They aim to make their life projects sustainable within 3 years of establishment but to provide real impetus for growth they need all the support they can get. Now that we have seen the kind of impact they are making, we are sure as MBA students we can help them secure the support they need!