#TeamEglot

Latest updates are at the bottom

As I am typing this, it has been two years since I first met Alexis (Eglot).  Whenever someone learns about him from my latest post, I usually tell them to go through my Instagram (_whentravelcalls_) feed or my Facebook feed to learn about his story.  Today I’ve decided to tell his story from the beginning to make it easy for others to understand.  His story is a big reason for this website and my desire to help other kids like him.

“Poverty is complicated, feeding a child is not.”

 

This story started with my desire to travel.  I wanted to visit an Asian country and was trying to choose between Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines.  After reading up, I decided to go to the Philippines, partially because Filipinos speak English and partly because of reading about their culture.

I won’t talk here much about my first trip to the Philippines, as I try to tell Eglot’s story. However, I do need to mention a few things as those led me to meet Eglot.  I first came to Manila in July of 2018, and after my first visit, I discovered an amazing country with many kind, positive people that had a smile on their faces despite the poverty that they were surrounded. Meeting a couple of people who helped the poor made me want to come back and help.  My plan was not to sponsor a family/kid but instead find a few organizations to help with my photography/website building/video skills. One last thing I’ve noticed is many kids walking barefoot, and since I could bring two suitcases, I knew I could get few shoes next time to give them out.  I really fell in love with the Philippines and decided to come back six months later.

Teacher Fe

Before my second trip, I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to donate shoes to bring to Manila.  And so, in February of 2019, I was on my way to Manila again. This time with a  suitcase full of shoes.  I connected with teacher Fe, and she invited me to visit Education Under the Bridge, a charity that she runs.

Teacher Fe is an elementary school teacher during the week.  About ten years ago, she realized that kids that live near the fish food market don’t always go to school.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Many of these families that live there are transient and only stay for a few months. Others are very poor, and even though education is free, they cannot afford to buy shoes, uniforms, or school supplies.  Some of the kids, as young as seven, work to help support their families. Every Saturday, teacher Fe sets up a makeshift school under a highway bridge to teach those kids basic math, reading, and writing.  She also helps by giving those kids something to do while their parents are working.

I spent my day with Teacher Fe, and we agreed that we would go to the market next time to get more supplies for her. Midweek teacher Fe set up her makeshift under the bridge again for a special activity.  I also brought shoes that my friends donated so I can distribute them to the kids.    

Meeting Eglot

Teacher Fe, along with other volunteers and me, set the shoes out and started to match kids with the shoes. Few volunteers held kids back as many of the kids were swarming around trying to grab those shoes.  I was also helping with this effort.  After giving to a few kids, I saw this little, sad kid standing in the background.  Unlike many others, he wasn’t trying to elbow himself next to a volunteer; he was just standing there looking at everyone and probably hoping that someone will notice him.

I grabbed a pair of crocs that were in front of me and called him over.  I remember he was wearing a pair of very old, dirty, adult-sized slippers.  The shoes fit him well, and he was on his way while we continued the distribution.

A couple of days later, it was time for Education Under the Bridge again.  Teacher Fe and volunteers set up tables and chairs, and I was there taking pictures.  As I was sitting on the ledge next to the river, this little kid showed up again and sat right next to me.  He pointed at his crocs, but neither one of us spoke the same language.  Later one of the volunteers said that he was very excited about the shoes. He wasn’t part of teacher Fe’s “school,” but he heard about shoes being given out and came over like many kids.  But unlike any others, he was the only one that came over and showed appreciation.

 

Later on that day, I talked to teacher Fe.  I had a plush toy that was donated, and I wanted to give it to that kid.  After all the chairs and tables were put away, teacher Fe and I went to the back of the market to find him.  She talked to his dad and found out his name was Alexis, but his nickname was Eglot.  He was seven years old but has never been in school.  He was the oldest out of his many siblings.  He lived with his dad in the back of the market in the small hut.  His dad was making about $3 a day cleaning shells, which barely covered their food expenses.  So there was no money to send him to school.  The approximate cost to send a kid to school is only around $20 for a backpack, school supplies, and basic uniform.  It can be about $120/year for other expenses related to schooling.  After talking to teacher Fe, I offered to pay for Eglot’s school.   As he was seven, he was already two years behind.  Philippines school year starts at the end of May and ends at the end of March, so there was only one month left.  Teacher Fe wanted to start him the next school year. However, there was one more problem, his birth certificate.  To enroll him, we needed it. However, his dad didn’t have it, and we did not know if he even had a birth certificate issued.  In the Philippines, if the birth is at home, sometimes the birth doesn’t get registered till the child is way older or, in some cases, till the person is an adult and needs it for something.

It was my time to go, and as I said goodbye to teacher Fe, she promised to work on getting a birth certificate in the next few months and get him enrolled in the school.  I bought Eglot a couple of sets of clothing and left some money for school supplies and uniforms.  I planned to come back in November.

As months flew by, I kept in touch with teacher Fe.  She visited Eglot and his dad a few times, but his dad was unwilling to go to the government office to get the paperwork started.  May came and went, and Eglot was still not in school.  I kept checking in every couple of months, and around July, teacher Fe said that Eglot moved somewhere.  At that point, I realized it wasn’t meant to be.

Third trip to Manila

As November was approaching, I was getting ready for my third trip to the Philippines.  I talked to few charities again that I was going to connect with and, of course, to Teacher Fe as I was planning to attend Education Under the bridge as well.  With the new set of shoes packed and ready to go, I boarded a plane in November bound for Manila again. 

The day after my arrival came with the shoe to Education Under the Bridge.  We distributed the shoes to the kids and later went around a few houses giving kilos of rice away to few needy families. Over the course of next week, I spend my time with few other charities.  We also went and got more supplies for Education Under the Bridge.  The week went by so fast, and soon it was Saturday again.  With my flight being on Sunday evening, I had one more Education Under the Bridge class I was going to attend.   When I arrived, I was a bit surprised to see Eglot there. Later, as the volunteers put the tables away, teacher Fe asked Eglot if he moved back.  He said no, he still lived away, but he just walked because he heard that I was back in Manila.  Apparently, his dad moved about three miles away, so Eglot walked from his home to the class so he could see me.

 

 

 

At first, we were unsure what to do as we couldn’t just leave him to walk back in the dark.  We found out that one of his relatives still worked at the market.  We fed Eglot at McDonald’s (his first time ever) and later to a Jeepney to his house to drop him off.  At the house teacher Fe again talked to his dad about the importance of education and how she really wanted Eglot to start school.  I met up with Teacher Fe again as I wanted to leave few Christmas presents for Eglot.  As we were shopping in the market, she asked me to get a couple of uniforms for Eglot.  I flew back hopeful that there was now a chance this kid could end up in school.  I was planning on coming back in February (in a couple of months) and working on getting Eglot’s birth certificate.

 

January came, and I got good news.  Eglot moved in near the market again and came to school.  He wasn’t officially enrolled yet, but he started to go to teacher Fe’s class daily.  Things were really looking up for Eglot and I was really looking forward to my February trip.

 

Fourth trip – Operation Birth Certificate

It felt like I was running from place to place during my November trip, checking out different charities. I wanted to take it easy on this trip and planned to connect with the two charities I worked with before and mostly focus my time on getting Eglot to the place where we could officially enroll him in school. 

Finally, the day has arrived.  I was in line at the airport heading back to Manila. There were talks about COVID-19 being prevalent in Asia in a previous couple of weeks, but traveling still felt safe. There were only a few dozen cases reported in the US and only a couple in the Philippines.  The flight was full since all the flights going to Manila through China and Taiwan were being canceled. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have traveled, but luckily I was oblivious to the upcoming pandemic.

I’ve arrived on Friday night, and my first order of business was going to Education Under the bridge on Saturday. It only took about 10 minutes after my arrival for Eglot to find out that I was there.  Soon I saw a super excited kid with shaggy hair running towards me.  We were both so happy to see each other again.  Eglot wouldn’t leave my side, and after the class, Teacher Fe and I took him to a barbershop and McDonalds.

 

The next morning teacher Fe wanted to show me another program that she helped start.  She wanted Eglot to go with us as well.  I arrived in the morning, and we boarded a  metro bus as the other program was on the other side of Metro Manila. Eglot handled the bus ride very well. However, he felt a little nauseous at the end as he has never been on the bus for this long.  After getting off the bus, we boarded a Jeepney.  It was probably a 15-minute ride, but after weaving through the streets with diesel smoke coming through the back of the Jeepney, I felt I was going to throw up.  Finally, at the destination, we met with other teachers that teacher Fe was mentoring to start this program.  What impressed me is the amount of impact teacher Fe is making not only in her community but in other communities around the Philippines.

I chose to order Grab (a ride-sharing service in the Philippines) for our trip back.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the Jeepney or the bus anymore on that day.  Eglot has never been too far from where he lived, so we stopped at Rizal Park on the way back.  Rizal Park is one of the landmarks in Manila where many families relax and enjoy weekends. 

I remember the look of amazement on Eglot’s face.  It really is incredible to see a kid discover new things.  And for Eglot, everything was new. Rizal Park has a huge Philippines flag, and Eglot probably spent five minutes just looking up at it. Sometimes as adults, we lose the sense of wonder. Seeing the world through Eglot’s eyes was amazing. 

After walking through the part, we went up to my condo to find shoes for Eglot.  He discovered an elevator and was really impressed with a view from the 46th floor.  After we went to a Filipino restaurant.  He wanted to go to McDonald’s first but was really happy when he discovered restaurant food. When we got to the dessert, Eglot had some pain when eating ice cream.  I figured we should take him to the dentist.

After meeting with another charity in the morning, I headed to Teacher Fe’s school to see Eglot.  When I arrived, Eglot was very excited to see me.  He made sure to show me the artwork that he created.  He was so proud.  Later Eglot showed me where he eats lunch at school. Unlike in the US, in the Philippines, there are way fewer programs for needy children, and “free and reduced lunch” isn’t really a thing.  However, schools sometimes do provide free lunch to a minimal amount of kids.  Teacher Fe was able to arrange with a school for Eglot to have a free lunch.  After school, we headed to the dentist’s office to see how bad the cavities were. The doctor checked his teeth, and we discovered that most of the damaged teeth were baby teeth; however, 4 permanent teeth were out and had cavities in them. 
Manila.  Our goal was to get new clothes for Eglot, uniforms and I also wanted to get few toys for him to play with.  Also, we were getting supplies for Education Under the Bridge like we did previously. 

 

On the way there, we stopped by and walked around Intramuros, an old area of Manila full of history and interesting buildings.  There we also visited a museum.  I was a bit terrified at first, and we told Eglot not to touch any of the paintings.  Eglot did great, he was very polite, and if you had seen him there, you wouldn’t have known that he never been in places like this before. 

Our next stop was Divisoria. As we went from store to store and kept getting stuff, Eglot told teacher Fe that I was spending too much on him, and he was afraid I would run out of money. We assured him that everything was Ok. He told teacher Fe that I could stay with him and his dad if I ran out of money.  That really stuck with me. A kid who practically lives on the street had a chance to ask for anything, but he was so humble. We did end up getting a few toys for him, including wooden blocks.

After the shopping spree, I really wanted to do something special for Eglot.  Eglot has always been on the receiving end of charity; I wanted for him to be able to give to the less fortunate too.  We went to Jollibee (a fast-food chain in the Philippines), and I ordered 10 meals.  While those meals were being prepared, teacher Fe explained to Eglot that we would have him give those meals to the less fortunate.

 

So, armed with 10 meals, we went around looking for street kids that could use a meal.  First, we ran into a boy approximately 12 who was carrying a massive bag of plastics to recycle. Many kids from impoverished families have to work to support their siblings. It’s very rare for kids like that to eat fast food. Teacher Fe asked him if he went to school; sadly, he had to drop out to help his parents earn money.  Eglot gave a couple of meals to elderly homeless people.  Soon he saw a woman with few little kids that were also living on the street.  He ran over to them and gave the rest of those meals to those kids.  In the Philippines, a sign of respect for kids is to take a hand of an adult and put it up to their forehead.  So, while teacher Fe talked to the kids’ mother, Eglot gave his hand to the little kid, and the kid put it on his forehead.  He was now a respected elder :D.  Jokes aside, Eglot was very excited to finally be the one who could give to others. We finished our day at a pizza place.  Eglot has never tried pizza before, and I don’t think he was too impressed.  We did have chicken and rice ordered, and Eglot was thrilled to finish those off. 
The following day was the day I’ve been waiting for a long time.  It was the primary goal of this trip, getting Eglot’s birth certificate.  After school, we went down to Eglot’s place and got his dad.  I ordered Grab, and we were on the way to the government office.  When we arrived, teacher Fe started filling out the paperwork for Eglot and his dad. Since teacher Fe was still wearing her teacher uniform, we had a few people come up to her asking for help filling out their forms, and of course, she did. It always amazes me to see what a blessing she is to everyone she meets. We need more people like her in this world.

Eglot’s paperwork was done, and we came up to the security guard to go inside to get in line. Teacher Fe spoke to the guard as he checked the forms, then turned to me and said that we won’t be able to get the birth certificate today.  We did not anticipate Eglot’s dad needed a picture ID; without it, we wouldn’t be able to do anything.  The problem was he never had any kind of ID.  Luckily teacher Fe is in the business of solving problems.  We quickly regrouped and she asked one of her friends to take Eglot’s father to the Barangay (local neighborhood) hall to get an ID. Typically they don’t like to give IDs to informal settlers like his dad, but since her friend worked in a different barangay, she would vouch for him.  The hope was with a new ID we could come back and finish the next day.

Regardless of the outcome, to me, this was a massive step in the right direction.  I decided it was time to celebrate this milestone (Eglot’s dad agreeing to go get the birth certificate).  Our nextt stop was an Aristokrat restaurant.  On my morning walk, I did find one that was kind of “fancy” for this big occasion. The day before, I asked my friends on Facebook to send messages for Eglot to encourage him to study, so teacher Fe spent time reading those messages while we waited for food. 

The food was excellent, and I think both Eglot and his dad enjoyed it. Eglot was now an experienced restaurant patron, but I think it was the first time for his dad.  After we were done, I got a horse carriage to take Eglot and his dad around.  After we went to Rizal park again and walked around.  Eglot was eager to show his dad things he’d seen the first time around.  The reality is his dad has not been to many places either. I did drop my phone and broke my screen right when we got to the park and couldn’t take anymore pictures that day. 

My next morning was spent shopping for a new phone.  Sadly, once in the US, the phone  I got didn’t work, so when I come back to the Philippines, I will happily gift it to Eglot.  Teacher Fe let me know that Eglot’s dad got a barangay ID, and after school, we all headed to the government office again. This time around, with all the paperwork in the hand, they let us in, and teacher Fe spoke to the clerk. We were told that if Eglot’s birth was registered, we could get the certificate in a few hours, and if it wasn’t, his dad would have to go through the process of registering Eglot, which could take a few months. There was a huge book fair in town in a place not too far from the government office, so we went there to wait for the results.

The Bookfair was inside a convention center, but looking at the prices, the books were not much cheaper than they would’ve been in the US.  I did get Eglot a couple of books, and after a while, we went back to the government office.  Soon we had good news, and in about an hour, we were heading back to Eglot’s place with a birth certificate in hand.  On the way there, we stopped by the bakery and got a cake to celebrate with Eglot’s neighbors.

We arrived with coke and cake to the area he lived in.  As teacher Fe was cutting the cake, Eglot ran around and gave pieces away to his neighbors.  Teacher Fe gave the last piece to Eglot.  As he started eating, he looked at me and realized that I did not have a cake.  So, without hesitation, he offered his piece to me. This is the kind of kid Eglot is; kids like him don’t get to eat things like that very often because growing up poor, the cake would be too expensive for their parents to buy.  And yet, Eglot was worried that I would go without.  I thanked Eglot and told him that he should finish the cake as we were going to a restaurant next and I wouldn’t be hungry.

 

 

We went to the restaurant first and finished the day by going to the pool at the condo I stayed in.   Eglot told teacher Fe that he could swim as he has done it before in the river.  The water near Manila is polluted as many factories dump toxic materials into waterways that end up in the waters near the bay.  Eglot, however, assured us he no longer swims there as he was told by other kids that his skin is dark now because of that.  We had a blast in the pool even though I had to keep helping Eglot as he wasn’t that strong of the swimmer. Honestly, I couldn’t swim if my life depended on it, but luckily the pool was about chest deep for me all the way around.

The next few days consisted of taking Eglot to the dentist after school and then going to a restaurant and swimming.  Since I was armed with a camera, one of the days, we took Eglot’s dad to the barbershop, and I took a picture of them together.  Eglot never had a picture of him and his dad before. As the week was coming to an end, teacher Fe and I were planning on going to see her relatives in the province. We visited them on my second trip to Manila, and I was happy to visit them again.  After spending a whole week with Eglot, Teacher Fe and I decided that we should take him with us to experience the province too.

On the morning of our drive to the province, I took Grab to pick up Eglot, Teacher Fe, and her husband, and we were headed to a car rental place.  Eglot made sure to take his prized possession with him, wooden blocks that we bought for him few days before. Renting a car in the Philippines is a whole different experience, but I will save that story for a different day.  The plan was to rent a car and take a quick drive to a highway where we would cruise all the way to the province.  Unfortunately, I left my backpack at the condo, and we had to make a detour through Manila streets.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that any gray hair on my head is a result of trying to drive in Manila.  When we first arrived at Teacher Fe’s relative’s house, Eglot was very shy.  The kids that lived there invited him to play, but he did not want to go out.  A bit later, he came up to me and asked me to unlock my Ipad.  He took the Ipad and went outside.  He was delighted as the kids surrounded him to watch him play.  It was a couple of fantastic days.  Eglot got to see cows, wildlife, and rice fields. He really enjoyed watching TV in the house since his shanty does not have electricity or running water, let alone a TV set.  After spending a weekend in the province, we went back to Manila.
With only a couple of days left, we worked on getting Eglot’s teeth fixed and spending the rest of the time eating out and swimming in the condo pool.  Every evening on the way back to Eglot’s place, he would fall asleep in the car, and we would have to carry him to his dad’s hut.  On my last day in Manila, I went to Eglot’s school to officially enroll him for the next year. We took him to the poor area next to the school, where he gave out a ton of popsicles to kids that live there.  Went to a restaurant one last time and later at the condo for a quick swim.  As I was finishing packing my suitcase, Eglot found a broom and started sweeping the room. The fantastic thing about Eglot is he always so caring and helpful.

On the way to the airport, he fell asleep again.  We pulled into the unloading zone, and I said goodbye to teacher Fe and a sleeping Eglot.  As I got out and grabbed the suitcases from the back of the car, a door opened, and sleepy Eglot jumped out to give me a hug.

Boarding the flight, I knew I will miss Eglot, but at the very least, I was thrilled he was finally enrolled in school, and things were looking up.  We left him and his dad with a large amount of canned goods and rice, and his teeth were all taken care of.  I had a layover in South Korea, and as I was boarding my flight to Chicago, I got a video call from teacher Fe.  Her whole class, along with Eglot, was saying “Hi” to me.  Soon Eglot realized that I was no longer in Manila and started to cry. 

The world turned upside down

Back in the US, we were getting more and more news about COVID-19.  As weeks went by I kept in touch with Teacher Fe; however, around 3 or 4 weeks after my trip, I heard the news that the Philippines were shutting down. Teacher Fe went to the province, and the country went into lockdown.  I had no way of finding out how Eglot was.  I knew that his dad worked daily, making around $4 a day.  However, if the fish food market was shut down, he wouldn’t make any money.  With no way to buy food, I knew Eglot was probably starving.  As weeks went by and without any news, my worry about his situation kept growing.  Luckily few weeks into a pandemic, restrictions eased a little.  Previously I worked with few other charities, and through my contacts, I was able to get Eglots a few kilos of rice, canned goods, and few coloring books.

Few of my friends here donated some money.  So, throughout the summer, and with the help of few people in Manila, I could get some food for Eglot and his dad.  I was grateful to have friends here in the US and in the Philippines; hiring a car for a day during the pandemic was expensive and would have been difficult for me to afford if it wasn’t for the donations. For many months all the public transportation in the Philippines was shut down along with rideshare services.  The schools were also closed (and still are in February 2021).  I am grateful for everyone who stepped up and helped this little guy. 

A tribute to Lawrence

Life is fragile, but this is especially true for a kid who lives in an impoverished area. Eglot’s best friend was Lawrence. I met him during my first visit to Education Under the Bridge.  I think every single volunteer knew Lawrence instantly. He was always full of energy, the kind of kid that makes instant friends. Every time we went around the area giving rice or candy, he would always tag along with us.  I cannot say for sure, but he may have been the one that told Eglot about shoes being given out during my first trip.  Lawrence was there when we started, and Eglot was his best friend, after all.  His family was just a little better off than Eglot’s.

In August, teacher Fe reached out to see if I had pictures of him as he passed away.  Later I came to find out that he was vomiting for a week and had loose bowels.  His family didn’t have the money to take him to the doctor to get checked out.  So after suffering for a few days, he died.  While I don’t know for sure, more than likely, he probably would have been still alive if he received fluids and antibiotics in time.  The treatment would have ranged between $20 – $100, but his family couldn’t afford to take him to the hospital.  The hospital was right behind their house.  Sometimes life is not fair.

I know I will miss seeing Lawrence next time I am in Manila.  He was an awesome kid and a great friend to Eglot.  Learning about his death made me really scared for Eglot. 

A few random thoughts

For many, Eglot is an invisible kid.  Unfortunately, there many kids like Eglot that roam the streets of Manila.  My biggest fear for him is his future.  You see, right now, he is nine.  The time is going fast, but so far, he has not finished even kindergarten.  Kids like Eglot are often recruited by gangs to deal drugs.  Many of young teenage kids are killed in Manila.  I really don’t want that future for Eglot. I believe that we cross paths with people for a reason, and I don’t think it was just a coincidence that I met Eglot.  So many things had to fall into place for us to cross paths. If you had met and gotten to know Eglot in real life, you would find out what an amazing, kind, and caring kid he is. It’s not his fault that he was born into a family that really struggles.  I really want him to get caught up in school and have a life that he deserves.

I also think that it’s not a coincidence that you came to this website.  If you want to help, Eglot and I will be forever grateful.  You can help me by keeping sharing Eglot’s story, donating or buying #TeamEglot t-shirt or mug. Or even just keeping him in your prayers.

100% of proceeds from items below will be used to support Eglot.

Team Eglot

Latest Update

 

Feb/March 2021

It’s been a few crazy months.  Eglot is ok for now. One of the amazing people was able to take Eglot with her for a couple of weeks, unfortunately it didn’t work out as a long term solution. We brought him back to his place, but at this point I realized that without schools being opened his chances of catching up later will be very slim.  Right now I found a teacher that will both tutor him and feed him at least breakfast and lunch every day.  I’ve prepaid for 1 month of tutoring and feeding with the hope it will go well.  Eglot is really eager to study, and I hope with a little help he might have a better future.  

Join Team Eglot

I am the kind of person that feels guilty about asking for money.  The reality is I will try to support Eglot as much as I can myself.  However, I had a few of my friends reach out to me offering to help Eglot.  It’s not my place to decline the help that is meant for Eglot.  I know that the more people that care about him, the more of a chance he can have in life.  All money donated to him will go towards things he needs now or in the future.  Right now I am hoping to be able to help with his daily feeding and education, and next time I am in Manila I want to finish up fixing his teeth and take him to the doctor to make sure he is healthy.  I will add everyone who donates to an email list to update you on Eglot and how money is being spent.  I do have some #teamEglot merchandise and few gift certificates to my business for sale.  All money raised will help Eglot.

If you want to help you can donate via Venmo (@Journeyofkindness) or using the form below.

 

https://venmo.com/journeyofkindness

 

Team Eglot
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