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