Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mendoza's Column

Commentary : Light

Lourdes Didith V. Mendoza
Inquirer News Service

AFTER GOING through one political crisis after another, Filipinos may have felt that it's all right to let their guard down, for the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be getting nearer. However, as another crisis grips us, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to look like a train coming right at us. I'm actually hoping that it is; I'm naively wishing that those who really have good intentions for the country will smartly step out of its way, and the ones who don't we can push, not to their deaths, but to the open doors of the train so that they are brought somewhere far away. But I am sure they will stay on the railroad tracks, thinking that the light is an approaching diamond's brilliance.

This isn't hopelessness speaking, it's actually hope misplaced because of the darkness of confusion. But what can one do? We've invoked Christian and moral principles left and right to undo the mess that we have created. We've come up with all sorts of studies to improve the quality of our lives. We have set up various committees, organizations and associations to carry out concrete actions for the country. But it doesn't feel as if we have progressed as a nation. It just feels as if we have given more importance to the quantity of what we do or say, but not the quality.

I was fortunate to come across a group that values quality work and words. This group is not made up of learned men or women who shape our society, but maybe someday it will be. This group is made up of young men and women who moved and shook their little slum community.

The Park Seven Youth Club is a small group of young people who came up with a small project: building a fence that will separate their community from a smelly creek that runs the length of their neighborhood. They didn't get any support from the adults in the neighborhood at first. Nobody ever thought of putting up a fence that would eliminate the hazard of children falling into the creek, which had happened many times. Or if somebody did, nobody took the initiative to make the community safer by building a fence. Yes, lots of people in their area look after their own families, but nobody thought of going beyond their own families except the members of the Park Seven Youth Club. It was this group of young people who thought of making their community safer for all families living there.

The group was able to find the funds needed to buy the materials to build the fence. When the members brought all their purchases home, people started talking. The talk ranged from mere curiosity to allegations of pocketing funds.

The kids ignored all these and focused on the work they had to do. This doesn't mean that they were not hurt by the gossip that reached their ears; they were, but they knew they had to complete the fence before the rainy season started, and nobody was willing to do it, except them.

What hurt the kids most was a direct attack by one of their affluent neighbors. You see, the homes of these kids are wedged within one of the well-heeled subdivisions in Quezon City. One subdivision resident approached them one day, after seeing all the things they bought and hearing all the hammering going on as the kids built the fence. He sarcastically asked them, "If you can get money for a little fence, why can't you get money to buy your own house and lot?"

Despite the snide remarks, the members of the youth club continued with their project. In fact, they have already finished building the fence, with a bit of help from a few adults from the neighborhood who taught them how to weld metal, paint and mix cement. The focus and diligence of the group members caused dramatic changes in their community.

Initially, the residents were skeptical about the project, but later on, as they saw the fence slowly rising right in front of their eyes, members of the community rallied behind the group. Even the "barangay" [neighborhood district] council captain and the councilors gave their support.

Now the community is a hub of activity. The kids' project has spurred the residents to action. Some residents, with the help of some councilors, have constructed a small park. The neighborhood association set up a small stage near the park and the fence. Now, in the middle of their slum community is an oasis of recreation and leisure. The construction of that oasis was inspired by the work of the Park Seven Youth Club.

After building the fence, the members of the club went beyond their primary goal of making the community safer. They have also deconstructed some of the obstacles that hindered the community's progress. They disproved the notion that the youth of their community are good for nothing and that only adults can get things done. They also disproved the notion that a slum community should always be despairingly bleak and dark.

People may think that the members of this youth club are such small players. After all, they are poor, young and mostly unlearned. But these marginalized characters have proven that though sidelined and silenced, the quality of their work shines so bright as to enlighten the residents of their slum community. This, the light of young and hardworking people, should be the kind of light on which we should place our hope.