Miriam College – National Service Training Program
As part of Bahay Nakpil-Bautista’s advocacy of fostering a cooperative spirit among the various residents of Quiapo, it hosts programs that reach out to the Muslim community that has made the district its home. On May 13, 2009, one such event held by students from Miriam College who visited Bahay Nakpil-Bautista as part of their National Service Training Program.
The following are some of their reflections on the experience.
Having spent two days in Quiapo, the group was able to realize how great the difference is between their lives and those that they’ve encountered. They saw that education, while it is a priority to most families, is not much of a priority to the Muslims, who focus on religion and family first. They also found out that the children who play in the streets almost all day have parents who are so busy looking for ways to earn money that they aren’t paid attention to.
Iris May Ellen Caluag, leader:
When you have almost everything you want, it’s easy to assume that life is comfortable. You’re caught in your comfort zone, a safety bubble that keeps you from understanding that there’s more to studying hard and garnering achievements. When you claim to read the newspaper everyday and watch the news because you’re trained to do so, you automatically think that you know everything about the world and its cruelties. But the thing is: no amount of reading or researching can ever prepare a person for the things he may see.
A trip to Quiapo seemed interesting to me. Quite honestly, I had ulterior motives to being interested. After all, Quiapo was notorious for the pirated DVDs that people frequently buy. I didn’t think about the Quiapo Church, nor did I think to visit the mosque once I get there. (In the first place, I didn’t know they had a mosque there.) When we arrived, the sight of children playing in the street, throwing sand at each other and stopping when they saw us, greeted us. Some of them already recognized us from our past visit, calling us with hopeful “Ate! Ate!” From the tone in their voices, it was clear to me that they were waiting for something. Anything.
Our first activity was a plenary on sanitation, and if I were in their place, I would be bored to death. Personally, I didn’t see the need to know about the proper way to wash my hands or brush my teeth. As far as I was concerned, my mother had already taught me that before I even learned the alphabet. What needed to be done had to be done, though, so we relented. But the enthusiasm in their faces and the excitement the plenary generated from them surprised me. They didn’t care if we were only teaching them to clean after themselves. They didn’t care if we didn’t look like teachers or doctors when we taught them. What mattered to them was that there were four students teaching them something and providing them the necessary materials to do something about what were taught to them.
From that particular activity, I realized that people are naturally thirsty for knowledge. Knowledge about the sciences, about the arts… about everything and anything under the sun. And the knowledge that people get from what were taught to them, either via experience or something/someone else, needed to be used to be understood. For one thing, I also learned that living on theories and concepts aren’t enough; the same way those children wouldn’t appreciate what we taught them unless they have the medium to use what they know.
Their enthusiasm lasted for two days.
On our first day there, we asked for a volunteer among the children to pray. A Muslim boy, Mohammed, wanted to volunteer but he shied when I asked him. He eyed the others nervously, shyly until I asked him again to pray. Islamic prayers sounded different from those of Christians. It was in a language that I didn’t understand. Maybe it was Arabic, and until now I’m still not sure about it. When it was time for a Catholic prayer, everyone remained silent. That incident taught me about religious tolerances. I think it’s amazing that at a young age, the children already know how to judge a person not from his religion or culture but on his worth and actions. It was as if either they didn’t care that their playmate was a Christian or a Muslim, or religious affiliation wasn’t really important compared to the activities they shared with each other.
Whichever of the two was true made me realize that maybe if older people, powerful people viewed things the same way those children did, then maybe we’d all get along.
I’ve learned more than I’ve ever studied about when I went to Quiapo.
Of course we’ve been informed about the history between Christians and Muslims, informed about the state of the Philippines but when they’re just news and words—whether uttered or written—it’s still difficult to believe it’s true, that one way or another, it would affect you.
Yet, the moment you witness it with your very eyes—see the contrast in living standards and religions—that’s when you realize that whatever happens outside your haven would always affect you. One way or another.Related topics: community outreach, News, Quiapo, reflections, social advocacy