Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brother Jimwell

Today is Blog Action Day - an online effort of (at point of writing) over 9,000 bloggers to discuss important global issues. This year, the issue is poverty. So in light of that, apart from encouraging any of you with blogs to get involved, I would like to share a story from the Philippines that both broke my heart and inspired me.

There are many heartbreaking stories, all around the world. What makes me want to hear more of them is knowing that in so many there is still light and hope. Don't get me wrong. I'm not wanting to be a junkie that gets off on other people's misery or some sense of gratitude I get because I know my life's better. And I don't want to downplay the fact that there is a lot of negative in the lives of these people - that's a fact, and I will never know what it's like to deal with those problems. Someone, and I can't remember who, once said that we (as privileged members of the minority, of the affluent, developed world) will never truly know what it is like to be poor. Back to the point, this story is about a young man with so many hardships in his life (none of which were brought on by him) that has still, or perhaps because of them, turned out to be an amazing individual. This is the story of my experience with Kuya (Brother) Jimwell.

I met Jimwell during the week and a bit we spent with Pastor Raffy and his community in Cumadcad. Pastor Raffy is the pastor of the church and community that our church sponsors. He was just another one of the boys at the church - friendly, smiled a lot, and eager to help us foreigners all the time - whether it was carrying water for us, helping package food for the feeding missions, coming along to the feeding missions and making sure everything was ok for us. We were looked after very well.

My perceptions, or understanding, of Jimwell changed massively when MW and I went to stay with Jimwell overnight. He lives in a tiny house, actually smaller than my kitchen, right next to the police station on the main street. It is loud and noisy there - when we rocked up the cops were having a blast at the karaoke place right next door. The house is dark, cramped, unfinished. The roof has had some of its many holes covered up with street signs and thrown out cardboard. There are roaches everywhere. Jimwell lives in this house with his grandmother Vergie and 8 year old cousin Genesis. They also own the place next door, which they rent out to a bakery. Vergie's brother lives at the back and he has terminal cancer.

So, a bit about Jimwell. He is 18 years old and was studying business in his second year of college. He is the product of rape and has never met his father. He has a step brother (or half brother, I'm not sure of the details) in Germany*. His mother was the one who supported their family, until she told him two years ago that if he wanted to remain in college, he would have to support himself. One year later, she disappeared with all the savings. Jimwell says she has gone to live with the step brother in Germany; and that even though he writes to her every month, she has cut off contact. As a result of the mum shooting through, Jimwell chose to drop out of college in order to support his family. He loved college and told us how much he values education. He is bright too - and had to reject a scholarship to study, because he had to support Vergie and Genesis. I can't help but feel guilty that he wants to study so much, would give anything to be able to... and I can't be bothered writing my essays for Uni.
* Vergie was so happy - to the point of tears - to see MW, because according to she and Jimwell, MW is the spitting image of the step brother in Germany. I can understand MW looking a bit German...but not Filipino as well. In any case, it made them really happy.

Kuya Jimwell.

We found out that the next morning, Jimwell would be going off to Subig, to work. He works on a shipyard there for at least 9 months of the year. It is 12 hours away from his home and he is allowed a week of leave for every there months. He chose to take his week early, just because our team was going to be at his church - and he wanted to help us. (He is also the youth minister at the church - and manages to organise events and groups for them, despite being so far away most of the year.) Jimwell told us that more than 1800 people work on the shipyard - all poor and trying to make some money. People get injured or even die all the time there, since there are no safety regulations or equipment. Jimwell is the youngest on the worksite. He stays at in a boarding place with many other workers. His working day (which is everyday, as he works weekends for extra money) is from 3am to 10pm. For all that, he earns just under $30 a week - below minimum wage here. Nobody I know has to work that many hours everyday of the week for such small pay. The fact that $30 can support the family is amazing. It forced me to think about how far my money can go. So many of us complain about not having money to do things like go out, etc.. but he doesn't even complain about having just enough to survive. Vergie attempts to help out by selling ice candies... but they bring in 20 pesos a week (less than a dollar) and she has to sell them out of somebody else's fridge, because she can't afford one.

This is only part of Jimwell's story. I don't know much more and I can't do justice through writing to the things he told us and the things we saw. My heart broke though from hearing his story, from seeing their situation and from knowing that it was out of their hands. I felt guilty that they were so hospitable - that they gave up the single bed they own and share for us, that they made sure we were comfortable while they slept on the floor or shared a couch, that Vergie had been saving and spent the money on a nice breakfast for us. They couldn't eat when we ate, because the table was only big enough for M and I to sit at.

The morning spread: Suman and ibus (different rice) with condensed milk, tea, and meats.

Jimwell's story, however, isn't one of just sadness and hardship. Though they have played a great role in life, they have helped create an amazing, caring, incredible young man. He has incredible faith in God. He thanks God for his life, he prays constantly for his family, his mother, his father, his brother. For an outsider, it's very easy to focus on the hardships in his life. For Jimwell, they are life, so he moves on and focuses on how he can help people - the youth, the church, our team, his family. Something I was blown away by in the Philippines was how strong people's convictions in God were. How passionate their worship was. How deeply they desired to journey with God. And how much this contrasted to my position - an often apathetic Christian, who struggles to feel connected to worship - just because I don't have the energy or don't like the words - who has trouble even talking about God, let alone trusting in God. Something I had to learn hard in the Philippines was that I, we, nobody can do everything, or help everyone. Nobody can save anyone. We can help to a point, but when it comes down to it, there are a lot of things that are out of our hands, and we have to trust that God will look after those. We couldn't feed everyone at the programs and that was hard. We can't help Jimwell and the family through all their problems and that is hard too. We can't elevate the Philippines completely out of poverty, nor can we solve all the cultural problems that lead to it. Those are things we must trust God to look after. Jimwell, and many other Filipinos, seemed to understand this.

There is much, much more I want to write. This post has just kinda happened as I typed; and I whilst I know it is not well articulated, I don't feel like I can go back and change it anyway. I hope that if you are interested, you'll come talk to me personally. But most of all, I encourage you to take your opportunities to meet these people - because Jimwell's story is one like so many others and it has taught me so much. Jimwell taught me a lot about my relationship with God, with my family, about my desire to serve others, that to truly serve definitely does not require a title or role, and many other things. Who knows what you might learn for yourself or about yourself?

I'll continue to pray for Jimwell, his family, and the Philippines because that's another thing I've been working on, that the importance of has been reinforced to me. I look forward to going back one day and meeting my brother again.

Brothers M, Jimwell, B & Jonathan.


  1. There is a day for blogs!?

    Wow, that story is... well I'm not sure if I have the right adjective to do it justice...
    But it's amazing how these stories of people living in poverty often carry the same sense of hope. I see what you mean when you say you want to hear more of them.

    It's so heartwarming, I suppose, and it makes you think a lot about life and your own ethics and actions when you hear (or experience) stories about people in third world countries who are passionate and welcoming and inspiring...

    It just, it amazes me.

    I hope you can continue to be inspired and such, BC, this stuff is gold.

  2. I understand what it's like to not understand. I know that people will not understand what we've seen as well as those who have experienced it, and then again, we can not understand as well as those who live it.

    That's why I tell people that they should make their own stories, go out and experience things and then tell those. That's what often reaches deeply to people - personal experience.

    It's easy to hear or read something and get inspired, but just as easy for that inspiration to fade. It lasts longer when you have felt it, experienced it first hand. It's just a matter of letting yourself not be safe.

    I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had, because they've made me more passionate and more dedicated to serve others, as well as help others have the same opportunities.

  3. It would sound weird if I wrote 'I would love to experience poverty' but I was going to write it.

    Not in the way that I would feel happy because I or other people were living in squalor, but just so that I could understand.

  4. It would help us understand so much more. But it wouldn't be the same for us to go there from the position we're in now I don't think.

    Next best thing is to live there for a while and talk to the people. They're amazing.

  5. Benchong.
    It has been one whole month since your last post.

    I am running out of exam time with which to use your blog for purposes of procrastination, though I assure you that my reading of it is deeper and more committed than my own boredom.

    Person who you never made out with.