Nine-year-old Jessa lives in a tiny, dark hovel situated within a crowded squatter community in metro Manila. Jessa’s home, unlike the typical homes in most squatter communities, is a concrete house.
While this shelter could keep the family safe during typhoons, on other days of the year it is very hot and humid inside their one-room house.
Jessa wakes up at 4 a.m. Monday through Friday. It is still dark at this time of day, but inside the family’s bedroom it is dark at every time of the day. They do not have a window.
During the rainy season, sleeping in their cramped bedroom is cozy, but on most days of the year, it is hot and humid. Jessa, her father, Jesus, her mother, Naty, and sister, Joyce Ann, sleep together on a tattered double-size mattress inside a 6’ x 6’ room.
The family sleeps cross-wise on the mattress with their feet touching the floor.
At 4:30 a.m. Jessa smells the freshly steamed rice “Nanay” (her mother, Naty) is cooking below; not “downstairs” but “below” since they do not have a staircase. The family bedroom is on a sort of mezzanine-type floor.
Jessa gingerly steps down onto the kitchen sink and to a wooden plank before she touches the linoleum- covered concrete floor. She tries not to startle her uncle who is sleeping on a wooden mat in the living room.
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Jessa takes a quick breakfast – a plate of steamed white rice and locally canned meatloaf – and a quick morning bath.
It is so humid in the Philippines during both the dry and wet seasons that Filipinos cannot truly start their day without taking a quick shower. Jessa doesn’t have a shower. She scoops water from a pail using a plastic dipper inside their dimly lit bathroom. On cooler days during the winter, Naty heats a kettle of water for her daughters.
The Philippines does not have what many people would consider winter. It never gets that cold. There are only two seasons here – dry, when it can still get really sticky, and wet, when typhoons, cyclones, floods and flood-related diseases arrive.
Jessa’s family doesn’t really have a living room. It is just a dark, tiny living space with her uncle’s wooden bed that doubles as a couch when the family watches TV. Uncle owns the second-hand TV but it does not connect to any of the local channels; they use it only to watch DVD movies. Jessa’s uncle sells cheap, pirated DVDs.
At 5:30 a.m. Jessa is ready to walk to school. The Bayanihan Elementary School is only a few meters away. Jessa’s favorite subject is math, but she doesn’t enjoy science. Today she is competing in a journalism contest in which she already won the first round.
But Jessa doesn’t want to be a journalist or mathematician when she grows up; she hopes to be a nurse. She tells us,
“I want to be a nurse someday so that I can help other people.”
School goes until noon, then Jessa returns home for lunch. The house is better lit at this time of day, but the living room is still mostly in shadows. Jessa’s uncle has left to sell more of his DVDs.
Jessa helps herself to lunch. Her mother and little sister, Joyce Ann, join her. They are having leftover cold rice and canned meatloaf. Jessa’s father, Jesus, is working as a tricycle-taxi driver, riding through the crowded back alleys of Baler community where they live.
The tricycle-taxi, the most common form of transport in back alleys and minor Philippine roads, is a 100-cc motorcycle with a lavishly designed metal sidecar. It normally rides three passengers but can carry six when necessary. Basic fare is P8.00 (US $.19). Jessa’s father earns an average of P150 (US $3.57) a day.
After finishing her school assignments, Jessa spends the rest of the afternoon playing outside. Naty allows her to watch local TV at their neighbors’ house for an hour.
Jessa and her little sister come home at 6:30 p.m. — just before its gets dark outside (and darker inside their home) and before their neighbors start drinking bottles and bottles of beer and getting boisterous and violent.
Nearly all male adults in this crowded community spend their evenings hanging out and getting drunk; Jessa’s father is one of the few exceptions.
Almost all female adults hang out all day gossiping and gambling, except for Jessa’s mother and a few others.
For dinner, the entire family eats cold rice and canned meatloaf — more leftovers. By 9 p.m. the entire family is back in their tiny mezzanine bedroom.
This is Jessa’s typical day. But her routine changes dramatically on Saturdays, when she goes to her nearby Compassion-assisted child development center to play with friends, sing and dance, listen to Bible stories, memorize verses, learn, and eat nutritious meals and snacks.
“I really enjoy going to the student center because I learn many things; I also get school tutorials, and I also enjoy memorizing verses.”
Jessa’s mother shares,
“Jessa loves to study. She is intelligent, respectful, kind and diligent. She does her homework on her own.”
Naty hopes and prays that Jessa will go to college someday and achieve her dreams in life – something Naty and her husband dreamed of as they grew up but never had the chance to fulfill.
Naty grew up in the same community. She saw, felt, smelled, tasted and experienced all that her daughter is going through right now, but there is a big difference — Jessa is a sponsored child through Compassion International.
Jessa receives regular medical and dental checkups, school tutorials, spiritual discipleship, and one-on-one attention and care, as do all of the 160 children registered at the CCWI (Church of Christ Worldwide Inc.) Student Center.
Jessa’s family is also comforted to know that local Compassion staff will help take care of them if their house ever gets struck down by a strong flood or other calamity or if Jessa becomes seriously ill — tragedies that are not uncommon in Philippine squatter communities.
As her mother says,
“Jessa’s sponsorship is a big help to us. We have very little in life. She is learning many things at the student center and church. Our family is very grateful.”