I spent a lot of my childhood summers in the Philippines, and since my birthday is in August (along with my brother, dad, and uncle) we would have this celebration there as well. And aside our own family dinner or party, my family had started this tradition for our birthdays where we would host a community feeding to the children in the impoverished neighborhood my dad had grown up in. This neighborhood is called Paco.
Paco is one of the oldest parts of Metro Manila. The neighborhood is lined with very old houses (most with shoddy electricity, poor plumbing, etc), and in between them, or wherever they could fit, are makeshift homes made out of scraps of tin and other leftover materials from nearby construction sites. These scrappy, one room shelters – no bigger than an average American bathroom – would house families of four or more and act as a living room, kitchen, dining room, and sleeping area. Small, plastic stools, a little portable stove, and maybe some blankets would line the sides of the tin walls and only fall out of order depending on the time of day and what kind of “room” was needed. I imagine growing up in one of these homes meant you had a strict curfew because if it was time to go to sleep then everyone needed to sleep.
This community has definitely seen much better times, but its inhabitants are still some of the joyous and friendliest people I have ever met. My siblings and I always enjoyed returning to Paco where we were welcomed warmly into everyone’s homes and extended the greatest hospitality even though the people didn’t have too much to give. This neighborhood is where the manangs (elderly women) would bring my sister and I to buy gum by the piece from the convenience “store” stand on the street, and where my brothers learned to play billiards with the local street kids. This is where I got my first Usher CD – gifted to me by a distant cousin who lived in one of those scrappy, makeshift tin homes. This is Paco, and these are the people who initially taught me what it means to be rich with life even if you weren’t rich with money.
So when I was younger and my understanding was limited, I enjoyed the idea of hosting my birthday party in Paco because it simply meant more kids could come to my birthday since all of my friends were back in America. After all, it was a birthday party and the more the merrier. To put it in perspective, with just $300 USD we were able to feed over 200 children. It was a big party that filled the little, dusty courtyard surrounded by this jungle of tin huts. Of course, it also made me happy to see all these other kids happy; but at the time, I couldn’t understand the importance of this birthday party for this community.
Now that I’m older (and hopefully a little wiser), I find myself working in Shanghai this summer, and for my birthday I’m going to the Philippines alone to continue this tradition my family had started. This Sunday, I’ll be hosting a community feeding for the children of Paco and throwing games where the kids could win prizes like shoes, clothing, and school materials. This year, I’m also going to gift the community with basic medical supplies and equipment that these people don’t have easy access to. This includes things like a thermometer, first aid kit, nebulizer, blood pressure monitor, etc.
My “birthday party” is all ready for Paco and everything is already taken care of. The food has been bought, the medical supplies are organized, and I’ll fly to the Philippines this Friday. But I guess what I’m missing is being able to celebrate yet another birthday with all of my friends in America. I know it shouldn’t be very important to me but it is – I wish I was able to spend this Sunday surrounded by all the amazing people who’ve extended their friendship and love to me and continue to teach me how to be rich with life. You all are just so far away.
So I’m combining my pathetic need to celebrate my birthday with my friends in America and my scrappiness: I invite all of you to still celebrate my birthday with me by “buying me a drink”. Obviously, this is only figuratively speaking as mailing me alcohol is probably illegal. I invite my friends in America to donate only what a drink would cost to support this party, and we’ll be able to use these few extra dollars to continue funding medical supplies they’ll run out of, buying basic school materials, or providing more shoes. You can send me money through Venmo, Google Wallet, Chase QuickPay, or Paypal – all the information you need is below. If you’re wondering exactly how much to donate: an Old Fashioned at my favorite bar in SF is $12, but I’d also be fine with a vodka soda which is roughly $8. If you’re in Milwaukee a PBR is like $2. Really just donate whatever drink you’d feel comfortable “buying”. And I don’t know why I feel obliged to say this, but please no shots…
Although it pains me to spend another birthday abroad, I’m really excited about this party and the happiness it’ll bring to the people of Paco. I hope you’ll join me in this celebration.
Cheers and love,