A year ago, I was on immersion as part of Ateneo’s Junior Engagement Program (JEEP). The idea of a program is to take Ateneans (who, stereotypically, live in comfort and are destined for lives of office-desk comfort) and thrust them out into the world to work jobs they would never experience otherwise. Some of my friends became elevator operators, cinema attendants and street sweepers. I became a caregiver.
Every Sunday, I spent my mornings (6AM-12NN) at Luwalhati ng Maynila, a home for the aged located in the city of Marikina. “Luwalhati ng Maynila,” when translated to English, means “Glory of Manila;” however, I quickly learned there was no splendor to be found in that place.
On my first day on the job, I was greeted by the smell of feces—a lot of it. My parents had dropped me off and driven away; I stood outside the gates for a good minute, my eyes watering, unable to breathe. Realizing I had no choice but to confront reality, I strapped on a flimsy face mask and made my way inside.
I had been assigned to the ward for bedridden women. There, I learned the reason behind Luwalhati’s stench. Many of the lolos and lolas had lost control of their bodily functions; they poop and pee in their sleep and wake up lying in their own waste. While Luwalhati ng Maynila is funded by Manila’s local government, they receive no funding for adult diapers. The most the home’s administration could do, then, was to replace the beds’ mattresses with plywood boards which they could hose down every morning.
Before the beds were washed, though, we gave the lolas their morning baths. These weren’t warm, comfortable showers—they weren’t even private. The lolas were lined up, naked, waiting for their turn to be washed with cold water from a drum. Meanwhile, the able-bodied lolos took group baths in the courtyard; they were the lucky ones, and yet it still seemed like something out of Schindler’s List. “You need to be fast,” the head caretaker told me in Filipino. “It hurts them.”
Somehow, I felt that this pain wasn’t just the physical shock of icy water. It was deeper than that. There was a sense of deep sadness and shame at their situation and its inhumanity. One lola kept apologizing as we bathed her: “Sorry, Ma’am,” she said over and over. I do not remember her name, and I hate myself for it. However, I do remember her face: her sad eyes, her large lips, her heavy build that stood out from her skeletal roommates. I remember how she held my hand, how she sang beautifully, how she used to be a policewoman.
I began tearing up in the middle of those first baths; later, I locked myself in the store room, lay on a gurney and cried. Then I realized: they’re hurting more than I am. At the end of my work day, I could go home. I could escape to my “regular life.” They couldn’t. And so I decided, in that store room, to give my Sundays to Luwalhati—to give the best of my efforts, the best of my love, the best of me.
Every time I saw the lolos and lolas in Luwalhati, I saw my own grandparents. In the beginning, that was one of the main reasons that drove me to act. But as I spent time chatting with the lolas, I learned that they each had value in themselves—that, as persons, they each deserved to live with dignity and humanity. That each and every one of the Luwalhati lolos and lolas deserved infinitely more than what they were getting.
This Christmas, I want Luwalhati ng Maynila to receive the blessings they deserve.
- 1000 Adult Diapers – There are around 300 lolos and lolas in Luwalhati; if you think about it, those 1000 diapers will run out quickly. However, we must still do what we can. Nobody should ever be a slave to their bodies. Adult diapers not only give the lolos and lolas the chance to go about their daily lives without worrying about “accidents” but can help replace their shame with the dignity they deserve. (In my mind, these are called “diapers for dignity. How much we need for this: P15.4 x 1000 = P15,400
- 72 Bars of soap – soap runs out quickly in Luwalhati. They’re always in need of more soap! How much we need for this: P30 x 72= P2,160
- 20 Bottles of shampoo – similarly, a large bottle of shampoo is used up in a day. And that’s for one ward alone.
- Supplies to help the Luwalhati ng Maynila staff – their jobs are not easy. Simple tools to help them do their job in a more professional manner such as latex gloves (need not be sterile), face masks go a long way.
What we can do
- Donate – At wholesale prices, 1000 diapers will cost P15,400. It’s easy to see that big number and think we could never accomplish our goal; however, if we think of it on a smaller scale, it’s becomes clear that if we each contribute a little, we can achieve a lot. One adult diaper costs around P15. Now that doesn’t seem so big, does it? I can do meet ups in Ateneo, Katipunan, UP and SM North EDSA. I’ll be posting donation guidelines soon, as well as a report of how the donations were spent so that you know where your money goes. [UPDATE 11/25/2011: DONATION GUIDELINES ARE HERE.
- Spread the word – It costs nothing to share this link on social networking sites, so tell your friends!
- Visit Luwalhati ng Maynila – Gifts are nice, but it would be even better to visit the lolos and lolas, spend time with them and make them smile!
We may not be able to solve all their problems, but we can do something. I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach the goal of 1000 diapers or if people will even respond to this (though I really hope you do!).
One thing’s for sure, though: we’ve got to try. :)