Parents set up shop and children play on the train tracks that run through Sampaloc, a community in Metro Manila. Once the train's whistle blows, however, craftwork and toys are swept up and everyone runs for safety; when the train passes, the process is repeated.
While many children around the world play hide and seek at playgrounds and build castles in sand boxes, Claire Giamzon and her friends must hop over the steel rails and keep a look out for speeding trains. Giamzon, age 13, who attends the Compassion-assisted Sampaloc Bible Church Student Center (PH-212), lives within spitting distance of multi-directional, fully functional train tracks.
The tracks run for 500 miles from Bicol to Laguna through Manila and all along the way are poor families who have set up shanties covering the open space. Despite its dangers, residents make the tracks community home -- cooking outside, hanging laundry and socializing together.
Why Not Move?
Claire's mother, Cora Giamzon, knows firsthand that it's a dangerous place to live. When Cora was 10 years old, she lived in the same community and was outside jumping rope. The rope caught on a train as it whizzed by, bumping her head and breaking her arms. "I was dragged by the train for some distance," Cora said. "I still have some scarring from that accident."
So why do they still live there? Well, like most people in her community, Cora is just too poor to move. Her community of "Balic Balic" in Sampaloc has an unemployment rate of 30 percent. Adults who work have factory jobs and the average family monthly income is U.S.$75 a month; consequently, residents don't have the means to move out of the dangerous area or any place to go, so many have lived there for generations.
A Safe Haven
Thankfully, Claire, unlike her mom, has another place that is safer to grow and develop the local Compassion child development center. Under the supervision of caring adults, the neighborhood youth who attend the center have the freedom to be children; out of harm's way they can play, learn and grow without fear.
At the center Claire has not only enjoyed safe harbor, she has also acquired a thirst for reading the Bible.
"In the Compassion project we learn about God's Word, which isn't taught in the public school that I go to," she says, smiling.
Cora is thrilled with the Compassion program and what it is doing for the children of Balic Balic.
"The ministry is terrific! If only sponsors abroad could see what their support is doing," Cora says. "They would know the effect they are having on kids' lives here, especially in the context of unsafe communities like ours."
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