written by Bebo Bharwani
I met Catriona, about two years ago at the Young Focus student center in Tondo, Manila. Young Focus does a lot of work with the communities that live in and around the Smokey Mountain landfill.
“Smokey mountain landfill!” some of you might exclaim,
“Isn’t that a thing of the 80’s and 90’s?” you might ask.
Well, yes and no. Technically, the landfill is closed, but it isn’t. It is still the place where the cities garbage ends up in. And by the way, Smokey Mountain 2 for some of you who don’t know is at the lip of Manila Bay. This should be a subject for an environmental exposé — but that’s for another day.
So, yes, the area exists and is home to about 30,000 families; a good chunk of them live in conditions that should be declared a national emergency. If you’ve ever been, it won’t matter what political party you support, you will be pissed at the whole system that keeps things the way it is.
But back to Cat, she was there with her mom and her dad, and for hours they couldn’t stop talking about the way they wanted to help. I remember Cat volunteering to teach the kids, while her father who I vaguely remember had experience in construction, was talking us through some suggestions as the organization was getting ready to build a new student center for the kids.
It didn’t end that day. Over the course of the next two years, Cat would teach, host events for them, and would come with various donations, like TVs and computer monitors for the new student center.
What was also striking about Cat’s time with Young Focus was that it was clear that she knew everyone. She knew the kids, their names, their stories; she also had a special relationship with the staff of Young Focus.
You see, staff members — the teachers and social workers who work so hard and give of themselves are often overlooked, Cat knew them and hung out with them. She saw them.
Just recently, we figured the problem of Smokey Mountain is that people think is that it belongs in the past, and we wanted to call attention to it. Immediately, Cat volunteered. She had a platform and influence, and spared no time using it for good.
Within weeks, with the help of other friends, Cat remade a song we had previously released at one of the Church Simplified albums.
When we were working out how to fund a music video, Cat herself approached her own friends and conceptualised and produced the video herself.
This long post is to convey firsthand that her heart has always been to help.
For us at Young Focus, together with the staff and kids, this something we have always known.
For those who may have jumped the gun, who may have not understood “the beauty in poverty” idea from the final question…
From what I’ve seen, and from the friends I’ve made who have devoted their lives in working to help the poor, they would say, absolutely 100% there is no beauty in poverty. As a matter of fact when you do visit, you see the evil underbelly of the system the deliberately keeps things unequal.
So the beauty Cat speaks of isn’t from general point of view that romanticises poverty.
The beauty she speaks of comes from what she has discovered in the stories of the kids, the families, and the people who have devoted their lives in serving others.
They come from knowing actual names, hearing actual dreams. And her response has always been to cheer people on, and when she could, she lent her resources. She gave a voice to those we have long forgotten.
We are so proud of her and the works she’s done.
If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, watch it below.
And this Christmas, you might want to do more. You might want to stand in the spirit of the beauty the Cat speaks of. You might want to give, or maybe even sign up to volunteer.
Words and Music Marcus Davis, Jr.
Executive Producer Church Simplified
Producer Marcus Davis, Jr.
Arrangement IJ Garcia
Backup Vocals Nikki Bharwani
Guitars Noel Mendez
Original version Marcus Davis, Jr.