This country is ridiculously Catholic. The shopping malls have chapels and celebrate Mass every day so the shopping of the faithful need not be interrupted. In addition to the ever-present Jesus tiles, there are statues of Mary. Everywhere. Big Mother is watching you, children.

I'm developing a newfound appreciation for drinkable tap water and clean toilets. The first doesn't exist here, the second is rare. I'm also missing vegetables, since most stuff here is rice + meat + meat + meat + rice + bread. Vegetables don't keep well in the Philippines, so nobody eats them (they're sad and wilted and... sort of icky-looking; I saw the saddest head of lettuce and the most forlorn looking batch of carrots on the kitchen table this afternoon).

In happier news, we saw the Gawad Kalinga town for the first time today, and it is beautiful. They've transformed this former slum into a great, friendly, self-sustaining, becoming-educated village in a little over a year, and the people with it. The families there are very poor - a house for a whole family (families are large; Manila is Catholic, remember?) is not much larger than a suite single in our dorm. It's smaller than a double. The bathroom's a little larger than our closets. It's an interesting architectural challenge how to make a good living space in that small of an area, and they're doing a pretty good job with mostly concrete blocks.

They acquire a tract of land and go in talking to families asking if they want their homes rebuilt. If the answer's yes, they demolish the old places and provide materials and training; the community pitches in with sweat equity. They build their houses, and they own their houses and take pride in them, sometimes to extreme degrees; one teenager slept on the roof of his under-construction house during windy weather because he was afraid it would fly off before construction was complete and it was nailed down. The people build a school, a clinic, a basketball court, a town center... the villagers to govern themselves, and crime rates plummet, employment soars, people don't drink on the streets, and little kids can actually go out and play. The people are so friendly. The kids would come up and mano po (a sign of blessing and respect, touching the back of your hand to their forehead) in greeting, and when we were caught in a downpour, the nearest homeowner opened her door and beckoned us inside.

It costs about $1kUS for materials to build a house, and they can always use hands to build. Or teach the kids, or first aid, or whatever suits you. Building environmentally-friendly communities from scratch in developing nations, with education, technology, entrepreneurship (they help those who want to start small businesses), and a fascinatingly close-knit community feel. Hm. Sounds like a certain engineering college I know.

Would anybody be interested in getting involved? I'm still trying to figure out how. On a grandiose scale, we could put together an Olin build trip out to the Philippines and raise up a house, start to finish, for a family. I think it would be one of those life-changing experiences; the people are just a joy to be around. Email me if you're interested, or post here.