Sta. Clara’s Beauty

Sta. Clara knows how to be poor, but she doesn’t look poor—at least from the outside.

Her cobbled street is lined with houses splashed with green, pink, blue and yellow. These are simple houses, mostly bungalows and two or three with a second floor. Gardens carpet every house’s front yard. They are a collage of leaves, flowers, trees, pots, rocks and stones.

There are many children in Sta. Clara. At any time of the day we see them playing on the shady parts of the street, running, jumping, laughing. They give the first clues of poverty in the place—torn clothes, black smudges on their skin and dripping mucus on their nostrils. But they exude hope. The infectious smiles plastered on their faces reflect optimism.

We may have not known Sta. Clara if not for these children. We went to the place focused only on her façade and the fading paint on the walls. We thought we knew what to do. We thought we were only there to apply a fresh layer of paint to bring back Sta. Clara’s vibrant colors. All this time, she had other plans for us.

When we first met Sta. Clara, she was cold and uncooperative. We felt sharp stares from the residents, and heard murmurs behind us. Our presence wasn’t welcomed. There were times we thought of them as ungrateful. We could only imagine what they thought of us. Probably they said we were spoiled brats helping them only because of schoolwork.

We wanted to finish everything quickly, to leave the place thick with the stench of nearby Payatas dumpsite, but the smiles lured us in. This time, they were coming not only from the children but from their parents as well, and from the owners of the houses we were painting. After two days of pessimism, Sta. Clara finally smiled on us. What else could we do? We smiled back.

Slowly, we got to know Sta. Clara. She was so loving, caring and grateful. She didn’t look poor, but she admitted her poverty. She was reluctant to accept us immediately because she thought we would not understand. She didn’t want our presence then because we were no different to all the people who came and went in the past. She thought we just wanted to mask her beauty with colors.

There was truth in her words. Most of us were spoiled brats who hated the heat of the afternoon sun and the prospect of basking ourselves under it. We isolated ourselves from the people, focusing only on the work instead of the relationship. We were so proud of what we were doing we failed to know the people intimately.

Sta. Clara is grateful for all the help she has received from people worldwide. But external beauty is the least of her concerns. She wants us to trust the people, to see them for who they are—individuals who are working to change their lives. Instead of treating them as beggars or inept, Sta. Clara wants us to spread the word—they are very resilient people who are in need of opportunities and chances to prove themselves.

No amount of paint or landscaping or financial help can take the place of the opportunities they seek. Hiding this desire behind shades of green, pink, blue and yellow is futile. The colors will continue to fade on the lifeless façade of their houses. But if we focus on the people, on providing more opportunities for them to prove their worth, we will see Sta. Clara’s beauty. Unlike the fading walls, the people are her permanent colors.

On our last day in Sta. Clara, this realization personified itself. We finished our work. All the houses were painted and the colors brought beauty to the street. We were happy but there was uncertainty. For now, Sta. Clara is good as new, but how long would it last? When would their opportunity come? Unknown to us, she wanted to tell her story to everyone on that day.

In the afternoon, the rain poured heavily on the place. We decided to rest inside one of the houses for a while. We were waiting for the rain to die down and the ankle-deep flood to subside. We were laughing and enjoying, some were singing and others reading.

Suddenly, Sta. Clara, without warning, unveiled herself. She opened her street to chest deep waters teeming with all the filth, mud, garbage, debris, insect and pest long hidden by her superficial beauty. She wanted to tell her story, and she told it with such fashion everyone heard and was stunned. She was just waiting for us to understand before she let go of the pretension and the mask.

Our chests down were submerged in water. For the first time we understood how much more valuable the people were. We forgot about the paint, the work and effort and prayed to God that he would spare the children, the mothers and fathers living in Sta. Clara. We were pushing the door, battling the current outside. On that, afternoon we heard only two things—cries of help and the rushing of water.

Amidst the tragedy, however, the people found the chance to prove themselves. The men who weren’t at work helped those trapped inside their houses. They tore away the roofs and pulled people to safety. We were also pulled out of the house, and soon found ourselves with about 20 people on the roof, soaked to our skins.

We watched as the waters battered the houses in Sta. Clara. There were tears on the people’s eyes. Everything they owned was submerged, but everyone was safe. The men braved the danger and did not stop until they got everyone out. We did not need the government to rescue us. We were rescued by the people. Truly, they were their brothers’ keepers.

Sta. Clara has finally shown her face. Her beauty is beyond the colors on the walls of houses. She is beautiful because the people living on her street are beautiful. These are the people who lack opportunity. These are the people only a few understand. Soaked, distraught, muddy and tired—they are the most beautiful people we have seen.

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  1. :)

    speechless.i can just smile and thank God for keeping you safe.(^_^)