I came to the Philippines wanting to serve the poor, but I also came to the Philippines knowing that I’m not going to solve any of their problems. If you read the beginning of my blog (www.bulaysayshi.com), I wrote that I came to the Philippines in order to learn how to love. I wanted to learn how to fully give myself. I had this theory that the poor have a more genuine joy than the rich, and all I had to do to share in that joy was to love them. So I went into poor neighborhoods and loved as much as I could and because of it, I have experienced that joy. It’s the joy of simplicity and the joy of pure human connection. It’s hard to find that in well-off countries, so naturally, I wanted to show that joy with my friends and family back home—and with the entire world (as far as my videos can reach).
The best way I thought I could do that is through creating videos and sharing them online, but I always felt a bit uncomfortable filming my friends who live in true poverty. I’ve created a few vlogs where I go into poor neighborhoods, like I did almost every day, simply because that’s part of my life, but I always tried not to highlight the poverty because that’s simply not what defines these people. I wanted to make videos about their simplicity and the joy that comes from it. I wish I could go and just make videos with my friends from these neighborhoods without having to think about what kind of attention their living conditions would bring. Their living conditions would horrify many people of the more developed world (I know, I’ve received some interesting comments about it in the past). Basically, I don’t want to highlight their poor living conditions because that’s not who they are. They are real people with personalities and skills, with faults and failures, with problems and successes. They are my friends. They are not my content.
Since I arrived in the Philippines, I would often reflect on what and who I should film and what and who I shouldn’t film, and even today, I still have the desire to show the world this other side of life, but I want to do it without exploiting these peoples’ lives—without turning my friends into subjects of poverty porn for YouTube views or monetary donations. The goal of my videos aren’t to make anyone feel sorry for the poor simply because it’s not a dignifying role to become the face of poverty. My goal is to show that people who live in poverty possess a beauty different from the beauty found in people who live well off lives. I really wish poverty could be taken out of the equation, but poverty is the reason why this beauty is able to shine through. To me, it’s a more natural beauty, one that can’t hide behind the masks of materialism. I guess it’s an example of God bringing something beautiful out of something ugly.
I’m also not trying to say that poverty isn’t a problem because it is. It’s a real problem. But it’s one of many many many real problems in the world. And although donations can really give people living in poverty a break from their struggles, material things aren’t going to solve their poverty.
What I want from my videos is for people to see this beauty without judgement, without people giving their uninformed opinion about how many kids a family should or shouldn’t have, or about why they think these people live in poverty in the first place, without placing blame on anyone for their poverty, without people giving their uninformed solutions to their living conditions. None of that is going to better their living situation. Unless a person has met the families and spent months getting to know their situation, hopes, dreams, desires, virtues, and vices—only then will a person be able to make a judgement on how to give any lasting help. But that person will inevitably find out that there’s really no solution that can come from abroad.
After four years of liviung in the Philippines and becoming family to some of those living in poverty, I’ve found that the very thing that I came to do in the first place is indeed the only thing that I can do for these families—to love. It’s not a solution. It’s more important than a solution.