Christmas message in garbage dump

Date: 17 December 2016

I am sending this Christmas letter to many friends I see regularly – thank you for engaging so well and spending so much of your time with and for the YMCA movement! I really appreciate to see your face and receive your smiles!

I am sending this Christmas letter to so many friends I have seen only once during this year, but the meeting we had, was important and significant and it stays in my memory. Thank you for the impressive moments you created for me when I visited, thank you for showing me how your YMCA is impacting with young people in such important ways!

From all my highlights in 2016 I want to share one moment of significance with you, a moment which again hit me in my guts and in my heart and made me silent for a long time.  I could not speak, because my eyes filled with tears and my voice was only a weak trembling somewhere down my throat.

We had arrived in San Pablo YMCA an hour outside of Manila in the Philippines. Kristy is the name of the General Secretary, and when I stepped out of the minibus, a choir of young people were dancing around me with posters welcoming us to San Pablo. A terrible typhoon had destroyed parts of the YMCA and effectively closed the swimming pool, but the YMCA was full of young people, vibrant and full of life. Fascinating! Exciting! Just an ordinary day of my working life – what a privilege!

We sat down in the largest room of the YMCA and they put on the projector to show me highlights from their programmes. Not an unusual activity for me, but still always interesting. This was a video from the garbage dump and we followed a young child wading around in the garbage, sticking his small hands with vulnerable fingers into the dangerous garbage, broken glass, poisonous needles, rotten food, dead animals. The boy is interviewed and he says that he can earn a dollar or two on a good day, and then they have food at home. If not, they starve. He is not going to school, cannot afford the cloths, cannot afford the transport, cannot afford anything, and his father has walked away and at home only his mother and younger siblings. He has to go on. He has to survive. There is no future. There is no hope. There is only darkness and maybe a dollar on a good day.

I start to feel depressed and angry. This is injustice towards young people, this is the untold story, the story no one wants to hear, and only the YMCA is telling the story. Here in San Pablo. The story is being told.  At least that makes me feel a little proud, proud of my friends here in San Pablo.

The video film is at end and the garbage dump disappears in the fog and the projector stops working. No more light in the lamp.

Next item in the programme follows immediately. A young man, well dressed and handsome, comes forward to give us greetings. I am not prepared for what is coming, not prepared at all. That is why my eyes are filled with tears and my voice disappears. Because all of a sudden it dawns on me that this young man in front of me in fact is the child from the garbage dump and he has a name, his name is Ian. He is working at the large shopping centre downtown in the customer service department; he is well educated and earns a good salary. He smiles and is healthy and beautiful and happy.

He is Ian from the garbage dump and he says that the YMCA changed his life, saved his life, turned his life upside down and gave him a future.

Writing these words I am again brought to tears. It is such an immensely important experience. The untold story of Injustice towards young people was told in San Pablo, they went to the garbage dump and took Ian out of his misery and gave him alternative schooling and paid his cost for cloths and transport.

For me this encounter with Ian from the San Pablo garbage dump is the greatest Christmas gift anybody could give to me and it gives me energy and strength and courage and will power to go on full engine – go on with Youth Empowerment.

Christ came to earth to reach out to Ian on the Garbage Dump of San Pablo, and he reached him through the arms and legs and energy of the good people of San Pablo YMCA!

Merry Christmas Ian! Merry Christmas San Pablo YMCA! Merry Christmas to all you good YMCA people out there, wherever you are. God bless you!

Warm regards,
Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General