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Generosity gives hope to the slums of the Philippines

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-02-14

Jameson Mappala, a Filipino living in Okinawa, is someone that has not forgotten about the less fortunate back in his native country. The soft spoken thirty five year old first came to Okinawa on a scholarship to study Japanese at the Ryukyu University in 1989. Although his scholarship was for only one year, he extended his stay at the University to continue his studies, supporting himself by working part-time while going to school. Mappala eventually returned to the Philippines with his Okinawan girlfriend for a short time, before deciding to come back to Okinawa to get married. In 1991 the hard working Mappala started his own company called "NICHI JEI", which exports truck parts back to the Philippines.

Mappala started bringing back to the Philippines with him all kinds of everyday useful items, such as rice cookers, kitchen utensils, and other household items that were being discarded here in Japan. "Many things that people here throw away can still be used. I thought is it was a waste to have something that can still be used thrown away, so I started to bring some of it with me on trips back to the Philippines," explained Mappala. He began passing out the items to family, friends, and to anyone else who needed them. His generosity helped many people around Manila, and also brought much needed smiles to people facing impoverished lives.

In 1996 Mappala donated something to Manila, which was not only much needed, but has also saved many lives, and continues to do so today. "A friend in the Philippines asked me if someone could donate a fire truck. I told him I would do so." recalled Mappala.

The friend was a member of the Dagupan Tondo Volunteer Firefighters. The group is made up of mostly Manila businessmen, who volunteer their time twenty four hours a day to put out fires. During certain times of the year the group must fight three fires at a time, and they often risk their lives. The volunteers must buy their own equipment, train themselves, and even be ready to leave their jobs during the day if they are called.

The slums of Manila face many problems endangering both the lives and health of its residents, and fires are a major problem that occur frequently. Faulty electrical wiring often start the fires, and the blazes usually spread quickly through wood make-shift houses packed tightly together. The fires are compounded by a lack of public fire trucks and firefighters. Fires in slums are sometimes ignored, making volunteer firefighters the only hope for saving homes.

Mappala, realizing the need to support the volunteer firefighters, purchased a truck here on Okinawa, and shipped the truck back to the Philippines with his own money. He purchased the truck, which was actually a fuel truck used to fuel airplanes at Naha Airport, from Okinawa Airport Service. "The fire hydrants in the Philippines aren't always able to supply water, so trucks with big tanks are necessary," said Mappala. Bureaucracy and red tape made receiving the truck as a donation difficult, so Mappala had the truck disassembled and shipped over in parts, which helped the volunteers receive it much faster.

The truck was put back together in Manila, and was converted into a fire fighting vehicle in January of 1997. Since that time the Dagupan Tondo Volunteers have used it to put out countless fires, and save many lives. "One thing that makes me feel good is that the truck I donated has already saved thousands from being homeless," remarked Mappala. The truck is used up to four times a week by the volunteers, and it is currently the biggest fire truck in Manila.

This year Mappala's generosity is going towards building a much needed school in the well known slum area of "Smoky Mountain", which is a huge garbage dump. Filipino children living in the area spend their time foraging for food and things to sell in the garbage dumps. Their parents can not afford the bus fare to send the kids to school, nor do they have enough money for school supplies, so the children simply work to help support their families. "Education is important, and we need to educate the Filipino people. This school will be near the children's homes, so it will allow them to get an education," explained Mappala.

The elementary school is being planned and built by the Okinawa Junior Chamber of Commerce. "The Okinawa JC's first planned to build desks and chairs, but I suggested to either make a classroom or school instead," recalled Mappala, who is also a member of the group. Approximately 50 people, including university and high school students, from Okinawa will pay their own way to the Philippines on April 16 to take part in the project. "All the materials needed to build the school are being purchased, and school supplies are being donated from around Okinawa. The doors and windows will be brought over from Japan. The wood and the roof are being supplied from the Philippines. Everything is pre-cut, so we just have to put it together," said Mappala. The volunteers are planning on building the school within two days, and classes will begin in June, which is the start of the school year in the Philippines. Mappala also hopes to have cultural exchange with Okinawa and the children of the new school.

This project is also being supported by Vice President Joseph Estrada, the Quezon City Government, the Okinawa Filipino Association, JAICA, Save the Children Japan, the Quezon City Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the Clothing Connection.

Mappala and other volunteers will be giving the children of "Smoky Mountain" something that will hopefully get them passed the cycle of poverty. Although the mountain they must climb is high, these children will atleast receive an education, which will give them the self respect to realize that they can soar above the garbage of "Smoky Mountain."

"There are still many more things that are needed in the Philippines. We are looking for a bus with an x-ray machine to do free health clinics, a dental chair, and other medical equipment," explained Mappala. If anyone can supply something towards the school, or anything they might think could be of use, they can contact Mappala at 030-792-4949 or 946-1947.

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