John Lyall was a nurse who for many years travelled to the Philippines with his wife and children. During his trips, he would work with the street children in Wawa. He acted as a facilitator between sick people and doctors, and spent time getting to know local families.
Despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, John continued to carry out his work in Wawa. Some of his friends were so inspired that they decided to set up the John Lyall Charity in 1996, to continue John’s work when he died aged 44.
Extract from John’s Diary:
“Following my initial visit, I met the street children every Sunday and sometimes in the week. One particular Sunday I had brought some fruit and sweets with me in small bags and placed them next to each child.
After lunch, two boys were sitting at the foot of my wheelchair and, not appreciating my understanding of their language, one said to the other: “Look at poor John, you can see he can’t work in his condition. He must be poor. I think we ought to give him our fruit as it would do him more good than us.”
I was about to say something, when the thought came: ‘Hold on, let’s see what happens’. With that, one of the little boys got up and went and approached the other children. Within a few minutes, 40 or so children were lined up beside me wanting to give me their bag of sweets and fruit.
The sight of these poor children, whose ages ranged from 6 to 12, wanting to give me their treasured little possessions, was a precious moment in my life. For you see, it wasn’t so much the small gifts they had to offer, it was their love, which they were giving so freely.”
Wawa is an extremely poor area and houses are often inhabited by three generations of the same family. Their small wood and timber shacks have inadequate sanitation and are regularly damaged by typhoons. Adult illiteracy and unemployment levels are high. School drop-out rates are soaring, as parents cannot afford school uniforms and have come to rely on scavenging or on meagre income earned by children at the local fish yard or market. The Department of Education estimates that 40% of Wawa’s school age children do not attend school. A large proportion of these children lack basic reading, writing and counting skills.
Without education, the potential to gain a paid job in adulthood is limited. Young people in such disadvantaged circumstances are vulnerable to the lure of Manila in the hope of improving their lives and sadly are prey to drugs, prostitution and street living.
The problems of Wawa are sadly not unique in the world. However what is special about them is that they evoked a compassionate response from one individual, John Lyall, who was determined to make a difference.