Vicar's daughter transforms lives of children in Philippines slum

David and Naomi Tomlinson - a father and daughter partnership for God.(Photo: Keith Blundy)

A vicar's daughter is inspiring churches across Durham with her efforts to give children in a Manila slum a better future.

Naomi Tomlinson was training to be a chef at the age of 17 when she realised it was no longer what she wanted to do.

"I was brought up helping others and training to be a chef was not doing it any more for me. I was not helping others and it was not calling me," she says.

A period helping out a charity working with young people in the slum areas of Manila, capital of the Philippines, radically changed her sense of calling in life.

Soon after, she co-founded a charity to work with street children in the city and has never looked back.

"When I went to the Philippines that first time I visited the street children and we met a family and the mother asked me to hold her six-week-old baby," she recalls.

"As I held the baby I looked round and saw the life that lay ahead for the baby, drugs, poverty, and for me it was a key moment."

Now aged 22, Naomi is running a drop-in centre in the Payatas, home to thousands of impoverished Filipino families. Although the name Payatas means paradise, in reality life is anything but for most of the area's children who have to spend hours every day scavenging in the garbage heaps to earn enough to survive.

The slums have become Naomi's home too and she works seven days a week for no pay to help improve the children's lives.

The charity, called Fairplay for All, runs out of a derelict building that was refurbished by Naomi and the charity's five staff.

She said: "Previously, we were in a rented building which had rats and cockroaches. If you got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom you had to stop half way down the stairs and put the light on and wait for all the rats to run away.

"The city was also hit by heavy rains during a typhoon and we had snakes coming into the building. The new building is much better."

Together, the team offers lessons in English, maths and science, nutrition, personal hygiene and behaviour.

Ray Moore, the charity's co-director, runs football courses for boys and girls, and next year they will be sending a team to the Street Child World Championship in Brazil.

Naomi is also the chief cook at the centre, which provides vegetarian food and also includes a small health food shop, an urban garden, and a library and study area.

The centre has proved popular with local children, with around 170 being supported by the charity each day.

"I have always wanted to help the street people," says Naomi. "We have achieved a heck of a lot since we established the charity. I love the work and see my future being in Payatas for the foreseeable future."

Churches of all denominations in County Durham have supported the initiative, raising funds and providing money collected at funerals, as well as supplying volunteers to do work in Payatas.

Her father is the Reverend David Tomlinson, vicar of St John's, in Shildon, in the Durham Diocese, and also the secretary of the charity.

He said: "Naomi has always had a strong sense of social justice and I remember her coming home one day and saying to me 'I knew I was lucky but did not realise how ridiculously lucky I was'. Naomi has inspired people."

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