The Mindanao Chapter pt. 1.
"Enough for Everyone’s Need, Not Enough for Everyone’s Greed." Jayson Homan
First of all we’d like to apologise about the lack of posts over the last week. The internet in the Philippines as it turns out, is a bit of an internet black hole. Hopefully the following post will fill you all in a bit. Settle in.. it’s a ripper. w.
The last three days have come and gone in a flurry of tricycles, bugs and smiling dirty faces. What has seemed like a very full week has passed by quickly and we’re now on the boat back from Surigao City on Mindanao Island to Alegria on the north east coast of Siargao Island. We’ve all seen our fair share of eye-opening experiences over the last four days and more than a few lives have been changed as a result. For those unaware of where and what we have been up to, I’ll regress to give a bit of context.
We started out 4.30AM at Patricks on the Beach, Thursday morning. We had to catch the 6.00AM barge over an hours drive away and we had no tickets yet. It would be fine, we were sure, but after a shaky early morning start which included Shane nearly being left behind at Patricks (Leaving his morning nug a little late) and Warwick misplacing his wallet and Passport and freaking out slightly, we finally boarded the boat to the big Island all a little shaken, but not stirred. The boat ride was all smooth sailing with almost everybody sleeping throughout the entire three hour journey. The ferry was the larger and slower type available from Montenegro Shipping.
The trip started out in the usual fashion with a pre-recorded prayer for safety and instructional video showing where you should jump from on the boat in the case of sinking. Apparently 10 meters and above could cause serious impact injury (the boys tested this theory today on our outward journey. Jayson, Jordy and Jake all jumping from the highest point of our 4 story ferry. There may have been slight undercarriage discomfort with some of the landings, but no serious ‘impact injury’. Myth Busted.)
Upon arriving in Siargao, we were met by our 10th team member for the Mindinao part of our Journey. Nathan Bernadino, from Compassions head office in Manila, was to be our tour leader and translator for our project visits over the next three days. He kicked off his responsibilities by providing us with a van, sanitisation packs (hand sanitiser, citronella, tissues and toilet seat sanitizer.. I’m still yet to find a toilet seat to sanitise in any of the projects.) and JollyBee chicken nuggets. The full Philippine experience.
JollyBee (fast facts)
Philippine fast food restaurant chain. Requires at least 50 staff to run the front counter, likely 5 to run the kitchen. 1 in 9 chance of food poisoning. Located on the town square of Suragao. Look for the big bee and security guard (doorman with shotgun) out front. Makes McD’s look like a banquet spread at the Hyatt.
With our fast food on our laps and one of us feeling worse than the rest (Jayson’s JollyBee wasn’t so ‘Jolly’ it turns out.) we sprinted out to the sticks of Mindinao’s main Island. We arrived at our first project visit at Agusan Del Norte, after two hours of driving only to be greeted by an immaculately printed sign across the project driveway reading ‘Welcome Sir Nathan and Australian Visitors’. Nathan was chuffed. He’d never been knighted before, let alone referred to as a Sir. The reality of what we were about to experience had kicked in and the boys started getting nervous. ‘Woah. This is Legit’. Matt started doing his hair.
The project workers and children greeted us with huge smiles and various necklaces and gifts for all of us. It became very clear that they had been preparing for our visit for some time. The church building was immaculately layed out with big long trestle tables laden with local food delicacies, ranging from boiled crab to beautiful chicken curry. Everyone was encouraged to eat big. The project children grabbed their meals and sat beside us as we ate, excitedly testing their english phrases. ‘How old are you?’, ‘What’s your name?’ and ‘You’re handsome.’ were the phrases most commonly thrown about.. and who could blame them. Right Richie? We were even treated to a Philippine rendition of Jessie James’ Money by a little girl/boy (a little boy that decided he wanted to be a girl) named Jennifer. It was brilliant. There will definitely be a clip up soon and I’m sure you’ll all agree, this kid has incredible talent. I’m sure he will go far with the aid of Compassion.
After our meal, we all sat down to the official welcome ceremony in the church building. The ceremony began with a song by the local kids, then a dance, then another dance, then a song. After the musical section of the welcome was complete, we all got to hear the testimony of one of the children that Compassion had helped. The little fella had needed a new heart after his had stopped working and Compassion came to the rescue and through the sponsorship program, he was able to get the transplant and medicines he needed. Phenomenal stuff. The boys mother also got up and expressed her gratitude to Compassion all the while trying to restrain her tears of joy. Everyone was inspired by the story, and our journey into discovering Compassion began. After the ceremony, it was our turn to introduce ourselves. Each of the boys tested their public speaking skills and represented their families well.
We left the welcome ceremony and were split into two groups. Waiting for us on the driveway of the project, were ten pedal-powered tricycle-transportation-thingies. The staff explained that by using the pedal-powered trikes, we would be supporting a local industry quickly being left behind in favour for the motorised version. We all jumped on board with a staff member and were off to our first set of home visits.
Group 1 (Jayson, Richie, Izak and Warwick (me))
The group one first house visit started off with us meeting an elderly couple in a muslim region of Agusan del Norte. We were told that the children in the home had been abandoned by their parents and left to the grandparents to look after. The dwelling was a small 2m x 2m hut with a dirt floor and a few pots and a teapot. All family members slept together on the floor we were told. Grandmother had only meagre employment of doing laundry for some of the locals. Grandpa was maimed in a car accident and spent most days lying prostrate on a timber matt under a grass roof. He explained that he had been hit by a drunk driver and that his injuries had been left unattended and that was the reason for his disfigured arm. It was only then that we noticed that his elbow was severely deformed. The arm had healed in it’s own way but had not set in any right way and was only barely usable. He smiled the whole time he explained his predicament to us and showed us his rusty and broken crutches. We were blown away at the positivity this old man displayed. One of the boys exclaimed later that he had ‘just the brightest smile’. I’d have to agree. The grandmother was so grateful for our visit that she suddenly burst into song mid way through our visit. ‘Thank you! Thank you! May God Bless You! Thank You!’ she sang as tears of joy rolled down her cheeks. Flip. This was only our first house visit. Way to ease into it.
Our second house visit was a small dwelling on the bank of the local river. The house was occupied by a family of 5 children and two grandparents. Again the children had been left by the parents to the care of the grandparents. This house was slightly larger than the last visit and had a raised floor. The grandmother kept a job at the local church selling candles and reminded me a bit of my own mother. She smiled a lot and had a real sense of humour, chuckling away to her self on a number of occasions. The grandfather of the house worked with garbage collection when the work was available and seemed very reserved. We sat in the house as they explained that their house was subject to flooding and could be demolished at any time. They had lived in the area for the last 20 years (before that, they lived two streets over). They took us through their house and showed us just how close the river actually was. It really was only meters away. So intense. Again the positivity (and spunk of Grandmother) really stood out to us. Jayson and Izak were both blown away by the happiness of the families we visited. Despite being in seriously dire situations, they displayed incredible resilience.
Group 2 (Matt, Jake, Shane and me (Jordy))
As our group headed through the streets of Agusaan del Norte on the old rickety trikes, we didn’t really know what to expect from the home visits. We stopped out the front of a filthy alley way and made our way towards what looked like an old abandoned bamboo hut, only to realise that this was Desa, the sponsor child’s home. The boys sheepishly walked inside the home to be greeted with an extremely shy little girl, Desa and her beautiful family. The family consisted of 10 people, a mum and dad and 8 children. The father worked as a local tricycle driver to support his family, but only manages to make 2 or 3 dollars a day. “I don’t know how they could possibly live off that much money, there’s 8 children to feed, it doesn’t make sense.” Matt Williams. We were all pretty shaken. Despite our many attempts at asking Desa, the little sponsor child some questions about her life, she didn’t say boo the whole time. I think she was pretty intimidated by us white folk, although later we heard that she had been waiting outside her house for 2 hours excited for our arrival. On our way out, I smiled and waved at her and for the first time we saw her face light up. I think deep down she was grateful for our visit.
We then travelled about 2 minutes down the road to our second home visit. We walked a few metres down a rocky dirt road to what was the remains of John Peter’s (the second sponsor childs)home. It had been battered and beaten by a typhoon a few months ago and apparently was leaning over to one side for quite some time before finally collapsing. John Peter’s family didn’t have enough money or materials to get the house fixed, so they literally had to watch it fall to rubble. For the mean time the family is living about 200 metres up the road at the father’s mother’s house. From the first step into their house we were up to our ankles in water. But this was a good day. Apparently the water level can reach knee deep during monsoon season and this pretty much covers their furniture and bedding. As I watched the father of the family explain, with watery eyes how he can barely provide for his family, earning only 200 Pesos (5 dollars) a day while rent is 120 (3 dollars) Pesos a day, I lost it. I cried like a little girl. I think it’s because I saw the shame in his eyes, the shame that poverty can bring to a grown man. But the visit wasn’t without hope. Compassion is working together with the local church to support this family in rebuilding their home. Instead of simply asking for money, the church members are asked to donate materials and skills. Such as bricks, or bamboo or labour for a day. It’s awesome. The family is so grateful for Compassions support and was thrilled that we would take the time to come and see them and give them a pack of goodies. The mother cried tears of joy as we handed it to her. The boys were overwhelmed with both visits and it has definitely left an impact in there lives.
(The above paragraph was written by Jordy, telling groups two’s experience.)
We headed back to base, all a little shaken by what we had seen.
Upon return we all got together and prayed for the project and children involved. The prayer was sombre and mood subdued. That was until Avatar got on the scene. Avatar, the pastors flea bitten guard dog and now my canine nemesis. We met in the pastors lounge room, where Avatar promptly chased me into the rest room. He was waiting when I got out. He chased me down the stairs and I lost him by slipping into a side room. It was only mid-prayer that he found us again and had a go at Matt. I dreamt about Avatar that night.
We finished up at the project centre and after a few photos and hugs we were on our way to dinner. We headed into town 20 minutes down the road and found a restaurant to eat. We had the whole place to ourselves and the waitresses were quite taken with Richie’s charm and good looks. One young lady in particular, named Divine. Not sure actually, she may have just said that she was divine. Either way, she had her keen eyes on for Rich, who was trying as hard as he could to make his wedding ring more visible. We’ll hear more from Divine later. After dinner we headed down the street to hunt down some dessert. The locals were frothing that we were there and surrounded us on all sides, posing for the camera and practicing their english as we tried to get our Cornettos. The Cornetto would become a regular feature over the next two days. It was a nice light finish to what had been a heavy day.
We headed back to the hotel tired and ready for bed. Everyone grabbed their rooms and Shane and I were met with an unsavoury sewage smell as soon as we opened the door. We didn’t mind. We were grateful just to have a solid bed and a roof to sleep under. Big day. Good time.
end of pt.1