The Film premieres.. get to it if you can. Should be a great night.
The Mindanao Chapter pt. 2.
“Team work makes the Dream Work” Warwick Bentley (Thanks Hortons)
Friday December 9th, 6.30 am. We awake to overlook one of South East Asia’s largest freshwater lakes. Lake Kitcharao. The lake is already busy with small boats buzzing about checking crab-pots and fish traps. We are the last to wake on Mindenao it seems. I watch as an old fisherman pulls his boat up on shore to wash his face in his hands before he begins his days work. Breakfast is served and we are treated to ‘American Breakfasts’ overlooking the lake. 1 Egg, 1 strip of Bacon, 1 piece of toast with a Juice and a coffee. The Philippine breakfast ordered by Nathan is looking a lot better, Rice, Egg, Sweet Pork or Pan-fried fish, Cucumber and tomato with Juice and Coffee. We quickly down our breakfast and jump on board our awaiting tricycle chariots. We zoom out onto the open road, with the wind in our faces, leaving our ‘Gun Free Zone’ Hotel behind. Day two had begun.
We arrive at Project 646, The Merciful kid’s Development Center, to be greeted by Pastor Antonio M. Senosis and project director Nancy Olay. The project base is the New Life Gospel Church in the small town of Butuan. The same town we had dined in the night before. The warm smiles and healthy handshakes assured us that we were in good hands for the next two home visits. We are again split into our two groups. Group two jump on the back of motorcycles and zoom of down the small dirt road with their guides, as group one clambers to organise ourselves into the same tricycles we arrived in.
Group 1 (Jayson, Richie, Izak and Warwick (me))
As our tricycle whizzed down back alleys and dirt roads, we came to a small open rural area with rice fields on either side of the road and a large tarp with rice being dried out on a concrete slab only meters from where we stopped. Jayson in particular had taken a real interest in the rice obtaining process and investigated the dried husks. Nancy calls us to attention and we are given the rundown on our first house visit for the day. She explains to us that Marlon is a special student with particular needs. She explains that his mother has recently died of a preventable cause and his father is constantly abusive to the children of the house. We have to get through the field of mud, rice and buffalo before us to get to the house. We all draw our breaths and get on in.
We arrive at Marlons house, a small raised two room timber structure with an undercover porch area, to find him there with his older sister Joy. There is no father to be seen. We nervously make our way onto the front porch and take our seats and await the arrival of the father. Joy talks to us and explains that she has studied in Manila, but there is no opportunity in the Butuan area for her to progress further in employment or study. Right now she is needed at home to help look after the children and cook the meals. She looks to be in her teens, but bears the responsibility of someone much older. Marlon can’t sit still. I suspect he may have what we call in Australia A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). He bounds around like a young labrador, smiling into the camera lens and running in and out of the house. Joy scowls at him as he pushes past her to get close to the camera again. As we begin to settle in, an old man makes his way around the side of the building. He is a slight, shadow of a man with a baggy white tee and wide brimmed farmers hat on to shade his face. He introduces himself as Marciano, the father of Marlon and Joy. We are all taken aback by the small man before us. Not at all the beastly abusive parent we had all envisioned. He had been waiting by the road in town for our arrival and apologises that he must have missed us as we passed. We tentatively accept the apology and ask him a few questions about the living conditions in the area. Marciano explains that they have very little, that there is only very limited work in the area and all he wants is for his children to grow up and be educated. As tears roll down his gnarled cheeks he begs us, ‘please, if there is some way you can help us..’ . Nancy explains that these are tears of joy. We see no joy in his plea, only a desperate man longing to be in control of his circumstance. Our view of Marciano is shifted as we no longer see the abusive villain that we had imagined him to be, but a father struggling to maintain control and composure as his world has collapsed around him.
Marciano is lonely, his children have all married young to get away from the house and his wife has recently passed away sadly leaving behind 3 children to raise and support with no means to do so. Poverty raises it’s head in many ways. This was a lonely, hard poverty we were witnessing. We pray for the family of the house and give them a big bag of food and supplies to get them through the next week. I feel sad for Marciano as I can only imagine the humility it would require to accept our help.
We say our goodbyes to the Juntong family and head out through the muddy field to the awaiting tricycles again. Jayson loses both his thongs to the sucking mud and abandons them to the field. To his surprise, and ours, Marciano sees Jaysons thongs and digs through the mud to re-gather them. Upon reaching the road he motions to us to follow him to a small water pump where he proceeds to wash our feet and shoes from the mud. He has nothing to give us, but decides he can wash our feet of the mud of his field as a symbol of his gratitude. A fathers pride is regained in a small way.
We drive down the road to our next home visit, a small cluster of houses only a few blocks away from the Juntong home. We are greeted by a family in the street all very excited to see us. This was not the immediate family we had come to visit, but an extension of the family. The home were going to visit next, was one of five in a small compound of houses all owned by the one family group. Everybody was related and they maintained a family community unit within the compound. As we made our way to the actual family we were there to see, the whole community gathered around us. The Lalisan family were the only family in the compound with a sponsor child. To have a house visit was a big event. We sheepishly made our way inside the family home and sat on the raised wooden floor opposite the 6 family members. The rest of the community made their way into the house and poked their heads through any hole they could to get a better view of us. There were faces through holes in the walls, doors and windows, even through the floor boards, all trying to get a glimpse of the visiting foreigners. We talked with the family and even played a game or two to lighten the mood. The pressure of the house visit was all a bit much, it seemed, as the family barely spoke a word for our whole visit. Only Arnielyn, the sponsor child broke the silence to answer questions and ask ‘are you my sponsor?’ to Richie. He apparently drew a striking resemblance to Arnielyns sponsor back in Australia. Mr John B-rd.
As the visit progressed we noticed that the most conversation we could draw out of the family would surround this John B-rd fellow back in Australia. Arnielyn was so affected by this man she’d never met and the whole family spoke of him as a part of themselves. The impact of sponsorship became suddenly very real. A whole community lifted out of desperation and loneliness through one child receiving a sponsor. We said our prayers, gave out the supply bag and said our farewells as we moved out of the house into the street again. As we were leaving one of the small children from outside the home walked past me grinning with his small packet of Milo. A community that cares and shares together, thrives together. We headed back to the church to regroup, before lunch in town and shooting back up to our lake hotel.
After a heavy and impacting couple of home visits, Richie and I decided to take a canoe paddle out to an island we had seen on the lake for a little respite. Richie went into ‘outdoor education’ mode and schooled me in the finer points of canoe paddling (as I had no idea.. apparently team work is required in a two man canoe, and after my sporadic paddle changes, Richie took the helm and we eventually broke our perpetual circular trajectory.) We reached the island and circumnavigated the base taking in the beautiful tropical scenery. What appeared from far off to be a nice place to perhaps rest and relax for a while, now on closer inspection, turned into a steep rocky spire with sheer mossy sides and impenetrable dense foliage on top. But being men, we weren’t going to let a little thing like danger (spiders, centipedes, panthers.. whatever) stand in the way of our imagined tropical getaway. We jammed the canoe between a rocky outcrop and made our way onto the only platform we could find. As we started our ascent up the rocks into the trees we realised that we may have bitten off a little more ‘tropical getaway’ than we could chew. The trees were littered with big sticky spider webs and the rocks were coated in slippery moss. After both of us had a decent fall each, we decided we’d just climb onto the nearest tree and try get a view of the hotel. We got out onto the thick branch of a fig tree and both claimed our mission accomplished. Ah the great explorers. High-fives all round. We ticked that conquest off the list and scrambled down to the water to wash off the spiders and panthers we were sure had made their way into our shirts. After wringing our clothes out, we un-wedged our vessel and paddled back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the up-coming school visit.
Everyone was ready and waiting as we pulled ashore and we quickly dressed and jumped aboard our tricycles again to head off to the school. The children were waiting as we arrived in the largest numbers we had seen yet. None of them deterred in the slightest by the pelting rain that arrived with us. We quickly made our way inside to sign the visitors book and get ourselves organised. The young kids flocked all around, lapping up the attention and high-fives dealt out by the surfer boys. We were directed into the school hall where after we had introduced ourselves, were treated to a beautiful song from the children.. from 2 feet away. It was beautiful and intimidating at the same time. So many had crammed into the hall that there was barely any room for the kids to perform. The boys smiled and lapped up the performance. Jordy gave everyone a lesson in ‘Aussie-Aussie-Aussie! OI! OI! OI!’ and Richie taught the children the finer points of ‘paper, scissor, rock.’ Everyone seemed stoked. Even the ice-cream man outside wore a smile, despite not being able to light his cigarette in the rain.
After the school hall we visited the class rooms and at each room were treated with an impeccable ‘Wel-come Vis-ee-tores!’ in perfect unison. There were many children from the town at the school and all wore perfect uniforms and clean black shoes. The same children we had seen in dirty, worn clothes on the street, wore their uniforms (and I assume education) with impeccable pride. There seemed such a high value placed on the institute of education that I have never seen back home. It was also the one thing, that at each house visit, the parents of the sponsor children would express the desire to see in their children. An education. It seemed evident to everybody we spoke to, that education meant opportunity and opportunity meant an escape route from poverty. Compassion provided this opportunity for many of the children we saw at the school that day.
With the weather clearing up slightly and the school ice-cream man finally able to light his cigarette, we new that it was time to get into the real reason we were here. The whole school vs. the Vis-ee-tores (visitors) soccer extravaganza! The game kicked off with the ball being flung across the field in no particular direction and then dissolved into a game of trying to remain on your feet while being mobbed by 50 children at a time. Jayson was the first to be claimed by the slippery field, then countless others, as the slippery mud took victim after victim. The field became lined with the younger children and staff all spectating and cheering every time a goal or a fall occurred. Both seeming to be of equal entertainment value. After watching a few goals go though at the our end, Team Captain, Andrew ‘the General’ Merry took to the goal square and stood guard of our pride. Unfortunately, to no avail. As the onslaught of children continued, we became no match for their barefoot skill and pure speed. They were nimble little players and we conceded defeat. By the end of the game, only Richie and Andrew remained on their feet with all others being claimed by the mud. We hugged and high-fived our way back to the tricycles and headed back to the hotel for our final night.
Arriving at the hotel, everyone was exhausted. We ate our meal of local eel, fried chicken and vegetables in watery fish sauce (this one not many ate.) followed by mango, vanilla and purple ice-cream. We finished up and headed back to our rooms, only to be greeted by and black wall of insects where our bedroom door once stood. Apparently the brown ‘stink’ beetle migration had begun and our room was the only light on the lake worth migrating to. The beetles filled our room and covered our bed and camera equipment. After an hour or so of sweeping, citronella-ing and flame-throwing (deodorant and lighter.. Thanks Jake and Jayson), we finally had our room back. The sulphur-like smell of the bugs and crunching under our feet made for a nauseating sleep and I threw up more than once in my mouth during the night.
Thank you lord for your kindness, mercy and grace for those in need. Thank you that you provide our every need and hear the cries of those that need you the most. Thank you for compassion, education and the supplies of our every need. Thank you LORD for your plan, your love, and the outworking of both in our lives.
I do wonder though, LORD.. stink bugs?
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
All rashed up!
Day 3. The last few days on Siargao Island have been amazing. This is basically the run down of our day; Brekky, surf, lunch, surf, dinner, watch the days surfing , as well as the usual grom behaviour (trying to blow each other up with firecrackers). Theres been some interesting moments on the trip including a footlong reverse kanga in matts dunny, a lady boy who cooks up a mean Caribbean mango chicken curry (best meal ever thanks Jennifer/Geoffrey?) and Jayson wanting to pull matts voice box out. (understandably).
We’ve all got some good waves the last 2 days surfing first at a place called Cemeteries which was a beach break stuck in a reef breaks body then in the arvo we found this reeling right hand point break which everyone was frothing over and surfed till dark. This morning we headed north about an hours drive which was about 5 Kilometers down the road (really good roads K) to surf what looked like a wusy mushy poo poo point, upon closer inspection we discovered a nugget of gold, just picture the funnest tea tree with no one out. Then surfed stormy 5 foot cloud nine slabs with Jayson scoring the barrel of the day.
We all head off to Surigaow City tomorrow to go to some compassion projects for three days. Although they might be without surf for a few days the boys are excited to see a different side of the Philippines which hopefully gives them a bit of a reality check.
So in conclusion we all feel like we have gone belly first down a sandpaper slip’n’slide but luckily we have 3days to rest our rashes and lick our wounds.
Quote of the day “Look at that black piglet, come here you little cute muppet”
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