Thursday, July 30th 2009
Today was the final day of the Follow On program for PYLP. In retrospect, it was more of a beginning if anything as new friendships, new dreams, and new goals were forged right before my eyes. The day started out with Kenny and me grabbing a quick breakfast at the Hotel Coffee shop. I got my usual “American” breakfast: toast, fried eggs, fruit, and juice. Is that really American? I imagine there would be at least 2000 more calories in donuts and cupcakes. Anyways, enough of my criticisms on the American diet. After breakfast, instead of our usual van, there was a charter bus with all the kids showed up to pick us up from the hotel. At that point, I realized that nothing about this day will be the “usual”. We boarded the bus and headed on down to the Mariki elementary school to complete our outreach community centered on the “operation-shoebox” project.
The Mariki community is a mix of many different Muslim tribes and ethnicities. The community is extremely impoverished and resides on the water—literally. The entrance to the community leads way to wooden planks supported by long jutting wooden poles out of the shallow water. It’s quite difficult to describe but it was a collection of run-down and shoddily constructed shacks standing 10-feet above water and at the mercy of the mercurial Sulu Sea. As I was walking towards the school, I almost cracked a few of the rotting wooden planks. If it were not for careful maneuvering, I would’ve for sure plunged into the waste contaminated water down below. Unfortunately, the community’s elementary school didn’t fare better. Even though the classrooms were constructed from cement, the school was grossly under-staffed, under-funded, and under-supported. There were far too few teachers and the school only functioned because of their generosity in going above and beyond the call of duty. Also, some of the classes didn’t have rooms. As a matter of fact, the stage area in the middle of the school ground (not really a ground since it’s all floating above water) where we sat for the welcome and opening remarks from community officials and school faculty was a classroom for 4th graders. And this “stage” had no walls and it was lucky to have a roof. As you can imagine, this community has many needs and with our community outreach we tried to help tackle one, school supplies.
The outreach activity involved the PYLP students splitting into pairs in different classrooms to lead the kids in activities and games before handing out their free school supplies which were collected from the private High Schools due to the PYLP students’ effective campaigning two days ago. I was really impressed with how the PYLP kids carried themselves both at the campaigning and in the community. It was good for them to be exposed to these conditions as it informed and expanded their views of their own country’s dynamics. I was able to go around to the different classrooms and spoke to the little ones as well as the teachers. I was mauled in one room when trying to take a picture with kids hanging from every part of my body all wanting to pose. But wherever I stepped in, I was greeted with warm pleasantries and excitement. What was priceless for me was seeing the smiles on their faces during the activities and especially after they all got their school supplies. One of the teachers told me that most of the kids couldn’t even afford to even buy a pencil. Yeah, that is sad! When asked if they liked studying, to which the students replied emphatically in the affirmative and that their reason was to help their parents live a better life. These are the natural urges and desires that kids grow up with not guns or hatred. It is we who corrupt their innocence in one form or another. Here, negligence on behalf of the government will surely be this destructive catalyst. I have plenty of pictures with the children at the school. They were all very cute!
After the outreach activity, we boarded the bus to head to a picnic for lunch at the park but it was pouring buckets. The current season is the rainy season but the locals find me unusually lucky to have had splendid weather on my trip. But today, I wasn’t so lucky. I ate my packed lunch in the bus after a quick slumber, which I blame on me not having had eaten anything since 6AM and it was 1PM. The kids were supposed to get a tour of Zamboanga City but Kenny and I decided to skip out at that point because I needed some rest before our closing ceremony tonight.
At the hotel, I decided to go on an eating binge. I had a Kuracha (a local Crab specialty), French fries, chicken pie, and a chocolate drink. Mind you, I had just eaten. I was THAT hungry. Well, this eating binge was successful in facilitating my nap. I slept for a few hours and then got ready to attend the closing ceremony at Silsala community center. We were a bit early so we joined the kids for dinner and then I hung out with them in their rooms for a while. We all exchanged goodbye messages, multiple snaps, and loving hugs. Then, hastily, we headed downstairs to be on time for the ceremony. The adult organizers of the program had done a great job in putting the closing ceremony together. It included concluding remarks, award/certificate presentations, prayers, and words of encouragement. Unexpectedly, I received a pretty nifty certificate for my participation as well. At the end, I went up and said a few parting words of encouragement and thanks. Also, Kenny and I surprised the kids with an Indian dance to the Slumdog Millionaire song Jai Ho. We had rehearsed for quite a while the night before and both of us despise dancing so it was definitely done to put a smile on their faces. Job accomplished! As far as my dance moves, let’s just say that I won’t be trying out for roles in music videos anytime soon. Following the ceremony, more photos were snapped, more hugs were exchanged, and more tears were shed. Eventhough it was only 5 days, I feel like my family has split up.
Following our painful goodbyes, luckily, Kenny joined me in the hotel one final time. We stayed up for a pretty long time reflecting and talking. I instantly clicked with him because I saw myself in him and I really do feel like I found a true best friend 7,000 miles away. I’ll do my best to stay in touch with him as we can’t take such things for granted. I leave for Cebu in the morning (on the Island of Visayas, located between Manila and Zamboanga City). I better get going…