Love, Unity and Kindness

By Eilis O’ Sullivan
Badjao! While this name carries negative connotations for many people of the Cebu province of the Philippines, I can confirm that having spent a month with this indigenous tribe the Badjao represents love, unity and kindness. My journey from Ireland to the Central Visayas region of the Pacific on a volunteering program began on the fourth of July. A requirement of our training was to write a reflective blog during our time overseas. As I am a primary school teacher I will discuss the education system in the Cebu area and the hardships the people of this tribe endures to avail of that opportunity.
Poverty is endemic in the Badjao. People live in small houses which must often sleep up to ten people. Foul smelling rubbish overflows in the areas where the children bathe, swim and play. There is no refuse collection and there is no running water. The ATM is where the locals purchase water.Here, ATM means automatic tubing machine. It costs 15 peso for one gallon of water, the equivalent of 27c. This, along with the weekly staple of fish and rice represents a significant cost to the people of the Badjao. As the water is heavily polluted fishermen cannot fish here and there is a financial strain on each family. Many of the parents are uneducated and their income is quite low. Some work as vendors, selling jewellery and accessories in the city. For these reasons parents are not always supportive of their children’s education. They believe that the children should be working in the city to make ends meet. Children and teenagers are often forced to quit school to provide for their families.
Nano Nagle
The Nano Nagle Education Centre tackles this belief of early school leavers. Tommy is one of the amazingly talented teachers working here. “My dream is that every member of the Badjao tribe is educated” he tells me with a sense of determination in his voice. He was the first child to go to school from a family of ten and certainly didn’t have the easiest of paths to get to where he is today. He experienced bullying in his years of schooling. Interestingly enough as his peers got used to having a ‘badjao’ in their class he would let them copy his work in exchange for sweets or lunches ! He struggled to support himself throughout college even with his sponsorship from Nano Nagle. His father, a fisherman was not always supportive of Tommy and it felt at times to him as though he was alone. Tommy is motivated, and eager to achieve his dreams. He  completed college and went on to teach at the School. He works at the Nano Nagle Centre, as an adult literacy teacher educating early school leavers. This is a huge achievement for someone from the Badjao. The centre itself caters for Montessori children aged three to six. They learn nursery rhymes, colours, shapes and begin to recognize sounds and letters, the Irish junior and senior infants equivalent. The energy in this school is electric. As a SERVE volunteer I hope that I brought some of my teaching skills to their classes.
During one lesson I witnessed four-year-old children learning how to use matches safely. At first I was quite sceptical, running through all sorts of safety regulations in my head. After talking to the teachers, I realized how beneficial it was for these little scholars to practice these important life skills, especially in such a self-sufficient tribe. T.L.E or technology livelihood skills is on the Filipino curriculum. It trains and prepares them for the life ahead. There is a certain element of home economics involved in it as it teaches the children to cut vegetables. As many of these children will start cooking at a young age, it is very important to do so safely.
After Montessori the children will attend elementary school outside of the Badjao community. However, they are not mixed with other children immediately. In grade one (first class) the children are segregated from everyone else. I interviewed a teacher from the nearby school to discuss why. The teacher tells me that the Badjao have behavioural problems and that they bully other students. I find this very difficult to believe as the children I witnessed at the Nano Nagle centre demonstrated excellent manners and exceptional behaviour for their age.
There has been a history of discrimination against the Badjao and it is believed that it continues today. A part of me wonders how representative are the views of the teacher I spoke to. Perhaps Badjao students are still not accepted within the school. Lessons are taught in Cebuano, Filipino and English to Badjao children who speak a language where writing is never used. How difficult must it be for them to learn each day with all of these challenges?
The school I visited was huge with over 2,000 students, but with nowhere near the number of teachers or other resources necessary to accommodate them. The hallways were chaotic with class sizes of up to 50 students. Unimaginable! Many cannot afford a full school uniform, although this is a requirement. There is also a feeding programme in place. Four times a year they measure the height and weight of each child. If they are underweight the food will provide them with nourishment each day. This system is also in place at the Montessori for the Badjao.
Amazing People
The teachers and principle of the Nano Nagle school care deeply for their students. They face endless hardships themselves, but work extremely hard to help others. Nothing, it seems, can stop these compassionate educators from doing their job. They have a goal to build a sustainable and inclusive community and they are resolute. They have been supported by the financial assistance from SERVE as they receive nothing from the government. SERVE has been a massive part of the tribe over the last few years. Many of the resources in the school have been donated from previous volunteers but the work is not yet complete. The future of the tribe inevitably depends  on these teachers. Every day they come to school smiling and I have never heard them complain. I am so proud to have met these people and will hold a special place for them in my heart.
Salamat WOWJAO!  ❤

Music and Nursery Rhymes with the Badjao Tribe

By Maria O’Brien

I chose to volunteer with SERVE after recommendations from colleagues who had previously worked with the Badjao tribe and had a very positive experience. They are both music teachers like myself so I felt I may have some skills I could contribute, having worked as an educator in music for over 30 years. 

My first introduction to the music abilities of the Badjao people was on our first day in the school when they presented a number of renditions of song and dance in their welcoming ceremony. It began with the younger children, 3-5 year olds, and worked up through the ages to the seniors of up to 21 years old.

To sum up my impression of this occasion I have to say it was one of the most joyful events I have attended. They demonstrated a love for movement with exceptional rhythm skills and their joy was infectious. All of the songs, besides their national anthem, were sung in English so this was something I stored away to question later. Each presentation was supported by the audience of students with gusto and encouragement and the feeling of the community coming together in music and dance was at times overwhelming. So you can just imagine how excited I was to see what I would be working with and the opportunity it would give me to share my own love of music and maybe contribute in some small way to this wonderful group of people who were so welcoming and happy to see us arrive in their community.

66251187_10156264072191135_5424468013229277184_oThe school day begins with kindergarten classes at 9 am existing of three levels ranging from ages three to five. Each class commences with the children sitting in a circle on the floor singing nursery rhymes and action songs accompanied by recorded music through a speaker. Once again these were all in the English language. In general the students participated, particularly in the action songs, but most of them were lost when it came to singing the words. Before the students leave for the day they once again gather round and sing their farewell songs.

My involvement with the classes began with the introduction of percussion instruments and some rhythm games using colored shakers progressing on to include these into some of their familiar repertoire. Straight away I could see the students talent for rhythm and their joy was evident from the start. In cooperation with the teachers we started to use the rhythm to introduce the primary colors in both English and their own Badjao dialect and moved on to identifying the different parts of the body. Within a couple of days we noticed that we now had full pupil participation creating a dynamic energy in the classroom and even the more reserved students were involved. 

At the end of the first week we had a teacher review to discuss how we felt about the progress. We were all in agreement that the classes were a  success. But the big question I had was why they only sang songs in English and it was during this discussion that I learned that in fact the Badjao do not have children’s songs in their own language and there are little or no stories, nursery rhymes or verse for the young Badjao. I was quite surprised to learn this considering how much they love to sing. I discovered they use a type of chanting for telling stories and fables but these are not aimed at the young. I began to wonder was the reluctance of the children to sing not just because of the language but also that they are not being sung to at an early age.

So once again in cooperation with the teachers I began to compose nursery rhymes and children’s educational songs in the Badjao dialect. Straight away the students and teachers picked them up and the reaction from the community was notable. The parents, grandparents and then the older children initially found it very amusing to hear me sing in Badjao but the most remarkable statement was how proud it made them feel to have children’s songs in their own language. Once again the students involvement in the class increased with a greater understanding of the concept of the lesson being taught and they began to sing tunefully and with more confidence.

It’s during our afternoon activities that we get to work with the older students who come in after school at three o’clock doing workshops in music, art and dance. A small number of these students are quite skilled at playing instruments like guitar, ukulele and percussion and were excited to learn about the new songs being created. I must mention here that I am pretty sure that these musicians are a result of the previous SERVE volunteers who have done wonderful work inspiring and encouraging those interested. Needless to say the students instantly agreed to donating their time and skills to help record the tunes to be used in the classroom. We spent a very productive Saturday morning together working on the arrangements, rhythms, chords and even adding extra verses when needed. Their participation and dedication was quite remarkable from a group of 16/18 year old students on their morning off. Some of them have younger siblings who will profit  from these recordings but the main impression I perceived was that they wanted to be involved for the benefit of the entire Badjao community. 

We plan to continue creating a number of songs and recordings and hopefully we will compile them into a booklet for use in the future.

Once again I am overwhelmed at these amazing people who live simple lives and have a wealth of love and kinship for each other. It’s quite remarkable to witness this first hand but more importantly for me to have the opportunity to experience the feeling of working together as a community with this unique indigenous tribe. 

APD: Week One

By Michelle, Zara and Sile

As we made our way to APD on Monday morning our minds were filled with thoughts and expectations for the day ahead. Smiling faces met us as we entered the gates and warm greetings set the tone for the week ahead. We had a trust placed in us which we felt was both humbling and a huge responsibility.

apd (Small)Entering the classroom we were struck by the air of exuberance about the place. There was a joyful chaos amongst the children and our hearts were immediately won. Their confidence, despite whatever obstacles or diagnoses faced them, was inspiring and was very much echoed in the laid back nature of the teachers and school staff.

Eighty percent of those attending APD have disabilities, both visible and invisible, while twenty percent are from impoverished backgrounds; however, this is not something you would notice while walking around. Several families of the children lucky enough to attend APD have uprooted their lives, travelling from as far as 600km away to ensure their child gets the care and education they deserve.

There is an emphasis placed on early intervention so that children are supported in getting the best quality of life possible and reaching their full potential. There are a number of different therapies carried out here which include oral therapy, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and sensory activities. The therapists have a special rapport with the children and treat them with great dignity and respect.

A sense of absolute inclusion permeates APD. Each child is seen and treated equally despite the severity of their disability. As the slogan on the back of their P.E. uniform reads “No child left behind”. Seeing the children perform at Talents Day today proved this as the children in wheelchairs took over the second half of the show and put on as much of a performance as the able-bodied children.

The emphasis APD has placed on empowering those with disabilities has become more apparent as our first week has come to an end and as a group we have found it inspiring. Many of the children and adults in APD have come to expect the same opportunities afforded to those who have not been diagnosed with disabilities.

Although we have come to Bangalore to help with the education of the people in APD, in many ways it has become them who are educating us.

Resourcefulness of the Badjao Community with Food and Water.

By Ciara O’Keefe

When I think back about my first day at the Badjao, I think of happiness. Purely for the fact that these people must be the happiest people I have ever met despite their circumstances. The kids ran around happy with a plastic bag full of water with a small hole where they drank from, and it was shared among all the kids in the circle.

The Montessori school provides a warm meal for each child who attends school each day. This gives them an incentive to come to school every day. The food is prepared by a Badjao community member Nana Thelma. Every day in the school the teachers and us prepare our meal for lunch. This varies every day because each person takes a turn to cook. A mountain of food is prepared, and the leftovers are given to a different family every day. I was so thrilled when I heard this because statistics in Ireland show that 60% of useable food prepared is dumped.

The Badjao are a group of tribal fishermen, so it is no surprise that their diet consists of a lot of fish. In fact, the older generation don’t eat any meat other than fish. They believed that other meats would make them sick. These skilled fishermen and divers sail out to sea in their handmade boats crafted by fellow Badjao people. They dive up to 30 ft and stay underwater for up to 5 minutes without any fancy equipment or oxygen tanks. They catch fish using a spear. If the fish is too big to fit in the boat, they will drag it back to land.

I spoke to some of the older students and asked them “do they cook?”, “who cooks in their family?” and “where they learnt to cook?”. I was slightly surprised to hear that the fathers were the cooks in most of the homes of the people I spoke to. They learned to cook from their dad. The cooking equipment available to the Badjao is very limited. Their ancestors would have cooked using fire but now they use a gas stove that would resemble a small camping stove. These incredible people prepare food for large families.

The Badjao people have the added stress of sourcing clean water needed for cooking, washing, drinking etc. Each morning they will walk with their buckets to fill up for the day, bearing in mind this could take multiple trips. The implications of dirty water could result in amoeba, headaches, and fever etc.

As a chef, I am so interested to see food culture wherever I go. I have never experienced food culture in areas so affected by poverty. The Badjao as a unit are so resourceful, these people are a support network always thinking about their community. From the sharing of water among the kids, to giving the leftovers to a family in need. While us SERVE volunteers have a lot to give, I feel like I am learning so much each day. I am looking at food in a whole new way now.

There is always more to be done: Young Africa Beira

By Rory Murphy

On March 4th 2019, Mozambique’s port city of Beira was 90% destroyed by one of the most devastating natural disasters in living memory. Cyclone Idai affected millions, claimed the homes of many and the lives of more than a thousand. Weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth put an end to the initial relief effort and exacerbated the problems further.

Within the walls of Young Africa Beira, however, the only lingering signs of the cyclones four months on are the water damage to the upper floor of the girls hostel and a fallen fence. As the opening lines of this are written, so too are the concluding lines of the story of Idai and YA Beira.

A new group of students began their journey here last week and another will graduate before I and 12 other SERVE volunteers depart in a week’s time. Almost all of the dozen or so workshops are back to full function. The campus only closed for a matter of days in the wake of the destruction.

So while we departed expecting a wasteland to be our home for the next month, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Young Africa is, in every sense of the word, the very best of Beira. The shortest excursion from the campus reminds you of what this city has experienced this year. Roofs are few and far between. The remnants of shacks and huts lie strewn on the roadside begging the question as to what could have befallen their tenants. The westerly windswept coconut trees provide nature’s reminder of Beira’s hardships.

Back beyond the guarded gate, however, you could quickly forget what exists beyond these four walls. The rapid and effective response to Idai from YA’s partners such as SERVE has, along with the ceaseless resilience of the locals, dragged the campus back to its feet.

So while the recovery of Young Africa is a very pleasant surprise, the takeaway message from our experience thus far is not that we can rest on our laurels happy in the knowledge the damage is repaired. There is so much more to be done. There is always more to be done.

Young Africa providing fresh opportunities following Cyclone Idai

By Isabel Morrissey

I am currently two weeks in to my four week experience of volunteering with SERVE in Mozambique. It is the halfway point, yet there are still new things each day I’m learning, shocked by and impressed by. One of the main things that shocked and amazed me since the moment our plane landed on Mozambique soul is the people living here in Beira and their way of life.
Each morning we leave our houses we are greeted with welcoming warm smiles or a “Bon dia” from all the locals and students of Young Africa. They are some of the nicest individuals I have ever met even with the difficult language barrier. Working alongside Young Africa students has taught me many things, first of all that even though I may speak very little Portuguese and they may have very little English, we can work together and teach one another while still having a laugh.
And although we come from very different backgrounds we can still bond through similar interests such as sports, music or hobbies. Music is a huge aspect of everyday Mozambican life, everywhere we go we are sure to hear music playing in the background, it brings people so much whether it is upbeat dance music or the religious Gospel music. All of the kids we’ve met have almost embarrassed us by proving how bad we are at dancing, even the smallest 3 year olds have the best moves.
The people living here are also some of the most innovative and determined individuals I have ever come across. There is never any doubt that they will find a creative way to overcome any obstacles we may come across while working together in construction. The lack of tools and materials is overcompensated by their determination, they have multi-uses for each tool, even old wire can be used again and again. I’ve also witnessed this innovation watching the local kids play, for example a football made with lots of plastic bags bundled together and then tied with string can provide endless entertainment.
Before I came to to Beira, Mozambique I expected to be upset about what I would see, I’ve since realised that being upset is no help as the people living here are not upset but in fact happy with what they have. What is upsetting is seeing first hand the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai on Mozambique, it took so much from of people who did not have much before it. Yet the people of Mozambique carry on going day to day and do not let it set them back, they focus on what is most important to them like education and that can be seen in every student of Young Africa. Young Africa still continue to open new doors for vulnerable young adults living in Beira, it is clear that besides the physical damages it caused, Cyclone Idai has not impeded the progress Young Africa is making, each day new projects are being worked on, for example a new first-aid and counselling clinic being open on the grounds of Young Africa in Dondo. I’m sure it will continue to progress each year mainly due to the hardwork of the students, staff and of course the SERVE volunteers each year.