By Kyle O’Sullivan
My recent trip to the Philippines, even though it was tough was a great experience to have. The only time I ever really heard about the Philippines was from being in school with people from the Philippines, being neighbours with Filipino’s who are living in Ireland, or even Manny Pacquiao as both a boxer and as a senator for the Philippines. I didn’t know what to expect and even seeing the videos at the training days and getting a heads up from a work colleague ….I still didn’t know what to expect even though I was told first-hand what to expect but I just had to see it first hand, regardless of who knew better than me. When the plane landed ,the first thing I saw was a magnificent airport and my immediate thoughts were “Thought they said the economy was struggling!”.
From driving from Cebu Airport to Holy Family Retreat Centre looking out the van window I soon realised that I wasn’t in Mahon anymore. The traffic and the number of cars on the road showed the population was massive compared to Ireland. When we arrived at where we were staying the only thing I really wanted to see after all the travelling was a bed!
The next morning going out on the Jeepneys was great fun! But it was at Fooda when I realised that both their security guard and the one back at Holy Family were both armed. This really showed that the culture is very different. The first few days were a break into what was going to happen before we started our 3 days of retreats with Redemptorist Youth Ministry (RYM) Cebu and Tacloban. We were able to meet the SERVE Volunteer Programme Group and see what they had done with the Badjao. We also met the teachers from Nano Nagle which was a great insight into what was ahead. The retreat days turned out to be better than what I had expected. These days allowed us to build friendships with both the young people of both RYM Cebu and Tacloban. When these days were finished, we went out to Nano Nagle to work with the amazing teachers there. These teachers are paid less than teachers in other schools even though they do their job better and with less resources. My first two classes in the Nano Nagle Centre were in the Montessori and to be honest It was here that I felt out of place at first. I was not used to being around this many small children and being in the room at the start made me uncomfortable. As the day progressed, I became more involved, especially when Edwina and I started to discuss the community garden that they are thinking of.
While we were in the Nano Nagle centre, even though I got on very well with all the teachers Edwina and I had a very good bond, that I will cherish forever. While we were in the Centre, we visited Site A, which was an eye opener. The extreme conditions that the people who live there go through everyday really puts into reality how well off we live compared to them. They must walk across planks of wood to get to and from school every day and to go shopping. While out in Site A, I paused for a moment and the adrenaline went from me and when I looked down, I realised, with a fear of heights and water how bad these people live but are happy where they live. The water below us was covered in a sheet of rubbish. We also got to see the inside of one of the houses in the Badjao and see how their houses are built. This house belonged to Venerva, one of the teachers in the school. While we were here, she explained about the Badjao traditions like a dowry being offered for a bride’s hand in marriage, to how they built their houses and how much time her husband is away for work. This much detail on the difference in the lives’s we live and if that was Ireland, we would complain but in the Badjao they don’t complain about it. Leaving Venerva’s house was like walking around as celebrities as everyone was saying hello to us and waving goodbye to us.
We completed workshops with the Badjao young people on items like what would they like to see changed in the Badjao, bullying workshops and playing Ice breakers, of which I co-lead one with Martin. Every day lunch is prepared by the team and I helped out one day to help with the lunch. While the teachers had lunch with us it felt like one big massive family. We stayed with the Nano Nagle team until the day before we left to return to Ireland. On our last day with the teachers they played a video of what we had done with the group and had pictures of each of us that were taken on the day (By me! Hahah). The teachers waited until the group had left and told us how happy they were to have us and each member of the group thanked us and they went around and gave us all cards with each card having a personal message in the card. Leaving the school was hard personally for me as I had made a close bond with the teachers – especially Edwina, and walking up from the school to the entrance to the badjao for the last time, it was hard trying to hold back tears of sadness. The teachers had a massive affect on all of us – mainly me. These teachers took us into their workplace, their homes and their heart and leaving them was like leaving family. The teachers at Nano Nagle will always have a place in my heart. While on the plane home It was hard to hold back tears and when landing in Dublin as I would have preferred to have stayed on the plane and go back to the Philippines!