Serve – Alison in the Philippines

So my time is almost up and I will be on a flight home to our beautifully cold island on Friday. This trip has been filled with brilliant highs and a few lows. The lows mostly consisting of heat rash (absolutely everywhere)… a bit to much sun burn and generally just being hot and damp all of the time. The highs of course come from the wonderful people I have met here and the pure joy of the Badjao children have as we walk in each morning. The community here have been so welcoming and I will be sad to leave them.

We arrive every morning at about 8:45 after getting two jeepneys and risking our lives at least once crossing the road. Seemingly traffic lights and pedestrian crossings mean little to nothing here. Just like seat belts, they’re more of a decoration. Any time we have gotten a taxi I haven’t even been able to click mine in. After our jeepeny rides which are reminisce of a game of Mario Kart as they swerve around each other moving at top speed when they are given the chance, which to be fair is not often as traffic here is chock a block. Once off the jeepeny we then bored a trysikad witch is a bike with a metal side car type thing attached and we are brought to the school. The ride is pleasant for about one minute as we swoosh down a smooth hill and get a nice breeze on our faces something usually only received from a fan or air con. Then the journey becomes rather a bumpy one and sometimes dirty as we splash into puddles left by the rain from the night before. We now have no need to tell our trysikad driver “Badjao school please” they know where the white people go.

Once we arrive at the school we sometimes have a coffee and give ourselves a little bit of time. I often think about how strange it is to have everyone say “Good Morning” “Hello Mam” “What’s your name?” “Americana” “Hello foreigners” “You are beautiful” “I love you mam!” I’ll be glad of people passing without a word or simply a polite nod and “How yeah” when I get home. Once 9:10am hits we are in classes with a lot of still a little frightened faces looking up at the giant white people with the weird big blue eyes. (I am actually considered tall here!). But at this stage they warm up again quickly. The children vary in ages between the three montessori classes. Edweena has the babies from about 2 to 4. Annie then has 4 to 6 and Venerva has 5 to 7 year olds, and of course Junree has his adult educati9n classes ranging in ages from about 16 to 40 depending on the class. The teachers here are so brilliant, very calm and caring and incredibly welcoming. Annie and Edwina arrived at the school almost 15 years ago when it was merely a one room house and you can see that the people and the children here have really become part of their families. Venerva and Junree are then a testament to their work and the work of all those who help the Badjao community and Nano Nagle school as they themselves are Badjao and now are teachers to their community. The Badjao pride themselves on what they have accomplished over the years and only wish that other people would see them for their achievements and not for their pasts as beggars. The drive of the students I have been working with is inspiring and many wish to go into teaching, social care and health care. All these people want to do is grow with education and help each other and others outside of their community.

Montessori classes in the Nano Nagle school are run very similarly to those at home with an emphasis on learning through play and actions. The biggest differences here I think are that children must learn to use tables and chairs while at school as most Badjao home don’t have any, as well as this the little ones must learn three new languages before moving onto the public elementary. Yup you read that right three! The Badjao speak their own language so the young ones must learn English, Cebuno (the local dialect) and Tagalog (the national language) It’s really lovely to sit in on the classes and watch the teachers with the children they have such a calming presence and the kids really respond to that. However it is strange to have 15 or so children absolutely terrified of you. At first we were all trying to be as small as possible and to give them big smiling eyes like you would at home but turns out our eyes were one of the main problems because as is common in Ireland they are mostly blue, and the children were frightened by this. As well as our then porcelain skin (which for some is now a bit redder and for others a bit browner) Where the children were frightened by our pallor the adults and teens were jealous. At home we cover ourselves in fake tan to feel pretty and more confident and here they use skin whitener for the same effect, we see the beauty in them that they only see in us and visa versa.

Junris adult education classes are always fun with parents eager to learn and some young people unable to attend the high school. Yet again you can see how much respect students here have for their teachers the love is real. During one class I even had the opera unity to teach some Tagalog… I know, sure I can barely speak Irish not a mind teaching an entirely foreign language, but Tagalog is very phonetic which helped. The only sentence I fully remember now is “Malalaki ang mga puno” meaning “The trees are big”

We also had the opportunity while here to visit the Elementary school and High school that the Badjao attend and frankly it was a bit strange. The class sizes are massive with about 50 per class and the Elementary catering for around 3000 students and the High school around 5000 (6000 if you add the night class students) We were walked around both schools and presented with the Badjao children which for them as well as us was a bit awkward, and while at the High School there was a photo shop with every Badjao group. It was strange as we walked around the schools and were greeted by screaming/ cheering young people, not because we were famous or they knew us but because we were white.

It’s incredibly hard to sum up the wonderful experience I have had working with everyone here. The teens I have been doing drama workshops have been particularly inspiring with their enthusiasm and energy. I worked along with Cónoll ( a fellow volunteer, if his name did not give it away) to create an inclusive and varied workshop program for the week. We start the week with freeze frames to do with peer pressure and it was really encouraging as the teens began to understand the term that they were able to give us many different types and were really open to the work and creating freeze frames for us. On Wednesday we move onto our cultural exchange where we begin to bring in language by creating words and actions to describe Irish and Badjao cultural activities, ie spear fishing, Badjao dancing, volleyball, hurling, football and Irish dancing. I think that day was always one of my favourites as the teens get really into the Irish activities and inventive with explaining their culture. Then on Thursday the real play making begins with the story of Setanta it’s great to see the teens on their feet and really starting to get stuck in while recreating the story of Setanta. At the end of the first week of wrote a short play where Setanta meets the Badjao tribe and we began to work with that on the Friday. I had hoped to use a Badjao legend but the students weren’t up to sharing stories and liked the idea of Badjao meeting the Irish hero. “I Am Cu Cullen!” is now often shouted as myself or Cónoll pass by, it’s brilliant.

Saturdays have been spent working with adults and teens on cultural growth and having fun. We worked with the adults in the importance if having one name. It is common custom here that if a child falls I’ll the parents will change their name as if to dispel evil spirits but this can cause a lot of confusion when getting ID and applying for school, work, going to the hospital etc. We have also worked with the teens on their history and present and increasing their pride for their culture. And our last Saturday was spent running around the gardens of the Holy Family Retreat Centre (our accommodation when we weren’t with host families) for the annual sports day and it was absolutely brilliant to see everyone outside of the school/community, and I actually really enjoyed it even though my thing is more lifting things up and putting them down again rather than running around.

Though I feel like I haven’t done this amazing experience justice I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the work I have been doing for the month. I am so grateful for all those who supported me on my way to this wonderful community I never would have made it here without your generosity and would recommend traveling with Serve to anyone looking to volunteer abroad.


This blog post was written by Alison ‘Superwoman’ McCarthy. If you’d like to see your words in print, just let us know!

Serve – Alison in the Philippines

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