Do not worry sponsors, I didn’t forget my responsibility to keep you all informed of my trip. I opted to wait until I was back in Australia so I can have access to my computer again to type my reports. It was really difficult updating with only my cell phone.
Today (Feb. 6) was probably the most challenging and also the most fulfilling aspect of my entire trip. It also marked my first real failure during my whole visit here, simply because I feel that we take the little things for granted back home until we realize just how much more fortunate we are compared to the gross majority of the world.
Our mission today took us to Lucio Vivero Elementary School in Barangay Cawayan quite a distance away from Tacloban City. As usual, we were assigned to teach a little English and also to play games with the kids.
Upon our arrival, the school brought in their school band to play us a welcome song and we started the morning by marching around the entire campus alongside our student body of over 400 kids.
I was given a class of 39 grade 5 students from their ‘Amber’ group. However, we did not have enough volunteers to go around the classes so I undertook to also simultaneously teach their second grade 5 class in their ‘Emerald’ group. Overall I was looking after 80 students by myself situated in the largest classroom of the entire school. Needless to say, it was quite a challenge to try to maintain the attention of over 80 students.
The games that we played were a combination of Filipino and Canadian/Australian style games. I introduced them to “heads Up 7 Up”, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” and “Duck Duck Goose” while they showed me how to play Lichon Baca (kinda like leapfrog) and another Filipino game where they used their tsinellas as targets with the object of knocking down another stack of slippers.
Afterwards, our HA leader hosted a zumba class to teach the kids how to dance. Despite the room being overcrowded due to the sheer number of kids, it seemed like everyone enjoyed the fun times.
My failure occurred when a bunch of my kids told me they were thirsty. I immediately went to both my leader and the principal to ask where I could get water. My leader told me we didn’t pack any, and the principal told me that they didn’t have water nearby and that the kids were expected to go home.
That was when I realized my failure in thinking that water would be automatically accessible to these kids. We noticed the trend in our first school and we didn’t take it to heart in our subsequent travels. It was at this moment that I realized how simple things like this are so fortunate for us to have. Some of the kids have to walk to the school up to one hour away and while they do bring their own water from home, some kids are not fortunate enough to have a canteen or they may forget. The result is the saddening reality that their studies suffer, simply because they don’t have access to water in their campus.
The principal also informed me that the school was intended for a maximum capacity of 150 students but since Typhoon Yolanda and the introduction of temporary housing in the area, the number of students has swelled to over 450 in that school. The teachers are hard pressed on resources, available classrooms and other necessary components to effectively teach the kids to the best of their potential.
Be happy with what you have my friends and family…I saw first hand just how badly others have it themselves.
Anyway, I went back to my class and told them they had to go home. The kids were talking to me in waray waray and I didn’t understand. But then they switched to Tagalog and I learned 2 of the most heartbreaking things that caused me to take action:
#1 – The kids didn’t want to leave because we were only there for 1 day. They would rather dehydrate themselves rather than miss a moment with us. If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, come to a school like this. The kids will put more importance on you than you can ever imagine.
#2 – The distance for the kids was too far. Not everyone lived in the nearby village and some children had to walk more than an hour to get to the school.
The clincher for me is when they looked me in the eye and said, “Kuya Kris we are thirsty.”
That was it for me; I had to do something. I asked the kids where I could get water and surprisingly, I found out they sold water in the sari sari store nearby (I was not told this by the teachers.)
I told the kids to wait in the school and I went to the sari sari store. They sold the big water cooler size containers and I bought 6 of them for 270 pesos.
Before I continue my little story, let me remind you all that 270 pesos is the equivalent of about $7-9. We could be providing water to over 450 school children for as little as the cost of lunch everyday.
I wish our photographer was nearby when I got my teammates Kouki and Ira to help me bring the water in. The kids’ faces lit up with so much happiness that I can’t even describe it in words.
The kids told me as I passed by carrying these heavy dispenser size containers that I was their “sangkay”, which is waray waray for “best friend.” After that, nothing I carried around that day was too heavy for me.
We went through only 5 of those containers and sadly, I heard that a bunch of the kids ended up going home early. If I had acted faster, maybe they would have still been around. I could only think about what they must have been thinking having to hike all the way home just to get water. I’m not sure if they even came back.
We finished the day with some fun team games including tug of war. I’m proud to say that “Team Kris” pretty much rocked every other team.
At the end of the day, saying goodbye once again was the toughest part. But never have I felt so loved by random strangers in my life. I was dripping in sweat from carrying kids around and running and playing games and carrying heavy containers but they still hugged me tighter than ever.
Some of these kids lost their families in Typhoon Yolanda and were orphans. Yet, I couldn’t tell that some of these kids had such a sad past. They were so happy and it was great to see how they try their very hardest to move forward despite the tragedy.
Today’s lesson resonated with me for the rest of my trip. What we have in Tacloban are not a population of victims. Rather, they are a city of survivors that continue to work to thrive. The children have less resources by contrast than what we as first world people provide to our pets or garden. Yet they not only walk long distances to try and get an education, they do so cheerfully.
This experience was what formed the crux of the plans that I have to continue to build development in Tacloban. I will have a draft up once I catch up with my law school studies. But I think you all will like it. I have drawn from case studies such as Pura Vida Bracelets, Sally Hogshead, Dr. Sheena Ivengar and other sources to implement a fairly comprehensive business plan.
Stay tuned for that development. I have shared it with some of you already and I hope the positive engagement continues.