Working with His Hands for the Philippines
We met our hosts Jamie and Merilee at the Manila airport as they arrived from the USA two hours after us. At midnight we set out for our first stop Calistan several hours away to the north. At 5 a.m. in the morning we arrived to a warm welcome from the Pastor and his family. They had set up mattresses for us to sleep on in their tiny home and Elva and I fell into a much needed deep sleep for a couple of hours. We were meant to wake for their early morning church service but they let us sleep through and woke us later to a cooked breakfast of omelette, hot dogs ,bread and rice.
Next we had to learn the routine of getting the details and measurements of the children in the sponsor program and the details of the new children joining the program. The children sat quietly waiting their turn, then watched as the rest of their friends were measured eating their lollipop Jamie gave them at the end of their turn. The Pastors home was simple but beautiful, around his home were masses of intricate bonsai plants. They were warm and gentle people who made us very welcome and comfortable. We left the pastor with some of the sound cards and readers which the children loved and then we were on our way again to the mountain and Baguio.
The scenery to Baguio was stunning, sheer cliffs raising hundreds of feet into the air, with little cottages balance precariously on the edges of the road and cliff edges, thick forests of pine trees and then the cool humid air of Baguio.
The routine of each day was much the same we would go to a little church community and measure and photo the children in the sponsorship program. The children were delightful even though they spoke only a little English they were friendly and wanted you to play with them. When we met our sponsor children in the various communities they were so friendly and caring and often their family also came to meet us. One child was away at camp and once a sibling discovered her sponsors friend was there he contacted her. Within half an hour she arrived to meet us. She was delightful such a sweet, humble and gentle girl who was delighted that her sponsor had sent her a little gift. Shortly after this her mother and grandmother arrived then an aunt and cousins, all chatting and sharing their world with us and asking about our world. They all waited for the hour or more it took to register the children to have time with us again before we left and blessed us with a lovely family photo to take back to her sponsor. Every community loved the cards and readers we left with them even the pastors joined the children in making them work.
The thing that stood out to me most was the kindness of the communities and how clean the children were. With the exception of only a couple of children they were all clean, their clothes were spotless and their hair clean brushed and tidy. For us this is not extraordinary but when you consider most of these children living tiny tin sheds no bigger than a double bed and only a few have the luxury of a cement block house of the same size, they don’t have running water or electricity. There is no bathroom, the lucky ones have a toilet (but no flushing you just pour some water from a bucket in it after using) no showers or baths just a basin of water and a container to pour it over themselves. There are no washing machines, you have to boil water to get hot water and hand wash everything. Mostly their homes only have windows that are holes in the walls if they have any, they cook over a wood fire or gas bottle. Many have some electricity but it is unreliable and can go out for a couple of days. We lost electricity for 2 days when we first arrived.
Their kindness and generosity was overwhelming at times, here were these lovely people who had nothing by our standards yet they would each day prepare us a feast of delicious food for lunch and I am sure they would have used all their food for the next week to prepare it. Often the community would share the meal with us, but we would be served first and they would eat what was left over. We were treated like royalty, they met our every need from cool drinks, to umbrellas to keep the sun off us to chairs and a hand to help down steep slopes or getting off jeepy’s.
We had one day when we didn't have children to register and on that day the Americans were going to the tourist craft market but we weren't going to be able to go because that was the day we were going to meet our Compassion children. Our American hosts kindly found time at the end of a day to take us to the market so we didn't miss out. It was quite an experience with stalls in every direction selling everything from food to souvenirs and clothes. Dotted throughout the rabbit warren of stalls were police officers keeping an eye on what was going on and keeping tourists safe.
We were well cared for by our Filipino hosts who organised and protected us throughout the mission. We were with them at all times and only went is safe areas. Even when we visited the churches in the slums we had our own transport and several Filipinos for protection. The only evidence we saw of the danger was the police presence in several places, we saw a policeman with a machine gun in the mall standing watching and another in La Trinidad standing in a market area. Although I believe there was danger and violence in Baguio we were unaware of it due to the care of our American and Filipino hosts. We always felt safe and enjoyed every minute of our stay.
The work on His Hands for the Philippines is certainly making a difference to the lives of the children who are sponsored. Without the sponsorship these children from very poor families could not afford to go to school. They could not buy the uniforms and stationary that are mandatory to be able to attend, nor could they pay the levees and fees for various compulsory activities required during the year. Ten dollars a month wouldn't even buy a family one meal in Australia yet in the Philippines it goes a long way. The families are so grateful for our help and glad their children will be able to go to school and have a better future. I met many college students who have been able to complete their education due to being sponsored and are now going to university because they are still sponsored.(just $20 a month) Their families are so proud of these children and they are working very hard to do their best for their sponsor and their families. There seemed to be many children doing accountancy and teaching among the college children I recorded.
As we recorded the children’s updated information we also often heard the stories of their families and their situations. So many of these children had one or both parents working away and they were living with grandparents or relatives. We met one grandmother who was looking after her 7 grandchildren ranging in age from about 12 to 2 years old. Another little girls father was a miner and away mining most of the time, she had an older sister who worked in another city but their mother died in December so now she live with her 7 year old sister fully responsible for both of them. She is only 14. As I watched her with the other children in the church she had such a gentle kind heart, with her little sister close beside her she was the one helping the younger children to write their letters to their sponsor even though at the time she didn't have a sponsor. She has now as by God’s grace one of my children left the program giving me the perfect opportunity to sponsor this precious child.
I also found when I was taking their details that many of the children wanted to be doctors, nurse, teachers and policemen in the younger age group. The older children seemed to be doing very well at school often in the top 10 of their class and many excelling in mathematics and English. These children don’t take their sponsorship for granted they all want to do well to please their sponsor. Although these children don’t write very often to sponsors there is no doubt that sponsorship is having a very positive influence on their lives and they appreciate what sponsors are doing for them. They love receiving letters and cherish them, rereading them and know they are loved by someone across the sea.
The days we spent with His Hands for the Philippines will always remain with me, a wonderful experience with beautiful people and caring thoughtful Pastors. Our American hosts took great care of every detail with fellowship and humorwe had so much fun in amidst the work we were doing, every day was full of new experiences to take in our stride and Jamie gave us great grace in our differences and made every day a pleasure taking into account our needs and different culture. I think we all learned a little more about each others countries both the similarities and the differences. I am so glad I took the leap in faith and headed to a far away country, way out of my comfort zone as I have learned so much and been totally blessed by the experience and wonderful people I met. Actually meeting the children I sponsor in person, talking with them and sharing some time with them was the most amazing blessing to me. It is one thing to write to a child and receive letters but it is a totally awesome experience to meet them and their families.