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Smiling faces amid slums amaze STA students

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Grade 12 student experiences culture shock in Manila
By Matthew Purkiss

Photo Caption: A group of students from St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School pose while on their missions trip in the Philippines. ( Photo Submitted )


Despite being Catholic, I’ve always had a hard time believing in miracles.

At this particular point in my life, I’ve been struggling with my faith in general, and I found at some point I began to simply go through the motions. That is, until 19 students and I embarked on our school’s Philippines Encounter trip this spring break March 11-22.

I’m not sure what I expected to find there, but what I did find was something special. We were on the go from our first day. Landing in Manila after a long flight, we checked into our hotel and made a long drive out to an orphanage in Calauan, in the rural countryside. We had lunch with the young children there, followed by some performances by them and by us, as well as a visit from the Jollibee restaurants mascot (Ronald McDonald had nothing on this guy).

After lunch the kids showed us around their homes and the school, and then we played for several hours. It is not something I can easily put into words, playing with these youngsters who had lost so much. Many had been rescued from human trafficking rings or had been abandoned by parents who could not support them. Yet the joy on their faces from simply being with us melted my heart. Despite everything, they were happy.

I think a culture shock was something many of us needed, and more were to come as we visited the slums in Manila.

It was a lot to take in. Shacks of metal and wood thrown together along a seawall served as stores but also one-room homes where people slept.

Below us in the water were fishing boats along with tons of garbage. Despite this, we saw kids jumping into the water and swimming, unaware of the risks they were taking.

I also learned that while the children have basic living necessities, they do have access to the Internet. We watched as kids on computers played games and used Facebook for six minutes a peso.

As we moved through the narrow pathways of the slums, we saw children and adults alike peeling onions. Later we were told that they make a dismal amount of pesos but they have no choice since it’s better than nothing.

It was strange to us that, despite what little they had, everyone seemed so happy. The children smiled and asked for my blessing as they walked past me, and adults smiled and waved, happy to see new faces.

“One thing I think we can learn from Filipinos is their perseverance for happiness,” said my classmate Ysabelle Tumaneng as we left the slums in Pasil.

The Filipino culture is so vibrant and alive. It is something all of us will be taking with us as life goes on back home. Everywhere we went the people would sing or dance for us and we would do the same in return.

While we were in Cebu we spent a day collaborating with a youth group from the Don Bosco Formation Center. We were divided into groups and spent three hours learning dances that we would perform for children later that day.

Some of the dances were the Maglalatik, where boys would strap coconuts to their bodies and hit them as they danced, and the Tinikling, which involves a series of rhythmic steps between two bamboo sticks being banged together. Children and parents alike loved performance, and some even joined in.

Afterwards we all played until late in the afternoon. It was an incredible experience just being together and it goes to show how central the Church is in the community.

Everywhere we went people smiled. We won’t soon forget the happiness on their faces when we danced, sang, worked, or simply said hello.

I used to have trouble believing in miracles, but I found them in the Philippines. I saw it in the faces of the people we met and in a community that was so unified and had made faith the centre of their lives.

In the words of another fellow classmate, Maria Altamirano: “we were their miracles, and they were ours.”

Purkiss is a Grade 12 student at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School



Last Updated on Friday, 07 April 2017 12:23  

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