ChildFund New Zealand CEO Paul Brown visited the Philippines for the ChildFund Alliance CEO Forum. Paul kept a journal of his experiences – here is an account of his day visiting ChildFund Poblacion 61 project, in Real, Quezon.

Paul & friends in Real, Quezon

By Paul Brown

Our group is split into six vans, departing to two different regions.  It’s an early start to beat Manila traffic, on the road at 7.15am.  We don’t beat the traffic. We were warned the drive would be four hours over some very twisty roads through the mountains, lush with vegetation. Finally we arrive at the ChildFund Poblacion 61 project, in Real, Quezon.

We meet children at the community library in Kiloron village – a small collection of stalls, shops and very basic houses.  The families are very proud of their library – the first in the area, not quite holding 600 books.

A seafood buffet is presented to us.  And chicken, I think. A fellow traveller, who like me was not a seafood fan, said “Stick to meat with bones on, then at least you know it is not offal”.  Thanks for the anatomy lesson!

Over lunch I met Ronnic, now 19, and studying a Bachelor of Secondary Education.  Ronnic is a typical cocky teenager. Hair gelled up in a Mohawk, always preening himself in any reflective surface… windows, van mirrors. He’s cool. He’s got attitude. But he wants to be a teacher and give something back to his community.

The area has a population of 30,000 in eight hamlets.  It’s on the coast and at first glance the people seem to be making a living – fishing is the main form of income.  However many of the children are malnourished, with a lack of iron (no meat) in their diet.

It is HOT, very hot and humid.  Now I know why the locals carry towels to keep mopping their brow.  Thankfully our white ChildFund shirts do a good job of concealing my geography-teacher-armpit syndrome.

Youth group using dance and drama to teach

After lunch, the youth perform a cultural show – a mix of Filipino and Spanish dancing.  There’s the inevitable ‘let’s invite one of the guests up to dance’ and yours truly is picked on to represent the group of 20 guests to take part in the most technical dance possible, complete with bamboo poles which are moved randomly around you and your partner’s ankles.  Did I mention it was HOT?

We visit the youth’s screen-printing business – they create groovy designed t-shirts which promote key health messages and sell them in the village.

On the way to the next project area we stop at a new initiative involving garbage recycling, where local families are cleaning the beach and rivers from rubbish, which is then sold or woven into bags.

By now it is 4pm and we meet more young people in an open-air rotunda, which gives little respite from the heat.  The children perform a fantastic dance depicting the four elements (wind, earth/trees, water, and fire) and it becomes very clear the dance is about the environment.  The children present this dance to the surrounding community to show the importance of planting trees and protecting the environment.

They then follow this dance (again presenting to the community) with maps on which areas are at risk from typhoons (every season) and tsunami; and which homes to head to for shelter.  The maps show red houses as vulnerable to storm surges and landslides; blue are evacuation sites.

Showing map with areas of high risk and safety

After the dance the dozen or so young people introduce themselves, and we do too; they describe how grateful they are for ChildFund and their sponsors’ support.  It is a very emotional presentation… one girl breaks down and takes a few minutes to compose herself.  Through her tears she thanks us all, she points out her mum who is also crying… there are not many dry eyes in the rotunda now.

We spend time talking with the youth group: I ask them what has the internet brought to them.  They mention both positives and negatives; they use workshops to make each other aware of risks such as pornography and how to handle negative media.

Ronnic speaks up again – I ask him what his hopes are: he wants to get all children into school, particularly his friends who have dropped out, as he sums up, “youth carry the hopes of the community”.

As we are about to close a scooter pulls up – off hops a young man and we are introduced to him.   His name is Jimmy and he was a sponsored child, who through training is now a technician at a lab for Unilever.  He has left work early to ride over 100km to meet us and say thank you.

It has been an exhausting, emotional, hot day.  Again as with all these visits it is so humbling to see such confident youth, such passionate project workers, and such committed parents.  We all reflect on this later, counting our blessings.

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