Maayong hapon! Good afternoon and welcome back to my Blog!
Time. It is just so fast! I can remember very well how I wrote my last entry here, when I was just in the halftime of my year of voluntary service for Bon Bosco in the Philippines. It feels like it was just a few days ago! And yet, another two months went by and I already feel close to going home again. However, the last two months didn’t just pass by. They brought a lot changes and chances, changes which have turned out to be very beneficial for me. After my experiences in Dumangas, I was glad to have found a new home in the Provincial House and in the Second Chance Project. However, a prison, even if it is adapted to better fit the needs of the youth, is still a prison. And it can be quite a depressing environment. In combination with having a lot of free time, but nothing to do with it or no one to spend it with, and having to go on a ride through the city every day on my own, it sometimes gave me a very hard time. There were days, when I did not want to get out of my bed. Or, in turn, there were days when everything I wanted was to get out of my room, but alone as I was, I had no real idea where to go and what to do. So I stayed in my room, and it felt terrible sometimes. Second Chance definitely is a great place to do something, but in a different way. It takes a lot of patience and consistent work, and still, you will only be able to reach out to a few boys. It is all the better, when you can see, how they start to trust you and open to you, but in the long run, even those great moments can not make up for the metal bars and the bitter truth and all the questions that roam around somewhere in the back everyday you leave the place to go home. “These boys are prisoners. They have no chance to just go home. Will they ever have a chance in their life? Will some of them go back to prison later? Will I be able to change something in them? What is my work here good for? What did I achieve? Shouldn’t I do more? But what can I do?” It’s these and many other thoughts that crossed my mind and still do, and mostly I was not really aware of them. But I felt they were there. And I was to weak to really push myself trough to start new things. I felt I was quite low on resources and I need something, where I can gain new energy from. I needed some kind of balance.
And finally, in the first days of may, I was given this chance for some balance: After I had asked for an additional assignment, I was told I could help the Feeding Program in the Don Bosco Parish Lourdes in Labangon, Cebu City. And there I went, I was happy for anything that was new and would give me a chance to gain new strength. And Lourdes turned out to be a great place. While it was originally planned, that I would only spend the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday there, it has become my main project in the meantime. The rest of the time, I still go to Second Chance, and I enjoy the time there.
The Parish includes two areas, one with the big church, the Feeding Center, the Salesian Convent a Kindergarten and a large multi-purpose building. The other part is just across the street. It consists of a big building, which has a Youth Center, some class rooms as well as a big community room and an office and a center for Physical Therapy. Next to this building, there is a big covered gym.
My original assignment was in the feeding center. The facility includes two floors, the lower one is equipped with a big room in which the feeding program takes place every day. Next to it, there is a big kitchen, which is used to provide for the feeding program, but also for caterings and for one cafeteria in the nearby Don Bosco Technological Institute (DBTC). On the second floor, there are two guest rooms and a large room for meetings and presentations.
The feeding program takes place every day in the morning from 10 to 12.30 except for weekends. It reaches out to mothers and their children from the area who come from a poor background. One the one hand, it provides activities for the mothers and their children in order to help building a good mother-child relationship. The mothers should really use this time to focus on their children. After the program, free food is provided, water is available for 1 peso.
It is a very interesting to work I can do in this project, although it is not challenging in the same way as it was in Dumangas or Second Chance. Also, working with kids at the age of 1-5 years is quite a new experience. However, the feeding program remains closed from April to June (summer holidays), so I do not have any work there at the moment.
Of all the new things that changed for me when I came to Lourdes, having a volunteer companion is probably the best. Already 4 months before I came there, Max, a german volunteer, who arrived shortly after me, but also had to change his project, started his work in Lourdes. We met once when we were still in our original places, and a few times when I was still assigned in Second Chace only. When my work in Lourdes started, we immediately became a team and started to work together wherever we could. His help made it a lot easier for me to adjust to a new place again and I was able to settle down there quickly. However, the best thing we can also share everything to each other, all the good, but also the bad things that happened to us. It made life a lot easier for me, since I really had quite a lot of things I wanted to talk about by the time I arrived there, but I had become kind of a “lone wolf” too, so having someone to talk to at least three days a week really pulled me out of the isolation I experienced before in the Provincial House. Very soon, we also started planning new things together, and in our lunch breaks, we started going to a little gym nearby to do some workout.
We have had quite some influence on each other, and I must say I really look forward to working with this guy for four more months.
With the help of Max, I also got some work in the Scholar Office and the Physical Therapy Center, which is located in the other part of the area. In the office, I was encoding documents. The Scholar Program helps children from their area to get a scholarship. Currently, there are around 500 children registered. They are mostly supported by foreign sponsors and include all different age groups, from elementary up to high school and college. The office in Lourdes is managing this whole program, which creates an enormous amount of work. A lot of the work has to do with keeping the records updated. Since the scholars don’t have their own computers, all forms are filled in manually and must later be encoded to a computer program. During March, I was spending one to two hours every day I was in Lourdes with this kind of work, and I have to say honestly, that I did not like it a lot, but all the more I admire the staff there for their dedicated work. Now, I still help occasionally.
By working in the scholarship program, I also had the chance to make friends with many people. Not only the staff, but also some of the scholars. I really appreciate to be able to have some friends there, although I always try to make sure to keep a certain distance, because I do not want these friendships to become to close, mostly for the reason that I will leave the Philippines in less than 4 months, but especially with girls I am also worried that they might raise false hopes, which would not only give me a bad conscience, but could also create a lot of problems.
However, I generally really enjoy having the chance to get to know people here, simply because people have such an open character and you can really have a lot of fun together with them. It also gives you very interesting insights in their lives and the culture, which you would usually not get.
Although I really like my new workplace and currently go there every day, monday, Wednesday and friday for the full day, Tuesday and thursday in the afternoons, while I go to Second Chance in the morning, and am generally very satisfied with the situation, there is still one major problem that remains: The part of going back and forth between Lourdes Parish and the Provincial House. Lourdes Parish is even a bit further aways than the prison, and so my daily Jeepney rides have all but shortened. Already when I started in Lourdes, I tried to get a possibility to stay there, and many people there were encouraging to do so and some even offered help. For me, moving to Lourdes would be a win-win situation and quite a logical step after I started to work there: I work there, it has a Salesian community, there are rooms, it is a suitable environment for volunteers, at least from my perspective, and it is also a lot closer to Second Chance. It would save me a lot of time and energy, which I could put into my work instead. I would spare me the feeling of again not really being a part of the community and somehow of being unwanted, and it would also mean that I would not have to breathe the terrible air of this city every day. It would also save the Provincial House some money, because my transportation and meals amount to around 150-250 pesos (3-5€) per day, which is quite a amount if you do it 5 days per week.
However, this remains a Salesian matter, and for some reason, it has turned out to be very difficult to make this change possible. Two weeks ago, I was told that the other guest room in the feeding center should be reserved for other guests. That is acceptable for me, however, I wonder why it nearly took two months until I was told so. Since Max also wants me to move to Lourdes, he is always supporting my planes and after it was decided that I could not move into the other guest room, he offered me to move into his room. This would not create any problems for anyone, we think, so I suggested it to the persons in charge and I hope that they will also see it this way and that I will be able to move to Lourdes soon.
In many ways, it is an interesting experience to ride the Jeep every day, you can see a lot, you can observe a lot, and it also gives you time to think. Somehow it feels adventurous, and it also gave me the unique chance to antagonize the image that many westerners have created here, that they don’t want to have a lot to do with the locals, that they would only ride taxis and only go from malls to hotels and vice versa, just by sitting there in the jeep everyday and showing people “Hey, I have no problem to use the same means of transport as you do, I don’t complain because there is no space, I do not deserve anything better than you do just because I am white” (of course, I still live in much better conditions than most people here do and I am thankful, but at least in this part, there are no differences). However, I have done it for 5 months now and I know that it is taking energies and time from me that I could otherwise invest in more meaningful things and I simply find that unsatisfactory and a waste of my resources, especially, since there is an alternative.
So, this is the problem, but I have not completely finished my report yet.
In April, the summer holidays started. Like in our place, they last for two months. During this time, the schedule in Lourdes has changed again. At the moment, my main task is to give guitar classes in Lourdes every afternoon. It is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now I finally a really good opportunity. Although the course only lasts not even two months, I have a good feeling. My students are doing quite well and I hope that by the end of this course, they will really have learned the basics of guitar playing.
I mostly put my schedule together myself, and apart from teaching the guitar, I work on a workbook for the children in the feeding center, together with Max. It’s purpose is to give the children basics for education. The reason why we do it ourselves is that it will be very affordable this way, since the only costs will be caused by printing it.
Apart from that, I still help in the office sometimes. I do whatever is there, because sometimes it also feels like I am working quite little, especially when I look at other volunteers. However, I can only do those things that I am assigned to or at least given permission to do.
Tuesdays and Thursday, I still go to Second Chance, and I also teach guitar there. I am really able to enjoy the place now.
I always take my lunch in a so-called eatery, one of the many little restaurants at the street. For less than one Euro, I can get a full meal and drinks there. It is a thing that I quite enjoy, because it again allows me to experience a little piece of the life of the people here. Also, the food is quite yummy, and so far, my stomach has never complained about it.
I also had the chance to go on some excursions in the last weeks. Mostly we went to beaches or a small resort, together with some of the scholars. It is always a very enjoyable thing and there is plenty of fun. Oh, and I’ve had plenty of times to do Karaoke, which is one of the most popular things here. Everyone likes to sing, and it does not matter if you don’t hit the notes, as long as people have fun, it is ok 🙂
All in all I can just say I really try to make the most out of it. I really like the life here, I like the people and I definitely will miss this place. However, during the last weeks, I have also started to look forward to coming home again, in a very positive way.
So, I hope you all are fine, and it’s not so long until I will see most of you again!
In the meantime, all the best from me, and sunny greetings from Cebu!
PS: I cannot post many pictures, but you can always find some new pictures on my Facebook Account and in my Dropbox!