New opportunities, new friends, and a familiar problem

Maayong hapon! Good afternoon and welcome back to my Blog!

The new horse of the feeding center!

The new horse of the feeding center!

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.

The feeding program

The feeding program

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.

Teammates: Max and me on a celebration in the Don Bosco project in Pasil

Teammates: Max and me on a celebration in the Don Bosco project in Pasil

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.

Busy at work in the office

Busy at work in the office

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.

Morning traffic near Ayala, one of the big malls. This is the place where I change the jeep every day

Morning traffic near Ayala, one of the big malls. This is the place where I change the jeep every day

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.

IMG_5890

Luchtime!

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.

Excursion with the scholars

Excursion with the scholars

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!

Fabian

PS: I cannot post many pictures, but you can always find some new pictures on my Facebook Account and in my Dropbox!
Link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/bf08ckehcx3u9yo/Vd5P-KTied

 

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Categories: The life of the volunteer | 1 Comment

Halftime

Hello IMG_5129world!

Well, this is really strange! I remember all to well how I counted days and weeks during my first months. One year seemed to be such an incredibly long time for me, but already after two months, time started to run faster and faster, and now, without really noticing it, I am already right in the middle of my year as a volunteer in the Philippines. On the one hand, I am amazed how quickly time is passing by, and in a way I I want to slow things down. During the last months, I really started to create a sense of belonging to this place. I still learn new things about this culture every day, and getting a better understanding of the way things work here makes it all the more fascinating. I think the most important thing I have learnt is that there is no right or wrong about a culture. If you measure things by your own standards, a lot of things seem strange and quite often you make rash judgements. But once you learn to see the things here in their own cultural context, a lot of things suddenly start to make sense and you notice that it is just different, not better ir worse. This way, you really start to appreciate it, and it gets hard to imagine to leave all that behind and to go back to your “normal life” again.
Also because I still feel uprooted after my experience in Dumangas, I often feel that time is passing to quick.
On the other hand, if my current situation is not going to change, I sometimes wonder how I am going to make it through the second half. Although I really like this country and its people, the attitude and the culture, the climate, the food, and the boys in the prison, my work is simply far from what is supposed to be.
The biggest problem is, that there is no schedule in the prison. Also, I am not really given any assignments, and basically I can do what I want, but no one really cares, if I do anything at all. It is quite hard to really organise something in this environment. The classes are also not really taking place, so it’s mostly up to me to organise something if I want to have anything to do at all. For some time, we had a band and we were playing some songs, but I soon realized, that the boys were only playing as long as things were simple and they did not have to learn anything new. Once it got to learning new stuff, they started to disappear, and since we cannot force them to join, there was nothing we could do. Now I am planing to start a new music class with beginners, and I hope that some of them will me more motivated and willing to learn.
The second issue is that I am still living alone in the Provincial House, which can be quite a lonely place. Since I have a lot of free time and not really another place to go, I spend a lot of time inside the four walls of my room. The absence of a real community among the priests does not make things easier. It can be quite depressive to sit around and do nothing, so I have to keep myself busy somehow. I tend to solve this problem by playing guitar, surfing on the internet, reading a bit, watching movies from time to time and talking to my friends on skype. Yes, I’d also have time to regularly update this blog, but somehow I’m not in the mood, if you understand what I mean. It is all the more frustrating because I realize I have a lot of energy inside me, but I have nowhere to release it.
The third thing is the ride, to second chance, which takes me around three hours a day and is not only a physical, but sometimes also a mental torture. Sitting in a jeepney was exciting and funny during the first months, but I you’ve got to do it every day for around three hours, it’s not funny anymore.
Also, loneliness is not a good thing, and when I think that I am the only volunteer in Cebu who is working and living alone and that all the others are always telling me how buys they are in their projects and how they enjoy it, it hurts. Although I know they are working hard and deserve it, I sometimes even feel jealous or angry, which is definitely not a good thing.
All this thing combined in one sometimes make my day pretty crappy.
But I still won’t hang my had. The good news is, that I have asked the office in Provincial House for additional work, and I was told that I can help with a feeding program in a parish  called Lourdes in Cebu City. Even if it’s only for three days a week and only half day, I think that it might also provide other new opportunities and I hope that I’ll be able to get a bit of my motivation back there. Also, there is a chance that I can stay there for weekends, and since weekends ar the loneliest times in the Provincial House and in Lourdes, there are also some of the other volunteers, so that would be quite an awesome thing.
If things are going well there, I think I would also have more motivation again for my work in the jail, and I could do more there.

Last week, my dad was here to visit me and I was really happy to see him. It felt strange, in a way, when I saw him coming out of the airport, I still could not really believe it. He hadn’t seen each other for nearly six months, and still, I did not really feel that way.
During the one week he was here, we were able to talk a lot, more than me talked during the past two years at home. For the first three days, we stayed here in Cebu. I showed my dad around the place, we went to Second Chance and some of the other DB projects. After that, we went to the beautiful island of Palawan, which is located in the northwest of Cebu. There we stayed in the village of Sabang from Thursday to Sunday, in a beautiful cottage facing the beach and the sea.  The place was very simple, we just had one room with two beds, a small board and a fan and a restroom with a shower attached somewhere on the wall. Electricity was only available from 6 to 10 p.m., but if you are in such a beautiful place, these things don’t really matter. The people there were welcoming and friendly. Every evening, we had dinner at the nearby hotel. We just sat there and talked, then we went to the buffet and got some food, then we talked again, then we ate again, and so on. I think we had dinner for three hours every day, and it really felt good. My dad was telling me a lot of what had happened at home in the meantime. We also talked about the time before I had gone to the Philippines, but also about what I would do after my return. It was good that he took some time to talk with me about my plans for the future, since I was always pushing that away from me. Although I am still not sure now, I know a little bit better.
We also explored the place and saw the famous underground river, which is said to be one of the natural wonders of the world. It is 8 kilometers long and I was simply impressed how nature could do such magnificent things. The ceiling of the cave at one point is sixty meters high and it feels like standing in a huge cathedral. We also did a tour through a mangrove forest and took a hike to a small waterfall. I will attach a link to my dropbox so you can see some pictures, it’s easier than uploading them here.
On the way there and going back I also had the chance to meet my fellow volunteers from the Tyrol again, who are now already having their last month as teachers in a school in the rural area of Palawan. Meeting them again was really good.

So, putting everything together, I am starting off into the second half of my voluntary work with mixed feelings. I do not feel that I have achieved a lot here, not even that I have really found my place. In a way, I am still searching for more, but I also know, that I have to make the best out of what I have. However, I hope that my additional work is going to bring new opportunities, chances and will help to restore what was lost of my motivation during the last weeks. In the ideal case, I will just look back on this time as another episode of my time here.
On the other hand, even if I may not have done so much, I feel that I have learnt all the more. The last six months were not easy, but I feel that I have grown a lot. Even in the current situation, I can learn a lot, maybe even more than in Dumangas. Getting along with myself and with the fact, that nobody is there to tell you what to do. Learing to handle your time if no one gives you a schedule. All these things are not really pleasant, but at least after experiencing them, you are less afraid of them and you learn how to deal with them.
Apart from that, I would never want to miss getting to know this country, its people and its culture.
And even though I wrote a lot of negative things today, I feel very satisfied and quite happy right now and I try to look into the coming weeks and months as positive as I can.

With the best greetings from Cebu City

Fabian

PS: The link to the pictures: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/bf08ckehcx3u9yo/Vd5P-KTied

Categories: The life of the volunteer | 1 Comment

A Twist in the Story

Good morning folks!

Again, it’s been quite some time since you’ve heard of me the last time and I hope you did not forget about me in the meantime. However, I’m back now with some new stories and reading material from the Philippines. I will split my stories in different parts. This one will deal with what happened to me and my volunteer work during the last two months. In addition to that, I am planning to publish some stories and thoughts about the time of christmas and new year in the Philippines and some observations that I made.

The first thing I should probably tell you is that I am not in Dumangas anymore. I left the place quite exactly one month ago and have been in Cebu City since then, where I am also assigned for my new work. So, what happened in Dumangas? Well, it is one of these things that I believe are not to be written about on a public website that everyone can access and watch, since it is difficult to understand the whole matter if you did not experience it and not to get a wrong impression. So I will keep my explanation as general as possible.

The reason for me to leave Dumangas were personal problems with my rector. During my last month, november, I really worked a lot. There were times when I was the only one in charge of the whole project and there were many long and very tiring working days. Nevertheless, I tried to do my best and always set new goals for myself. The difficulties started when it became increasingly difficult for me to handle the children. Since I was not that strict with them, they started to disobey my instructions, and of course, I still did not know and understand a lot of things, so it was easy for them to trick me or to leave me standing by confused, not knowing what should be my next move. So, I set the goal for me to become stricter and to learn more about the way things worked. But I noticed that once I started to focus more on the discipline, my relationship with the boys began to suffer. And more than that, I did not enjoy my work anymore because being strict at any time took all of my strength and concentration and I was unable to be a friendly companion for the boys at the same time. In addition to that, the Salesians told me that they did not even want me to be close to the boys, because that would make it hard to discipline them. So things were turning out to be even more difficult, and thus, every time I tried to get into touch and to build up some kind of relationship with one of the boys, I also had a bad feeling about it and was anxious that one of the Salesians might discover that I tried to be close to the boys.
As a result, I became increasingly frustrated, since neither the relationship to the boys nor the one to the Salesians was a good one and I still did not know about many things in the place because simply no one was able to tell me.
When the rector of Dumangas came back by the end of November, it took only a few days until he started to complain about my way of work. In the end, his accusation was that I did more bad than good to the place and that I and the way I did my work was a burden to the project.
Although I had always tried to go on and to tell myself that any hardship would at least make me stronger in the long run, this was the point were it became meaningless to me. And this was the turning point for me, this was the point where I realized that staying in this place simply would not make any sense. Before, my work had always had a clear purpose. I was determined to help, to give the best I could and to go on even if thongs would go rough. And that is what I did until this point. But when I heard these accusations, the purpose was suddenly gone. What was my work good for if all the Salesians had to say about it was that it was useless?
In addition to that, there was an awful lot of misunderstandings, how I found out during the next days. When I heard what image the rector obviously had of me, I was shocked, and all the more assured that the only choice for me was to leave the place. So I wrote a Mail to my organisation and called the office in Cebu, and I within one week I was out of Dumangas.
During my last days in Dumangas, I was already removed from all my work and did not have anything to do. It was quite a horrible time, I just wanted to get out of the place. I stayed in my room nearly all the time because I tried to avoid to meet anyone. Of course, I also felt the longing to explain my reasons for leaving to the boys. In the end, I just stayed with them for my very last day for some time and tried to say goodbye as well as I could. Before I had my flight on Tuesday in the evening, I went to the neighbouring town of Dumangas to print out pictures, one for each of the boys. That was all that I could give them as a remembrance.
I left Dumangas during a terrible rain and by Jeepney.

When I arrived in Cebu that evening, I was warmly welcomed by the Salesian community. The next day, I had time for myself, to think about what happened, and to prepare for my next assignment. In spite of the things that had happened in Dumangas, I felt very motivated to start over again.
The next day, I already visited my new workplace, which was quite a surprise and different from what I had expected: The volunteers office had made an arrangement in a very special place for me: Operation Second Chance, the prison for minor law-offenders in Cebu City. They immediately took me on a visit there. The next day, I already started my work there. Operation Second Chance is situated on a hill, together with the other prisons of Cebu, in the outskirts of the city. The travel there is quite challenging, you have to take two passenger jeeps in the worst morning and evening traffic to reach the church of Guadalupe. Once you are there, things are getting even more adventurous: You have to ride the so-called “habalhabal”, which is basically a motorcycle taxi. The driver will take you up the hill in approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Once you are there, you first pass the two major prison buildings, the Cebu Provincial Jail and the Cebu City Jail and then proceed to a smaller building. This is the minor prison, called Operation Second Chance. Sadly, I a not allowed to take a camera inside, so I will not be able to provide any pictures here. This project is run by the state, but there is also a teacher from Don Bsoco working there. He is my new boss and I am his assistant. While he focuses on the training in the workshop, I am supposed to do Math and English classes. Apart from that, I also immediately developed the plan to start a music class in the prison, since they have pretty good equipment there.

And now? Well, now I’ve been in Cebu for some time already and of course, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Eve here. I had a very nice holiday with some other volunteers and I finally got my mind settled with all what had happened in Dumangas. I am starting to enjoy life again, and so far, there are really a lot of thing that I like about the work in Second Chance. Some of these boys are very nice and very happy that someone comes to look after them, to talk to them and to do some activities with them. Since I still live in the Provincialate, the buerocratic center of all the Don Bosco activities in the southern area of the Philippines, I have also  separated place to live, which leaves me enough free time to play a bit guitar and to go online every day and also to meet other volunteers on weekends. But of course, I still miss some of the boys in Dumangas. I feel sad that I had to leave them behind, because some of them were really great guys. I also miss the atmosphere of the boys home, because here in the Provincial House, I tend to feel a bit lonely. There are no boys around and most of the Salesians are out very often, so most of the time I stay here I have to get along only with myself. And while the work in Dumangas  sometimes pushed me to my limits and beyond, the work in second chance so far has remained quite little because education and skills training is apparently not a focus of the project, so most of the time, the boys there are having a schedule by the government workers there. Before Christmas, they were having some seminar, now they practice the dancing for the coming Sinulog Festival everyday, so after all, there is hardly any time for teaching. I’ve had only one math class so far, and since participation for the inmates is only on a voluntary basis, there were only 6 people for me to teach.
So I picked up some other things and started to repair and maintain the instruments there, in order to be able to launch a guitar class within the next weeks. I’ve exchanged some parts and right now I am working on one guitar which was broken. I also gave spontaneous small lessons for some of the boys and this Wednesday, we had a jam sessions, where one of the employees there was playing the drums, one of the boys played the bass, the DB teacher did the singing and I played the guitar. We played the songs Enter Sandman, Eye of the Tiger and To Be With You, and although all of it was rather chaotic, I found it inspiring and I had the feeling that many of the boys who were watching would be motivated to learn an instrument now. So, for the future, I will really focus on the music there. I hope, however, that I can also get additional work in a different place, because I still feel I could do a lot more.

The next part is to come soon, so until then, I hope you have a good time and like always, I am happy about any replies, feedback or questions!

Greetings, Fabian

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Meeting the Philippines

Hello world!

It has been a while since you heard of me the last time, but I am still here in Dumangas, working with the Boys and trying to understand the people and the culture of this country. I am still here, trying to figure out the balance between disciplining the boys and being close tothem. I am still here, and although my work has been tougher than it was before during the last days, I am happy that I can stay in this place, not only because I like the people, but also because I feel that these difficult times are making me stronger.

But this time, I would like to put my focus a little bit more outside the four walls of Don BoscoDumangas. I will start my story the day when the semester break for our boys started, at the side of a small road a few kilometers from Iloilo. To the left and right of this road, imagine high trees and a few small huts and shops. On this day, Monday, October 22nd, a blue truck with 30 boys, 5 girls and 3 volunteers, suddenly came to halt in this place. The truck had started its journey in Don BoscoDumanangas in order to bring all the boys to the bus terminals so that they could go home for their semester break. It was a small open truck and I was sitting in the back together with our boys. The small wooden benches to each side of the loading area were not enough to take all the people, and so we had just taken some of the benches from the dining hall and put them there, so that everybody could sit. So why did this small truck, after two hours of a neck breaking journey, stop at the side of a small road? Well, actually, because there was not a single drop of fuel left in the tank. So there we stood, waiting for something to happen. In the beginning, I was nearly going crazy because no one seemed to care how we might get on. I wanted to organize the people and get together enough money to go to the next gas station to buy some fuel, until I had to realize that no one of us had any money there. So all we could do was to wait and to hope that the driver’s fellows would show up to bring some fuel. It took not less than four hours until they finally came. Four hours in the heat of the sun that we stood there, at the side of that small road, to wait for a few liters of gasoline. And during that time, no one of all the people really complained. They just sat there, leaning back against the metal bars, closing their eyes and putting their head back. Some of them were getting of the truck to sit down in the shadow of one of the small huts beside the road, and the people there warmly welcomed them. At the beginning, I was annoyed because no one seemed to be willing to do something to get us out of this situation, until I understood that there actually was nothing we could do but to wait. And that was when I realized that the best thing I could do was also to relax and to make the best out of it. In Europe, you usually complain if something is not working the way we want it. Here, you can complain as much as you want, but mostly it will not be of any use, so instead of complaining, you have to be patient and instead of thinking about what you will not be able to do because of time you lose, you have to forget these thoughts and enjoy the beautiful things in that particular moment. Actually, you’ll find plenty, if you only look for them.

This experience again gave me plenty of evidence how unorganized and chaotic things happen here, but it also showed me that I should maybe try to change my own mindset a little bit. Really not worrying about a situation you cannot change anyway felt much better than just making complaints.

When I go out here, I still find it striking and fascinating at the same time how simple humble people live here: Small houses made from bamboo, other woods, cardboard and metal with no floor, sometimes with only one room for all the family members, work in the huge rice fields of Dumangas, in the street or in one of the small shops. There is not a lot one can do for a living. Many people have a small shop, where they sell snacks and a few other items, many work as tricycle drivers, some are selling things in the street and others are going to the city to work in a factory or one of the big malls. Still, I don’t think it is extreme poverty that they live in, because most of them seem to be able to buy everything they really need, and most also have some very few “luxury items” like a TV, a radio or a sound system and everyone has a mobile phone.
It is something that I can only try to describe. I think it is difficult to imagine it if you cannot really see it, because in Europe, all reports usually are about people living in extreme poverty. There is not a lot of attention given to people like this, people who don’t have to fight for their survival every day, but every second day.
Of course, one of the causes of poverty here might be the extremely high number of children. When I was in Cebu last week, I joined a social worker on a home visit in a very poor area. We met a few families who had one of their children in Don Bosco Boys’ Home there and talked to them, and some of the things they told and us shocked me. For example, one of them explained to us that her greatest wish is to have eight children. Of course, no one of us said a word, because this isn’t something extraordinary here. But when we had a look at her place, which was the size of 12 square meters, it was clear to us that these eight children, of whom she has already seven, are not going to have much chance in life. Most of them will not be able to attend school for more than the obligatory education and many of them will end up having no skills and not knowing what to do with their lives. Some of the older boys we met there had no idea what they wanted to do, they were just hanging around, while others had dreams, but were lacking the means to fulfill them.
When you see the young, innocent children, standing there in front of their mother in their small, dirty huts, some of them not even wearing clothes, but smiling at youwith their toothless smile and their big dark eyes, it nearly breaks your heart when you think that one day when they grow up, their smile is going to vanish and they will find themselves living a miserable reality of life in the slum with no real chance of improvement.
But even in the face of this dark future, there is hope. In the same place, we met another family who has also on of their children in a Don Bosco Boys’ Home. They had a daughter who told us she was working hard at school so that she could get a good job and sustain her family. She received money from an organization in Holland which paid for her school fees and all the things she needed for school. She was poor, but at least she was given a chance to break the circle, and she took that chance and tried to make something out of it.

Actually I also wanted to tell you a little bit more of my holidays which I had along with the boys, but I feel that is better to finish my story here. I will just add some pictures so you will be able to have a look at the beautiful side of this country as well. Just to give a brief explain, the first photos are from Dumangas from the rice harvest, activities with the boys and the farewell party on the last evening before the semester break. The rest of the pictures was taken during my holiday which I spent on the neighboring island Negros, visiting other Don Bosco projects and later on Cebu, where I visited my friend and fellow volunteer Dominik, who is working in Don BoscoLilo-an. The last pictures show our visit in the slum which I described above, where we were making activities for the children together.

So my dear readers, I thank you for your time and your interest to read my Blog and as always, I’m happy about feedback or any messages 😉 I am planning to update this Blog more frequently in the future, but please don’t be upset if I don’t make it. Work here has got me again and there is always something else to do or to prepare.

With the best greetings from the place where the sun still shines

Fabian

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Categories: The life of the volunteer | 2 Comments

Three busy weeks

Mayong aga! This is what the people here say for good morning 😉

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Yesterday I realized that I have only made one entry in my blog since I am here and so I will use my free morning to write a little bit about my time here.
I have been in Dumangas for one month now and I think I am gradually getting used to the life here. Although I am still not feeling really happy, I notice that things are improving. I am also getting closer to the boys here, and although I am not yet able to speak their language, I have already had some longer conversations in English with some of them. Anyway, it seems that talking is not very important here. Only actions count. This is one thing that I really have to learn, because I am usually a person who talks first and then takes actions. However, if you want to apply this here, you will always be behind the boys, so if you want to encourage them to do something, the best thing is just to do it yourself and to show them.
By now, I am in charge of most of the boys’ schedule, together with the two Salesian brothers. A major part of our work is the so-called assistance. Theoretically, this means that you are always present, but you only interfere or help if it is needed. Indeed, this is a kind of surveillance and I am still finding it hard because standing there and watching is not only really exhausting if you do it for around 4 hours per day. Sometimes I also feel that I am not really needed for this and most of all, I the strict discipline here does often not comply with my ideas.
My day is starting around 4.30 in the morning. At 5, we wake up the boys and assist them during their chores. Until 5.45, they are cleaning the building, and then they take their breakfast. From 6 to 6.45, the boys take their showers and I usually take my breakfast during this time. At 6.45, I walk them to school and stay there until 7.30. Then I have free time until they return, which I use to write my mails and go to the internet café, to wash my laundry and to practice guitar. Sometimes, I also watch a movie with the brothers.
The boys return around 4 in the afternoon and play games until 5.30, then they take their snacks and at 6 they have showers again. From 6.30 to 7.30, there is the study period and after that, they take their supper. They have free time until 8.30. At that time, they have rosary and at 9, we bring them to bed. My day ends between 10 and 10.30.I think I have never gone to bed at that time back home, but here I feel so tired at by then that I cannot imagine anything more pleasant than my bed.
Although waking up at 4.30 is tough, it is not so hard as I expected it to be. After all, it’s not so much difference from my days back in school when I was waking up at 6.30, but only going to bed around 12.00, sometimes later.
Our weekend schedule is even tougher, as the schedule is mostly the same, just without a break.
The one big problem that is still roaming through my head is the question, what I am actually here for. A lot of my expectations have not been met. For me, teaching in the school was a major motivation to do something like this. But when I came here I had to learn that it is not only not planned for me to teach the boys, but also I realized that there is no necessity. There are good schools here and the boys learn the same things that I learned back in Austria. The circumstances here are by far not as poor as I imagined them to be.
Also, I am not here only to give everything to the boys. Of course, working and playing with them is the best thing here and also the most important source of my motivation, but there is still something between them and me…
However, so far, things have improved, in spite of some drawbacks.
Last week, I was in Cebu again to proceed my visa application and this also gave me the chance of meeting the other volunteers. It was really good to talk to them, because this is the one thing that I really miss out here. Someone you can talk to. So I had long conversations with my fellow volunteers Dominik and Christian and just enjoyed everything for two days. It was also good to meet the other people there again. And I already realized that I changed my mind on some things, for example, I was really enjoying my room, which I found quite small and uncomfortable when I arrived there for the first time. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to Christian. He was feeling so bad in his project in Pasil that he saw no other choice but to return to Austria. He told me that he was not able to cope with the surroundings of the slum and the immediate confrontation of poverty every day. This coming Saturday in the morning, he will leave for Austria again. Sometimes I feel a little bit jealous of him, but I also know that it was not an easy choice for him. Realizing that you cannot do what you have preparing for for half a year must be a very tough experience, and when he comes home, some people will also be disappointed of him. I respect his decision because I think I know at least in part how it felt for him and there were times when all I wanted was to go home.
After returning to Dumangas again last Wednesday in the evening, I found it difficult to get back to my routine here during the first two days. On Monday, which is my day-off, I decided to give myself a little treat after a very busy weekend, so I was planning to go to the beach. However, the beach I was told to go was on an island off the shore and I first had to go to Iloilo to get there, so I first had to go to Iloilo by jeepney and then find the boat leaving for the island of Guimaras.. When I arrived there, I was told that it would  take me another hour to go from the port to the beach. At first, I was thinking about cancelling the whole thing because I had to be back in Dumangas in the afternoon, but then I decided to go on. So I made my way through Guimaras, passing by in its capital San Miguel. It is definitely the most remote capital I have ever seen and sometimes I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable because I had no idea of this island and no one really knew where I was. In the end, I found a jeepney which was so crowded that I had to sit on a wooden bar in the middle of the vehicle, but it would eventually take me to the village of Poblacion. The name of this town is the most ironic thing that I have ever come across here, because there is hardly anyone living there. From there, I had to take a tricycle, but what I found was definitely worth the effort. At this point I must apologize that I cannot provide you with any pictures, but as I was going on this trip alone, I was only taking with me what I really needed. Before me, there was a picturesque beach, a turquoise-blue ocean and a few fishing boats. It seemed to be a paradise and it was exactly the picture that comes to your mind when you think of the Philippines as a tourist destination.
So I just put on my swimming trunks and jumped into the water. There was hardly anyone there, so I nearly had the whole beach for myself. The more sad I was when I had to leave again only after one hour. The ride back to dumangas would take me three and a half hours and so there was no a lot of time to relax. But I decided to take a tricycle directly back to the port, which meant I had a chance to travel without being squeezed by other people and I was also able to see the beautiful landscape. I really enjoyed this ride because it gave me a feeling of freedom. I had proofed to myself that I was able to survive here on my own and at the same time it gave me the chance to see something of the country. Just a very important hint if you ever plan to go to this island: Don’t bring a mango or any parts of a mango. On leaving the port I noticed the huge sign saying that it is strictly forbidden to bring mangos to the island.
Well, I think this is a good point to finish my report. Feel free to leave a comment or to write me a message, I am always happy to hear from you 😉

Greetings from Dumangas,
Fabian

PS: The pictures I attached show the town of Dumangas, the Don Bosco project here or the chocolate storage in my cabinet. I think most of them do not need further explanation.

Categories: The life of the volunteer | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Dumangas

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Dumangas is a small town on the island Panay, about one hour from the City of Iloilo by car. A small road leads from the main road to the Don Bosco Project Dumangas. We drive along a wall, which surrounds the area. A guard opens the gates and greets us, before we go on to the main house. It is a white building with two floors where the fathers of the project live and since one week, this is also my home.
I have been here for a little more than one week, and I am not sure what to say about it. I only know that I did not expect things the way they actually are, but at the same time I tell myself that it was clear that the reality would be totally different from my expectations. On the other hand, I felt really good about the work with the children sometimes, but I still have to learn so many things about the people here. At the moment, I don’t even know most of their names and I also have troubles from keeping their faces in mind, not to mention that I have no idea of their usual way of life here, of their language, their habits, their games, their sense of humour… It is simply difficult to understand and to be understood.
Apart from that, all the other things I had avoided before now come down on me. When I was still at home, even when I was already in the Provincial House, I was not even a little bit nervous. I did not really understand what it meant to be away from home for one year and to work with the children here. I still don’t really understand now, but I think I have an idea of it and sometimes even this is too much for me and I feel lost and sad here. Only now, as I left behind my home and my beloved ones, I realize how I would miss them during this one year. When I look back now at my last days in Austria, I would like to do many things different. Most of all, I would like to take more time to say goodbye. But it’s too late now and I can’t change these things. I want to focus on what I chose to do and go on with the work. During the last days, I noticed that there was already some kind of routine in my day. Every day, things go a little better than on the last day. Tomorrow, I will also have my first guitar class with the boys. I am also determined to practice basketball every day because it’s simply so much fun to play this game with the boys.

Don BoscoDumangas is a huge area on which the boy’s home, the training centre, a gym and the house of the fathers and the volunteers is located. The rest of the area is mostly covered by rice fields, but there are also a soccer field and a few other houses.
I will be in charge of the boys in boy’s home. For now, I only have to walk them to school in the morning and sometimes I assist the fathers with waking them up. In the morning, I have time for myself and to prepare some things for them. Most of the activities are in the afternoon and in their free time, I either play football, basketball or guitar with them. Actually, my task is to teach the boys to play the guitar and to form a new band.

Working with the boys here is really exhausting, but also rewarding. In spite of all the difficulties, there were also some beautiful moments with them. When they just give you the feeling that they are happy that you are here with them and do not demand anything at the moment, when they just slowly look up at you with disbelief or when you can fascinate them with simple things, you just forget about your worries for a moment.
Of course, I am also told to be strict with them in order to keep up the discipline here (which is by the way very good), but it is difficult to find the right balance.

I am very glad that there are also two other volunteers from the Philippines who work here. They are not only a great help, but also good friends to talk to.

Greetings from Dumangas,

Fabian

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Cebu calling

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One from Europe cannot pretend that Cebu is a clean and neat place. He would either be blind or a hypocrite. As soon as we leave Maryville, the separated area in which the Provincial House is located, we find ourself on streets littered with waste, crowded with cars, motorcycles and people.
One of the first things I had to get used here was the driving style of the Philippinos. It is described best by the word anarchy. While most of the cars are in a condition in which they would not even be allowed to start their engine in Europe, the drivers seem to be at a constant race with all other participants of the traffic. At the same time, they always seem to find the most dangerous ways to be faster than everyone else. When they overtake someone, which usually happens every few meters, they do not care if there is another car coming on the other lane. Everyone just blows his horn and the one with the smaller vehicle usually gets out of the way. For me, it is still a miracle that we have not seen a single accident so far.
However, I cannot deny it was great fun to race around like this and being closed car with four wheels, windows and an experienced driver made the whole thing quite a lot less dangerous than it is for most other participants of traffic here.
But in spite of the strange experiences we have made, in spite of the different culture, the different mentality and the poverty here, we are have enjoy a great time.
People in the Philippines are so welcoming and friendly that you immediately feel at home here. I have already got used to the food. Some of the things you get here are really awesome. There is a large variety of fruits, and the taste great. Cebuanos like to mention that they have the best mangos (called mangas here), and I totally agree with them. I would not take ten of the mangos we get at the supermarket at home for one of the mangos from here.
On Friday, we were shown around the Don Bosco Projects around Cebu. After our first visit, which was in Liolan, the Fathers invited us for lunch at nearby restaurant, located directly at the sea. We had a good taste of Philippine seafood there. I especially enjoyed the crab meat. It has a very sweet taste and I could not compare it to anything I ate before.
In Pasil, where Christian will spend his year, we were confronted with the poverty. Pasil is located in the middle of a slum where more than 50.000 people are crowded together on 5 square kilometres. It felt strange to be offered fresh food and drinks, while outside so many people were living in shacks, deprived of clean water and a proper food. When we left the slum again, I felt numb. I was simply overwhelmed with what I had seen because I felt the necessity to do something to help them, but at the same time I had to realize that there was nothing I could do for them. I was sad when I had to understand that in the larger scale, my engagement here could not change anything.
However, I don’t want to stay only with the sad things.
The same evening, Christian and I could not resist to try one of the (in)famous local culinary curiosities: Balut. It is a duck’s egg which has only been partly incubated, but have a look at the pictures if you are interested. It was not very special after all.
On our third day, we visited some of the sights of Cebu, including the statue of the National Hero, Lapu Lapu and the Museum of Cebu. I could not resist to buy one of the beautiful guitars, which are offered at low prices in street stores. It’s got a great sound!
Yesterday, on sunday, Christian and I were touring around in Cebu by Jeepney, the Philippino way of public transportation. As with many things here, the jeepneys are a very simple, improvised solution. They are far from being efficient or anything like that, but for us, these little trucks which consist of nothing more but four wheels, an engine, a driver and a roofed over loading space with two benches inside, have a special charm of adventure and freedom. Actually, using them as a foreigner truly is an adventure. There are neither signs that indicate the stops, nor any maps which show the different jeepney routes. Nevertheless, we surprisingly made our way back home without getting lost.
Just across the street, there is the house of a German who is the founder of “Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe”, an organisation which supports the Salesians. He owns a house and comes here two to three times a year with his wife and we had the pleasure of being invited to his place yesterday evening, where we had very interesting discussions and delicious white wine from germany. For the last time.

Just in a few minutes, my to fellow volunteers will leave for their projects. I will follow tomorrow. In the morning, I will take the flight heading for Ilo Ilo, and right now, I’m very excited about what I will find there.
A big thank you to all the people who were caring for us during the last days!

Greetings to you at home, the next time you’ll hear from me, I’ll already be in Dumangas.

Categories: Planes, rice and a lot of new things | 2 Comments

Asia rocks!

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Finally! After 30 hours of journey, we arrived at Cebu Airport. I still can’t believe we are really here. My first impression: Asia rocks! That started when I boarded the Airbus A-380 to Seoul together with my two colleagues Dominik and Chris and I’m still stunned with everything here. Although not everything during the journey went smooth, we had a good time. The service offered on the Korean Air flights was amazing and the 11 hours from Frankfurt to Seoul were passing like nothing.
In Seoul, we had to wait at the airport for elven hours due to a delay. It seemed like we would have to stay at the airport forever, but somehow, we still got here. The plane finlly left Seoul at midnight and arrived at Cebu at 3 a.m. The first thing I noticed when I got out was the humidity. It feels like you’re entering a rain-forest, and if there would not the the ACs and fans everywhere, you would be all over wet immediately. We were then picked up by our hosts and taken to the Provincial House in Cebu. I was trying to look at everything we passed by during the ride, but at the same time I had serious troubles not to fall asleep. However, I saw some tricycles, which are the most common way of transportation here and I noticed that the city never really seems to fall asleep.
After we arrived, we took a late night snack served by our kind hostess and supervisor during the next days, Nanette. She then showed us our rooms, I took a cold shower, turned on the AC, set my alarm to 10 a.m. and then fell into my bed.
The next thing I learned was what it meant to have a jet-lag. When Chris banged against my door, it was already half past three in the afternoon…
We had our first Philippine lunch then (which was delicious) and then started our orientation programme, where we heard a lot about the Don Bosco projects in and around Cebu. Tomorrow we will go on a tour to visit some of them, among them Liloan and Pasil, the places where Dominik and Chris will be working for one year.
I am still amazed about how kind and open the people here are to foreigners. We were welcomed very warmly by everyone we met today and immediately got everything we needed.
One hour ago, we had dinner. There was fish, meat, vegetables and of course, rice and everything was really good. Still, I think that it will take some time to get accustomed to the way of cooking on the Philippines. One of the fathers joined us and told us about his life as a Salesian. The only thing I was not so fond of is the beer they got here. It is some kind of the Spanish San Miguel, but it did not really like it. Well, I guess you can’t have everything.
So far, it has been really nice, but I still cannot quite believe all of this. Maybe, I will understand things better when I get to see some of the projects and the town.
Oh, it’s already after nine. Time to get finished, I have to get up on time and after the last two nights, I think I should get some more sleep. You’ll hear from me again soon!

So for now, best greetings from Cebu and good night 😉

Categories: Planes, rice and a lot of new things | 2 Comments

Hello everyone!

The volunteers of the 2012 spring preparation course of Jugend Eine Welt

Hey! This is my first entry. It’s Friday, August 23rd, a few minutes to midnight. 4 Days left… I’m looking forward to leave for the Philippines on tuesday. The preparation has been going on for months now, and after all, I finally want to get it started. Of course, I feel a little nervous from time to time, but there is not much time for worries. There is still a list of things that need to be done: My room is still waiting for a cleanup, some clothes and medicine have to be bought, the last guitar parts still need to be recorded for my band, and somewhere in between I will also find time to spend time with the beloved people who stay here. But maybe it’s not bad that I don’t come to think about the next weeks too much. I will have enough time to be nervous during the flight and the first days, and at the moment, I feel fine with simply trying to enjoy the last hours in Vienna, to spend them on the preparation of my journey, but also on saying farewell to the last of my friends and my family.
It is an interesting kind of feeling that you have before such an event. You know something is going to happen soon, but you don’t really understand it. When you see the places you have been to for months and years, or when you see friends you have spent so many hours with, you know that you will not see them for a long time. You know, and you tell yourself and you expect to feel different about it then, to feel a kind of thrill, or sadness, or maybe you would just try to look at everything a little closer. But you don’t. You just walk by like you always did, you talk about the things you normally talk and mostly, there’s nothing really special about it. It’s just that you do not realize or can not imagine that all this will be gone for one year. I guess it’s simply something your brain cannot cope with, and maybe it’s better this way. It allows you to keeps the things in your life in order also during the last days before you leave.
Good night, maybe for the last time from Austria!

The totally awesome “Philippines Cake” I recieved at a farewell party. Thank you, Esther 🙂

Categories: Farewell to home and friends | 3 Comments

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