By: Geneviève Bisson
It is pouring outside and we are drenched to the bone. I wanted to welcome Michelle, Sam and François, who had just arrived from Singapore, with a charming first impression of Cebu: A nice lunch with a view of the city and a visit to the community center. Instead, Michelle and I are crammed under a small made up shed with our two motorcycle drivers waiting for the downfall to cease. We lost Sam and Frank. The streets are flooded like I have never seen them before. Small little waterfalls are forming on the hills and pedestrians are walking in the knee-deep water. When we locate each other and regroup, I tell them, “I swear it’s NEVER like this.” I’m sure they are thinking to themselves: sure, sure.
Trying to call a taxi while it’s raining in Cebu is not an easy task. We decided that we would walk, despite the traffic, puddles and no sidewalk… good times! A very charming beginning indeed. It’s not always that bad, but rarely do I encounter situations here that are 100% smooth sailing. A calm sea has never made a skillful sailor, as the saying goes. In the last 14 months, the times of plan A turning to plan D have been frequent. I have learned to sail through them. This has become my reality.
Of course, one thing can turn this first impression around: children! Their warm welcome, the nice signs they drew and their contagious enthusiasm as we walked into the community center was rejuvenating. These children always bring a smile to my face. They are my every day reminder of why I do what I do. Seeing them reminds me how I believe in change. I believe we can have a positive impact and I believe we are on the right track to doing so. I believe in them and they consistently express their appreciation. They remind me that what we are building matters a great deal to them. Above all, this is what I wanted Michelle and Sam to see and feel. The rain doesn’t matter, the chaotic streets and the everyday small frustrations don’t either. You feel empowered, you feel like you want to work harder toward having sustainable impact on their lives.
François, Michelle, and Sam’s trip was busy and, in my opinion, a good reflection of the realities of development work. In their time in the Philippines we distributed 130 health kits, played hockey and had a party with 100 children, brought stories to life with Em and Denise, two amazing story tellers who made countless children smile from ear to ear in Tacloban, we volunteered with All Hands (a group of volunteers doing disaster relief work in response to last November’s Typhoon Yolanda) to help build septic tanks and unclog drainage pipes and we fed 300 children at a local Tacloban school. All while having meetings in between. We even made time here and there for a full meal, something I quickly realized was a necessity for some members of our group.
It was hilarious to see all these children pick up a hockey stick and hit around a tennis ball like we used to do. Hockey is such a big part of Pandoo Nation and it was fun to bring some of that passion to these children. The nets that we had were composed of two chairs and some fish netting. We had no goalie equipment but they didn’t mind. They had a great time watching us play and learning about a new sport. Their enthusiasm was contagious! Once more I was reminded that in moments like these it doesn’t matter if everything is perfect. So what, we have no nets? What’s important is that they have the opportunity to feel empowered and create memories. Additionally, we watched some amazing dance performances organized by the kids. We ate ice cream and did Zumba. It’s becoming very clear that our community center is shaping an important part of their childhood. That feeling is indescribable.
All in all it was a great overview of everything that lies ahead and a reminder of the wonderful feeling of reward that comes with days invested in making these projects happen. It was a busy, but extremely meaningful trip and I am looking forward to welcoming the rest of our Singapore-based team to my second home in the Philippines.
I’m now back in Canada, jet lagged from a long journey home and the 12-hour time difference. It’s time for me to recharge and reconnect with my friends and family here. In a few weeks, I will be heading back and chapter two will begin. The path is ready to be paved. Great things are on their way!