By: Genevieve Bisson
My greetings at the Pandoo Club are always a blessing. A room full of children has a particular way of making you feel utterly welcomed.
Today, however, was different. The excitement was exceptionally high as my arrival meant the start of their awaited adventure. Today, we went to a swimming pool! I was wondering if they had actually slept the night before as their happy grins and plastic bags of clothes represented a new level of excitement.
Off we went! We decided to take taxis since the public pool is across town. After surviving the routinely slow Friday afternoon Cebu traffic, we finally arrived. We were more than ready. I made my way to the ticket booth only to find out that they had strict rules about swim wear. You need to have an actual bathing suit – no shorts and tank top would be allowed. Okay… what to do? Let’s get everyone proper swimwear. So we went a shopped. I paid. Their excitement escalated. Now we’re set!
We arrived back at the pool and, as we’re entering, the guards looked down at us and examined all of the kids’ feet. The guard stopped, looked up, looked back at one of the little girls and said: You can’t go into the pool. You have an open wound.
I looked at the “wound” he was speaking of and noticed only a small healed cut. He was talking to one of our girls who spends a lot of time outside of the Pandoo Club and in the streets. The excitement on her face was quickly replaced by a look sadly too familiar… rejection. Something an 8-year-old little girl shouldn’t have to face.
At that point, I think I got a sense of what parents feel when they would do anything to protect and support their child.
I told the guards that this “wound” was no threat to the overly chlorinated pool and that using a small band-aid could easily solve the issue. I even proposed using a sock. However, it was ineffective and they did not budge. She was not allowed to enter.
Despite everything I wanted to say, I remained calm. I wanted to push further, but at the same time wanted the kids to see me handle the situation in a loving and proactive way. I needed to stand up, speak up. I summarized my feelings and submitted my comments (while remaining respectful) and walked away. It was a battle to stay calm through this because the girl in question was in my arms sobbing like I had never seen before. You have to understand that she is one of the strongest little 8-year-olds I have ever met, and to feel her fast beating chest while I was holding her broke my heart.
On our way out, I felt thankful for everybody’s reaction. She felt responsible for everyone else not being able to swim but none of them made her feel bad about it. If anything, they made her feel better and helped to turn things around. I am so happy we were all able to do so. That memory is now forever in my mind.
Interestingly, from there we all went to a swimming pool near where I live and had the best time. We played games, practiced swimming drills and practiced the starfish floating. We laughed so much that even I, who felt so, so frustrated only a few minutes earlier, had a whole day flipped around. I also saw how wonderful and forgiving kids can be.
When I look at the work we do here, I would hope that it creates long lasting memories for these kids. Today, I felt like we turned a memory around. Of course I will remember that frustration at the pool, but I’ll remember even more how we dealt with it (turn that frown upside down) and how that little girl came back to the center wearing an even bigger smile than that morning.