In the Philippines, there is an expression known across all the islands, with all of their more than 100 languages. It is “Bahala na,” which I have mentioned in this blog before, and which, roughly translated, means, “It’s up to Lady Luck,” or “It’s in God’s hands,” depending on who’s doing the translating. While I am by no means a fatalist exclusively, I often find myself reacting to disappointing circumstances with the similar concession, “It wasn’t meant to be,” or, “Everything happens for a reason.” In fact, among my many personal convictions that have outlasted my (sadly departed) youth is to live without regrets, at least insofar as is possible.
I cannot say that I do, in point of fact, live without regrets entirely. I know that from every loss comes a lesson, but some of those lessons I would have rather learned differently. But for the most part, I am satisfied with what is in my life. However, the last twenty-four hours has left me with much to ponder.
This story starts very near to the beginning of our trip, but I’ll be brief: as some of you may recall, I was not initially 100% satisfied with the first organization with whom I worked (known heretofore as Organization B – “A” never worked out at all) for a number of reasons, not least because no part of their effort revolved around working with street children, which was a really big drive for me to come to this country again in the first place. So a search ensued, and I was able to find Organization C, with whom I’ve been working ever since.
About a month after beginning to work with Organization C, I asked about the many children I saw every day spotted across the landfill, scavenging for any number of things – I wondered if there were any programs working with those kids. I was informed that there was a guy from Switzerland who had started up an organization, but no further information was really given, except that I was offered the chance to meet with them.
Fast forward to present, and I can tell you that I was promised a trip to the landfill to meet him and the children with whom he worked on several occasions, but it never came to fruition.
Enter our friend J.
J is a 21-year old artist and musician living sometimes here in CdO, other times in his home province of Bukidnon, and still other times in the famous surf town of Siargao, east of Cagayan. He makes jewlery and indigenous instruments, plays guitar and flute, and throws fire for tips at Night Cafe. J also seems to know more or less everyone we meet. So it was only somewhat surprising to find out that he knew T, the Swiss founder of Philippine Island Kids (sorry – it’s in Swiss German), and promised to set up a meeting for us.
A mere two weeks later – yesterday – we finally met this man…pause with me for effect here.
OK – so he’s 28, I learned from an article about him, and his face looks about that, but there is something deeply stoic about him that makes him seem so much older. He’s a former police officer, and quite an amazing person just generally, but I don’t wish to let on that he’s the only person behind this amazing organization. His partner, a Pinay woman with an MBA who works tirelessly – and exclusively in a voluntary capacity, I might add – in addition to her full-time job, cannot be forgotten. Nor can the several “partners” who work with them, which is the title given to the teachers, teacher’s aides, and other volunteers, some of whom earn a stipend for their efforts. Long story short, education was at the heart of what they wanted to impart, but there were a number of problems in getting the kids to be able to – or to want to – attend traditional public school. First there’s the logistics – who will look after their younger siblings? If they’re older, who will scavenge for food, clothes, recyclables, etc. in the landfill? If they’re younger, who will get them to school? And, of course for all of them, who will provide food? But then there’s also the emotionally scarring experience of it all, particularly for kids living in abject poverty that have, frankly, quite enough emotional trauma to deal with as it is. There is discrimination – they are poor, and everyone knows. There is humiliation – a 14-year old boy in first grade is conspicuous indeed.
So Philippine Island Kids decided to build their own school. And they convinced the local government Department of Education to accredit them as a pilot school. And they now have 150 kids at their school, plus 15 in the public high school and 1 who has recently begun college.
I know – or part of me usually knows – that all things happen for a reason. But it is hard, knowing that this organization – which sits only a few minutes’ drive from where we live, which is developing a gardening program Chris could have sunk his teeth into, and which is a shimmering reflection of the kind of work I have dreamed about doing since I was 18 – was sitting there, right under our noses all this time…I know there’s a lesson here . I’m trying to piece it together, but maybe I’ll need some distance before I can make sense of it all. T invited me to pass by today and I saw a vibrant, thriving organization that is by no means perfect, juxtaposed as it is against the landfill that is sanctuary and struggle to the children they support. I’ll go back next week, I hope. And I’ll do my best to stay in touch with their work. As I was leaving today, V – T’s partner – said, “Thank you,” to which I replied, “I’m afraid I haven’t done anything – and I don’t know if there’s anything I’ll be able to do in the time we have left to support you.” She said, “There is. You wait.” I hope she’s right.