Last Tuesday marked the end of my visits to the local prison. I know I’ve been more focused on explaining the development of the course…I thought that was the thing that I’d leave behind – the more “sustainable” part of my contribution – so my focus has been on that. But the trips themselves have been more important to me than I think I realized.
I’ve really intentionally kept away from frontline work with the kids at Organization C. I’m sure, gentle reader, that you can appreciate how many grown-ups come and go in these kids’ lives…I just don’t want to be one of them. I’ve chatted with them and shared jokes, but I’ve tried to keep some emotional distance, both for them and for myself, because I never knew for sure how long we’d be here – I only knew it wouldn’t be long enough. And while the kids speak some English, it’s hard enough to open up to someone…harder still to do it in your second language, and then with all the myriad cultural barriers that exist between us, I just figure this work is better left to Filipinos whenever possible. Anyway, those kids have an excellent support system in place already – I wasn’t needed in that capacity.
But the prison felt different. First of all, whether I was here for 3 months or a year didn’t matter so much, because they wouldn’t likely be there for more than a few months (longest we’ve had has been there 6, but there’s only one…there have, however, been a couple of repeat customers, but that’s another matter…). And secondly, there was nothing else in place for these kids. Funny how easy it is in every country across the planet to scorn a child who ends up in jail…how easy it is to forget all of the suffering that child has endured, ultimately leading them to be arrested. At any rate, there was absolutely nothing in place for these kids when M suggested we go there, and no matter the cultural differences and the temporary nature of my stay here, anything was better than the nothing they had in place.
So, for the last six months or so, we’ve visited every two weeks. I’ve been developing an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course as per the request of the kids when we first came…and while I knew I was going to leave eventually, and that the course was funded for the most part by me, I had hoped that we’d be able to find a volunteer base to fill my shoes as well as a bit of funding to see it through the next few years. A big bummer for me is that neither of those things came to fruition, but as per a previous post, things remain as they are in spite of whether I think it’s cool or not.
Since Tuesday was my last day there, and I know that Organization C won’t be continuing the program, I thought we should have a little fiesta. The kids have been asking for a basketball and a sipa takraw for eons, but I’ve been pretty focused on the course and haven’t made that a priority. So this time I decided to go ahead to get those, as well as some second-hand books to leave behind. I took a big magic marker and wrote “PROPERTY OF LUMBIA JAIL MINORS” across everything as I’ve heard from my colleagues at Organization C that the stuff they’ve donated has often ended up in the hands of the guards. I figured this way, even if they did knick something they’d be faced with the reminder that they stole it FROM THE CHILDREN. Hehe.
And no party here would be a party without food, so we ordered a banana cake from the ladies in the jail – they bake as part of their livelihood program – although they…erm…forgot. Luckily I also ordered a big pancit malabon platter, for which the lady gave me a 50% discount when she learned who’d be chowing down. People can be awesome, no? To make up for the lack of a banana cake we got siopao…kids didn’t seem to mind. I scattered candies all over the table that disappeared in about 37 seconds, and they dug in…there was enough pancit for two rounds – one before they played basketball and one after. One of the guards agreed to take some pictures with my camera (we’re not allowed phones or cameras inside, so I couldn’t do it myself).
But for me the best part of the afternoon came at the end, when the 13 boys sat around and serenaded me with about 20 songs – from sentimental Pinoy love songs to hardcore hip hop (one of them was quite a talented beatboxer)…I just sat there with a silly grin through it all. As I left, I tried to make some semblance of a motivational statement, but the lump in the back of my throat was killing me, and I am very strict with myself about not crying in front of the young people with whom I work. So I was a bit rushed, but one of them called me back and said something in Visaya. M, the social worker, translated, “He said they won’t forget you.” Without giving in to that awful lump I looked them all in the eye and said I wouldn’t either.
The pictures aren’t great, but the space where they’re eating, with the red video game looking thing in the back right (it’s a videoke machine) is where we ran the classes all these months. I wish I could tell you all about how amazing they are, how much they’ve been through, and how well they cope, but I simply wouldn’t know where to start. I cannot say they’ll be OK – some of them will, many of them won’t. But I am so grateful for the time I got to share with them, for the opportunity to watch them learn and to grow (some by leaps and bounds, considering our limitations). No, I most certainly will not forget them.