Saturday, October 4, 2014

Philippines 2014 Visit #3 - Princess Joy

Wednesday October 1st, 2014
Once again, another big travel day was required in order to visit Princess Joy. Tuesday involved two flights and a long bus trip (that sounds familiar). The flights were fine, and at 4.00pm I arrived in Tacloban, which was at the center of one of the big typhoons in 2013.

The baggage guy took me to an unmarked taxi. I knew I should have refused, since they always charge more than the metered taxis, but I was tired so I just went with him. God was about to teach me another lesson. The driver quoted his price, which indeed was relatively steep. I was initially annoyed, but my attitude soon changed. He told me I was his first passenger for the day (at 4pm!), he lost his house in the typhoon and he has four kids at home. He told me about the high price of food and the conditions they live in.

I initially held on to my skepticism. Indeed, he could have been making some of it up for sympathy, but as he was talking I was looking out the window and the scene was still one of destruction and devastation, even months later. Little tin shacks were their ‘houses’, people were wandering around aimlessly, selling anything they could to get enough for food. The level of poverty I saw actually reminded of what I saw in Haiti when I visited in 2013, and is not something I will forget easily. No one here had a ‘sob story’, they were genuinely and legitimately suffering, nearly a year after the typhoon hit.

The driver got me to the bus terminal safely and I handed over his fare, with a different attitude than when we first met. The transport this time was not a great big comfy coach, but a little 14-seater van, and I found myself squashed between my luggage and a big lady in the back row. Most of the journey was completed in that eerie atmosphere created when there is sheets of lightning but no thunder or rain. About halfway through the trip we got a flat tyre, then of course it started to rain.

The trip ended up taking over five hours, and we arrived at the terminal at 10.45pm. A small mercy occurred when I asked the tricycle driver where my hotel was, and he pointed across the road! We had literally landed right across the road from my hotel, for which I was exceedingly thankful. I hit the hay pretty much straight away. I was ready and excited for the final child visit, Princess Joy on my birthday, Wednesday October 1st.

Princess Joy is a beautiful 14-year old. I started sponsoring her in 2011, and she is now sponsored by my friend Dani Moore. I can honestly say that out of all my sponsored kids over the last few years, Princess’s letters were my favorite. They were always two pages long, honest, detailed and written in her developing English.

I met Princess and her mother in Manila in 2013, but we did not really get the chance to talk much or get to know each other because we were always so busy on the day and I met three kids at once. Princess constantly mentioned her family’s poor financial state in her letters, so I really wanted to see her neighborhood and community for myself.

Princess Joy is one of seven kids. She is the fourth-born, smack bang in the middle. I was incredibly blessed to meet all seven siblings on this day. The oldest is JoJo. He is 25 and pumps gas at the local Petron gas station. He has a wife and a three-year-old boy, and his wife is studying Education at the local university. Next is Paul, who works for a local construction company. Third is Jhon, who works with JoJo at the gas station. Princess Joy is fourth in line and she is in eighth grade at the local high school. She wants to be a teacher. The younger three are Joselle (12), Lori (7) and Michael (5).

They live in the community of Maydolong, which is a good 40 minute tricycle ride from where I was staying in Borongan. I was picked up by Jimuel, the Project Director of PH862. The Project has been running for seven years and currently has 180 children, with a further quota of 60 additional 3-5 year olds in the near future. The communities of Borongan and Maydolong are right on the ocean, and were both greatly affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

Today was not a Project activity day, so once we arrived at the Project I was serenaded by the Project staff (and Princess Joy) singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. I initially didn’t recognize Princess, as she had grown so much in 18 months. We shared a big hug and she cried quietly. I could tell it was going to be a special day for both of us.

We took a tour of the Project and I had a look at Princess’s student folder. Comprehensive records of each child are kept, including letters and gifts received, medical, educational, home visits, the child’s future goals and dreams. I showed her some pictures from her sponsor Dani, as well as some photos of the kids at Ruel.

The family’s home situation is complex, and I will try my best to explain it here. They own one home about two minutes away from the Project. They lived there for about 20 years, and currently the oldest son JoJo lives there with his wife and three year old boy. The rest of them live out on a ‘farm,’ which is about a five-minute motorbike ride away. It is where Princess’s parents both work. They grow, buy and sell copra, which is found in coconuts.     

I quickly sensed God’s hand of provision and blessing on this family, despite their simple circumstances. All the family members who work are employed by a relative; he was described as the second cousin of Princess’s father. This same person owns the Petron gas station where the older boys work, as well as the farm where the parents work and the family also lives. So, thanks to this one relative the family have jobs as well as a place to live.
The house on the farm is basically a one-room open shelter with few facilities or amenities, but they seem content there. From what I could see there was no electricity, and they had to fetch their water for washing and cooking. The house on the farm was completely destroyed during Typhoon Haiyan, but the owner had it rebuilt as soon as he could. While the house was rebuilt, they stayed in a building next to the Petron gas station.

We were able to visit the house as well as the farm, and had some enjoyable conversations. They were all easy to talk to, and there were lots of kids to interact with and make funny faces at. Princess’s father climbed a coconut tree and got a couple down just for me. The glass of juice I drank was humbling because I knew those coconuts are their livelihood, so it was a sacrifice for them.

While we were at the house on the farm, I gave Princess a very special gift. After giving my toy dog Sam to my sponsored child Ana Cristina in 2012, the last remaining soft toy from my childhood was Yellow Ted, who I had since I was born and he was very precious to me. I made the decision a couple of weeks before the visit to give him to Princess Joy, as a symbol of how much I love her and also how much God loves her. The night before visiting Princess Joy I actually had second thoughts, but only for a moment. Yellow Ted had been such an integral part of my childhood and my life to that point. Could I really give him away? In the end the answer was ‘yes’, and I know that along with her three younger siblings they will take good care of my teddy bear.  

For our last activity in Maydolong, we popped into the Petron gas station where Jhon, the third oldest son, was working. We had a short, friendly conversation and then along came Paul, on a break from his construction job. I never imagined that with such a big family I would be able to meet all the family members. It was very special, and I know God provided it for us.

Then it was time to head into Borongan for lunch. Along for the ride were Jimuel, Princess, her mother, her Project worker and her little brother Michael, who was overwhelmed out of his brains. He is five, but wouldn’t even feed himself at lunch. His mum had to, and for the first ten minutes he wouldn’t even open his mouth. Thankfully, by the end of the day he had warmed up. In hindsight I’m not sure why the two younger sisters missed out, and if I had my time again I would have invited them along as well.  

Princess told me her favorite food is spaghetti, and we ended up at ‘Chicken Haus’ where she was able to indulge in this wondrous meal. Next up was shopping. Her sponsor Dani had given a small monetary gift for the family to buy some groceries, and I chipped in to buy the kids one present each, since I had not brought any with me. The kids gift amount was equivalent to $25. Her mother bought a present each for the younger three and, being a teenage girl, Princess went to a few different shops before she was able to decide what she wanted.

To be honest I completely understood her indecisiveness over her sudden abundance of choice. The family had only ever window-shopped at this mall, and now she had a three-figure peso amount to spend on whatever she wanted. She looked at shoes, jewelry and clothes, but in the end she decided on that staple item of all teenage girls these days, a cellphone. She was very excited, and seeing the joy on her face alone was worth the expense (which was less than $20).

Jimuel asked my permission before they bought it, because he said a cellphone is not normally a ‘necessity’ item they would buy with sponsors birthday or Christmas gift money. Because I was there in person and it was my money, I was fine with it. I am trusting that it will not become a disruption or a distraction for Princess Joy in her studies or relating to her family. Maybe I’m being na├»ve?   

After the gifts and groceries at the mall I gave Princess a choice between going to a swimming pool or the beach, and she chose the beach. It’s interesting how attitudes towards beaches differ in the Philippines compared to Australia. In Australia beaches are more popular for day trips and because you can lie on the sand and tan your skin darker. In the Philippines people want to be whiter, so they stay out of the sun as much as possible. Also, the most popular beaches have cottages and hotels on them so people can stay for extended vacations.

The Borongan beach was completely deserted, even though it was a superb day with clear blue skies and the sun beating down. Princess and I, accompanied by Jimuel, headed out to the water. We stood in the shallows, letting the water wash over our feet. We kicked up mud and buried our feet in the sand. We talked about school, friends, television shows and creatures that live in the ocean. It was such a simple time, but Princess said it was her favorite part of the day.  

We finished off with ice creams back at the mall and then said our goodbyes. My final message to Princess was simple: “I love you, your sponsor Dani loves you, and most importantly God loves you. He is the one who brought us together. Please remember, no matter how hard your life gets, that God loves you and has a plan for your life.”

And thus ended another incredible birthday, the fourth one in the last six years I have spent visiting my Compassion kids. Devoting my life to giving to others is incredibly fulfilling, and for me there is no price tag you can put on it. At the end of my life I may not have much to my name materially, but through the sacrifices I have made I know I have helped create memories and experiences for many people and because of me they know the amazing love of God.

1 comment:

  1. How kind of God to let you meet all her siblings!!! And I bet the kids' sponsors loved all the photos of your time!!