A long awaited trip … Parts One and Two

Part Two… (Part One below)

One of the hardest parts of my trip was visiting a girl called ‘Hannah’. Hannah used to live at the Girls’ Home, and I was very close to her during my yearlong stay. She chose to leave the Girls’ Home last year, and gave birth to a son a few days before I arrived in Cebu. I went with Emily and Laura to meet Hannah and baby ‘Thomas’ in the slum area they were living in. When I last saw her, Hannah was often singing and dancing. This time, as soon as she saw us, she broke down into tears. We found out they had been evicted, and she was now living with her mother and stepfather, who have a history of violent abuse towards Hannah.

Meeting Hannah and her baby

Baby Thomas

Laura and Emily were able to chat with Hannah and share some parenting advice. We were also able to take her to the supermarket and stock her up on baby essentials. The team are now in the process of figuring out what can be done for Hannah, and the best way to help this young family and ensure the wellbeing of this new little life. This is one of the things I love most about Mercy in Action. It is a family. And in a family, no matter what happens, you’re still a part of it, even if you decide to leave. Although Hannah opted to leave Mercy in Action’s care, she has not been forgotten, and will not be left on her own. I know that the team in Cebu and the UK have Hannah’s best interests at heart and will do all they can to support and assist her and her son. I felt very fortunate to get a chance to see Hannah again, and to meet her beautiful baby.

Off to the swimming pool!

Crazy boys!

My trip was also filled with lots of laughter and fun (as shown by the photos above!) We took all of the residential kids to the swimming pool, which is always an exciting mix of chaos and enjoyment! I was also lucky enough to be there for the ‘Closing Ceremony’ of the Summer Programme. All of the children and young people received prizes and certificates for their commitment to various clubs and activities during the school holiday. Team trophies were also given for points scored during Kids Camp and Youth Camp, as well as for the best team presentation. I was one of those given the tough job of deciding the winner of the presentations! Let me tell you, those kids know how to dance! They only had a few days to choreograph and rehearse the music, dance and drama, as well as making costumes. They must have worked tirelessly all day as they were amazing! One team was just amazingly cheeky (you know who you are, Green Team!)

All in all, my time in Cebu was a blast, and I am so thankful that I got to catch up with everyone and see the great way MiA has changed, developed and grown over the past few years. The trip confirmed one thing in particular to me; Cebu has got my heart, and seems like it will never let it go.

Part One

After living in the Philippines with Mercy in Action for a year I returned to the UK in 2012. I always dreamed of visiting Cebu again, but nearly three years on, such a trip had continued to elude me. However, at the end of May I was fortunate enough to get a last minute flight and return to the place that means so much to me.

The Philippines!

What I love about arriving in the Philippines is that it always feels the same. It sounds the same. It smells the same. The air is muggy, the sun is scorching and there’s that scent in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. But as soon as you get a sniff of it, you know – you’re in the Philippines.

Shortly after arriving I found out there was a huge water shortage throughout the island due to a very dry summer. In England, we might face a hosepipe ban. In Cebu, they just stop water flowing through household pipes altogether. So after a refreshing bucket shower and my first of many meals of chicken and rice, I was off to Spring Village to catch up on nearly 3 years of changes and developments!

When I left Cebu in 2012, there were 4 boys in the Boys’ Home. Turning up at Spring Village this time, it was wonderful to see how much it had grown! They had moved premises, and gained 9 new members of the family! Several of these were boys who had been living on the streets when I left, so it was wonderful to see them off the streets, in a family and loving their new life. Not only this, but many of these ‘boys’ were now young men. And what remarkable young men they are. I will never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the children, young people and adults I know in Cebu. They have an enduring zest for life, a desire to do more, be more and give more. Despite what they’ve been through in the past and, in many cases, what they’re going through now, they will not let it hold them back. Throughout my trip I was so impressed with how these young men served those around them, whether it was the MiA staff, their younger brothers or other children on the streets or the schooling programme. During the summer holidays they had given up their time to volunteer on various projects and events, and in doing so were great role models to others around them.

Huge growth at the Boys' Home

Always a little bit cheeky!

After getting reacquainted with the boys, I went to the Girls’ Home, which again had changed location. I was met with shouts, cheers, laughter and even a few tears (they promised me these were happy tears) – it’s nice to know you’ve not been forgotten. Again, the girls’ home had gained 5 new members, two of whom were living on the streets the last time I was there. I had known both of these girls well through the drop in centre, and so again it was so good to see them happy, healthy and safe in a loving family. One of them has received a scholarship to Cebu Dance School, and was proudly showing me some of her dancing costumes. This is something she could never have dreamed of having the opportunity to do while she was on the streets. Her talents wouldn’t have been realised and her gifts would have gone to waste. Now she’s in the Girls’ Home, she has the support and encouragement to do what she loves!

Practising dance moves

Great to be reunited with the girls!

As for the other girls, it was great to see how they’ve grown and how happy and content they are in their home. They know they are safe and secure, and part of a family. It’s lovely to hear them talk about their ambitions for the future, and look forward with anticipation for all they can achieve in their lives. Upon arriving, I was encouraged to write a note on their ‘Freedom Wall’. This is covered in notes from visitors, staff members and volunteers, all of them sharing truth with the girls about how special and loved they are. They can go there whenever they are feeling down, and be reminded about their significance in life. Being in the house, it feels like a family home. The girls are not street kids, they are sisters, the house parents are not simply staff, they are mamas and papas who care dearly for the children in their care.

I spent a lot of time at the Girls’ Home, enjoying catching up, playing games and watching the girls practice various drama and dance routines. They even roped me into doing Zumba with them – definitely not recommended for the Philippines climate! The whole home definitely felt more bonded and established since the last time I was there, and it was wonderful to be accepted into it again so instantly.

One of the hardest parts of my trip was …

…Come back next week for Part Two of the blog …

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