The Narrow Path in Philippines
During epidemic, I went to the Philippines.
I was accomodated in a children’s home for girls for a few days to experience the life of volunteer, which was an ad hoc arrangement.
This is my first time travelling to the Philippines and my first visit to children’s home. When I entered into the children’s home, I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of girls. They greeted me in simple English, ‘What is your name?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Where are you coming from?’ They welcomed me by singing a song in Tagalog and English with sincere smile on their faces. I was quite surprising that the children welcomed visitors with such a great passion and did not seem to be afraid of stranger.
The girls in the children’s home had different backgrounds, some of them were abandoned children, while some of their parents were passed away, some parents were unable to take care of them due to various reasons, such as illness, poverty, in prison, or participating in illegal activities…etc.
If these girls were not brought into the children’s home, they would probably lingering on the street all day, receiving no education, following the footsteps of their parents, or getting pregnant in the age of 12 or 13 and then begging on the street together with their little children.
The children’s home was run by a Catholic religious order, and their operation expenditure was entirely funded by donations. There are five religious sisters and three to four staff in the children home, who are responsible to take care of over 30 girls between the age of six and eighteen.
The house of children’s home were donated by local donors. The old fashioned interior design could be seen in various part of the building, implying that the house had only undergone minimum renovation. Some furniture and decoration looked old and shabby, with design of the 1970s or early 1980s : dilapidated wall tiles, sunken floors, broken wooden cabinets. The only air-conditioned room was a chapel on the ground floor. It is a room of around 200 sq. ft with Blessed Sacrament inside the tabernacle. Religious sister would go there for morning and evening prayer, as well as adoration everyday. The girls would also squeeze into the small chapel every morning and evening for reciting the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Caplet and the Angelus before having their meals.
There was a dining room outside the Caplet. The religious sister would lead the girls to pray before and after meal. The breakfasts on these days were the same: bread with some peanut butter, jam or salad dressing, as they had recently received some breads from donors.
It was working time after breakfast. Each girl would be assigned to do a household work, such as washing the dishes, or wiping the table, or sweeping the floor. In the middle of the dining room, a girl of six or seven years old holding a mop which was much more taller than her was skilfully moping the floor. Her small hands could be able to wring a mop head which was bigger than her head. She was really awesome.
It was summer holiday and there was only one English class in the morning, taught by an overseas volunteer. The students were busy in preparing everything for the teachers: cleaning the whiteboard, adjusting the fan position, testing the white board markers. Those markers had already run out of ink, but they would not throw them away right away. The girls shook it well and then doodled on the whiteboard. ‘Look!’ The ink came out again!
After reciting the Angelus, we had lunch together. The dishes these days were pretty good. We had beans and meats. The religious sister said the children’s home had just received a box of food from overseas donors. There were canned food, beans, Oatmeal and different kinds of dry foods inside. They had also received a large bag of chili peppers earlier. Since they couldn’t eat them all at once, they used them to made chili paste and sold them to visitors to support their living. Each bottle of chili paste sold only 100 pesos (about HKD$15).
There was a free time in the afternoon. The girls would take a bath and rest. Some of them would read books while some would play ball games together. The ball they played was actually a white polyform ball which was designed for handcraft making. Although the ball was dirty and rough in surface, the girls cherished it very much and played it like a volleyball. At the other side of the dining room, some girls were sitting together and playing piano and Ukulele. They had no music book, but they were able to play a song by memory. The girls said that the elder girls taught them how and they would teach each other. It seems that Filipinos do have talent on music. The girls could master the piano in both hands and Ukulele with different chords and rhythms. What is impossible for us, they can. What’s more impressive is that the good night song they sang every night was so sweet and loud, much better than renowned children’s choir: it’s in perfect harmony, perfect pitch, perfect rhythm. The turning of tune was smooth and comfortable. Everything was natural, not affected. Their innocence voices could really touch your heart.
The religious sister took care of the children in all aspects: teaching catechism, arranging daily activities, playing games with them, bringing them to mass in a nearby church. Several times, I saw a religious sister picking head lice for girls. When I was wondering if the head lice would jump into the head of religious sister, I found the veils of her habit protecting her, then I realised that the purpose of wearing veils for a religious sister is to tidy up herself to serve the poor, it is not a costume showing how “holy” she is.
It was Dinner time after evening prayer. The small dining room filled with chatters and laughers, the noise was so loud comparable to the Chinese restaurant in the old days. The noise did not seem to bother the religious sister at all, instead, they liked this communion time very much. They would even playing board games with children after the dinner. I had once joined them playing a board game which was quite complicated, involving lots of calculation and logical thinking. The girls were really smart and brilliant. No matter won or lost, they had shown good planning and decision making during the playing of games.
The girls loves the religious sisters very much. Sometimes the little girls would lean on the arms of sisters, whisper to them, while the teenage girls would walk with religious sisters arm in arm on the street. During these days, I have never seen long faces from the religious sisters, not to mention a scold. The sisters humbly explained that the elder girls would look after the little ones, and they were very disciplined. As a visitor, I found the girls were living in a place with lots of love and blessings from God, no wonder they were so friendly to new visitors. In contrast, a children home in Hong Kong which was recently reported with a series of child abuse cases was totally a different world. Where there is no love, there is hell.
“Do you think you can be a volunteer there ?” Well… as a Hong Konger, the first thing I have to overcome is the shabby toilet which has strong smell coming from the drainage, two dead cockroaches next to the toilet bowl, no toilet seat and no flushing water. Secondly, the intermittent water supply. Sometimes there is no water supply in the afternoon, and on the 2nd floor when someone using water downstairs. I have to fill up a bucket of water for shower (actually there is no shower but a ladle and a bucket of cold water) and washing clothes (hand wash). Notwithstanding, we can only find Jesus Christ from the poor. What the religious sisters did is exactly what Jesus Christ would do.
It is Narrow Path.
Um Chun Daan
[by a Student of Diploma programme on Theology from the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy in Hong Kong]