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Volunteering is child's play

….Well the PACE group residing in the Philippines has been here for a bit over a month now. And the time is ripe to check in and tell you all what we’ve been up to and give you some insight into the jam-packed journey we’ve had thus far.

First up, the great group of eight was split up after an intense week of children’s rights training and some sightseeing in Manila. Five people from the group trouped off to the rural provinces where a life of bucket showers and intrusive wildlife awaited them. Myself and two other volunteers stayed on in the bustling chaotic district of Malate Manila, a vibrant city where everything’s constantly on the move.

After you become accustomed to the mortal peril you are in every time you cross the street, you grow to love the city and the close-knit communities within it. The Bahay Tuluyan family took us in, and from the start it began to feel like home. Our friendships in the community grew and our connections with the children deepened. But as we became more connected with our surroundings, we also became confronted by our own set of personal challenges. For me, it was the street children. I have seen my fair share of homelessness around Sydney, but nothing could prepare me for the vast scale of homelessness in the Philippines, nor how many children lived without the basic protection of shelter, adequate food and care.

Bahay Tuluyan offers a range of programs and services for children in need of special protection, and one program is a mobile unit that a group of youth facilitators and volunteers go out in every week. The mobile unit is a colorful, child-friendly truck that goes to the areas of Manila most entrenched in poverty. The truck acts as a colorful magnet to the children that live there, calling them to come learn, play and eat together. With the youth facilitators we play games, teach the children about their rights through arts and crafts and sing songs together about community and safety. The children love to run after you and swing off your arm and ask all the important details of your life. ‘What’s your name?’, ‘how old are you?’, ‘do you have a boyfriend?’. They remind me so much of children back home, always ready to play and full of irresistible energy, yet they show unmistakable signs of a life lived in poverty.

Many of the children’s bright large smiles are dimmed by their rotting teeth- the consequences of a country where health care is expensive and inaccessible to those who live under the poverty line. Their energetic limbs are full of small-infected wounds tied up with dirty rags that have been left to fester without basic medical care. They run around wild, jumping into the local polluted river, unused to having adult supervision or censure. These children are scantily clad, dirty from playing so much on the dusty street and running around wild while their wealthier neighbours go to school.

The Philippines is a place of contrast and difference, right down to the absurdly sweet and savoury foods- like green mango dipped in fish paste… a Filipino favourite unfortunately. But some differences are not acceptable, like the view of the urban slums from lecture rooms in the prestigious universities, or homeless families sleeping under the roofs of multi-million dollar hotels.

Poverty in the Philippines is a vast and complex issue and Bahay Tuluyan is doing incredible work to provide shelter, schooling, and a safe environment to as many children as possible. It has been an absolute pleasure to work for an organisation that seeks to protect those most vulnerable from the cycle of poverty. But I know that there is much more that we can do as a country and a community of culturally aware Australians. There is no excuse to accept poverty, and it is imperative for us to actively stand up for those in most need of protection and take steps to eradicate extreme poverty…and maybe green mango too whilst we’re at it.

Photos courtesy of Brita and PACE International.

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