If there was just one aim of our volunteering program, it was for the girls to experience not just a completely different reality and to feel duly grateful for all they have, which is all rather obvious, but rather, for them to understand that the children they were teaching and their families were ‘real’: not the empty threats we all glibly dish out ‘children in Africa (…) don’t have any food and here you are leaving everything on your plate-style). They have names and surnames, parents and grandparents, they laugh, they cry, and they play: just like them. Then, an even better aim is for our girls to try to forget all those material differences and have genuine fun with their Filipino counterparts. So while seeing them teach in kindergarten was wonderful, the best moments were when they wanted to play with the other children in their free time. The little goodbye notes they got from their friends were the sweetest declarations of friendship you can imagine.
On a different level, the girls have made true friends with the other volunteers, despite the 10-15 year age gap. After just one or two days, their timidity was no more, and they were far more interested in the twenty year old chat (don’t ask) than hanging with me.
As it all draws to a close, the terror of the cockroach and cracks in the walls of the first night seem a long time ago indeed. While we will all enjoy that hot shower awaiting us in Puerto Princesa, we really don’t feel desperate to leave at all. Indeed, as I walk around camp for the last time, checking over our now barren room and its fluorescent lights, saying a mental farewell to cold water and giant spiders, I feel rather sad, and that it’s come to an end all too soon. Relationships with people and places like these, knowing you’ve come for the same reason, are intense and deeply felt, despite their brevity.
A final lasting memory of our last night at camp: I lag behind, watching as the girls walk back in the dead of night to our accommodation, discussing karaoke and coconuts, happily dragging their flip flops through muddied roads, dodging frogs and stray dogs without a thought, ready to wash their teeth outside with water bottle in hand. They hardly remembered to look out for nasty bugs, and clean their hair with the cold bucket shower without a care in the world. They have got used to it all almost without effort and become a core part of camp in such a short time. They will be missed- so I feel very proud of them indeed 💚.
All too soon, marvelling at that perfect view one more time, into the bus we get for the last time, northern-bound…. excited to be a family reunited once more very soon!