As on the previous days, we were picked up by “Kuya” (older brother in Tagalog) Tony. He is one of the most skilled drivers we have ever seen. His driving in Manila seemed almost like a form of art. To reach our destination of the day Kuya Tony had to manoeuvre his van through narrow streets in Pateros.
Eventually we arrived at the Aguho Elementary School in the municipality of Pateros. While we were slowly driving through the gates of the school, we could see a stage with girls waving flags like you would see in a marching band. At the same time we heard the beating of drums and a marimba-like instrument playing wonderful tunes.
As soon as we got out of the van we were greeted by many children, teachers and parents. In front of the stage were multiple chairs and the front row was left empty for us. The school’s children approached us and gave us all a rose and homemade paper necklace.
As soon as I sat down and looked at the girls on stage waving their flags, and saw the smiles on their faces and listened to the high tunes of the marimba, I was overwhelmed by emotions. Emotions of beauty and emotions of love. It felt to me like there was so much love in this place and they were sharing it with us.
Jowell Raymundo, the “barangay” chairman, gave an emotional speech (a barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines, like a village within a city). The chairman had to swallow his tears while showing his gratitude for the funds from the IKEA Foundation that supported this Save the Children project of inclusion. I had a hard time swallowing mine.
In a way, it was very difficult to see all that gratefulness, especially since we were thanked as if we personally made sure of that money. We felt it was not necessary for us to be so thanked. The immense gratitude, however, did make us realize the importance of the Kasali project to this community. The parents and teachers we talked to were ecstatic about the project. Especially the parents of disabled children, who otherwise would not be accepted to go to school, were full of emotions. Not only are their children able to go to school, but also the parents are being educated to have a different view on disabilities.
After a few speeches, some performances were given in our honour. The national anthem was sung as well as a prayer. The theme of inclusion became all too clear to us when we were invited to join the third performance by dancing a traditional Pateros dance called “Pandangguhan” on stage with the children. We did not have the same smooth moves as the kids!
After the warm welcome we were divided into three groups to do activities at three stations with the children. Everybody wanted to win the games and we had a lot of fun together. It was nice to see that every child belonged to the group, disabled or not. They were taking care of each other. A pleasure to see!
Then it was lunchtime. And what kind of a lunch! It was called Boodle fight—rice and grilled food spread in banana leaves. We ate with all of us at one big table, using our hands. It was a really nice experience and very tasty.
After lunchtime I went to a Parent Education Session. It’s good to see that Save the Children doesn’t only take care of the children but also educates the parents and has very good contact with the local government. It’s about the whole package and that is, I think, the strongest point that makes this Kasali project so successful.
Before a school year begins, the parents clean up the school. This is called “Brigada Eskwela”. We painted a cabinet for the day care and the teacher was very happy with it. We also swept dust and cleaned classrooms of the Aguho Elementary School. After this “hard work” we had time to spend with the children. Some of us played basketball in the heat (above 40 degrees). I learned some Filipino words and taught the children some Dutch words. We had a lot of fun together.
The real life with home visits
Our last day had a big impact and made the whole trip complete. We were divided into groups and did some house visits, accompanied by a volunteer from the barangay and two security guards. We walked into the street and, after a short time, we went left. I could not call this a street anymore. It was like an aisle. There were a lot of cats and dogs and I had to go up two stairs at the outside and came into a one-room house.
The room was a space of 1.80 metres by 3.50 metres and a family of seven people live there. I still don’t’ have in my mind how they sleep there with seven people! Mother Noella and her autistic son Djemwell were there in the room waiting for me. I had a nice conversation with Noella and she was so thankful. And then I cried…two mothers on a couch. Living in such different countries with such different opportunities for their children and for themselves. It was so overwhelming at that moment.
All the mothers I met are strong women. Every mother in the Philippines is a strong woman. The family is important and they love children. Because of the house visits I saw how they really live and what the Kasali project means for them. What I know for sure is that the holistic approach is important: education for teachers and parents, close contact with local government. They know where the children live who need support and help. Also, the help for the individual child is important. Think of a wheelchair for example.
In the afternoon there was a medical check-up for the children and an education session for parents. After this fantastic day we did a debriefing at the office of Save the Children.
It is not possible for me to describe this IWitness trip, but I will try to put it in words: professional, caring, loving, dedicated, a real team, gave us the chance to go full in this week, impact, exceeds expectations, once in your lifetime!!