Samantha Anderson, School of Foreign Service, Class of 2017
GU Impacts Summer: Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED), Manila, Philippines
Hometown: Roanoke, VA
Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) spearheads the Ateneo de Manila University efforts toward public school development. ACED works to improve the quality of education in public schools by providing training to principals and teachers, facilitating the construction of classrooms, and upgrading instructional materials. ACED started feeding programs that provide hot, nutritious lunches for around 22,000 malnourished children at a cost of 25 cents per child per day.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Feeling alone is a harsh state of emotions to face at times.
When I have felt homesickness overtake me, I found that the source of such moodiness is a true yearning for the presence of my family.
My grandmother is the one I adore and miss the most and the number one person on the hotline those early mornings before work. She’s my savior and guardian, and my attachment to her is a vital piece of who I am today. And these days more than ever, not being around her and my family has caused me to unravel little by little. As I go through my array of emotions of missing my loved ones, I have wondered why is it that here in the Philippines I am so much more homesick than I am back on Georgetown’s campus. The most evident culprit — summertime, the Pacific Ocean, the time difference — all make sense, but after doing some evaluation of my surroundings, I have convinced myself that some particular, recent experiences have made me feel much more family oriented than I already am.
This past week was as eventful as my first here in the Philippines. We took a trip to a more rural setting in a city named Mercedes and took a mini vacation to a tropical island named Calaguas during our stay there. The children that I saw, the parents that I met, the young adults like myself that I spoke to all had an inexplicable impact on my psyche.
The encounters I consider to be the most striking occurred when I met three boys this past week, two in Mercedes and one in Calaguas. Each of them spoke to a different side of my understanding of what the familial culture in a country such as the Philippines is like. I unfortunately only have the name of one, but regardless I have great appreciation for the moments I were able to spend with these boys.
The first guy I met was the one in Calaguas and he was our age. His job was to be an informal tour guide for us during this mini vacation. Upon meeting him, it seemed to me that he was highly disinterested in his job position and slightly aloof for tour guide standards. I thought about how ironic it is to be bored with the “mundane” task of taking people to an island. And honestly, this is where I went wrong, assuming that being able to do what he does as a young, free adult is nothing but a lush lifestyle worth dreaming about. Later on during our stay on the island, I was able to have some time to talk to this guy as we hiked up the hills and through the wooded areas populated by huts and a solitary goat. My unnecessary attempt at premature judgement was shot down as soon as he opened his mouth with a sweet grin, greeted me, and offered a cigarette with undeniable friendliness.A comment I have heard a lot while I have been here is how lucky I am to be traveling the world at this prosperous time in my life. These statements usually come from those who are much older than myself, as expected. While talking to this tour guide however, he told me how UNLUCKY he is to be stuck on this island at this prosperous time in his life. His family owns the attractions site and as a part of the Filipino culture, he is expected to help run the family business, while he truly desires to better his English and go to the UK. He ensures me that he loves meeting new people and showing them a great time on the island, but I couldn’t help but to think of this beautiful tropical island as a form of a prison for him. As we loaded the boat on the day of our departure, I caught a glimpse of him laughing with co-workers while fixing a hut with a screwdriver. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than for him to drop his familial obligations and to follow his dreams with us on the final boat leaving out.
I met the next boy the following day at a fishing dock in Mercedes. He wandered up the steps the night we were doing karaoke, probably out of an attempt to find out what was having such a hard and painful death. He made hilarious faces at our singing, if you’ll even call it such a thing. I initially thought he was just kidding, creating expressions in a teasing manner, but then he added his hands, making gestures and pointing in order to simply take part in the fun because if he dared to open his mouth, a bunch of garble that he wouldn’t even understand would fall out. I inferred that he was deaf. The next morning I saw him again at the fish trade and my coworker Nicolai explained to me that he sees him always and he is an extremely friendly child; however, no one knows what’s WRONG with him. He said he seems very smart and mature for his age. Nicolai then told me that he saw him cover his ears and express frustration due to someone’s obnoxious honking the other day, so he may not have been deaf.
To me this kid didn’t look more than 12 or 13, but I’ve already learned that due to malnutrition, most kids here are much smaller than what we would consider to be normal size for their age, so I thought 15 or 16 may be more suitable. Being as old as I assumed he was and quite mature for a child who lacks the ability to verbally speak, I wanted to try to communicate with him. And then it hit me, where does he live? Where is his family? Nicolai then explained to me that he usually sees him wandering around the surrounding neighborhood; he has never seen him with a family. My boss Mi then explained to me that persons with mental disorders here are typically cared for in a similar way that the elderly are, by the care of the family. I eventually saw this kid at a food stop. The most I felt like I could do was smile at him and gesture that I like his hair until I noticed he was spotting the drink I had in my hand. I offered to get him a drink and purchased a Mountain Dew that he pointed at. He just walked off after that, independently in pursuit of lonesomeness.The third boy I met was named Airon. He was ten years old and a beneficiary of the feeding program. He was the first one to be brave enough to say ‘hi’ to me after the students had filed into the office to be interviewed. I immediately said ‘hi’ back with a smile that was probably too big, gave him my name, asked for his, and stuck out my hand for a handshake without even glancing down at his hand. With great hesitation he shook my hand with his right one and I went on my way. His teacher, who was apparently watching the entire ordeal from the side, instantaneously captured my attention and told me he was disabled. I turned and gave a second look at Airon, who was glancing down at the floor now, and recognized the left arm without at a hand and nubs for fingers. My first reaction was anger. Initially at the teacher for bringing such a characteristic to my attention as if it should even matter, and then at myself for not being attentive enough and possibly too forward.
I spent the rest of the interview around Airon, smiling at him, observing him, and admiring his uniqueness. My mind shifted back to the possibly mute teenager I had met the day before and how his family was nowhere to be found. I wonder how the dynamics of Airon’s family worked when it came to caring for him and his disability. I wondered if they found him useless because he could not earn quick change with small jobs on the streets like the other kids. And then I noticed his SHAME; the way he would hide his missing hand from adults, but still shove his buddies around with it, the way he would stare at it for a little while, seeming to be made curious by it, but would only raise and answer with his good hand when the opportunity approached.
My past week around these boys made me more than miss my family, it made me appreciate what they are to me without a doubt. This more than likely is the reason why I have been so homesick. The tour guide did not have a family like mine that nourishes his dreams, and that only emphasizes the gratitude I feel as a college student with such a stable support system. My possibly muted friend from the dock has no one to give him that support that both the tour guide and I have, and to me that’s a never ending nightmare of isolation. Finally, my amazing friend Airon needs his family’s support more than I believe I ever will and I only hope that his family is indeed the crutch he needs to make himself into the excellent student I know he can be.
All I can truthfully say here is that family is an irreplaceable group of people that molds a person in more ways than one can fathom. I cannot express how appreciative I am of mine after meeting these three boys. I honestly can’t wait to see my crazy, irreplaceable group of people again.
About the Author
Sam’s summer internship experience was the first time she traveled outside of the U.S. Back on campus Sam is part of several clubs including Georgetown University Women of Color, Boxing Club, Corpus Collective (Spoken Word group), as well as a mentor in the Georgetown Scholarship Program.
The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.