I'm so excited to share with you my favourite experience of my Philippines trip thus far. From Monday Nov 30th to Wednesday Dec 2nd, my team traveled to the remote regions of Botolan and Kanawan. We came to bring medical support, groceries, Christmas gifts, and lots of joy.
On Monday, we joined with another church from Manila to run a medical mission. Many doctors came as volunteers to provide free health care in Botolan for the day. Jared (also from Elmira) and I helped out as dental assistants. We washed the dentists' tools between patients and held patients' heads as they were operated on. On Tuesday, we hosted a Christmas party for the children. We gave a drama presentation about the Christmas story, sang Tagalog Christmas songs, provided a meal, and gave each child a bag of toys and essentials. That night, we traveled to an even more remote community amidst the mountains and jungles of Kanawan. Here, we threw another Christmas party for the children (again providing food and gifts). We also provided groceries for the parents.
Now, let me give you a clearer picture of my most memorable experiences in Kanawan. On this brief trip, my faith in God and in love grew tenfold, and I can only describe a couple moments that might reflect that. Upon first arriving, we had to hike past mountains and across hanging bridges to reach the Kanawan tribe and their bamboo huts. Before the hike, kids came running up to our van to meet us with such incredible joy and kind introductions (it was great practice of my limited Tagalog). All the children were quick to carry our bags and supplies. The first thing we did upon arriving was go for a swim in a river that hugged rock walls and rushed through rapids. The children took MY hand to ensure my safety, and I marvelled at their boldness in diving into shallow waters. The next day, after experiencing the great pleasure of giving our Christmas presentations, distributing gifts, and sharing food, Jared and I climbed a small mountain with two of the teenage natives there. The view of God's creation was breathtaking...and despite already losing my breath from the climb, it was what I needed. Afterwards, we went swimming in another river with the children, and at this point I felt I'd already built relationships with some of the kids (...actually, just the previous night, some of the kids I'd connected with were sticking their hands through my window and handing me candies they could probably barely afford). While we were in the river, something both hilarious and powerful happened. One of the kids brought a small packet of shampoo, and they began washing my hair and my dirty feet. I was overwhelmed with their love and kindness, and at the same time I couldn't stop laughing. I should have been the one coming to provide hygiene care for them!! What a humbling experience.
So while the newspapers here were talking about the horrible mass killing that occured in Maguindanao, Philippines, I was experiencing the love and joy of young children in the jungles and mountains. Despite the terrible things that the news focuses on, I was able to witness a great capacity for love in children.