Philip has been sponsoring Jellian for 2 years. He went to meet the young girl and her family in the Bicol region, a ten-hour bus ride from Manila.
“Meeting my sponsored child and her family is a pivotal moment in my sponsorship. Far from the mere courtesy visit I had imagined, seeing Jellian in the flesh is a true eye-opener. The remote correspondent, with whom a few letters and photos have created so far a fairly formal link, becomes in a flash a real person, with a sensitive and endearing personality. The bond between sponsor and sponsored child turns into deep mutual trust.
I am pleasantly surprised by the young sixteen-year-old’s presence and repartee. She is a smiling and cheerful young girl. She answers spontaneously and with great intelligence, the many questions Lise, the “bamboo” volunteer, Clément (the Country Director for Children of the Mekong) and I, ask her. Lise and Clément, who are more used to this kind of situation than I am, are less intimidated by the extreme poverty of the family. Her parents do not speak a word of English, but they react with a laugh to the Tagalog (Filipino dialect) translations given by the social worker we are with. They are clearly very proud of their daughter, whom they describe as being very ” cheerful “. When we ask them what they hope for, their answer alone makes this sponsorship worthwhile: their only wish is that their children do not end up living the same life as they did.
When we ask them what they hope for, their answer alone makes this sponsorship worthwhile: their only wish is that their children do not end up living the same life as they did.
Indeed, in the little house with bamboo walls and a corrugated iron roof, thin partitions of woven mats separate four tiny areas: the one we’re in, where two benches serve as beds for the boys at night, the parents’ bedroom, the girls’ bedroom and a remaining sheltered area where a wooden hearth is used for cooking. Two light bulbs are powered by a solar panel. It was probably donated during an election campaign, for which a small poster is displayed next to the entrance. The absence of water, which needs to be fetched about fifty metres away, is a clear illustration of the very basic living conditions. The dense surrounding vegetation is used as a toilet. The floor, made of large pebbles of dry mud, tilts according to the inclination of the ground. You have to keep your shoes on in this house, which is not the usual practice in the area. The narrow path leading to the village, which Jellian uses every day to get to school, winds and climbs through a lush landscape of shrubs and coconut trees. It is easy to guess from the holes in the tin roof that this picturesque setting takes a completely different turn during the rainy season. But what is even more horrifying is to realise how fragile this shack is when hit by a typhoon…
This visit makes me realise the full significance of my sponsorship: we are helping an entire family with COTM. The flock of children, whose big, laughing eyes follow us at all times, makes me realise that without this financial support, the father, a farm labourer, could never afford to send them to school. Jellian, who is very gifted and with excellent grades has already shown great potential. She is the family’s hope. She takes on this responsibility with a level of maturity that I admire. The Children of the Mekong project, and the monthly meetings she attends with other sponsored children, is a virtuous circle. She is well aware of the hard work that is necessary to make her dream come true.
I am pleased to see a change here: in her early letters, Jellian said that she wanted to be a policewoman. It was most certainly the dream of a little girl who might have been shocked by the violence she had witnessed. She now says that she wants to go into teaching later in life. She is really interested in studying, and is putting off choosing a particular area of study until later. I know that my encouragement will help her, and this visit is one way of doing that. She is very emotional when we say goodbye. She is probably as aware as I am of just how fragile the team, we form together to help her family, is. The path is steep and there are so many obstacles to overcome. I for one, am moved by so much courage. Above all, I am humbled by the terrible difficulties this family has faced with such dignity. Fortunately, the caring presence of both the ‘bamboo’ volunteer and the social worker reassure me. Whatever happens, Children of the Mekong will never let them down.