Cloud cities whilst flying into Bacolod.
Some of the 122 students, all aged 4-6, at the Kinder school where our feeding and livelihood programs are based.
Teeth brushing. Critical to try and save as many little teeth as possible to preserve overall health.
The slums. What they do have is immaculately kept. Mothers were running around trying to brush hair and neaten little bodies upon our arrival, and the prized rotating fan was summoned and unpacked from its plastic to provide as much hospitality as possible. The little ones just wanted to be cuddled and their voices saying 'Thankyou for feeding us' caused explosive tears. We had to try very hard to keep it together - it's indulgent to cry at the reality of their poverty when they have to get on with it, in the most impossible of circumstances.
There was a mother sitting beside me, nursing a child who looked to be about 2 years old. She explained that she was very worried that the child was not recovering from a bout of fever, despite her best efforts. Her baby was dripping sweat and could hardly keep his little eyes open; labouring under shallow breaths, the tiny chest was just covered by the skin stretched over the sharp relief of bones. Death moves quickly here. The people are hesitant to take children to hospital due to the extreme situation there (overcrowding) and the inability to afford any medication. The result is a high fatality rate; increased profoundly by the horrors of prolonged malnutrition.
They are the most wonderful people I've ever met.
Organising the purchase of another fridge for the feeding at the school. Their original one was needed for medicines, and we can do more food preparation this way - but not too much more as the frequent blackouts would mean wastage of precious resources.
The school grounds.
The little sick bay.
Last to be collected that day.
Our lost ones.
These little brothers were students at the Kinder school when they both passed away 12 months ago.
The first brother became incredibly ill, possibly with Dengue fever (an all-too common killer in Bacolod), and his mother took him to hospital where she was warned that his condition was precarious. She called the school and begged for urgent prayers, and then dashed home to prepare the other children and bring them to the hospital to say goodbye. Upon her return to the family home in the slums, she found the second little boy gravely ill with the same symptoms. Out of her mind with panic she fled to the hospital with him in her arms, where he died a very short while after being admitted. In the depths of despair she then took up a bedside vigil with the first son... not long afterward he awoke, bid her farwell and told her he was going now, to be with his brother.
The funerals were held together during one of the worst typhoons in recent memory. The Kinder children waited at the gates of the old cemetary, being comforted by teachers and parents, as the nuns waded through the deluge trying to hold-up the poor mother and get her to were the little plots were waiting. The only thing is, that all the water soaks the earth to such an extent that the bodies of the other deceased buried there have been known to rise to the surface. Burying her two sons, in torrential rain, whilst everyone was being very wary of what they may have been stepping on. It's true that at times there seems to be no end to their misery. Just more misery, and more death, and more starvation.
But they keep praying, and they keep battling.
The boys' photos will soon be joined by a picture of one of the nuns who also recently passed away. Their memories are kept alive and the school community continues to support their mother and the siblings left behind.
Ice cream on our last day.
Marielle is 6 years old, the eldest child of four, and she taught herself to read using bits of newspaper she found in the slums.
Saying goodbye was traumatic for everyone, especially this little baby.
I cant explain the bonds that were forged during our time there, nor the level of hope and commitment shared between us. My greatest wish is to get back there as soon as possible; not at all an option at the moment, but regular trips may become a reality when building commences.
As it is, my heart flies back there whenever I close my eyes.