Thursday, July 31, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights from Month #6 (July)

These photos and often humorous snapshots are taken from my Facebook page.

Not sure what was so funny. Sometimes you don't need a reason to have a good chuckle I guess. (July 7)

* Yesterday I received a video of one of my nephews. It was exquisitely cute, and involved him wearing a purple wizard hat, getting sidetracked from a conversation with mummy and doing a little dance. The Ruel kids were in hysterics when I showed them. When I mentioned that seeing the video made me miss him (and the rest of the family), one of the kids said simply "Well, why don't you go home?" Fair question, and it got me thinking. It just makes sense: if you miss someone, you go and be with them. I explained that I believed God wanted me here at Ruel, to be with them and care for them instead. It sure isn't easy being away from family, but I know I'm doing what I'm created to do (July 7)

* Seven more Ruel blogs done in the last couple of days, thanks largely to the amazing camera work of volunteer Melissa Hamm. This one was probably my favourite to put together. WARNING: It may result in extreme "cluckiness" and the sudden urge to adopt a child. Enjoy! (July 7)

This tricycle is quickly proving to be more trouble than it's worth! As well as having a dead battery and now being out of gas, today a couple of the kids decided to show me what they think of me by dismantling a tail light, and then snapping and smashing my side mirror. Too bad you can't hold 4 year olds accountable for damage they cause. More money for the Philippine automotive industry here in Calapan.  (July 8)

* For those of you unaware, I have written a book about my experiences with Compassion International, and visiting 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries over the last few years. The book is full of stories about the challenges and realities of people living in poverty, as well as incredible transformation and change, brought about by the work that Compassion does in the lives of children, families and communities. With the publishing of the book (with Ark House Press) in full swing this week, I thought I'd put this little "visual preview" out there for you to enjoy and hopefully share.
The publishing package I purchased included publishing and distribution only, not promotion, so I'm really on my own a bit in that regard. Can I ask, particularly if you're a Compassion advocate or supporter, can you help me get it out there? I'm not motivated by profits or personal publicity (I've invested my own money into it). I'm just a little guy from Australia but I want people to know about the work that God is doing through Compassion and maybe motivate them to change a child's life through sponsorship. Thanks in advance (July 9)

 I am beyond excited! This year will be my fourth birthday in six years I have celebrated overseas, and I was thinking about how to spend it. Then I thought, "Since I live in the Philippines, why not visit my three Filipino Compassion kids, John Dave, Cashofia and Princess Joy?" They all have new sponsors now (Dani Moore, Clarisse and Paul McGregor and my parents), so it will be brilliant to visit them on their behalf. This journey will take me to Davao, Bacolod and Borongan City. Even more amazing is that my trip will be funded by my incredibly generous parents! They've seen the sacrifices I've made visiting 31 kids in 12 countries out of my own pocket, and now they want to help me out. Can't wait for September (July 11) 

* I got a haircut today, my usual Number 2 buzz cut. My hairdresser was a man with tattoos, bright pink lipstick and lovely golden hoop earrings. When he'd finished he said in his deep Filipino accent "You look handsome." I blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl, but in hindsight he might have been saying it to himself as he looked in the mirror. Oh well (July 12)

* Yippee! Today I rode my tricycle on the main road of Calapan by myself. I was "crappin me dacks" (that means 'very nervous' for you non-Australians) Reached the princely speed of 40 km/h (the speed limit), but it's a heck of a lot faster on a bike. I got flagged down by a couple of young guys wanting a ride (kept on going), had the dreaded scenario of trucks coming at me on my side of the road and even brought 7 kids and an Ate back from church. Huge thanks to Mylou Magpili for getting my bike back in action so quickly. (July 13)

* HUGE thanks to my Australian friends Wendy and Gary Weatherley. On the weekend they had a joint birthday celebration, and in lieu of gifts their generous friends and family raised a four-figure sum for myself and Ruel Foundation. Much appreciated (July 14)

The Ruel Foundation yard after the Typhoon passed through last night. Trees down, some flooding on the road, power out overnight. To be honest, no worse than one of those blustery nights in Melbourne when you find trampolines and basketball rings in other people's yards. (July 16)

Happy birthday to my wonderful sister Julie. We are living very different lives but I have endless admiration for the way she's bringing up three little guys under 6 and I am thankful for the trust she's shown me in my role as uncle, and being a part of their lives. All the best for the year ahead (July 17)
On Wednesday the majority of the Ruel caregivers and staff attended a seminar on Attachment. It was very interesting, relevant and a good addition to my teaching PD hours. (July 18)
Fantastic Friday:
- A day of beautiful warm sunshine
- Having lunch out with other people (being social!)
- Two successful tricycle rides carrying both adult and child passengers
- Celebrating Mr J's 8th birthday at Maccas
- Footy on the Australia Network tonight
Right now for me, days don't get much better than that (July 18)
* I witnessed a baby eat it's own poo today. Not something I want to repeat. (July 19)

Another fun morning for the schoolkids yesterday. I took them out in my tricycle to soccer training, then we went to a local mall for arcade games, drinks and ice cream. Very special to be able to give them these sorts of experiences, and a pretty good way to spend $10, I figure. I've now been driving on three wheels for exactly one week. When we arrived back at Ruel, one of the kids said straight away "Can we go for another drive?" Ah, the trust of a child (July 20)
* Miss M puts her glasses on the table.
Me: "You need those glasses to see."
Miss M: "No I don't. Watch this."
*Promptly starts writing with the eraser end of the pencil*
What does Kuya David know anyway? (July 21)

Eating out at Mang Inasal. Sarap! (July 22)
Potential front cover of my Compassion book. Wowee! (July 22)
* Many of the kids here have what we would consider to be "slightly violent" ways of showing their affection. One child came up to me yesterday and said proudly, "Kuya David, I have not hit you today." Well done kid, have a medal. (July 23)

* Well, I'll never live this one down. I took four kids into town, and after enduring a frustrating minute unable to start the bike, one of the kids pointed and shouts "You forgot to put the key in!" This led to many chuckles at my expense all the way home. *Napoleon Dynamite voice* "Idiot!" (July 25)

* Quite an adventurous morning. I've become so used to the tricycle in the last couple of weeks, that driving the eight seater van again was...interesting. Dropped three volunteers off at the pier for their journey home to the US then, because I'm still not confident parking the beast, went back to Ruel and got the tricycle for the trip to the bank and immigration office. Renewing my visa wasn't as straight forward as usual - a couple of phone calls and animated talking, then of course I was 80 pesos short. I swear they make these amounts up, it's different every time. While I was waiting, an old fella started clipping his toenails. As you do. Went to the ATM at the bank which only spits out 1000s, went back to immigration, only to be told "we don't have any change." I would have thought if you're going to take random amounts of thousands of pesos off tourists, the least you can do is have change. I gambled with the weather...and lost. So I drove back in the rain for the first time. Ah Philippines life, never a dull moment. (July 28)

* I've been the recipient of two contrasting acts of sharing and helpfulness in the last two days by the Ruel bubs. Today a little one randomly brought in my flip-flops/thongs from outside, plonked them at my feet and waddled away proudly. Yesterday a little guy took off his nappy and followed me around for two minutes trying to give it to me. Not sure about that one... (July 28)

Filipinos will forever be telling of the day they saw an Aussie guy and a Finnish girl accompanied by three little Filipino girls: two 2-year-olds and a mainly-Tagalog-speaking birthday girl. Miss P turned 9 yesterday, and the little bubs don't get to go out much, so I thought it would be nice to give them a couple of hours out and about. First stop was MacDo. Miss P couldn't decide which toy she wanted, and begged me to open the glass display case with all the toys in it. The little ones loved their ice creams, and we only had one spill, which is to be expected. We then stopped by the local mall. Miss P nagged for everything she saw, the little ones grabbed for everything they saw and ended up lying on the ground at the checkout (no tantrums though). Thankfully we had no need to visit the bathroom (though I did pack nappies just in case - I'm learning!) and we made it back to Ruel safe and sound and relatively dry (July 29)

...and then there was one! Today marks the end of an era (if you can call a six-month period an 'era'). For the first time since I've been at Ruel I am the only international volunteer. I've met some amazing people from countries including ...US, Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Poland. Thank you all for coming and helping make Ruel a fantastic place to be. If you're wondering about the photo, it's been quite rainy lately, so I have been in the habit of letting the pre-schoolers have a play in the schoolroom for an hour before dinner. This is the result of the "kid typhoon" but it's worth it to hear the squeals of delight and joy as they get to go in the "sacred schoolroom." It just means I'm left with the clean up


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Six Months In The Philippines - The Struggle To Love

“The people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.”
This quote came up in my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, and the truth of it smacked me in the face with force. There are a few of those in my life at the moment.

I have now been at Ruel Foundation orphanage in the Philippines for six amazing months. In that time I have, among other things:
* Coached in a soccer tournament
* Written a book
* Become a pro-tricycle driver out on the busy streets of Calapan
* Met many new people, from close to ten different countries
* Still not got used to being stared at, pointed at and laughed at
* Seen three kids go off to be with their “Forever Families”

Apart from my official roles of teaching, maintaining the blog and Facebook page, and being in charge of the petty cash, ultimately I am here to be a father-figure to the kids here; to show them the love of God. This is easier with some kids than others.

There is one child in particular who I am just struggling to love. God has used her to reveal some things about myself, many of which I don’t like. She just pushes all my buttons and, to be honest, annoys the heck out of me.

She has been separated from the other kids because of the way she treats them. She sleeps in the building next to my apartment, so hers is the first voice I hear in the morning and she is always the first to the schoolroom. She will seek me out in a crowded room full of people. She is desperate for attention and is determined to get it, through sometimes positive, but mostly negative ways.

I don’t know details of her background but I know she has been through some terrible things in her short life. She is desperate for love, and doesn’t cope well when people come in for a short time, she gets attached and then they leave.

My heart breaks for her as I see this rollercoaster in motion. Because I have been here for a few months and am around her a lot in a normal day, I seem to bear the brunt, though I refuse to take it personally.

She will be all affectionate one minute and literally five seconds later her face darkens and she says things like “I don’t want you. I don’t love you. When I go I will not miss you.” She sometimes hits and bites. It’s like someone flicks a switch, and an immediate transformation happens, often several times in a single day.

I carry on with what I’m doing and wait for her to leave, because that’s the normal reaction when you decide you don’t like someone, but she doesn’t. In fact, she stays nearby and moves closer. I can’t imagine the torment of loving someone deeply, but the only way you can express it is by spitting anger and hatred toward them.

With God’s help I continue to do my best to show her love, though I have failed so many times.

I am convinced that whoever takes this girl into their family, whenever that is, will literally be angels in disguise, because that’s what it will take.

We are praying there is someone out there for her.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights From Month #5 (June)

5 months in the land of the Philippines. I am humbled how God is using me to have such an impact on many lives, and I have learned so much about myself - some good things and some things I definitely need improving on.

I have my drivers license, Alien Card and bank account. I own a tricycle. I have experienced the mixed emotions of seeing three kids go to their "forever families."

I certainly miss my family (like crazy!) and the other people in my life, but as for the lifestyle, busyness and stress that comes with living in Australia, you can keep it! Such a focus on self and stuff. Life is so simple and uncomplicated here. It hasn't been without its struggles and challenges but overall I am feeling peace, contentment and quiet joy.

One thing I enjoyed immensely was having a Queens Birthday holiday (Australia reference) where the weather was warm and I wasn't stressing about school reports. Quite unusual.

Some reflections from this month:
* Many of the kids at Ruel speak pretty good English, but they're still very literal in some things. Sometimes when they ask to go to the bathroom I say "No, you'll just have to hold it." Since they only have one concept of what 'holding it' is, much laughter follows as they imagine themselves holding their...well, you know. I really must watch what I say.

* Today I narrowly avoided getting hit in the head by a live frog thrown by a four-year old. He then tried to put those same hands all over my face. I then provided a spectacle by giving a bunch of Filipino schoolkids something they'd likely never seen before: a white guy pushing a baby in a stroller. Just another day.

* Another cultural lesson learned from the saga of the tricycle. So, it's been...I don't know...a few weeks since I sent my new bike off with a trusted friend to get it converted into a tricycle with a sidecar and a roof. He gave it to a friend of his who needed work. I had no objections to this. I paid up the full amount early, with my reasoning being: if I didn't, he would take longer to finish it. However, it turns out that over here you never pay up in full straight away because once they have the full amount they will do every other job they can, and take as long as they can on the paid-in-full. I just wanna ride my tricycle (that actually sounds a bit too much like a four-year-old for my liking)  

* Coming from a land where schoolkids "live" for recess and lunchtimes, it has been hard for me to fathom that here at Ruel, the most common question I get asked is "School time?" Even at merienda breaks, even in the late afternoon, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Sheesh!! The schoolroom is also a place where the younger kids aspire to sneak into any chance they get. I guess I must be doing something right.

* I love kids mispronouncing song lyrics. Here's the latest two from Ruel:
"Now let's get the river of the hands" (rhythm, Dr Knickerbocker)
"You are, you are, you are my feeder" (freedom, Alive by Hillsong)

* Since I've taken over the Ruel FB page we've chalked up 330 extra "likes", majority from Australia (not taking any credit for that). Thanks so much for your support my fellow Australians, and it's a privilege to promote an organisation like Ruel Foundation, doing such good work helping the kids and families of the Philippines.

Ruel mistake #6942 - I was pushing a kid on the swing, and some others came along and tried to grab it while it was moving. I made the mistake of sternly warning them "Let it go!" What do you think they started gleefully singing while I blocked my ears and writhed in agony? *Facepalm*

* CRAP!! My first earthquake since I've been in the Philippines and I missed it! How the heck did I miss it!? 5.2 on the scale and I was sitting on my couch, on my laptop. Heard or felt nothing. Wow.

* I've been given more responsibility at Ruel than I've ever had before - caring for kids, teaching, promotion, money, admin, driving. I am thankful for the trust that's been shown to me. But rather than get weighed down by it all, I feel like I'm actually thriving. Being a (paying!) volunteer, I'm not swamped by the extra pressure and expectation I put on myself when I was earning a fairly decent five-figure wage as a teacher. Feeling good about it all
These legends! The four family members from the US have been volunteering at Ruel for a few weeks. On their second night here they uttered six little words: "We're going out. Ya wanna come?" Might not seem like much, but to an insecure introvert like myself it was huge. Numerous card games and trips to Anahaw and McDonalds followed, and I really enjoyed getting to know them. You will be missed!
You know that show, "Pimp My Ride"? Well, consider my ride officially "pimped." The kids were asking straight away if they could go for a ride, and while I appreciate their absolute faith and trust in me, I just ain't ready. Now to practise. 

Yesterday the kids went for their regular walk down to a local church to get some exercise. I decided to surprise them with a visit on my new tricycle. They all jumped on and I took them for a spin (in the safe confines of the church grounds) PS the kids on the roof and the babies are just there for the photo
I'm finally on the staff board! My job description: "Teacher, administrator, social media promoter" I came up with that all by myself :)

Happy 2nd birthday to Baby S. She sure knows how to eat cake
This is something I always need to remember. There's a few of these here at Ruel

I was ecstatic to receive some genuine Cadbury chocolate from down south. They have it here but it's not quite the same. 

A sad day for me (from a selfish point of view), with Mr B going home with his family. Rarely has a little person worked their way into my heart like this guy. He was here for about two months, had a cleft palate operation and is now well enough to go home. His only communication is in squeaks and squeals, and to me it was like a "siren song of cuteness". I'll miss you little guy

Fathers Day here in the Philippines kind of snuck up on me, since in Australia we don't celebrate it until September. Another tricky day, considering where I find myself, amongst many fatherless kids. My major feeling at the moment is gratitude. God is using me, even with all the challenges and struggles I have been dealing with, to be a father to these kids (even when they show their affection by kicking, whacking and biting). Inch by inch I am growing in love, grace and patience.

Some brand new art and craft supplies thanks to friends from Portland, Australia, Rita and Mick Handreck.

This sign gives me a chuckle every time I go past it. I sure hope it's not what the customers say when they purchase a tyre and get just down the road.

Any Zoolander fans out there? "So hot right now..."

With an awesome family of godly men from church. I am now their adopted brother/son

The day finally arrived! After being reminded every day for a MONTH, June 17th was Miss M's 9th birthday. Miss M has made my life...interesting and challenging...and has stretched all my reserves of love and patience. I took her on a tricycle ride to a local mall, we played some games, got her a watch and a yummy blue drink. She was very well behaved until she started running around the "breakables" section of the department store, then I knew it was time to go. I know God has brought her into my life for a reason, to build my character and reveal to me areas of my life that need improving. Happy birthday Miss M.

This picture is right outside my apartment. It might not look much like a bathroom, but it's amazing how many people stop at this spot for a very public wee-wee. I'm feeling thankful for bathrooms.

June 19th was my third "Forever Family" experience since I've been at Ruel. 3-year-old Mr R headed off to his new family in the US. He's an awesome little guy and he's been here most of his life, so there's a big adjustment period ahead. God bless you little fella
Here's Mr R meeting his new daddy for the first time

A momentous occasion for me. I am officially a registered, certified Alien (the card is actually called "Alien Certificate of Registration"). Because only Aliens can open bank accounts, mere tourists can't. I'm becoming more Filipino every day

Staff outing to a nearby resort. I successfully drove a bunch of the Filipinas there and back safely in the big van. Felt rather proud of myself.