As always I took a backpack with me to the Philippines, but hardly filled with clothing. Instead I brought drawing books, coloring books, pencils, games and bubble blowers. I was going to go help in an orphanage. I had contact with an orphanage on Cebu. A huge orphanage and a large organization. I would go there. It all went differently. A blessing in disguise. We end up at a small, self-sufficient and inspiring orphanage. As if it should have been that way.
We are stuck on Bohol because of the typhoon and we could not get to Cebu. “Tomorrow we are going to an orphanage”, I said. “Did you get that sorted out?”. “No, but there must be one here”, thinking of all the natural disasters that the island has endured. My boyfriend knows me by now and he doesn’t say a thing, so the next day we get a tuktuk. I found a vague description of an orphanage on the internet. The tuktuk driver looks dazed. We drive to where I think it is, and get a flat tire after half an hou. This starts well. We take another tuktuk, and this man does not speak a word of English. I write the name of the orphanage on a piece of paper. We drive, and after a while he starts running back and forth to ask for the place. No one knows it. Really, no one. Me and my ideas. Eventually we end up in the Town Hall where, after a long search and call, we find a landmark. Great. An hour driving back it is. It turns out that the place is near our accommodation. Close to the Bohol Bee Farm you will find the orphanage ‘Shepherds Arms’. A small and self-sufficient orphanage with 25 orphans in the age of three to twenty-one, but a warmer family than you could ever imagine.
We get a warm welcome, but while we get a tour I see no children. It’s Saturday? After being slightly in panic (I want to hug them!) it turns out they are at school. The school has been destroyed by the earthquake for a while and now children have six days of school to catch up the missed lessons. The orphanage has wooden cabins, goats, vegetables, fruits and chickens. They are incredibly self-sufficient. A social worker, two house mothers, a handyman and the bus driver are responsible for the children. They provide mainly for each other. They are building a stone house where all children can sleep, but there is no money. We decide to pick up the children and we take their school bus. They laugh hysterically when they see us, but are shy at first glance. They don’t get visits so often. And suddenly there are two weird, long Dutch persons in their bus. A boy has a guitar, and turns out to play tremendously good. The others are still learning and reading books, and the older girls have gotten a degree today.
At the orphanage the children introduce themselves, and sing a beautiful song for us. They are curious but shy. After we have said they should just play and not worry about us, they dive into the pile of presents we brought them. One is coloring, the other is blowing bubbles while the little girl eats a muffin with a pencil in the same hand and the bubble blower in her other hand. A fantastic sweet boy is lyrical when he sees that there is also a blank sketchbook, and full of passion he begins to draw. The next few hours I don’t see him anymore. His nose is almost touching the paper while he is carrying out the crayons carefully, and a masterpiece appears on his blanc paper. Everyone is enjoying themselves. It touches me. What a beautiful people. The smallest boy of three sits on my lap, and decides to stay there the rest of the day. We are blowing bubbles together, while outside the older girls are dancing in front of my boyfriend. I have a nice conversation with a sixteen year old girl. She is wise. She wants to be teacher, and is fond of books. When I tell her that I write, she is lyrical. But also, she wants a long nose like me. Not a flat one. She wants to be more daring in front of her classroom. She wants to go with me to Netherlands. All of them are so wise, so mature and, in particular, so sincere and open. There are children that can learn a lot from them in Netherlands. Here, they all are brother and sister, they are equal and they are kind to each other. If everyone would be like these children, youth would be a lot nicer these days. The day flies by. It is dark, there is being cooked on fire and it’s almost bedtime. I don’t want to go back. But I have to.
I feel a gentle tap on my back, and I turn around. There is my young artist, holding the sketch book firmly in his arms. “I am so happy with this. It is so nice”, he says gratefully, not realizing that he is the one who gives me gratitude. And that is the most beautiful gift that anyone can give you.