Girl Drama…It Never Ends!

Last Saturday’s kids class was wild. It’s never calm, but some days are just a bit more escalated than others. I’d been battling some crud the past several days, which thankfully was *not* dengue as the early symptoms suggested. But, everything seemed louder, hotter, and crazier. Just part of the gig, but there are days that make you want to go home and hide under a blanket. A very cold blanket.  

Our attendance has been up the last few weeks, which is good and bad. As class started, we formed our usual circle on the floor, and while it was crowded, it was still tolerable. Then Mary Grace arrived, with a record seven friends in tow. Mary Grace is our “little missionary”, as I told you about here. We expanded the circle, but it was suddenly very snug. And sweaty. Boybeth (yes, his real name), squeezed in next to me, and promptly leaned against me, his arm casually resting on my lower leg. I know, in the States, this would be weird and uncomfortable, we like our personal bubbles and boundaries. But, in a country smaller than the size of California, with three times as many people, personal space is basically nonexistent. I’ve learned to deal with it, and have become quite accustomed to snuggling up to my neighbor. After a few minutes, I began to feel what felt like small needle pricks on my leg. I looked down to discover Boybeth rubbing my leg hairs between his fingers, pulling random ones out. Note to self: It might be time to shave. Yikes! Meanwhile, as I was receiving a complimentary threading on my right leg, Katherine, who was leaning on my other side, began to poke my arm. No idea why, maybe she was just checking to make sure I was still there? I sat in nervous anticipation, waiting for a kid to come up behind me and start picking bugs out of my hair. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. But, there’s always next week.

Like sardines in a can...so are the kids in our Saturday class!  A bit tight!
Like sardines in a can…so are the kids in our Saturday class! A bit tight…

We finally made it through our lesson, with multiple pauses and interruptions, waiting for the noise to die down. The girls in the back corner seemed particularly chatty. We passed out coloring sheets, which gives us a few minutes to breathe and recoup before we finish class. Over the noise and chattering, Vergie and I heard muffled sniffling. In the far corner of the room, Christine was sitting at a table, head down, her scarf covering her hair, shoulders shaking, she was clearly upset about something. Her group of girlfriends were all sitting next to her, but no one acknowledged her. They just kept talking among themselves. Here’s where the cultural dilemna comes into play for me. In the States, if someone is upset or hurting, you go over and check on them, ask what’s wrong, and try to help. Here, if someone is upset or hurt, they are often ignored or left alone. Not out of cruelty, but actually, out of mercy. By ignoring them, it saves them the embarrassment of “standing out”. Even if it’s clear to the entire world that they’re hurt, by ignoring them, it’s like it didn’t happen. Lots of “elephants in the rooms” here. Unfortunately, there are times I can’t sit by and let that be OK, even if it is the status quo. So, I went “half way” between the cultural divide. I went and quietly asked the girls, “what’s wrong?”, and they all looked at me with extremely guilty faces, shrugged, and got all “darty eyed” as they returned to their work. Uh huh…things were starting to come together. I get it though, when my friends and I were that age, our friends always just started randomly crying too, we were never ever ever involved. 😉 I asked Katherine, her older sister who was sitting on the floor beneath her, if she knew, and she shrugged as well. “Why don’t you ask her? You’re her big sister!” I told her, but like most loving big sisters, she just sighed and said, “Nah…” and went back to work. I had to chuckle inside at that one. As sensitive and sweet as Christine is, I’m sure this is a fairly regular occurrence in her life.

John 14:19 "Because I live, you will also live".
John 14:19 “Because I live, you will also live”.

So, without any answers, but suspecting something in the “tween girl drama” department (it’s the same everywhere in the world, isn’t it?!), I sat behind Christine and just began to softly rub her back. Didn’t say anything, didn’t bring attention to her, but I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. She didn’t squirm or push away, or make any acknowledgement that I was there, which I took as an “It’s OK that you’re here”.

We wrapped up class, Christine came out of her self induced bunker. As the kids were getting ready to leave, we made brief eye contact, which she met with a sweet, thankful smile. I have no doubt Wednesday night the girls will all come to class, best friends again, as is often the case. I so remember those days of love and hate and forgiveness, all in the same hour. Drama that would make the cast of Days of Our Lives envious. As much as we try to teach peace and love and friendship, there are just some dynamics that they need to learn to deal with as well. And we learn weekly from these kids too, which is one reason I keep coming back. Next week though, I’ll be sure to shave my legs.

We usually have a handful of neighborhood kids that hang out on the doorstep, listening to class, but there's just not enough room for everyone to safely be inside.
We usually have a handful of neighborhood kids that hang out on the doorstep, listening to class, but there’s just not enough room for everyone to safely be inside. The harvest field is huge!
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These Girls…

…are going to rule the World someday! Or, at least make an impact in their city. The Philippines is a country predominantly ran by women. Wow, how advanced, you might think, but unfortunately, it’s more out of necessity than actual “drive”. The women are the motivated ones, they want to see get things done, while the guys, sorry guys, would rather have fun.  Of course there are exceptions, but this generalization holds true in our class on Saturday afternoons. I’ve absolutely loved getting to know this group of girls over the last few years, and even with the occasional language barriers (which are slowly disintegrating!), we have great times together, and with their diverse but strong personalities, I have complete faith in their influence on the future.

I think we all forget, myself included, that all the pictures we take of and with random cute kids, especially overseas, represent tons and tons of personalities, hopes, futures, and individual stories. All the cute, similar smiling faces in these pictures are as different as night and day, but they all have their place in his world, and God’s plan.

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I joke that Rizal Mae is our own personal “Justice League”. Not just for herself, but for everyone else. If she feels that someone isn’t being treated fairly, whether it’s not getting an equal share during snack time, or not sharing the coveted green crayon, she speaks up. Rizal Mae lives a tough life. The oldest of several siblings, she usually does without so her younger brothers are taken care of. Her family has a very inconsistent income for several reasons, not just a lack of work. Hard realities for someone so young, but she already uses her life lessons to defend those who can’t or won’t defend themselves.

Katherine is fierce. She knows what she wants. The oldest of four kids, she is considerably smaller than her younger sister. Her reason? “I’m too picky about what I eat”. Sounds like something she’s heard from Mom once or twice. 😉 While most of the kids are learning English in school, she is the one bold enough to try and use it on a regular basis. At this point, she speaks English to me more often than not, and even though it’s not always perfect, she tries.  Last Spring, Katherine spent 8 days in ICU battling dengue fever, a horrific, painful illness transmitted by mosquitoes. We didn’t find out she was in the hospital until the day she was being released, the other kids just said she was “sick”. We visited her anyways, and when talking to the nurses, we laughed as they summed her up perfectly. “She kept asking for paper and a pencil, saying she was bored”. Never mind the horrific physical pain and exhaustion she was battling, boredom was a far worse affliction to her.

Christine, also known as Katherine’s younger, taller sister, is the polar opposite. Barely talks above a whisper, and always has a beautiful smile. She is a peacekeeper, and I often see her diffusing squabbles between her more outspoken friends, even by actions as simple as sitting between them. She keeps tabs on their two younger brothers when they join class, one of whom struggles with behavioral and learning challenges (I am guessing he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum). Her patience and calm spirit amaze me.

Daisy is the resident comedienne. Another one who constantly has a grin, she seems to always be cracking herself up, even if it’s just inside her head.  A while back, we did an activity in class to demonstrate communication, and how things can be interpreted by others. In small groups, one person would write a one phrase “scene” that the next person would illustrate. When it was my turn to write a phrase, I wrote something silly in Visayan, as more of a social experiment than anything. I handed it to the next person, with a deadpan expression and waited for the reaction. After a minute of silence, the girl I handed it to showed it to the other girls, they started whispering, and I knew exactly what they were thinking. They thought I had severely botched the language, but they were too embarrassed for me to correct me. Obviously, Katherine wasn’t in that group, because she would have told me. Loudly. As the whispering continued, Daisy began to giggle. Quietly at first, but then she couldn’t contain herself. “Joke lang!” (“Just a joke”) she finally yelled, and the other girls exhaled a huge sigh of relief. And of course, when Daisy’s turn came around, she had to write something equally as silly. And, now that the ice has been broken, she hasn’t stopped making us laugh since.

Mary Ann, Daisy’s big sister, usually has a toddler with her on Saturday afternoons. I think it’s a neighbor, and it’s her job to watch her. It’s evident that she’s not entirely thrilled with the arrangement, but she deals with it graciously. About half way through class, the little girl falls asleep in Mary Ann’s lap, and she sits and tenderly strokes her hair. That doesn’t mean she won’t jump at the chance to pass her off on one of us, but it’s so evident that she has a huge, nurturing soft spot.

Our other “nurturer” is Mary Grace. She brings her little sister to class, who also usually drifts off in her lap. She also brings a conga line of other kids with her. We jokingly call her our own personal missionary. When we started the Saturday class, the Oasis sponsored kids who were included were told they could each invite one kid, due to space constraints. Mary Grace is obedient and well behaved, but as she told us one day, “They always follow me to class! I just can’t tell them no!”. Her group of friends comes from the far edge of the neighborhood, have the best attendance, and honestly, are the best behaved out of all the kids.  So, we can’t tell them no either! There are no other programs in their area of the neighborhood, so it’s easier to explain to the other kids why they are the “exception”. However, it’s never come up as an issue, I think the other kids like having them around.

Last but not least is little Edelweiss. The smallest of the group, she was as sweet and adorable as her name. Edelweiss passed away about three months ago from dengue, the same illness that Katherine defeated just a short time before.  She was always the “little sister” to this group of girls, and it’s been a rough loss for us all. The girls mention her often, and I know they feel protective of her memory. A little more about this sweet girl here.

The balance of these personalities from outspoken to funny, sensitive to sweet, gives me hope for this neighborhood. I think as they grow and mature, no one will want to get in their way. Watch out!

Sweet Edelweiss

It was the middle of May, and we were neck deep in the process of wrapping up loose ends before coming back to the States for a visit when I got a surreal, confusing text from my co-teacher. It simply read, “Marlyn (sic), Edelweiss died because of dengue”. A few months earlier, another one of our girls, Katherine, spent 8 days in the hospital with dengue, a nasty, unpreventable disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Katherine’s battle was long, drawn out, but victorious. So how could Edelweiss, who we saw just a few days earlier, have contracted dengue and lost the battle so incredibly fast?

We have a spunky group of girls in our class. Outspoken and a bit feisty, they are used to standing up for themselves. But Edelweiss was different. The oldest in her family, she was still the “little sister” of the group. She was quiet and shy, as beautiful and sweet as her unique name, and the other girls had an intrinsic, protective nature toward her. When she was missing the Saturday before she passed away, all the girls said she was at the hospital with her mom, who was delivering her newest younger brother. They all knew where she was, as protective big sisters tend to do. What we didn’t know is a day later she would be in the same hospital fighting for her life.

Working on an art project, the kids wrote their names, and used artwork to turn the letters into descriptions of who they are. (Note: a rare shot of her without perfect hair, hehe!)
Working on an art project, the kids wrote their names, and used artwork to turn the letters into descriptions of who they are. (Note: a rare shot of her without perfect hair, hehe!)

The range of emotions in cases like this are all over the map. I have never felt angry at God, but very curious as to His decision. Edelweiss was loved. Her young parents, while extremely poor, treasured her. They are good parents. Her dad works long hours as a tricycab driver, and while many guys in this neighborhood do the very least they can to get by, he does what he can to provide. Edelweiss usually came to class in matching clothes (yes, a rarity), complete with a cute hairbow or headband in her brushed and styled hair. Her clothes were often old and threadbare, but an effort was made. She was a constant reminder that no matter your economic status, you can still take pride in your appearance. Her younger sister, Lija, is an adorable 2 year old cookie cutter image, and maintains the same level of cleanliness and personal pride. As painful as losing Edelweiss was, I look forward to watching Lija follow in her footsteps.

Our class hitching a ride from Edelweiss's dad, along with her mom and younger sister. She is sitting on her dad's lap. :)
Our class hitching a ride from Edelweiss’s dad, along with her mom and younger sister. She is sitting on her dad’s lap. 🙂

So why her? I am not saying God should have picked someone else, especially not another child. But, why did God choose someone who had a bright future? Who was loved so deeply here on earth? Even knowing she will never have to deal with the realities so many other kids in this area will face, either tomorrow, or years down the road, I have found myself rationalizing, “why didn’t God bring home someone no one cared about? There are so many right here in this neighborhood who run the streets at night, have no future, and no one who cares what they’re up to?”. Obviously I can’t begin to understand the big plan, but clearly God still has a plan for them on earth. Maybe a plan to find someone who will care for them, who will give them a future. It strengthens my desire to love and reach these kids, because we never know how many days we have with them. 

Most of our Saturday kids last Summer, Edelweiss is on the lower left, with the ponytails and beautiful, deep, intense eyes.
Most of our Saturday kids last Summer, Edelweiss is on the lower left, with the ponytails and beautiful, deep, intense eyes. Every one of these kids has purpose, and we are so grateful to help pour into them!

Pool Party!

Last week's wild bunch
Last week’s wild bunch

Several of our Saturday kids are involved in a school sponsorship program through Oasis Ministries here in Davao. The program provides them with assistance to go to school, tutoring, and parental support. The kids involved are required to attend a certain number of the classes on Saturday, or they risk losing their sponsorship.

Several months ago, we noticed that attendance was waning for a handful of the kids, who are easily distracted by the lure of the beach, other friends, or activities that they probably shouldn’t be involved in. We decided to do “fun days” every eight weeks or so, days where we just get together and watch a movie, eat fun food, and give our brains a break (yes, that includes us teachers!) But, the catch was, only those with perfect attendance the previous period were invited to join. We saw attendance improve some, bribes work!

This past March, God generously upgraded our party spot. We now have unlimited access to a private pool. So, every couple of months, we load up all our perfect attendees in whatever transportation we can get our hands on, and we have a private pool party. We swim, eat, play, and have an absolute blast. We have a couple kids in particular who had spotty attendance at best, that have now had no absences since before March.

One of my favorite parts of these times is the chance to get the kids away from the stifling environment that they are in almost daily, and just watch them relax and be “normal” kids. We can sit and chat without having to yell over the traffic or blaring karaoke machines, and the kids can eat until their bellies are full. As I watch them play and interact, I forget the struggles that they deal with on a regular basis. I think they do, too.

 

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Yep, there’s a blond kid in there! Most Saturdays we have an assistant, 11 year old Isaac, who joins us along with his younger brothers. The kids absolutely love having them as part of their circle of friends!
A chance to relax :)
A chance to relax 🙂

The week before each party, we read off the names of the kids eligible to join, and as we hand out permission slips, it feels a bit like handing out a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It really pains me that we can’t include them all, but we clearly established the rules, no absences, and it’s up to them to be responsible. Not only do we teach Bible stories, but we are trying to instill life skills as well. And as we walk out of the neighborhood to our awaiting vehicle the following Saturday, you would think we were parading off to Disney World. The kids loudly tell their friends, “We’re going swimming in a pool!”, a luxury few have ever experienced. However, for the older, pre-teen girls, I think the real luxury for them is taking a warm shower, which sometimes lasts half an hour or longer, until we give them a “countdown” to get out. Ah, some things are the same no matter where you go. 🙂

Only Vergie, my co-teacher, can make kids stop swimming to listen to a math lesson! She's pretty amazing, and I'm so blessed to teach with her!
Only Vergie, my co-teacher, can make kids stop swimming to listen to a math lesson! She’s pretty amazing, and I’m so blessed to teach with her!
Taking a break
Taking a short break to refuel

Back to School!

Today was the first day of school at Faith Academy International, the school Andrew attends, and where Dan teaches. I’m still not used to school starting in early August, and the first day of school always gets me in the mood for Fall. Crunchy red and orange leaves on the ground, pumpkin desserts, and frosty mornings. However, as most of you know, the first day of school here looks very similar to the last day before Christmas vacation, and the first day of Spring Break. Hot.

Andrew is overjoyed to be returning to school!
Andrew is overjoyed to be returning to school!

As Andrew enters 10th Grade, Dan will start another round of Wood Shop/Construction classes. In addition, he will be teaching an Introduction to Woodwind Instruments class to the middle school two afternoons a week for the first term. This year will start off with the students choosing a “medium” sized project such as a desk, surfboard, etc. No cutting boards, but no houses either, which was last year’s project. Not yet anyways. 🙂
Last year, Dan’s class of 6-9 high school kids tackled a project that very few high school kids can claim they have been involved in. With materials donated by a local church, they built two simple houses for families who lost theirs in Typhoon Pablo the year before. The panels and supports were all constructed in the school work area, and then when it was time to raise the walls, the pieces were loaded on a truck belonging to Biosand Filters Philippines, and assembled on site. Close to 20 students joined on two different trips, the second was incorporated as part of an Easter outreach in Baganga.

Building the Panels at the School
Building the Panels at the School
Raising the Panels
Raising the Panels
Mission Accomplished!
Mission Accomplished!

The bottom line is, two families were blessed with housing through this project. But, a handful of students were blessed as well, with an opportunity to serve and an opportunity to bless others, all while learning new skills. While the class is starting “small” this year, who knows how it will end!