“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” Danny Kaye.
Most people are happy to live their lives only seeing what they want to see , for opening up their eyes may reveal the bigger picture and for some that bigger picture is heartbreaking….and who wants that? What you don’t know can’t hurt you.
Living in the developed world we are troubled by trivial matters like why our favourite shows are not available to watch in HD, being annoyed that spreading hard butter on bread rips it, we can’t get WIFI or a strong signal on our phones in some locations and even getting upset because we are bored of the food selection available in our local area. When reading tragic news stories we may think “that’s sad, I hope that they get all the help they need” followed by the tragedy being forgotten as it’s not our problem. My answer to this is that if you think that you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito, you haven’t been stung by a bee or you haven’t seen a worm roll a stone!
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
As a born and bred British citizen I can now see that I have lived an easy, sheltered life, but I moved to Asia two years ago and now my eyes have been opened.. Europeans love to travel and when we do travel we brag about all of the delicious foods we ate, all the sun we soaked up and all the activities we enjoyed. But do we ever go to the outskirts of these countries to see how it’s people actually live? We see the country but not the culture, merely what the Department for Tourism want us to see. I can honestly say that I didn’t venture far and explore the reality. To be honest even as a ‘first world’ country we would be saving up all year round to book a holiday so the thought of seeing something that may upset us barely crosses our minds. We look at our holiday brochure and fantasize about who we might become when we go to that place. We fantasise about the sunsets; we fantasise about the sandy beaches, the holiday romances. But what if we re-thought our expectations of what a holiday should be about, if we dismissed our usual holiday routines, familiarities and cultural modes of thought and instead were inspired to experience something bigger and better? Something life-changing that would affect the way we live our lives from the moment we experienced it- not a memory that would fade as fast as our tans.
Limkokwing University in Malaysia helped me to do exactly this, it has allowed me to search for my ‘meaning of life’ and focus my mind on seeking a better purpose. I can proudly say that our ‘student ambassadors’ here at the university are like no other. They are multinational and multi-talented individuals who have raised considerable sums of money for a wide variety of causes including ‘Heal The World Palestine’, ‘Heal The World Haiti’, ‘Heal The World Pakistan’ and last but not least ‘ Heal The World Philippines’. Altogether these students have raised around 150,000RM which works out to be 28,000GBP whilst all being full time students and maintaining top grades in their classes. Their passion to make the world a better place and make a difference helps their talents and skills to grow enabling them to produce new and exciting ways to fund raise for a good cause.
Do you remember hearing about Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda) in the Philippines? It was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever to be recorded and it hit places in Southeast Asia, mainly affecting the Philippines, in November 2013. It was estimated that eleven million people were affected by the Typhoon and at least six hundred thousand people were reported as homeless. As soon as Limkokwing University of Creative Technology’s International Student Ambassadors heard about this devastation they came together and brainstormed ideas on how to fundraise whilst raising awareness for the people of the Philippines. However, fundraising just wasn’t enough for our three German exchange students who packed up their bags and travelled there in order to help the people face to face. Along the way they found a trusting non stock, nonprofit and non-governmental volunteer organization named GVSP which they worked together with in order to distribute our donations to a school that was carefully chosen by them.
The school that was chosen was Libaong High School in San Remigio. The student ambassadors raised a total of fifty thousand ringgit to re-build the classrooms and re-furbish the other damaged areas. We were informed that students walked long distances to attend this school, as it was the only one for miles around and therefore if it wasn’t made safe for the children, there would be little to no other alternatives available to them. This shows how ‘finding your purpose’ is a very powerful thing. Just think, if the students of Limkokwing hadn’t raised this money, where would the future lie for those students of Libaong? We believe that everyone deserves equal access to education, everyone deserves the opportunity to read and write and therefore the opportunity to access the modern world and we wanted to see for ourselves the impact we had made on these children’s lives, so without any time to spare we booked our tickets to the Philippines. Limkokwing selected ambassadors from all over the world to travel from countries such as Columbia, United Kingdom, Namibia, Malaysia, Brazil and the USA. That way we could all bring a bit of our countries’ cultures to the school and leave our own mark in our own individual way.
Upon arrival we were greeted with open arms by the owners and volunteers of GVSP and to our surprise most of the team were hearing impaired, therefore communication was spoken as well as signed.
Around twelve of us all crammed into a truck with no air conditioning (which straight away was a different experience for us) but our comfort was soon forgotten in our excitement at the prospect of learning how to do sign language.
After a short journey we had all learnt the basics of signing such as how to say our names, where we were from and of course a few naughty phrases which broke the ice between us all! It’s a beautiful way of communication and I’m sure that anyone who has learnt or known of its existence would completely agree.
Our first stop was a slot on a show on the largest radio station in the Philippines, ABSCBN. The main purpose of this interview session was to spread awareness about the GVSP organization in the hope that the more fortunate Filipino citizens would reach out to the less fortunate.
We were then guided to Cebu town and looking around we were all slightly confused as to why there were crowds of people singing loudly whilst waving their arms in sync to the music on the streets. It was a beautiful sight that I had never had the pleasure to experience before, even after living in such a religious country such as Malaysia. JP, GVSP founder, explained to us that this was preparation for Sinulog Festival which is a cultural and religious festival held in Cebu City. We all wanted to make sure that we would be there to experience the festival day and this just made us even more determined to complete and succeed in what we were there to do so we could celebrate with them.
After a good rest it was time to meet the Vice Governor of Cebu, Agnes Almendras Magpale and what a wonderful lady she was! Dressed in her fluorescent turquoise suit she had wit AND style. A student ambassador from the USA interviewed Agnes for documentation regarding the after math of Typhoon Yolanda and we were all touched by her responses. We then visited Dr. Arden D.Monisit, the Superintendent of Schools and Division in the Philippines, who we also interviewed and within the discussion he told us of how impressed he was with our efforts towards his community.
Over the next few days we also had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor of San Remegio, Mariano Martinez, who was a breath of fresh air and brought optimism to the series of unfortunate events. He was even kind enough to invite us to dinner that evening to discuss further and introduce us to the delectable traditional Filipino food.
The big day finally arrived and we were all itching to get to San Remigio, the true reason why we had traveled this far.
I’m not much of a daytime sleeper myself so as the other students slept with the warm sunlight beaming through the window that served as their blanket on the bus I gazed out of the window and digested the sights that befell my eyes. The damage from the Typhoon was still very noticeable. There were houses with huge cracks down them and lots of trees had fallen to the ground, however there was one peculiar thing that I became aware of. Not once did I see a single frown. The people living in the outskirts were living in houses made from either zinc or wood in thirty degree heat, washing their clothes by hand and by the look of their surroundings- all the cattle, chickens, pigs and vegetables- they were producing all of their food themselves. Reading this you may think what a terrible way to live that would be but for me, I wanted to be there and I longed to experience that way of living. Looking out into the view I was lost in the moment, all my thoughts focused on understanding their perception of happiness and how different it was to mine that was centered around modern life.
Before we knew it the journey became more like a roller coaster ride and everyone was jolted wide awake as the roads we were travelling on became simple mud paths with unbelievably windy edges. One of the GVSP volunteers, Tim from Germany, explained to me along the way the history of the area and pointed out Libaong High School in the distance. We were finally here, the moment we had been waiting for, just a few more bumpy minutes away!
As we drove closer to the school we could just make out the sound of a chant taking place with the words “welcome, welcome visitors, welcome, welcome visitors” but then my focus was moved to the ground where I could see five young girls dressed in vibrant traditional outfits who had come to present us all with a handmade welcome leis (garland to wear around our necks). We got out of the bus and began to walk toward the school. What a Welcome befell our eyes! The two hundred and fifty pupils who attended the school were lined up neatly around the school grounds, in their bright white uniforms that matched their unforgettable bright white smiles.
We were then given a marvelous singing and dancing performance which wowed us all and secretly made me worried for the easy dance workshop that I had prepared for them!
The next step for us was handing out the carefully prepared back to school starter packs to each of the students which included pencils, notepads, pencil cases, rubbers, pens and a ruler. This kind of equipment isn’t valued very highly in my country and I can remember students from my high school throwing rubbers around the rooms and breaking their pencils in half for fun whereas these students jumped for joy and high-fived us as we passed them over. Such gratitude for something so small and of such little value to me. It touched my heart.
The hospitality was superb, the teachers of Libaong showed a great amount of appreciation to us for joining them and all the funds that Limkokwing University had donated to the school. During lunch hours the Principle of the High School gave us a tour and shared with us photos of what the school had previously looked like. My heart dropped. Not for the ruining of the building, rather for what the unfortunate children around me must have had to live through. If this was the damage that had been done to their school, what had happened to their homes? They must have been so frightened the night that the cyclone hit their homes and tore their world apart.
As I woke up for the next jam packed day ahead, I couldn’t help noticing how the rules were different here. Peering out of my curtains I could see trucks driving by with people lounging on top without any safety rails as well as young children who looked around fourteen years of age driving motorcycles without a care in the world. I questioned my feeling of horror at the danger they were in and then realized that they did not believe themselves to be in danger and it was just me and my pre- conceived perceptions from my comfortable modern life in Britain where everyone who travels in a car has to wear a seatbelt and you have to be over 17 to ride a motorbike. Since that moment of realisation I have felt that something has changed within me.
After another roller coaster ride of a journey we were over the moon to once again be in the school grounds of Libaong High School. Without any delay we went straight to work starting with the artistic ambassadors who worked their magic on designing a template for us all to paint in order to make the new and repaired buildings quirky yet professional. We were all so nervous of the final outcome since we used masking tape as a rough outline, only time could tell if it was a success!
Whilst we were painting our male ambassador from Brazil, who was quite obviously admired by the girl students, handed out the food we brought with the donations raised and even though I was working in the distance I could see the laughter and bliss that was created by our act of kindness.
Next up was the talent contest and as soon as everyone saw the prizes we brought, even the teachers wanted to participate! In actual fact the main highlight to the talent contest was indeed the teachers who called themselves “Destiny’s Child” and danced to the PussyCatDollz song “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.”
The best was yet to come as students gathered around the open aired stage to take part in the dance workshop which we choreographed to “Waka Waka” by Shakira. Not to our surprise the children instantly picked it up and I didn’t even have to ask for any personality in their dancing as it was naturally bursting out all around us. It’s as if time died late because of the poetry of that moment. Looking back I’ve realised that I haven’t had that much fun in a long time as it’s hard to beat the experience of creating that amount of positive energy between so many people all in one place at the same time.
The day we had all dreaded but were ready to accept was eventually upon us, our final day at Libaong High School. We spent the day adding our finishing touches to the two murals painted along various walls of the buildings and were ecstatic with the final result.
At the end to the day the official handover ceremony took place where our project manager David handed over the school key to the Regional Director of Education in Cebu. The ribbon was cut and a roar of celebration was heard throughout the school as he concluded that we, Limkokwing University, would officially adopt the school as an ongoing project due to the friendship and connection we had all made with the students and staff of Libaong High School.
As we said farewell it was as if we were in a scene from a movie where the children ran behind our bus chasing us until they disappeared into the far distance….. but never from our hearts…..
It’s ultimately about viewing our reality in a new way, looking at our current situation and giving a new meaning to it.
Discovering that what you once viewed as important and as necessary is no longer and that nothing has changed to make it that way….just you.