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Monday, 24 November 2014

Too Young To Die

This week a child that I know in Olongapo died. He was hit by a Jeepney. He was 14 years old. His name was Ramiro.

I met Ramiro for the first time last week during the eviction of Paul, Joel and Simon from our rented house. Ramiro was with them and he and Simon were in a tangled heap asleep upstairs on a mattress when I arrived. The eviction was of course difficult as described in a previous blog post. If I hadn't seen Ramiro again after the eviction I think I would've been overcome by guilt that my last memory of him was evicting him from the house. I don't think it would have mattered that he shoudn't have been there in the first place and that the other boys knew that. I think it just would've been a terrible memory.

By God's grace I did see the evictees again, a few hours later that day. It was Ramiro that I saw first, he was standing watching me, Paul and Zee as we spoke to Paul's relatives in an area where many street people sleep. I recognised him and as I was no longer stressed from earlier events and we were about to go and eat I asked him if he was hungry. He of course said that he was and suddenly Joel, Simon and another boy appeared. I invited them all to eat with us and only Joel had an internal battle with his pride before accepting help from someone that had just made him homeless.

We went to Wimpy and Ramiro sat next to me. We thanked God for the food and I spent most of the meal talking to Zee as the boys talked amongst themselves. They ordered large steak meals. Ramiro was a small boy and couldn't eat all his food so I asked if he wanted to take it out for later and he said "yes." All of the boys thanked me as they left and I told them that the meal was from God and not from me.

Just a few days later Ramiro died. I was informed that he habitually played around on the Jeeps doing dangerous stunts and activities. This didn't help me to accept what had happened. I have to believe that God has a plan even in this and I hope and pray that Ramiro had heard about Jesus. I wrongly assumed that I would see him again and would have the chance to build a relationship with him as I have done with the other boys...

This is the second time someone that I have just met has died within days; A few months ago, Isaac's father died just a few days after I met him in the Rehab where he was visiting his son. It is a tough lesson but reminds me that I should always find ways to share the Gospel with every person that I meet because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Paul is doing okay here in Cubao, we have had ups and downs, some of them big and others not so much. He had 7 fillings and another extraction at the dentist (to add to his 3 extractions last week.) He is scheduled for 1 more extraction and i rebuild before he is fitted for dentures.

Joel and Simon are devasted by the death of Ramiro who they had known since childhood. They keep contacting Paul about it which isn't helping him to settle. Joel also told Paul that his (Paul's) father is really very unwell which made Paul very upset. I advised Paul that I believed Joel was lying in order to get Paul to go back to Olongapo. The enemy is actively trying to get Paul to return to Olongapo but helpfully the homeless peoples Bible study this evening was on that very subject; how the enemy tries to disrupt our lives when we are trying to change and adapt to a new God given situation. I saw Paul smiling to himself and spoke to him about it afterwards. He acknowledged that God was speaking directly to him.

Paul usually comes to our house to eat with us after work in the evenings, I think he just wants company. We have had some good conversations but I can tell he is still battling the temptation to give up here and go back to Olongapo as he misses friends and family and he is finding his new job hard (which is to be expected as he has never worked before.)

On saturday he again got lost on the way to work and contacted me about it. He knew I was going to the Rehab to visit his friends and I knew he wanted to come with me but I had said "no" as he was scheduled to work. In the evening he appeared having been to work and I was very happy as I had thought that he wouldn't bother having got lost. Today he told me that he was really very lost and didn't know what to do so he started looking for a Jeep back to Cubao to accompany me to the Rehab or even one to go back to Olongapo as he was so fed up. He prayed about it and then suddenly the Jeep drove past his workplace! He was really very surprised and got straight off the Jeep and went to work. This was really great to hear and Paul knows that it was God's intervention in his life.

On saturday I went alone to the Rehab and saw 7 boys (it should have been 8 but Isaac was on restriction for some violations)It was really a great visit and I was able to have one to ones with most of the boys about Christian things. I used examples of some of their friends who had been off solvents for a while only to return to them and explained that true change was only possible if God changed their hearts. I pointed to Paul as an example of real heart change because of Jesus. They really listened and I was encouraged.

I was saddened to see one boy Steve* (17) who had only left Rehab 5 months earlier back in there again. He said it is his 4th time in there from the age of 8! His girlfriend on the outside is now 3 months pregnant.

Solomon has really impressed me the most with his attitude and is actively helping the other younger boys. I found it so hard when he asked if he could come and live with me after Rehab. I had to say "no" of course as he has family in Olongapo but I know he has 8 or 9 siblings and the family don't have enough food. I promised him that when he comes out I will assess the family situation and try and help financially where I can. He was happy with this.

Damien* (17) has one eye having lost the other by gun shot. I didn't know him that well outside Rehab but had had a few long talks with him on the street where he talked about his family problems. I didn't know what to do to help him before and he became upset when talking about his family. He had just been transferred to rehab as well so I visited him. When I told him that I would be visiting once every month his whole face lit up as he smiled as if he couldn't believe it, later when I bought a few canteen items for them he was the first to say thankyou and when I was leaving he grabbed my hands and sincerely thanked me repeatedly. I acknowledged this but felt overcome by emotion as I left. Some of the boys take the visits and things that are bought for granted as they are used to them by now...I wasn't prepared for such an enthusiastic response...

The 2nd most grateful person was a young boy that had somehow joined our group during the visit as he was friends with the other boys. He was not from Olongapo. When I was buying the food items I saw him watching enviously and asked him if he ever had any visitors. When he said "no," I told him he could spend half of what the other boys were spending. The boys get 200 pesos a month each (£2.80.) He was really very grateful and followed me out of the centre thanking me.

I wanted to share these stories with those of you that have bought my book "They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know?" or supported our charity through donations as this is the difference the funds are making in the lives of a few hopeless souls on the other side of the world here in the Philippines. Thankyou :)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Devil Prowls Around Like a Roaring Lion Looking for Someone to Devour!

As I continue to ride my rollercoaster of a life I sometimes wonder if it will ever stop! Emotionally exhausting and extremely frustrating with never ending quantities of patience required. Not my most well known trait.

Last week I began to hear rumours from various sources in Olongapo that boys other than Paul and Joel were staying at the rented house and that Joel was not attending school and was using solvents again. I had made the situation very clear during my previous visit and was just waiting for an adult to witness the solvent abuse first hand before I took action. In dramatic fashion, well it couldn't really happen in any other way could it as this is my life, I received information from Paul that Joel was in fact using solvents in company with Simon and a few other boys. On the same evening Zee informed me that Joel had turned up at her place high on solvents and not appearing to realise that it was obvious.

I decided that I had to take decisive action to prevent the boys using the house as a solvent haven and to protect Paul from the influence of his friends. Reporting his best friend like this was a very tough thing for Paul to do and is virtually unheard of in the streetworld. I always tell the boys that if they try to do what's right I will meet them halfway and help them and although I knew that Paul had probably also made mistakes I could see that he was trying to do what was right even when surrounded by family and friends who were making no effort whatsoever.

I went to the house with Zee to put an end to the disaster and found Joel, Simon and 1 other boy asleep in the house. Paul was awake and seemed prepared for what was about to happen. I spoke to him separately and offered him a final opportunity to get away from the temptations of his old life by coming to live at my church in Cubao temporarily. He was worried about his family so I made some arrangements to help them and try and put his mind at ease. Then he agreed to come.

After talking briefly to the other boys I informed them that Joel would no longer be living at the house and that they should all leave as I had evidence that they were using solvents again. Joel tried to deny it but then admitted that he had been using a solvent but that as it wasn't rugby he thought it didn't count as I had only mentioned that they weren't to use rugby! I ended this conversation abruptly and then we endured the three boys mocking us as they packed up their things. Joel took great delight in dramatically removing his school books and uniform from his bag and dumping them in the house, signalling his future intentions. I couldn't resist telling them as they left that I would see them in Rehab next year as ultimately that is where they will end up (again!)

I felt no measure of satisfaction as I said this, only deep sadness at the ruined lives that had shown promise (particularly in Joel's case.) I also felt great frustration towards a system that had allowed one boy (Simon) to leave rehab halfway through a school year but had not allowed him to resume his education on the outside. This began the spiral for Joel as he was drawn back into his old circle of friends by Simon who, through no fault of his own, didn't have anything better to do with his time.

After the noisy trio had made their exit, the three of us (Paul, Zee and I) stood in sober silence for a few seconds as we recovered from the confrontation, and the knowledge that we had just made 3 teenagers homeless, and gathered ourselves for the next stage.

Next to deal with the landlady who had endured a lot more than was reasonable without complaint and had even tried to help the boys in some ways. We came to an agreeable arrangement and I think she was relieved that the boys would be moving on. She told me that it had been a refreshing change to meet people like us as she didn't come across people that really cared everyday. I was encouraged that at least out Christian witness to her had remained intact. I gave her a copy of my book

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott

and told her the code names of the boys that she had been half-supervising. She was very excited and wanted an inscription. She also bought one of the new mattresses from us as we left!

Paul carried his mattress and pillow to the bus stop as we left straight away. Getting off the bus in Cubao I tried to avoid the line of men attempting to escort people to taxis for a price when the taxis are already lined up waiting for customers. The ridiculous outcome after I had run around one such man to flag down a taxi with a bus sitting impatiently behind it, in the centre of the road, was that I was squashed underneath Paul's mattress and pillow in the back of the car as Paul got in the front with the driver. Obviously Paul had no idea where we were going and as I tried to mumble directions through the material I was really more concerned that I couldn't see whether the driver had even switched the meter on.

We arrived at the church in the middle of the 11 year anniversary for the homeless drop in people which was a bit chaotic just because there were so many people milling around.

The next day Paul was enrolled at the Alternative Learning System in Cubao for 2 hours a week and had 3 tooth extractions. He was also offered a great opportunity by a deacon in our church. The deacon has a business painting vehicles and he offered Paul a job as an apprentice Mon-Thurs and Saturday with Friday's off for school.

Today was meant to be Paul's first day at his new job but he turned up at my house early this morning to advise that the Jeepney that he was meant to take hadn't turned up. So I advised him to go to the area where he was meant to be working in a different jeepney and then ask for the correct jeepney to get him to work. It appears that he followed my instructions but I can't really believe what happened next...

Somehow whilst lost he saw the only person he probably knows in the entire area of tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately he knows this person who is a bi-sexual tattoo artist in his late 30s from rehab because they mix the adults and children there. This man is still taking hard drugs and invited Paul back to his house where he offered him a job driving trucks! Paul declined the offer but didn't know how to get back to Cubao so eventually contacted me on facebook to advise where he was at which point I told him to come back immediately.

He arrived after 5pm looking a bit sheepish having travelled around for quite a while and not having reached his intended destination. I was so relieved to see him sober and drug and tattoo free after his bizarre detour that any lecture I might have been preparing went out of the window.

Tomorrow I will accompany him to work...please pray that we actually get there this time.

10 Year Olds and Cross Dressing

Today I want to introduce you to Rick* Rick is a 10 year old Filipino boy. Rick dresses and behaves as if he is a girl. When I first met Rick I was informed by several adults that the reason for his behaviour is because "he's a gay."

To confuse matters Rick is friends with the two girls Charlotte*(13) and Tracey* (10) that our charity sponsors that often stay at my house on saturday evenings to facilitate them coming to church on sundays. Charlotte dresses and acts like a boy and is also labelled "gay" and Tracey has recently had her hair cut very short making her look more like a boy.

Whenever I spend time with the 3 of them in the company of others I spend most of my time explaining to people that Rick is actually a boy even though he is wearing a short skimpy see-through bright purple dress, bright coloured nail varnish and a pink hairband and that Charlotte with very short hair and dressed mostly all in black is a girl. By the time this has all been explained, the vast majority of people are so confused that they don't ask about Tracey!

Maybe you think I'm making light of a serious subject. Let me put it this way; when I first met the 3 of them begging on the street and over subsequent meetings for the first few months, I did everything I could to stop them cross dressing and to remind them of their specific roles. I was especially concerned about how they presented at church and ensured they knew that they must bring appropriate clothes with them for church. I even spent an afternoon in a second hand clothes shop with them and bought them whichever clothes they liked provided they were suitable. This has had a slight impact...

However, on saturday they turned up and Rick (who I hadn't seen for several months as he isn't related to the other two) was wearing a very pretty long girls top with black leggings that had bows on them. By this point, I found that even I was getting confused about his gender as the way he dresses and behaves is so much like a girl. So I decided to give up and hope that its just a phase. My nephew likes to dress up as a princess sometimes so...

I made the mistake one saturday of playing rough and tumble with the children and so now every saturday they expect the same and try and trick me into being drawn into the craziness. This weekend they settled for me accompanying them outside with a skipping rope (after Rick began the game that was "definitely going to break something" in the lounge!) To the delight of my neighbours I was then persuaded to take my turn at solo and group skipping something that I haven't done and won't be doing again for a very long time.

Later I couldn't calm them down and decided to leave them to it as they rushed around. This game ended in tears when the 3 of them turned into some sort of body ball which hurtled at full speed into our very firm wooden lounge table. Unfortunately Tracey's head took the impact taking a chunk out of both object and child. The crack was really very loud but thankfully, although there was a lot of blood and I think an element of shock, all was ok in the end.

Sitting with and supervising the children in church is interesting. They partake in any one or all of the following activities at various points throughout the service; talk to each other loudly, pass notes to each other, pass notes to me and expect me to read them and respond, ask to go to the toilet and disappear for 30 minutes, stare at people they know and try to get their attention, stare at people they don't know and make comments about them, complain that they are cold and shiver, drop pens, paper, hymn books and Bibles on the floor and then make a lot of noise recovering them, ask me who a person is and point at them, fall asleep, sing during the sermon, poke each other, poke me, stroke the hair on my arms, pinch my arms, pinch my hands, take the earphones of my translation device and refuse to give them back, draw pictures of people in the church and label them, try to sit on the floor, draw on the hymn books, pull the plastic off the hymn books, stand up when they should be sitting down, sit down when they should be standing up, deliberately sing loudly and out of tune, crunch sweets that they have somehow acquired, put their feet on the chairs, kick the chairs of the people around them, lean so far forward that their heads are touching their feet and stay there until I wonder if they have fallen asleep.

By the end of every service I am totally exhausted having said "huwag" (don't) and "tahimik" (quiet) at least 100 times and in the main been ignored. I look up at the roof of the church as if I will find refuge there and breathe a silent prayer of thanks that its over for another week having not heard a word of the sermon. Then after lunch at the church, where there are ALWAYS arguments over the food, I give the children their return fare, which I'm sure they don't give to their mother as requested, and take them to the next available Jeepney which will escort them the 1 hour home. Then I faithfully return to the 3pm English service for my spiritual input...

Being a Dad who Leads

Well, the situation in Olongapo seems to have turned into an episode of Eastenders. As I sit here writing this my mind is a whirlwind of endless possible outcomes for the two boys. It’s hard sometimes to know exactly when to draw the line and to say enough is enough. Ever the eternal optimist (as far as evangelism goes) I tend to keep hoping and hoping and hoping…that things will turn around.

Let me bring you up to speed. Last weekend I was informed by Zee that neither of the boys had attended the church due to having “overslept” (the service is pretty early starting at 8 something.) They had however somehow ended up at the Catholic church having attended a cult church (Iglesia Ni Cristo) several weeks before. How this has happened is beyond me as everything was in place for them to attend a Bible believing Christian Church. There was some confusion over dress codes and the boys thinking that Grandma couldn’t attend a “born again” church because she isn’t “born again.” Hopefully these issues have now been resolved.

The boys visited Zee later last Sunday with Simon who has very recently been released from rehab. They cheerfully informed her that Simon had been staying at the house with them which is against the rules. More worryingly though they informed her that Grandma had left the house again and was not coming to collect the money they needed for food for the week. So they didn’t have any food.

Reflecting on the situation I decided that the only sensible option was to go and find out exactly what was going on and to lay down the law for the second time in 3 weeks. Grandma confirmed that she no longer wanted to reside at the house and preferred to sleep on the street as she had been doing before. The root of the problem; she wanted to be able to house various members of her extended family and was upset that this wasn’t allowed. I visited the two boys with the local social worker from the Youth Centre and after a long discussion, made it really clear that they are on their last warning due to various things I had heard.

The problem now; the two boys have clearly demonstrated that they are not responsible enough to live unsupervised in the house and they really need a male mentor to live with them and provide oversight. I have made an appeal with my Olongapo contacts and hope and pray that someone will see it as a ministry opportunity (and of course a chance for free lodgings.) If no one comes forward and the boys continue to misbehave the project will likely come to a sharp conclusion and both boys will be back on the street, which probably means back to the solvents as they have no source of income and will not be able to fund themselves at school. This really would be a disastrous end, so please pray.

I have had a pretty frustrating week in general. I finally decided to go and collect my parcel, sent from the UK, from the Central Post Office where it has been languishing since August accumulating various storage charges because no one seemed to know where this mysterious “Central Post Office” was located.

A few days ago I set off in the vague general direction thinking I would “ask someone” when I got closer. Having been here for some time I should definitely have known better as you can ask 4 Filipinos for directions and they will confidently send you in 4 different directions. This is exactly what happened so I found myself in the unfortunate position of having to weigh up the various conflicting pieces of information based on how “reliable” a person looked.

Eventually after travelling on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) for a few stops I found a Jeepney (metal bus) to take me the rest of the way. The MRT which travels in a straight line along a track, is an interesting phenomenon as there are far more people trying to travel on it at all times of the day and night than can possibly fit, resulting in people being “bent” to fit inside. If you watch it from a distance you can often see peoples’ faces and limbs literally squashed against the windows as about three times the safe number of people have piled into a carriage. Even more amusing is that usually the carriage next door is virtually empty as for some reason everyone has headed for the same one. One day the MRT overshot the last station heading out onto the street. Commuters and pedestrians rushed to see what had happened, most of them more concerned with taking “selfies” and posting them to facebook than anything else. It was like they just couldn’t believe that what had happened was even possible!

This short video clip is similar to what happens on the MRT here in Manila, although the guards don’t do that!

Anyway, so I am on the Jeepney hoping that I am heading for the CPO and decide I will double check with the driver that he knows where I want to go. I ask him but he tells me to wait, thinking this means he doesn’t know I decide to ask the other passengers who unfortunately ask the driver again. He is understandably irritated by this and mutters under his breath that I am “naughty,” thinking that I don’t understand, until I respond “not really” and he looks very embarrassed. The kind old man does a detour from his prescribed route and drops me right outside the CPO, I feel obliged to tip him but can’t find any change so give him 100 pesos (£1.40) which makes his day.

I enter the CPO and head for desk number 37. As expected there are far too many staff to deal with the few customers. They can’t find my parcel and one by one go searching for it before giving up and handing it to someone else to continue. After 15 minutes or so they find it and start completing a lo-ot of, I’m sure unnecessary, paperwork before I can leave. I take the opportunity to ask the woman if they can’t re-deliver the parcel next time as it’s taken me over an hour to get to them and cost me more than the parcel is worth (with the £1.40 storage charge.) She informs me that they don’t deliver parcels and its only then that I realise that they hadn’t tried to deliver it at all.

I ask her why they can’t deliver small parcels if they are going to the address anyway to deliver the notice saying that there is a parcel one hour away. She tells me that it is policy but that they do deliver books. This stops me in my tracks as I know that my parcel is in fact a book and is clearly marked as such. I ask her why they haven’t delivered my parcel as it is a book and she says that she will make sure that next time I get a parcel they deliver it to my house. I’m totally bemused by this point as with millions of customers how can this woman possibly make a promise like that to one individual customer unless she’s planning to devote herself to this task 24/7 for the foreseeable just in case I happen to get another parcel! I guess it’s more likely that she’s just saying it to pacify me. I tell her that I will not be requesting any further parcels from the UK as its all too much hassle.

Leaving the CPO for the long journey home I decide to open my parcel to find it is a single book by John Macarthur entitled “Being a Dad who Leads.” …..very useful I’m sure.

Pile of Bodies

I know that I’m not going to be able to sleep as I’m wide awake so I don’t attempt it and instead wait until 430am. Yep, you’ve guessed it, another trip to Olongapo seems to have moved itself to the top of my priority list. I get up quietly, not wanting to wake my five peacefully sleeping housemates, and begin to get ready to leave. A sound startles me and I turn to see Chiqui the kitten bounding playfully into the room, probably having been sleeping just outside the bedrooms on a pile of boxes that he seems to find comfortable. I groan inwardly as I realise it will be a challenge to make Chiqui understand that I haven’t got time to play and that he needs to be “very quiet.” He runs around excitedly then lies on the floor watching me, then pounces on my feet, making me jump several times. Next, like a child, he deliberately baits me as he rolls towards the various wires plugged into the wall. I stopped him “playing” with them earlier in the evening because part of his game involved chewing and I was worried he might electrocute himself. I decide to leave him to it, assuming he will get bored as children do, knowing I’d given him fair warning, and hoping he would find a different game before he electrocutes himself. I switch off the light and walk down the stairs.

I head into the kitchen and open the fridge, and then jump for the third time as I hear a colossal bang from the general vicinity of my bedroom upstairs, that I am sure will wake everyone. Then I remember that although I have unplugged the cables in my room, I haven’t removed the desk fan from the desk and its cable is hanging tantalisingly over the edge, and had probably been too difficult for Chiqui to resist. I walk back up the stairs in trepidation hoping not to find a concussed or squashed ginger kitten at the end of my trail. I enter my room, once again switching on the light and happily note that my desk fan still in place. I look around trying to work out what the loud bang had been and trying to locate the culprit who, having earlier craved my attention, has now mysteriously disappeared. I don’t have to look far as suddenly said kitten takes a flying leap from his hiding place under my desk landing squarely on my feet and making me jump for the umpteenth time. “Goodbye Chiqui “I tell him firmly as I head back downstairs and straight out of the front door quickly shutting it behind me before my playmate follows, and I have to spend the rest of the night trying to catch him, for fear of breaking the heart of the only senior citizen resident in our house.

I head towards the exit gate for my road noting that it is still locked and hoping it isn’t padlocked as that would involve some undignified climbing. I fiddle with the chain to no avail and am in the process of wondering what to do next when our friendly neighbourhood guard approaches me with a small towel around his shoulders. I wonder where he has emerged from as I see only a wooden shack house on the pavement in the general direction he has come from…surely not? I hope he doesn’t lie awake all night on tenterhooks just in case a crazy resident decides to leave at 430am and needs the gate unlocking. I wait for him as he greets me cheerfully and then wonder why he is smiling until he reaches my location and gives the gate a very small push to emphasise that it is already open. We both laugh at my stupidity as I head down the street and he returns, I assume, to his very un-peaceful sleep.

A teenager greets me cheerfully in perfect English as he cleans out a plastic bowl in the street. The stray dogs are mostly awake already and wander around sniffing the rubbish bags, one of them lifting his leg over it. I recoil as I know that later people will sift through the same bags for their recyclables or in dire cases left over food. This subject while distasteful to many is worthy of further comment. There are crude signs everywhere advising people not to “urinate.” Whilst I’m quite sure the signs are not for the dogs and that many people here do need the signs as it is a particular problem in this part of the world, I wonder what the street homeless people are meant to do. The government doesn’t provide facilities for them so what choice do they have? Even with this knowledge it is fairly disgusting walking through the streets and having to avoid any wet patches just in case, especially wearing flip flops, which is the standard footwear. It is quite normal to see people in various stages of undress either because they have nowhere to get changed, because they are high on drink or substances and don’t care, or because they have no clothes. It’s just another part of the undignified reality of living publicly on the street.

I see a mass of bodies with limbs all entangled on top of various raised traffic islands in the centre of the street with noisy traffic flowing both ways just inches from their sleeping bodies. This is the equivalent of people parking themselves on a central reservation on a dual carriageway! I stare openly trying to work out whether they are adults or children, if I saw this in England I would find it difficult to accept that they were real people due to the location, but here anything goes. As I continue to examine the spectacle, I realise sadly that I have reached the vicinity, of the current hang out, of the rugby boys and girls (solvent users) that I saw just the other day. There are many teenagers here now, at least 15, maybe 20. It then dawns on me that they were probably high on solvents when they collapsed into their current pile which is probably why they chose such an absurd location for the night and also probably why they don’t care about the noise or the fact that it is such a visibly public place. There is a definite element of safety in numbers here as well and I recall how the Olongapo boys used to sleep in a similar fashion even though it always looked terribly uncomfortable to an outsiders eyes. I think again that something needs to be done about this and hope that soon people with a real heart to work with these children will join me…

Next I see a rough looking man walking towards me and I feel just a touch afraid as it is still pretty dark, until the man brushes past me with the customary “Hello ma’am.” He would’ve tipped his hat had he been wearing one and I am instantly reassured as thoughts of robbery or other violent crime vanish as quickly as they came. I head across the darkened overpass and notice a man in front of me on the steps attempting to carry far too much. I think of offering to help him but as he is ahead of me and might be embarrassed by the offer of help from a white foreign female I think better of it and then we head in different directions at the top of the stairs. I walk down the other side and quicken my pace as I walk along the edge of the 100 metre high railing separating the pavement from the road where the buses are. It is really irritating, when walking in this section, when you see a bus going to the place you want to go to but can’t catch it because the railing is in the way, so most people rush to reach the end of the railing so that If their bus happens to be passing they can buy a ticket on the bus and get to their destination more quickly.

I reach the terminal and face the usual dilemma. Slow bus which is perversely marked “express” or fast bus which hasn’t yet arrived. I head for the ticket desk and see a long line of people in the queue for “Olongapo,“ how annoying. Even more of an annoyance are the four members of staff standing behind the glass screen chatting to each other and staring at us in the line, as a lone female cashier frantically tries to shorten the queue. There are always many customer service people available here but not many who actually want to serve customers. Being a foreigner, in general, I actually experience better customer service than the local people, it might have something to do with money but I’m really not sure :) But I really don’t know how or why people put up with it as it really can be infuriating. Immigration is the worst, where they have various different lines for slightly different things and if you accidentally get in the wrong line they won’t serve you under any circumstances even if they are not doing anything else. (But tales of immigration are for another day as I can feel my blood pressure rising.)

Suddenly a booming voice announces that the slow bus is leaving (although they don’t call it that of course) and one by one people are turned away from the desk as they are ushered towards the waiting bus. I quickly reach the front of the queue and ask for the fast bus WITHOUT insurance. Insurance that you pay 5 pesos (7.5p) for can’t really be worth much; maybe it would buy me one plaster or a paracetimol (which are sold as individual tablets.) With all these extra emergency trips to Olongapo the cost of insurance adds up! The woman gives me insurance anyway which I return to her politely asking for my 5 pesos back as she looks at me as if I have two heads, and her illusions of rich white foreigners are instantaneously shattered. Well I am a missionary…During our exchange I am disconcerted to see a white board behind her with the heading “Suspended conductors.” The list of names below is extensive and each one has dates listed next to it. It appears the conductors are suspended for approximately a week at a time and then allowed to resume their duties. I wonder what their indiscretions are and hope they have nothing to do with road safety.

Whilst waiting I purchase coffee at a booth where the woman tries to get me to buy bread in addition. I ask for coke as a happy compromise but she misunderstands me and I have to say it about 10 times as she is crawling around on the floor desperately emptying the bottom of a large refrigerator when I can see the item that I want in the middle section above her. Pointing is done by protruding the lips in a certain direction which is one of the strangest things culturally but it definitely grows on you. I give up and rudely point with my hand in an attempt to save her any further trouble, When she realises what I actually want she laughs and apologises. I pay the grand sum of 40 pesos (50p) and notice that the coke that I paid 25 for has a printed price of 15 stamped on it by the manufacturer. This is quite normal here and how smaller vendors make their living but it’s amusing to see the proper price so blatantly displayed.

I sit in the bus terminal observing people and see a man escorted by a conductor walking unhurriedly towards a departing bus. Although his walk is casual he is loudly shouting towards the bus and holding up a single finger, indicating that he is just one passenger. I watch in disbelief as he continues shouting rather than running towards the open door of the bus as its obvious to me that the driver can’t possibly see him. The conductor makes no effort on his behalf and ambles off indicating that he should catch the next bus which is probably in an hour’s time. The man walks dejectedly away putting an end to the dilemma in my mind about whether I should stop the bus for him as he really wasn’t making enough effort.

My bus arrives and I note a sign in the window stating “Road testing now.” Shouldn’t the bus have already been tested as it is already on the road?! These and other questions fade away into irrelevance as I board the bus, sit down in my numbered seat and am then joined by a VERY large male who proceeds to fall asleep next to me half squashing me in the process. I am amused however as he frequently leans into me in a fairly uncomfortable way until I am forced to prod him. Then he occasionally snores waking himself up. At one point he even emits something like a sneeze cough and then apologises profusely as I try to hide my smile.

The bus gets on its merry way every so often braking just that bit too hard as it approaches lines of stationary traffic on the highway. The locals continue sleeping completely unperturbed as I wonder about that insurance…To be continued…

Computer Says No...

As expected, posting about police related topics doubled the readership of my blog. This seems to be a recurring pattern; after I had poured out my heart when giving my testimony to a group of children in one of the CCM homes, they just wanted to know whether I had ever handcuffed or arrested anybody...kindof missing the point of what I was saying; that I'd given up my job in the police to share the Gospel as that was more important!

I had two "computer says no" type incidents this week, I wonder if reading about the details will make you feel as stressed as being involved in them did. Lets see.

I wanted to upgrade our pocket wifi at the house as the connection speeds via GLOBE (named and shamed) are consistently well below that advertised. But whenever I contact Globe online (which requires sufficient signal) I usually get cut off halfway through online chat and have to go through the whole procedure again or if I send an email asking what the procedure is for an upgrade they send me one back failing to answer my question and refusing to divulge any information until I have given them at least 20 pieces of security information. I find this a little strange as I'm not asking for confidential information just what deals and promotions they have available for an upgrade, I don't understand why they would need my security details for this. I can't give them the info they need as the whole thing is in my housemates name as they wouldn't allow me to take the contract because I'm a foreigner. For the same reason I cannot sort this out in the store as they will demand to see the account holder and various forms of ID even though I am named on the account and am the one paying the I'm thinking of switching to PLDT..maybe someone from Globe will read this and sort the problem out...?

The second matter involves a parcel that was sent from UK. I received a notice that had already expired, about a week ago because my housemate lost it. It states that I need to go and collect the parcel within 30 days but it is stored at the central post office which is quite a way away. There is no name, contact number or address on the form and everytime they come to the house with a reminder they don't bring the parcel just the form! There is also a storage fee that is increasing over time and soon will be higher than the value of the contents.

On a more positive, and less frustrating note, I received contact from one of the "rugby boys" in Olongapo that I hadn't heard from in over a year. Joshua who is Muslim is back in Olongapo and is now attending school. I hope to see him on my next visit which is planned for Mon November 10th.

Paul and Joel seem to be settling down at the house in Olongapo after our initial "missing grandma" and other teething problems. I'm sure we have a fair way to go but for now things seem to be okay. I am still trying to get both boys teeth fixed as they have large visible gaps which might be a deterrent for a potential employer as they look pretty rough and perhaps more importantly, have trouble eating! Simon has finally been released from Rehab and is back in Olongapo.

I have updated the charity website with all of the new information about the boys under "Rugby Boys News" but am now unable to edit it because the "computer says NO!" I have asked someone in UK to contact BT about this as I can't even create a service desk request as this causes the system to crash too...the wonders of modern technology.


The drop in for the homeless street people was well attended last night and in addition to the usual volunteers a famous person turned up. I don't think he likes being famous, well he certainly looked embarrassed when I mentioned it. Matt Gamston (UK) was involved in starting the drop in centre around 11 years ago and dropped by for a visit. He was instantly surrounded by hordes of children clamouring for his attention. It was good to meet him at last as the first thing everyone, both here and at home, asks me when I mention the Philippines or the UK is "Do you know Matt Gamston?" Well now I do!

He encouraged me to continue studying the language by telling me that he "hated every minute of it" and "never really got it." No seriously, it WAS an encouragement as I thought I was the only one who struggled with it as everyone at the language school I was attending was always so bright and cheery.

I was also thrilled to see one of our regular "rugby boys" from Cubao, let's call him Mac, appearing in clean clothes and dashing around with a lot of energy with the other children. He looked solvent free and said he is now attending school. Pray for Frank* another of our boys who is not yet on the same path. Pray also for workers (especially men) to join me in reaching out specifically to the rugby boys and girls here in Cubao.

I have been reading a lot recently having discovered the free Goodreads website and realised I can download free ebooks in exchange for reviewing them. There's some great things out there, I encourage you to sign up.

I am giving away 3 free paperback copies of my book via the site, enter before 30th November to win. My parents will be responsible for posting them to the winners, I haven't asked them yet but they read my :)

I have found a company to sort out my PDF technophobe problems so the various forms of ebook should be out very soon...

I will leave you with this that I heard on Sunday for the first time...

More holiness give me, more strivings within.
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.
More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.
More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord.
More zeal for His glory, more hope in His Word.
More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief.
More meekness in trial, more praise for relief.

More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home.
More fit for the kingdom, more useful I’d be,
More bless├Ęd and holy, more, Savior, like Thee.

Philip Bliss

The Kitten vs the Cockroach

A few weeks ago my housemates acquired a stray ginger kitten to try and deal with the large numbers of mice that have taken up residence in our house. When I first saw the tiny animal I thought it was a bit of a joke and doubted it could catch anything. I was wrong.

Yesterday evening I heard a noise downstairs and went to investigate. I found Chiqui the formerly stray kitten pouncing repeatedly on a medium sized cockoach occasionally flicking it into the air and then waiting to assess its reaction. Of course there was none as luckily for it, the creature that had now become Chiqui's latest toy, had long since passed on. I decided to leave them to the one sided game of "tag" and went back upstairs. The next day I found pieces of black shell all over the lounge and was informed by my housemate that she had already cleared most of it up and that there had been not one but two victims. It seems Chiqui does have his uses until he gets big enough for the mice.

Mice I can cope with, cockroaches I really can't. I've had experiences here of giant flying ones and of being bitten on the lip or on the eye when asleep. The area of the bite can swell to 3 times its normal size which is quite inconvenient and looks really odd.

A fairly large cockroach appeared in my bedroom recently (I can never work out where they come from)and sat on the floor watching me warily. I looked for a book to squash it but as the only option within easy reach without putting my feet on the floor and potentially in its path, was my Bible which I decided wasn't appropriate and I wondered if the horrible insect was too big to be squashed.I dreaded the sound and the mess. So I spent the next 20 mins trying to catch it with a broom and eventually succeeded in killing it with said implement...resulting in the bristles of my broom now being filled with mangled cockroach. Nice!

Onto a more enriching subject. Tonight I attended the weekly homeless people's Bible study at my church. The regular attendees greeted me as usual like a long lost friend using the opportunity to practice their English greetings. There were about 35 adults, mostly men but with a few women and some children too.

When I first began attending these studies I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, being used to the very civilised and orderly English style study. This was something entirely different. The people traipse in often with their worldly belongings in tow so that they don't get stolen if they leave them on the street or with their plastic recyclables, ready to sell later on, that they have spent the day collecting. They head straight for the shower block which can only be a good thing. Then they sit around a large square table and a man from the church leads the study.

Amongst the attendees is a man who genuinely (and wrongly) beleives himself to be a modern day apostle wearing T-shirts and carrying literature to that effect. He gets short shrift from the other homeless people whenever he mentions it though which saves us a job.

I had arranged to supply anyone that attended the Monday night study for 5 consecutive weeks with their own Bibles, and now after only a month the Bibles that are visible look a bit like the people; dirty, tired and have seen better days. But there is an enthusiasm and quiet joy amongst a few of the attendees; one man sitting next to me has added coloured labels to his Bible so he can find the books easily. He shows me this proudly and I encourage him. Others have written their names on the spine and have many passages heavily underlined. Some of the Bibles have been well read whilst others are just dragged out for the study and while some have probably been lost or sold but thats always a risk worth taking. 6 new Bibles are presented and only 1 old man tries to claim 1 for the 2nd time.

During the study which last for an hour there is much disruption. People come and go from the shower block suddenly deciding to have their shower in the middle of it. A man walks around with an attendance register talking to people as he does so. A church member asks a few of the men to go with him to do something. People in the second row are openly sleeping with T-shirts and towels over their heads, others are trying not to fall asleep as they look on with bleary eyes. The older men through squniting eyes are still looking for the right page let alone chapter and verse when the study is already well underway, then they find something more interesting and read that instead commenting to their neighbour about it. A man gets out a bright purple comb and starts combing his hair which prompts others to do the same. A woman begins massaging her partners arms as he is complaining of pain. Another old man trys repeatedly to catch my eye to grin at me as I look around the motley collection. Many people are talking to each other. The children are well behaved today which is not always the case. A cat appears and stalks round the table sounding remarkably like a small child and yowling loudly over and over again. A few members of the team are preparing a snack for afterwards. I am relieved that they are not cooking today as it has been known for the whole place to become a health hazard as it fills up with smoke.

Yet despite all of this the study goes on with some listening attentively and taking copious notes. I wonder at the patience of the Study leader who doesn't allow himself to get distracted by any of the things going on around him. Actually if he did the study would never end, those that really want to listen can hear and thats the important thing, its just a complete contrast to Western ways.

Afterwards the people have their snack and I notice that a man is eyeing up my sports bag. He picks it up, examines it and compares it to his own. He approaches me and tells me it is a good bag. Then he says that his bag is "almost" broken and he needs a new one. He asks me if I have any others that I don't need. I don't. I look closely at his bag which is well worn and very full, bursting at the seams, but it still has a bit of life in it and there are no holes. I promise to buy him a new one if his breaks which seems to make him happy. I hope he doesn't quicken its demise as a result of my promise.

As usual I'm surprised by the small things the people ask for. Their lives are simple and uncomplicated, they don't want lots of material things but just the basics they need to survive. There is a definite freedom to this approach. I realised a while ago that the more things I had the more cluttered my life was and the more stressed I felt as I had to think about them. Life is definitely about relationships with people not about things and although much of the time it is not of their own making, these people have an advantage over Westerners in that respect.

Another woman wrote me a short letter last week asking me to consider her request. I wanted to discourage this type of solicitation and approached the church leaders about it. I asked her today what it was she wanted as the letter wasn't clear. The dear lady just needed the wheel on her wooden cart fixed so she could go back to work and provide for her family (Cost 500-700 pesos= a huge £7-£10!) On realising this, having thought she wanted long term support, I made the arrangements through a church member, she was very grateful which humbled me.

I was saddened again by the lack of provision for the elderly here. There are no care homes and no NHS. If the older people don't have family they roam the streets begging for money, ignored and marginalised by many people. In a culture where respect for the elderly is high on the agenda and senior citizens badges get you 20% off everything I find it strange that there is no longer term help. Often I see people that must be in their 70s (who look like they are in their 90's due to the burdens they have carried for many years) pushing heavy carts along the street or collecting plastic recyclables from garbage bags. I hope the government will step up and do something about this, when they have finished lining their own pockets that is.

In other news I have just agreed a deal for my book

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott

to be narrated in 2015 so you will be able to listen to it as well as reading it. The PDF Ebook is also available at Google Play

I'm desperately seeking someone with the technical knowledge to change the PDF into epub or word so that I can upload it to the Kindle and other ereaders. Its not as straight forward as you might think, I have tried many software packages etc so please only offer if you really know how to do it without the images and contents page looking like they have been regurgitated :)

Please feel free to comment on or "like" my blog and recommend it to others...until next time when there will be some updates about the "rugby boys" in Olongapo :)

A Sad Day with a Little Encouragement

Today I set out once again to try and do my grocery shopping having promised various people in England that I would do my best to eat properly so that I don't have to make any more emergency trips home for multi vitamin doses. Wait, that sounds really bad. Its not that I don't like food although I do struggle with a lot of the food here in the Philippines not being a big fan of rice which is the staple, its just that I tend to get distracted by more important things than eating.

Take yesterday for example when I was also on my way to do my grocery shopping. I was walking along the main street, acknowledging the various locals (usually men) who asked me loudly and in English where I was going and what I was doing. I wondered if they were just asking me to practice their language skills as they didn't normally listen to the answer and their friends tended to descend into fits of hysterics when the questions were asked. One man got a bit of a fright on one occasion when I responded in his language that I was heading for the church and that he was welcome to come with me. The polite response is to say that you are going "just there" rather than giving them a destination or inviting them along. But what is an evangelist to do when given such a great opportunity....

So, I was walking along when I saw two very young girls (10-12) with no shoes on walking just ahead of me in the street. I recognised one of them from the homeless drop in that we have every Thursday evening at my church (more about that later) I approached the girls from behind and tapped one of them on the shoulder, they immediately recognised me and seemed very pleased to see me. They were holding a lot of small envelopes with messages on the front of them. This is quite a common method of begging here, the idea being that the target is given the envelope to read whilst the beggar hangs around hopeful that some money will be placed inside.

Unfortunately some local church denominations have also adopted this approach by employing people to jump onboard the public buses, give every passenger an envelope and then preach at the involuntarily captive audience for sometimes up to 10 minutes. It can be fairly torturous especially if you are taking a long journey and representatives from the same denomination, preaching the same message jump on at every bus stop along the route. After hearing the message for the 3rd or 4th time there is usually a collective groan amongst the passengers when the next person wearing the badge gets on. I don't like to unduly criticise any evangelistic practice but I'm not sure that begging from non-Christians going about their daily business is the way to go, especially as many of them feel compelled to give as this is a Catholic rooted country and people are sadly often trying to tip God's divine scales in their favour for the afterlife. Removing that burden of good works through pointing out various Bible passages is one of the great freedoms that can be offered to Catholics here.

I asked the two girls if they were hungry having already mentally abandoned my grocery trip and suggested we head to Mcdonald's. This was amended on request to Jollibee and off we went. Over food we chatted about their situations and why they were begging on the street. I pointed out that it was dangerous for them to be in this area as there were bad men around. They said that they were with one of their fathers and they were all sleeping on the street. One of the girls had been living in one of the Christian Compassion Ministries Homes (CCM) the charity which is linked to my church but had left for some reason. I tried to persuade her to go back to no avail at that time but maybe she will think about it later.

After eating we headed back outside and as it was Thursday I told the girls that I would see them later at the Drop In centre. My church has a weekly event for the many homeless people here in Cubao, Manila. They can come to the church for a free shower, meal, Doctors appointment and of course a Christian message. There are sometimes over 100 attendees including many street children.

As we parted company and I continued along the street with the girls trailing at a distance behind me I noticed a large group of children in the middle of the street gathered round a pillar that holds up the platform for the MRT above (a public tram type system.)The children (mostly teenagers) were darting to and fro, shouting and teasing each other. I recognised the signs of the over-confidence and noisy behaviour but hoped I was mistaken until I saw the plastic bags. The children all had them hanging loosely from their hands or pockets and stopped to inhale the solvent from them every few minutes. I was disappointed to see some of our regular drop-in attendees amongst them as although I knew they were solvent users because they always carried the strong smell of it, I hadn't actually seen them partaking of the activity until now. What shocked me more was the number of girls in the group as there was at least 1 girl for every 2 boys and I was used to working with boys only in Olongapo. I was also appalled to see very young children amongst the group maybe as young as 9 or 10.

I watched the group for a few minutes wanting to talk to them but knowing it was probably pointless and wondering what I would say as at this time there is no specific ministry for the "rugby boys" and girls and there were a huge number of them. They are welcome to attend the drop in but often cause disruption and seem to be in trouble every time they attend.

Then I saw the two girls I had been with before join the group. Seeing this I walked across the street and engaged some of the group in conversation wishing I could do more. There were probably 20 children there which is the number we started with in Olongapo in 2012 and I knew that with God's help it would be possible to begin a ministry to help these children as well but the hard work is the initial building relationships which can take months or even years. The drop in boys recognised me and came straight over grabbing my hands and asking me questions. I asked them what they were doing there and reminded them of the bad influence of their peers but I knew it was going in one ear and out of the other, maybe not even that as they were high on solvents. After introducing myself to each of them individually and trying to remember some names I invited them to attend the drop in en masse and left...

On leaving I noticed a few local people that had been watching the intervention. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted by the children's behaviour or glad that someone was engaging with them. Maybe a mixture of both. If only more people had a heart for these children a lot more could be done but most people shy away from this group and working with them as it is hard and can be deeply discouraging requiring patience, persistence and of course a lot of prayer.

I have a long term plan to help this group but it relies on some big things falling into place...more about that in due course but for now I really need people with a God given heart for these children to be willing to work with me in this ministry to them.

None of the children turned up to the drop in later in the evening not even our usual crowd of boys. The drop in is a great idea for the adults and the younger children but the teens addicted to solvents really need full time workers willing to invest everything in the work.

Whilst chatting to a homeless lady at the drop in and sharing the gospel with her my hands were suddenly grabbed by a male regular attendee as he walked past our table. He was really over enthusiastic with a big few toothed grin (most of the drop in attendees have few teeth left) and I thought it was a bit over the top. I carried on talking to the Catholic lady who had also attended a local cult church and was now very confused. I wanted to give her a Bible but found her eyesight wasn't good enough so I arranged for her to have a checkup to get glasses so I could give her a Bible at some stage...a long way of doing things that I hadn't anticipated when beginning the discussion.

I had forgotten about the enthusiastic man until later when he came up to me, grabbed my hands again and thanked me profusely. Then I properly recognised him as a man that had poured out his desire to work at one of the drop in meetings back in August. He wanted to regain his previous job as a driver of a school bus. I had checked his driving licence which was in date and he seemed genuine. His problem was that he didn't have the funds to get the necessary medical certificate and police check - 2000 pesos (about £28 which here is a lot of money)I agreed to help him from our charity if someone from the church accompanied him (its never a good idea to give money directly even when the person appears trustworthy as it can be a source of temptation for of our boys in Olongapo was given 1000 pesos £14 by a foreigner who probably thought he was being kind to a street child but it caused havoc in our ministry.)Anyway a deacon went with him to get the checks done and his job application was successful. He is now working again. Praise God. I'm really so grateful to everyone who supports the charity allowing me to help people in small ways like this.

Now you can probably see why I never manage to get to my grocery shopping!

The Big House and the Missing Grandma

I'm sure you are anxiously awaiting the conclusion of my emergency trip to Olongapo earlier in the week (or maybe not as I only have 4 followers at the moment.)

Having set off so ridiculously early and been given VERY detailed directions by my friend Zee's father by text message I arrived a few paces short of Zee's house at exactly 0830am. I walked the few paces required to reach the house to find Zee's father frantically waving from the back of his shop towards the road behind me. I turned to see my bus departing the scene and realised he must have thought I was still on the bus and was trying to alert me to get off it.

Our first task now was to locate and then try to persuade Paul's grandma to return back to the house again to live with Paul (16) and Joel (15). I still had no real idea what the problem was or why she had left in the first place having only been there for a week but I did have an idea where she might be found.

We made our way by jeepney (metal bus) to the Triangle area near the local market. Apparently my legs are too long for the local public transportation as an old lady got very frustrated as she tried to manoevre around them as she was getting off the jeep and then turned around and slapped me hard in anger whilst muttering something unintelligible to anyone who was listening. I just carried on talking as if nothing had happened but everyone else seemed as if they were frozen in time as they waited for my reaction. What was I to do? call the police and tell them an 80+ year old woman just assaulted me because my legs were in her way OR....nothing....right!

We walked around the Triangle area followed by curious stares until finally we located Grandma and several other relatives sleeping on some cardboard having been there all night. She didn't seem angry or upset which was the first possible hurdle out of the way. We invited her for coffee to discuss the situation, hoping to lure her away from the various relatives who might also want to relocate to more pleasant accommodation.

This may sound harsh but the reality is that in helping one family or as in this case two former rugby/solvent boys (Paul and Joel) it would be very easy to end up with 20 other people trailing round after us. The tough thing is that most of them do really need help. But its really important to focus on one person/family at a time and not to become overwhelmed by the need. Most of the time we try to help them provide for themselves through livelihood projects but these often fail and are hard to set up. With juveniles longer term support is often required as they complete their education.

During this trip various members of Paul's family asked me what we were going to do for various other members of the family. I found myself asking them how these other people were supporting themselves before we came along, then on obtaining the answer advising them to continue doing that! Obvious really but I did feel like I was a bit umsympathetic at times.

Grandma agreed to accompany us for "coffee" but after we had managed to free her from the loiterers, she changed the destination to "Jollibee" en route. This was quite amusing for me as its like an old lady in England asking to go to Mcdonalds or Burger King instead of a posh coffee shop. Once inside I realised the reason for her request as on giving her 100 pesos (about £1.50) she proceeded to use her Senior Citizens discount to buy several burgers and other items to take out. I was hoping we weren't going to have to grab hold of her as she raced out of the door to distribute the items that clearly were not for her consumption. I wondered if she even remembered the purpose of our suggestion to get "coffee."

Apparently I had underestimated her as she collected her change and passed it straight to me before calmly agreeing to accompany us upstairs to somewhere that I thought would be more peaceful but in reality wasn't due to the unecessarily loud background music.

A week prior when I had originally set them up in the house I ended up inviting 10 of them to lunch at Jollibee thinking it was ok as a one off. Various items from our order were missing and when we queried this with the staff I saw them bickering with each other as to who was going to deal with the discrepancy before handing the problem to a further member of staff who had no idea what the problem was and came to ask us what it was we wanted. After explaining again that items from our original order were missing this member of staff asked for our receipts and began checking everything off by thoroughly searching our tables and then looking at us suspiciously and checking all around the area as if we might have hidden the items. In the end he also gave the matter to someone else who was about to come and check again when I stood up and loudly said "Look we are missing a spaghetti dish and one coke, please can someone just get it for us." Then there was the customary "Ok Ma'am" before he disappeared to get the items. To be honest, it has been known after an exchange like this for further questions to be asked and checks to be done but fortunately on this occasion although I didn't feel good about it, my raised tone was the Philippines the customer isn't always right.

We chatted with Grandma for over an hour and established some ground rules for the new living situation. Honestly, this should've been completed when they first moved in a week ago but it was all such a mad rush and we lost track of where various people were so it was overlooked which was really a big mistake.

It appears the argument had been about money for food as they had run out. We had made a rather drastic miscalculation in relation to this as I had asked one local family how much they spent on food a week and used this to calculate a budget only to be informed by another family that they spent double the amount per day that the first family spent per week! We talked about some of the other issues and arranged some compromise on both sides including a nightly curfew for the boys to stop Grandma worrying about them but an agreement that the boys didn't have to trail round after her all day which is what she had been expecting to "keep them out of trouble."

Now to go and find the boys. We went to the house and surprisingly found them both at home (as we had thought they would be at school and had given them money to get there!)They were actually on vacation for the week. We chatted to them also for over an hour noting that several relatives of Paul's that weren't meant to be living there were hanging around as if waiting for us to leave.

Both myself and Zee detected moments when the boys were being less than truthful about some smaller aspects of how they had spent the household budget. I was expecting to have to deal with this sort of thing as they have come from the street and it will take them time to learn basic things. It was really quite funny as Zee explained to them by doing impressions how they were coming across to us as they blatantly contradicted each other, couldn't remember things they had alledgedly done just hours before and gave extremely vague answers. I wasn't prepared to let this go and knew we had to get to the bottom of it even though it was relatively small amounts of money (100 pesos or £1.50.) Knowing the 2 boys well I played them off against each other until Paul finally admitted that he had gambled some money on a machine and won and he had then used the additional money to buy a cell phone! This explained the nice new phone with camera I had seen lurking in the kitchen area although no one wanted to claim it after we arrived. I pointed out that my cell phone doesn't even have a camera at which point Paul offered to swap!

There were still elements of the story that didn't add up but Paul was beginning to get upset and in the end I asked him "Did you lie because you didn't want me to know you had gambled?" Immediately he answered "yes" and we left it at that and told the boys to get ready as we were going out.

Sometimes you have to give these boys a way out not back them into a corner and I felt we had got as close as we were going to get to the truth. On the street they learn never to tell tales on each other which is one of the things that stays with them if they leave the street as its so deeply ingrained. For this reason outsiders may never really get to the bottom of this type of situation as the boys may be covering for someone who appears to have no connection to the events. We learnt to take what we could get and move on and in comparison to how the boys were when we first met them two years earlier, to be having a conversation like this and getting any type of straight forward answer was really amazing progress.

I also spoke to them about their habit of contacting me in Manila 3 hours away, usually via social networking sites whenever they had problems or issues. I reminded them that they were not 8 years old and needed to learn how to resolve conflict themselves. That if they got upset with each other which inevitably would happen they should go for a walk to calm down then come back, sit down and talk about it. Under no circumstances should they storm out threatening not to come back, at which point the boys pointed at that it was grandma who had done this and I advised them much to their delight that I had informed her that she was not to do this again. This wouldn't normally be appropriate in this culture as they do respect their elders but as a foreigner if I am careful I can sometimes say things that a local person wouldn't be able to. Of course being a foreigner has negative aspects too but this is one of the advantages.

We took the boys to the Christian bookshop and encouraged them to spend some time browsing before buying them the items they selected. Paul wanted a wrist band with a Bible verse on it which was fine but the price had been heavily inflated as the band was also meant to repel mosquitoes to prevent dengue fever...I told him to try and find one without the additional novelty which he agreed to do. (Paul recently spent several weeks in the hospital with dengue fever which is a pretty serious illness.)

Later we accompanied the boys back to see Paul's Grandma to ensure the problem was resolved and that they could all live happily ever after (well at least for 1 year until the house contract expires.) At this point my Britishness came into its own as I loudly said to them all, with friends present of course, "Ok, are we all friends again, no more problems? No need for me to come rushing back to Olongapo any time soon?" There was an embarrassed silence as I pushed Paul's shoulder to get him to admit that actually he did love his Grandma, resulting in a big toothy grin. Then Joel without prompting said that he also loved her so we were all good to go! Phew!

In all seriousness, this family need your prayer as it will be a rocky road and we are not there yet..but the slow progress and enthusiasm for Christian things is a definite encouragement. If you want to see where the boys have come from you can either buy my book or take a look at our charity website "Olongapo Christian Help and Hope"

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott

Metro Manila at 430am...

As I walk through the darkened streets of Central Manila at 430am I realise that I have never voluntarily got up at stupid-o-clock before, apart from for the odd flight that is. Being a very non-morning person due to being born with my body clock the wrong way round (at least that's my excuse) the pain is just not worth it, but after struggling to sleep for hours and getting to that particular time when it would make it even more painful to get up if I fell asleep then, I bit the bullet and braced myself for the 30 minute walk to the bus station.

They say Manila is a dangerous place and I'm sure that's true but it doesn't "feel" dangerous, maybe I've been lulled into a false sense of security. Working amongst the street homeless and solvent/rugby boys helps as they are always around and would probably be the first to come to my aid if I had cause to summon them. I have heard that the current trend is bag slashing with a long bladed knife and making off with the contents that fall out. Personally I can't understand why this yields more than just grabbing the bag but I'm sure there's a reason. The only visible sign that this is a rough area are the numerous hotels with their hourly rates posted proudly outside in bright colours for all to see.

The streets are already alive with people beginning their daily routines, unfortunately for many this involves rummaging through other people's garbage to salvage anything recyclable or edible. I notice that the street dogs that usually also partake in this activity are asleep leaving the first pickings to the people,, which kindof makes the situation more desperate. It never becomes normal to see this and bizarrely I find myself wondering why they are not wearing gloves before I catch myself. Several people acknowledge me cheerfully and I reply at the same time being aware of the usual open and curious, but not unfriendly, stares that follow me everywhere I go because I'm a "foreigner" on their turf.

The rampant homelessness is more evident at this hour as numerous people shelter under plastic umbrellas lying uncomfortably on flat cupboard boxes, their children huddled next to them, the most recent victims of floods and typhoons. Street teenagers lie alone; friendless, unwanted, unloved. For some the result of rebellion as they have perfectly good homes to go to, but for most the result of broken families, abuse, and poverty. Sometimes I wonder why they choose the main high street of Cubao with the 24 hour traffic and high pollution but I guess there are other dangers in a more remote place and one dirty dusty street is more or less the same as the next. I quicken my pace as the desire to gather them all off the street and into a proper shelter in any building anywhere, hits me along with the realisation that the problem is overwhelming and that providing somewhere for them to sleep doesn't go to the route of the problem, not really. Living here makes me truly thank God every night for an actual bed to sleep in out of the weather conditions be they too hot, too rainy or too stormy as is so often the case in this part of the world.

I walk over the very dark and dirty overpass unable to see even my feet in front of me and narrowly avoiding tripping over things and people setting up their stalls on the bridge, by following the path of the many others around. I wonder how people motivate themselves to get up at 4 or 5am to sell sweets for 1 peso (1.5p) that they have purchased in a supermarket for half the price. There are already many such vendors around selling these as well as individual cigarettes from a packet. I guess they have no choice as they have to feed their families.

I finally approach the bus station wondering whether the many foreign students sleeping within the terminal have been there all night, and then have a tough decision to make (any decision is tough for me at 5am!) Should I get the 5am bus that is patiently waiting to take its passengers the 3 to 4 hour journey North to Olongapo or should I wait for the 530am bus that takes the quicker route but costs a little more. I ask the conductor for the time. Its exactly 5am yet it doesn't look as if the first bus is going anywhere any time soon. I ask him if the bus will be late leaving whilst still deciding which ticket to buy. He says it will be on time but I'm dubious as he stretches lazily on his chair and yawns. I opt for the 2nd bus, purchase my ticket and stumble away to find coffee, failing at the first shop within the bus terminal which has really missed a trick. I locate a lone female with a thermos outside on the street and pay her 13 pesos (20p) for the privilege. I then buy a few items in the terminal and give the vendor a Christian tract, he immediately stops serving a customer to read the front of it then thanks me with a smile. (I love it here!) 515am and back at the bus stop I am pleased to see that the 1st bus is still in situe and that the 2nd bus is now behind it in the queue. I feel briefly sorry for the people that are being ushered into the 1st bus not realising it will take an hour longer as they haven't done the route before.

On the bus I am seated next to a middle aged Filipino man and I notice that the TV at the front of the bus is flickering annoyingly and the picture jumping around with grey lines all the way through it. This doesn't seem to bother the locals most of whom watch the screen absent mindedly. I am grateful that it is a harmless, if irritating, Filipino daytme TV show rather than the violent and gruesome movies that are sometimes shown regardless of the audience. On these occasions I spend most of the time trying to hide so that I don't inadvertently catch a glimpse of the horror. The view that we can watch whatever we want and are somehow invincible is widespread here, even amongst Christians.

The air conditioning is as usual turned up far too high and blasting out of vents that are often broken and cant be closed. Most regular travellers, including me, are wearing extra layers. It is the same in Filipino cinemas. I haven't yet worked out the reason. I am grateful for a seat as some late comers end up crouching or standing in the aisle for the entire 3 hour journey.
At the half way rest stop everyone piles out of the bus to buy snacks and the street vendors pile into the bus to try and sell snacks to the few passengers left. I hear "mani mani mani" over 100 times (peanut) as the bucket is thrust towards me in the hope of a sale. I glance sideways as a man sits back down next to me and think that he doesn't look much like the person that was there before, then all becomes clear as the other man comes back and demands his original seat. I am amused that I almost mistook one for the other as one is about half the age of the other and they don't look anything alike.

Traffic as usual is totally crazy my bus sometimes jumping across 4 lanes to pick up extra passengers and doing this at the very last minute nearly colliding with every other vehicle that hadn't been made aware of the drivers intention. The solution; everybody hooting their very loud horns constantly to warn each other that they are about to do something very dangerous and potentially life threatening, the big question; what is it they are about to do!? I see around 24 people squashed into the back of a small pickup truck packed in like sardines all facing the front with their knees bent awkwardly in front of them. Then around 100 people in a line running parallel to the main road, I guess they are waiting for a bus, but its a long line. I see a sign with a Japanese flag over a toll booth and wonder what the "Philippine/Japan co-operation project" at this road block is, as I'm sure its not a border crossing, at least I hope not!

But I have neglected the important part of my story, why the very long journey and why the sleepless night. It began last week, (well actually it began 2 years ago but if you want the full story you will have to buy and read my book.

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott)

Last Monday I took two former rugby/solvent boys that I have been working with and that had accompanied me on our church camp in Cubao back to Olongapo where they reside. We'll call them Paul (now 16) and Joel (now 15) as named in my book. I had decided as per their suggestion that it was time to give them an opportunity to leave the overcrowded and under resourced government youth centre (35 boys with 18 beds and counting; the boys not the beds.) The plan was to find a place for them to rent with Paul's Grandma who is technically his only legal guardian although she hasn't been involved in his life for a while.

After a very long day with a lot of complications (maybe to be detailed in a follow up book)we fInd a suitable place and I leave all in the capable hands of my Christian friend Zee with a bit of help from her family. Unfortunately things did not go entirely to plan so today I was summoned to reappear in Olongapo due to Paul's Grandmother walking out on the two minors after just one week apparently never to return (or so all sides relayed in a very confusing conversation that had the words big house, grandma, leave and cradle...yep didn't make much sense to me either!) be continued...

Very Lively Visitors

I spent the first part of the day thinking of ways to increase sales of my book, "They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know?" which has nothing to do with the sport even though Amazon still has it listed in the Rugby Union section and it spent a few days as a Rugby Union Biography Bestseller!

I needed the time out to prepare for the big event of the day...the weekend visit of several former street children that my charity Olongapo Christian Help and Hope is now sponsoring.

A little April when I first moved to Manila I was approached by several very dirty children asking for food. We'll call the sisters Charlotte (13) and Tracey (10.)They were sitting in the middle of a traffic island begging from public transport vehicles. I bought them some food which they then seemed reluctant to accept. We were then joined by a third child Jeremy (14) who didn't know the girls but ate with us. I was with a Filipino friend and as the children were filthy I offered them a shower at my house which they gratefully accepted. Later I wrang 8 bowls of dirty water out of Tracey's very small string top...the relationship went on from there and after a house visit to meet their mother about an hour away I decided that the charity should sponsor the two girls to get them to live back at home and back into school...The deal involves them staying at my house once a week on a Saturday evening in order to go to church on Sunday and their mother attending the church once a month to collect their sponsorship money. There have been ups and downs with the arrangement but both girls are now regularly at church and in school.

Fast forward to earlier today. The children are meant to arrive at 6pm but they always get here earlier and it depends what type of mood I am in as to whether I allow them in earlier. Today they came at 2pm initially so I asked my housemate to tell them to come back at 4 I could hear them downstairs again so I went down to ask them to keep the noise down but then felt sorry for them and ended up taking them and their friend Amy (12) that they had brought with them to Jolibee (the Philippine version of Mcdonald's)

On the way they hung onto my arms for dear life as is their usual practice and I kept complaining it was too hot for that and they were making me exhausted. In the end I grabbed one of the childrens arms and hung onto it pulling the child virtually to the ground to show them how hard it was to walk like that. They thought this was very funny and for a while stopped hanging onto me.

On the way we were approached by another boy David (12) that I know from the church. The children invited him to come with us without any consideration as to who was paying for all this probably because they know I'm a soft touch. I asked him if he was alone knowing that within seconds of agreeing to him accompanying us I could easily end up with 20 kids emerging from nearby streets and wherever else street kids hang out. He confirmed his solo status so we continued at a more hurried pace to avoid the possible throngs of others in the area.

We ordered our food in Jolibee and after praying the children spent the entire meal debating their various orders and who had got what and which was best etc. This is part of the territory so I switched off although they did find it fascinating that I ate with my spoon and fork the opposite way round to normal. The guard on the door took pity on Tracey and gave her an extra pack of rice to take out which was kind of him so I gave her a Christian tract to give to him. He said "thankyou for coming" although I bet he was thinking "thankyou for leaving" as we took our noisy party outside and back onto the street.

Unfortunately two further children from the church approached us as we walked back to the house and I had to tell them they couldn't join us as 4 was enough already and they all wanted showers etc. I always find that really hard but I've learnt that I can't help everyone all at once and that its best to just focus on one person at a time (or in this case 4!)

We walked past the Jeepney station (metal bus) and as we were crossing the road there was suddenly a loud clamour of male voices. I looked to where the disturbance was and saw that at least 3 adult males were loudly beckoning to me that they wanted the remains of the icecream sundae that I was carrying. If it was a child I rarely resisted but these were adults with nice clothes and shoes and I kindof wanted my ice cream so I kept it.

Next we had to pass a group of men in the street and one older man with hardly any teeth and a big grin pronounced "you are so pretty, I love you!" in my general direction, to which the children replied "She hates you and thinks you are ugly!" until I told them to be quiet and not to be so rude. Telling someone you hate them is really very strong in the Philippines.

Back at the house the children immediately pulled down my spare mattress and began bouncing up and down on it, then set it on its side and played other games involving precarious balancing that I wish I hadn't taught them a while ago. Then they had showers one by one which has to be enforced or they would all cram in together (again cultural)At least now most of the time they don't run in and out and open and close the doors on each other whilst showering.

Finally I settled them down to watch "Finding Nemo" advising David that he had to leave straight after the movie as he couldn't sleep in the lounge with the girls. Our internet connection is somewhat temperamental but we found that if one of the children sat behind the screen in a certain place on the mattress it worked ok but obviously then that child couldn't watch the film. In the end we replaced the child with a stack of pillows which did the trick for half of the movie but then the whole thing crashed as we surpassed our daily bandwidth limit so I advised the children it was time to go to bed and sent David home.

Now I can hear them making a lot of noise still downstairs so should probably go and sort it out.

Finding a Table

Today I set out to find a small table or desk to allow me to use my laptop more effectively when writing. My current arrangement involves lying on my bed and awkwardly typing with my laptop to the side of me on its cooler pad or alternatively placing my laptop on my stomach to type almost burning a hole through my clothes.

I set out with purpose to the only second hand furniture store in the area. I was disappointed to find that the only slight possibility was a heavily marked basic square wooden table with the price conveniently obscured standing outside the store. I asked the heavily armed guard at the door what the price was. He turned and summoned a shop assistant who in turn asked someone else who looked me up and down and announced confidently 4000 (about £56.)

I said that that was far too expensive and went to leave as the first shop assistant told me they had many more upstairs. I followed her upstairs and saw that there were some very nice desk tables also priced at 4000 meaning that the first one had been heavily inflated. I have become accustomed to this as "foreigners" are normally charged at least double the standard price. I was questioned about my nationality, job, length of stay in the Philippines etc and informed that my grasp of the local language was very good. This is all standard small talk in the Philippines so if you are a private person don't come here!

I thanked the assistant and left. I walked past the old "shoe man" who sits on the street next to a pillar in the same spot from morning till evening everyday mending peoples shoes for a small sum (30p.)He is always very cheerful and I was pleased to see that today he had at least 15 pairs of shoes on the ground in front of him, sometimes its just 2 or 3. The people collect them from him later in the day.

Then I walked past the again heavily armed and with much spare ammunition security guards outside various banks most of them saying "Hello Ma'm" with a smile and a nod.

Arriving at a department store I went in search of my table allowing the armed guard at the door to search my bag on entry. On finding a suitable new desk table for under £20 I was asked for ID in order to purchase it. This seemed a little odd as I was paying for it at the time and I didn't see how them seeing my ID would help but I've learned not to argue and I had my Driving Licence so I handed it over. I was informed that I would not be issued with a receipt but a claim form and that when my table was delivered later in the day the driver (doubling as the sales man that had sold me the table) would swap my claim form for the receipt.

When I was given and asked to sign the claim form I noted that I was signing to say that I had "received the item in good condition," which obviously I hadn't as it was to be delivered later so i pointed this out and declined to sign the form. The sales man gave me the only copy of the unsigned claim form anyway and said it was my copy?! I then tried to pay for delivery but was informed that I had to do this when the item was delivered...

In the shop, there were 4 female check out assistants squashed into the booth which was about 1 metre square and all were chatting to each other whilst customers waited patiently, this again is normal and interruptions are not usually welcome so its necessary just to wait.

On leaving the shop I went into a few other shops and observed a sign which said something like "There are many beautiful and lovely things here for you to look at...But if you break it consider it sold." I think this used to be an English shopkeepers rhyme which has been somewhat lost in translation.

I walked past 3 local men working who all stopped work to stare at me before announcing "you are so beautiful" as I hurried away. Being beautiful here doesn't have a lot to do with being beautiful.

Another security guard smiled and raised his half drunk mug of coffee to me announcing "coffee" as I walked past his shop. I smiled and politely declined as I wasn't sure if he was offering me some of the coffee he was consuming or was offering to make me a fresh cup. Its quite normal here to be invited in to peoples houses when you walk past and normally the first comment on entry is "Let's eat!"

On heading back after my relatively non eventful trip I was nearly ushered into a waiting Jeepney by an usher that somehow knew my first name(a Jeepney is a metal bus thing without windows that serves as the local transport here) It always amuses me how locals seem to allow themselves to be ushered into Jeepneys even when they seem to have had no intention of going in the direction taht the Jeepney is heading in as if they are just wandering around without an intended destination.

I caught site of some street food that I took a fancy to although I had no idea what it was. Probably some form of rice cooked ten different ways as rice is the staple here and served morning, noon and night. I bought a sample of each item from the very enthusiastic vendor and then gave him a Gospel tract which he took eagerly (instead of throwing it in the nearest bin like a Westerner!)

Then I walked back to my house passing the now very quiet and subdued dogs that yesterday burst through a gate, which I'm assuming should have been locked, and scared myself and a few street children that happened to be passing half to death as they growled and snarled at us.

Acknowledging the guard at the entrance to my road(who seems to be the only unarmed guard in the entire area) by raising my eyebrows which is the normal greeting, I arrived at my house.

Back at home and whilst waiting for my table to be delivered, I decided it was time to start a blog as so many interesting and strange things happen here every day.

As they say, It's more fun in the Philippines :)