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 background...in 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 6...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.