The Fr Brian Keenan Philippines Project – an experience of a lifetime.
When I arrived at Dublin Airport in the early hours of Friday 25 June 2018, I couldn’t help but feel nervous to be going so far away from home; to a hot country with an entirely different culture to my own, and to do a lot of work that I knew would be very tiring.
Yet, I was also very excited, as this was the beginning of a wonderful and memorable adventure, one that I would never forget.
After four flights that took 24 hours, we finally made it to Davao on Saturday 26 May. The following day, after a lot of rest and adjustment to our new surroundings, we visited the Bajau children, so that we could get to know each other.
Once we walked through the door of the small hut that they use for their school, all our fears melted completely away, because the children were nothing but delighted to see us and to welcome us into their culture without question. After we performed a few songs for the children (led by none other than the fiery Conor O’Hanlon), it felt like we had been there for weeks, as the children now chatted and played with us like they had known us for so much longer than they had.
It was the start of our much loved interactions with the Bajau, and we had many more over the course of the two weeks that we were there.
I started properly on Monday 28 May. Eight of us, along with Ms O’Mahony, Ms Considine and Ms O’Callaghan, were sent to the Smac Sisters Orphanage on the outskirts of Davao.
Once we arrived, it was all hands on deck from the word go, as the children there were so happy to see us every day, and were always full of energy. When we arrived each day, it would be straight into playing a game of basketball, or doing some colouring, or sometimes, we taught some Irish to the kids, along with some songs.
I loved this centre so much because we all formed bonds with certain kids while there, and they made our time with them so lovely, because they were funny, lively and extremely kind to us.
The nuns who ran the orphanage were also extremely gracious and welcoming, making snacks and even lunch for us every day, and helping us with many things, including the little shows we put together for the children.
When it was time to say goodbye at the end of the week, it would be a lie to say that tears were not shed when we pulled away from the orphanage in the jeep, with the children standing at the gate waving at us and shouting goodbye until we disappeared around the corner.
We still had another week in the Philippines, but even still, I knew that the Smac Sisters Orphanage would always have a special place in my heart.
The following week, I worked in Anawim Primary School for the first three days of the week. It was different to the Smac Sisters, as now we were teaching proper school classes. But, as it turned out, this school was just as fun to work in.
The kids were all very eager to learn about us, and loved playing games with us, as well as singing along with us to many songs, including ‘Molly Malone’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’.
It was extremely beneficial working in this position, as we all now had the chance to teach these kids about ourselves and our culture, and we learned to take responsibility in these roles. But these few days were anything but challenging, as the students of Anawim were so attentive and creative, and they made my few days in the school very relaxing and enjoyable.
Working in Anawim gave me a new experience of being in a position of responsibility, and also taught me that when it comes to children, the best thing you can do is listen to them, because if they feel comfortable talking to you, then you will feel omfortable with them, and that’s how friendships are made.
The last centre that I went to was none other than the famous Badjao school!
This school was home to the Badjao people, an indigenous group in the Philippines who live in the poorest parts of Davao, living in self-made huts on wooden stilts above dirty, sewage-ridden waters. However, the appearances could not have been more deceiving, because the Badjao were just as warm and as welcoming as all the other Filipinos we had met. The two days I spent with the Badjao were nothing but exhausting!
We spent the whole day either playing basketball, hangman on the chalkboard, or singing ‘Wagon Wheel’ or ‘Perfect’ (which we sang quite a lot)! That being said, I didn’t care about being tired. I adored the Badjao, because the children were so energetic and playful, and always wanted to do something with us, and the older students were extremely kind and social towards us. Even though I only did two days there, I can say that they were two of the best days of my life.
When we finally left Davao on Sunday 12 June, I felt apprehensive about leaving, in the same way as I had when I left Dublin. But this time I was leaving with a memory, one which has given me a whole new outlook on life, and has helped me to make friendships that can never be broken.
When we eventually landed back in Dublin on Monday 11, I had so much to tell my family, but the majority of what I said had one main message: if you learn to interact with new people, they can end up becoming your dearest friends. Even if you have only known them for a short time, it doesn’t matter, because you then learn to appreciate these new friends even more, and they will always have a place in your heart.
Sean Hanratty - 2018
The CUS Union supports the school’s Philippines project though fundraisers such as the annual Table Quiz and also a donation from the proceeds of subscriptions to the union.