I still can’t sleep well at night. Images from last week’s visit to a far-flung community keep flashing in my subconscious reality, a recurring dream of familiar faces, piteous stares, and gushing water.
We visited Sitio Kiahe last week for a community outreach with Team BUNDOL Mountaineers. We helped a friend, Rosilie Lim, in giving school supplies for the kids at Kiahe Integrated School.
Kiahe is one of the farthest communities in Malapatan, Sarangani Province. To get there one has to take a dizzying motorcycle ride to Barangay Daan Suyan. From there if you’re lucky enough and chanced upon a truck called Columbia Express that delivers goods to Sitio Kiahe you could sit on top of sacks of rice and other items bought from the town and avoid having to wade in waist-deep river that at some points have currents strong enough to take you with it. I lost count of how many times we crossed the river but locals say it’s 27. That’s around five hours of bumpy ride, or six to seven hours of trekking and river crossing. Yes, it is that difficult to reach the place.
Without the truck this is how you cross the river (taken on our way home, we didn’t ride the truck anymore):
We started our program right away. The team of Rosilie Lim proceeded with the distribution of school supplies and other goods, while Team BUNDOL Mountaineers prepared the soup kitchen for the kids. We knew that there are over 800 pupils at Kiahe Integrated School and we were prepared for it. The food that we prepared was donated by our partner, Southern Philippines Power Corporation through Coun. Joel Aton.
I choked while singing the national anthem and the Sarangani Hymn with the kids in Kiahe. It was because of a feeling that is very hard to describe. I knew I was very happy being the kids. I was overwhelmed by the idea that we have been given the opportunity to spend time with those children who we might never see again, those children who are in much harder situations than most of us, those children who might never ever read about how they’ve touched my life more than we’ve touched theirs. After finishing the food we gave them, they might already forget about us but we will never forget about the experience we went through to be with them. The notebooks they received might not really create an impact in their lives but the impact of seeing their situation has changed the way I look at life forever. I don’t know but my heart just swells with a very deep emotion, not of pity for them but of love and of admiration for people who go to great lengths to help them.
We tried ways to keep the distribution of food as organized as possible but it had been very hard. Everyone wanted to get ahead of others, some of the parents even pushed their kids to be in front of the queue.
Trying to explain what happened, one of the teachers whispered to me, “Pait jud diri, sir. ” “Life is really hard here, sir.” I have learned later that some of the teacher’s bunk houses are being ransacked when they go back to town, so they never leave anything in their bunk houses anymore.
My heart sunk even lower when I saw with my own two eyes children who had to go through hard labor to help their families earn a living. These children should have joined us in our activity at the school, but they had to help their parents in the farm:
Even as we were already headed home heartbreaking scenes never seemed to stop. At some point on our way home I walked alone, thinking about the activity that had just concluded. I walked with a heavy heart due to a feeling of helplessness. There’s a huge job that needed to be done to make life better for the people of Kiahe.
I was walking very slowly until this mother, carrying an infant, and two other kids trailing behind her passed me by. I immediately wondered how they were able to cross the river. I walked closely behind them until we reached the next river crossing. I took this video of how they managed to overcome the difficulty of crossing the river:
I am angered by the news that we see on TV these days. While those crocs amass millions of pesos of taxpayers’ money there are people like those living in Kiahe who could not even be given proper roads and bridges.
As a consolation as I scanned the photos I took in Kiahe I still admire the resilience of our fellow Sarangans who can still manage to smile like these kids:
I have high regard for the teachers who work in perilous situations as we have seen at Kiahe Integrated School and to individuals and groups who spend their time, effort, and resources to share a few moments of happiness with others, especially those in far-flung communities.
*UPDATE: We are happy to hear that after learning about the situation of the kids in Kiahe, Atlanta-based Galing Foundation, Inc. sent more help for the kids of Kiahe. Now, I can sleep better, knowing that more help reaching Kiahe.