Last summer I spent two weeks volunteering on a Disaster Relief project in the Philippines. A typhoon--referred to locally as Yolanda--had caused massive amounts of destruction in November 2013. I wanted to help those affected in any way I could.
After 30 hours of traveling, I found myself crammed in the arrivals section of the Cebu International Airport, surrounded by hundreds of Filipinos who had just returned home. I didn't know it at the time, but I had just landed home, too. Work began as soon as I arrived in Bogo by car. I was taken to Banban Elementary School, where I was welcomed by the other volunteers and introduced to the local staff. After being given a hardhat and putting on the green gardening gloves my father insisted that I bring, I was put to work.
I spent the next few weeks dedicating myself to Banban. Work included sifting sand, mixing cement and concrete, and painting roofing. As my gloves became more worn out and covered in various shades of paint, it became clear that my labor was making a difference, as I saw the walls of the classrooms getting taller each day. The most enjoyable part of being at Banban was interacting with the children who were benefiting from our efforts. They spend eight hours everyday learning in a cramped environment without the benefits of air-conditioning or electronics. Yet their smiles and laughter are brighter and bigger than any I have ever seen before.
Everyday kids would come up to the other volunteers and me, asking what our names were. Whenever they had breaks from classes, they would collect near our building site to encourage us. The popular phrase--"Hey, Nee-Cole"--was shouted multiple times each day. Their happiness was contagious, their laughs thunderous, and their energy invincible. I enjoyed every minute I spent at Banban, and my only desire was to stay longer.
When I told one of the little girls, Ilene, that tomorrow was going to be my last day, she hugged me and cried, "Don't go!” I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving Banban and not coming back, so I promised the kids and myself that I would return. At the time I had no idea when that would be, but now I know--I’ll be back tomorrow.
Last year I watched as the children played with rubber bands, wheelbarrows, and piles of rocks. So when my roommate Linda mentioned that she was coming back to build them a playground, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to join her. After the project is completed, the kids will have swings, slides, seesaws, monkey bars, hopscotch, etc. And my favorite part: they don’t know I’m coming back.