A small team makes a big difference! Trip Report - By Kim Huggett

 
While the hand built motorized outrigger churned toward our small group standing on the coral north shore, we could just make out a smiling Joshua, top spear fisherman of the Badjao tribe, standing in the bow holding out to us something long and silvery.


As the boat drew closer through the slightly choppy blue-green water of the Cebu Strait it became apparent that he was holding our lunch, a huge barracuda he had just caught.
As the group of four Badjao fishermen piled out of the boat it was obvious they were as excited about sharing their prize with us as they were about catching it. A fish that could have brought 600 pesos at the market –a good price for an entire day’s work – was their gift to their American guests visiting as part of a mission trip from Badjao Bridge and the First Presbyterian Church of Hayward (CA).


As the fish was chopped up and put in a pot of boiling water for us to share with rice and vegetables, we realized this just another example of how some of the world’s most desperately poor are among the most unreservedly generous.


The impromptu lunch was followed by a voyage on two outriggers into the channel between Panglao and Cebu islands, where we visited a desert island before enjoying spectacular snorkeling in the waters above the reef. Off to the west we could see darkly looming from the southern tip of the island of Negros Oriental the 6,200 foot high Mount Talinis, considered by seismologists a “potentially active” volcano.


The afternoon was more than ecotourism, it was an opportunity to see how these sea gypsies practice their traditional livelihood. At the same time, the heads of Badjao households wrestle with the opposition of governments to their fishing methods and some recognize their impoverished tribe may be faced with developing a lifestyle more dependent on the land, including jewelry making with pearls. That means the children of these nomads who largely live on houses on stilts above the ocean will be dependent on the one thing most other cultures take for granted: an education.


That’s the mission of Badjao Bridge, the nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the Badjao up from poverty by sponsoring children to attend school and other classes, providing nourishment with free lunches, and giving educational experiences in hygiene, gardening, and the arts.


A recent week-long visit to a Badjao tribe allowed seven of us from the Hayward and Castro Valley communities to see how the Badjao live. Working mainly with children, we treated their hair for lice, gave out toothbrushes and showed how to use them, and gave lessons in how to wash their hands. The children were delighted to plant tomatoes that will grow in special upside down planters. Children who live over the sea or on a coral shore can be unfamiliar with basic gardening.


There was singing and dancing, and a group of young professionals from the nearby island of Cebu dropped by to talk about different careers that can be open to children who take advantage of going to school.


More than 100 Badjao children are able to go to school thanks to sponsorships that allow them to have uniforms and shoes. Another 50 children, who are not allowed to attend public school because they don’t have birth certificates, attend classes in a Badjao Bridge classroom in the village.


A bittersweet highlight of our visit came on our last day, when we distributed 200 pairs of shoes donated by members of the First Presbyterian Church of Hayward. The need was so great that we could have used 50 more pairs.


The work of Badjao Bridge continues because of the generosity of donors in the USA and the Philippines. Anyone interested in visiting the Badjao can do so during guided trips hosted by our director here and staff on site in the Philippines.

Grieving

By Ronnie Mosley, Humanitarian Photographer

A few weeks before I was to accompany Dan Johanson (Badjao Bridge Director) and the Badjao Bridge team to the Philippines, I received an email from Dan containing a heartbreaking story. Little Pina, a five year old Badjao girl, had slipped and fallen into the water during the night after leaving her father’s side where she slept. Little Pina always slept with her head on her father Abel’s chest. Abel felt responsible for her death as he failed to wake up when she lifted her head.

Dan informed me that Abel and his wife Paysa (mother of Pina) were in shock over the loss of Pina and needed someone to talk to who could better relate to the loss of a child. I wept as I read the email and saw the photo of little Pina. Not only did she have a beautiful smile but she was such a promising student in the Badjoa Bridge school. So much loss, so painful to think about, having for my own frame of reference our families indescribable loss only a year ago.

As I sat before Abel, Paysa and Abel Jr., in their little house on stilts over the water on  Panglau island in the Philippines, I wept with them as they told me of their loss. They described feelings that I could certainly relate to, and they asked me several questions. One of their questions was; will the pain go away, the pain that caused poor Paysa to climb to her roof and contemplate taking her own life, the pain that keeps Abel from going back to work. I told them that I wish I could tell them that the pain goes away, that time heals all things but that is simply not true. Instead I shared that in my experience,  and from the experience of those whom I have talked with at length, the pain does not stop. You learn to live with it. I call it starting a new life. 

 You learn to live this new life and you learn to accept this pain that cannot be “fixed” or made better. I let them know that they hurt so much because they loved little Pina so much, I encouraged them to work on associating the pain with love. You can’t have one without the other. To work towards letting that pain remind them of the intensity of the love they have for their precious daughter. The importance of realizing that it’s ok to hurt, it’s ok to feel really really bad. The pain is bad enough without the added anxiety of thinking you should work at fixing the pain. To shut out the pain is to also end the relationship with the one that you lost here on earth.Most importantly, I had the privilege to just listen to their stories about their little girl that they loved and continue to love so very much. To assure them that they are not alone in their pain, that I share their loss and their grief and that we walk this path together. In the early stages of grief, that is about all that one can process. It does not remove the pain but it makes it a little more manageable, sharing the load with another.I was blessed to offer them hope, to encourage them to focus on the things that little Pina loved and was passionate about; that by doing this, the relationship continues and her story lives on.

 To read Ronnie’s complete story of this trip, head over to his blog: Coastal Traveler.   

 

Partner Visit - Day 1

By Ronnie Mosley, Humanitarian Photographer

There is no preparation or reading, no stories that can prepare you for what you see here with the Badjao Sea Tribe.


The Badjao people have been occupying areas here in the Southeast Asia since 500AD, yet they are the most discriminated against, least protected of any people group here. They live in intricate networks of little shanties made from boards and rotting lumber with tin roofs, propped above the water on stilts and connected by a intricate maze of tattered boards. Walking is dangerous as many of the boards are rotting and have broken through. I made sure that each step I took involved my foot encompassing at least two boards since a single board could brake through easily, resulting in falling into a stench of trash filled water. Only last week a precious little 5 year old girl, Pina got up during the night, presumably to make her way to the bathroom and lost her footing and fell. The father pulled her lifeless body from the water the next morning. Life here is hard, unfair and very difficult here, yet there is an interesting beauty on there faces that tells a story that goes far beyond poverty.

Traveling with Badjao Bridge today, our team dentist, Suzanne, along with other team member Coleen. We partnered with a Badjao church, the Sama Bajao Christian Fellowship and Pastor Bogel  to perform much needed dentistry to many Badjao children. We were able to provide cleanings and molar sealants to several children before Suzanne's dental machine broke down. While it was disappointing that we could not help more children, we certainly made a good connection with this particular tribe before we hopped on a boat to travel to another tribe just 80 miles to the south. 

 

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