Coline Clement unveils the heart of volunteering

I used to think of the Philippines as a land of mysteries, and after spending eleven months in this beautiful archipelago, I still think of it that way — beautiful, magnificent, mysterious. I have loved every single moment I spent in this country, discovering its curiosities, uncovering its secrets, one day at a time.

I will never forget the excitement I felt when I started learning Tagalog and all the jabbering that comes with it. The taste of all the exotic and interesting dishes that I’ve tried will forever linger in my taste buds. And, of course, the joy I felt as I got to know the hospitable and generous Filipinos will never cease to make me smile as I reminisce about my short, but meaningful stay.

But perhaps, it is not the food, the language, or the citizens that made my stay unforgettable. Obviously, it is my eye-opening stay at the Virlanie Foundation that deserves the title as the highlight, the climax, or the icing on the cake of my time here in the Philippines. The experience is especially outstanding because of the links that I was able to create, and the time I spent with the child beneficiaries of the Foundation.

Though it was one of the best experiences I’ve had, I did not emerge unscathed from this involvement. After all, volunteering has its share of joys and sorrows. To be very honest, it is not easy to work for street children. It’s not because of the work load, but because of the pain of the realization that no matter how hard we work, we cannot help everyone. For my part, I grasped little by little the extremely appalling living conditions of some of the children. Inequalities become more tangible, more outrageous and intolerable when you get attached.

As a volunteer, I had the privilege to enjoy all the good things about the relationship with the children — playing with them, giving them attention and affection, and feeling the magic that comes with spending so much time in the children’s environment. The children’s energy is contagious and I could feel their smiles and laughter passing on to us. But as the end of my stay in the Foundation has come, the sadness that goes with the need to let these smiles, the laughter, and these children go is starting to dawn on me.

In order to keep myself from not wanting to leave, I just keep in mind a wonderful gallery of portraits of the children who left a mark in my life during my time as a volunteer. I cannot name them all, but I often think about Boy, a child with down syndrome at the Reception and Action Center (RAC), who showed us that he is the best dancer in the world; Tom-Tom, often called Butiki (lizard), who lives in the slum in front of my house and looks like a pretty lizard when he laughs; the sweet Daniel, who dreams of becoming a professional football player; the very applied Aicel, who was reunified with her dad; Joseph the trickster, who I met at the RAC and backcrossed several times with emotion in the streets; the very talented Wally, who was adopted at the age of 14 by a couple from the United States; the mischievous Mak-mak, who gave me the sweetest compliment ever by saying bulaklak (flower) while pointing at my eyes; the beautiful Joanna, who told me that she wanted to become a pilot; and finally, Angelo, who is from the RAC and have been waiting for three years just to get a spot in the Foundation. This list may not mean anything to you, but for me, these are precious, suspended moments. These are the memories that will forever be stored and frozen in my mind, just like how time stops whenever I listen to Lorelei sing, or when I capture the moment when the children jumped in the river of Biak naBato during summer camp.

Apart from the memories I got from the Virlanie children, I will also keep the things I learned from the staff and volunteers in the Foundation. I am impressed by the commitment and tenacity of the people who form the pillars of Virlanie. The volunteers and the staff alike have devoted their lives not only to bring back the smiles on the children’s faces, but also to keep those smiles plastered on the children’s faces forever. Ate Let-Let, for the past five years, has been exposing the children to arts and crafts. Ate Jeena, on the other hand, provides tutorial sessions to children at the Magellan Learning Center every morning, even though she has a full-time job in a different institution. KuyaArnel teaches Tagalog to foreign volunteers, and Kuya Lolo struggles to educate and entertain the children. I am happy to know that the Foundation can attract people like these volunteers who are willing to share their talents have the enthusiasm to change the lives of the children.

I also commend the foreign volunteers who come regularly to brighten the days of the children in the RAC. These volunteers do these things every day even if the conditions are harsh and they get to interact with the misery of the world on a daily basis. Praise should also be given to the staff of Virlanie, who performs admirable job, whether they are in the head office, in the homes, or in the programs of the Foundation. These people are always ready to share their time and energy for the sake of the children.

Working as part of Virlanie’s Communication Team, making the Virlanie programs and homes visible, and sharing the stories of the children to many people is an honor for me. It was not a job but a pleasurable task, which I am willing to do again should I be given a chance. I learned a lot from seeing the development of the projects following the devastation brought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). I am happy to be a part of the team, who helped these victims get back on their feet.

I want to express my sincerest gratitude to all who have welcomed me and made this experience an unforgettable adventure. I also want to give a special shout out to Masaya Home for adopting me for two months during my immersion and for feeding me every lunch time for eleven months, always with an unfailing mood and boundless affection.