A Thousand Smiles - The Sale to Siargao Trip
Just thought I'd pop a quick blog post up to let you know about the recent trip made by a bunch of Gippslanders to the ATS Orphanage in Siargao Island, Philippines. Below is the article that appeared as a feature in the Gippsland Times Newspaper.
Surrounded by lush jungle on the remote island of Siargao, Philippines, is A Thousand Smiles orphanage. The facilities might be basic, but the centre lives up to its name. Sounds of laughter and singing can be heard echoing through the centre from the 28 children who call it home.
Earlier this month, the children of A Thousand Smiles welcomed a team of 10 Gippslanders to the orphanage during a 10-day missions trip. The initial reserve from the children quickly gave way to new friendships as they excitedly welcomed the foreigners.
Among the visitors was Sale City Church assistant pastor, and Gippsland Times advertising manager Julian McIvor, who said he was overwhelmed by the happiness and positivity at the orphanage.
“It’s a very uplifting place, you don’t walk in there and feel sad,” he said.
“The kids are so positive that you don’t find yourself thinking about their past and what they had gone through, although at some point in the trip you did. You just see beautiful, happy kids.”
Solely supported by local churches, the orphanage has for the last five years offered a home and a hope to the underprivileged children of Siargao. It was established under the vision of Traralgon pastors Tom and Maravic Scott with the help of Sale City Church. The orphanage has won the support of the Filipino government and local Siargao people to help rescue more children.
This month was the first time a team of that size had visited A Thousand Smiles, and Ps Tom and Sale City Church pastor Brian Heath agree it won’t be the last. The churches are planning to continue partnering with the community to send teams to the orphanage twice a year, with the next trip scheduled for November.
Ps Brian said the aim of the local team was to make a lasting impact that would continue long after they had returned home.
“We came to serve, support and empower the children and staff at A Thousand Smiles, and their local community,” he said.“We do not want to parachute in and out. We are coming alongside them and helping them build for the future.
“I believe not only Sale City Church but the whole Gippsland community will have a long-term commitment to this orphanage, the lives of these children and this region of the Philippines.”
Among the team were people with expertise in the areas of health, education, construction and leadership training. Their trek to the remote location involved a one-hour flight from the capital Manila to Butuan City, a three-hour van ride and three-hour ferry trip.
One of the first things the crew did after arriving was roll up their sleeves and paint the concrete walls of multi-purpose room. The paint job was quick and the 28 pairs of hands assisting was a challenge, but the children’s reaction was priceless.
“We thought the paint job was average, but the kids called it their palace once it was finished,” Sale’s Yolanda Marchant said. “It was overwhelming to see how something as simple as a coat of paint could have such a big impact.”
Over the next few days the children were treated to dinner at a local restaurant, a visit to the beach, ice creams and plenty of games and sport. In the meantime the local group was touched by their respect, generosity with what little they had and the sincerity and passion of their faith.
Yolanda, a local nurse, along with Sale paramedic Nicole Blackwell conducted health checks, training and education, and provided basic medications and a thorough first aid kit.
Jenny Dowsett, principal of Elizabeth Street Primary School in Moe, focussed on the psychological health of the children through the Kimochi Emotional Learning program, which uses soft toy characters to help children identify and talk about their feelings.
Ms Dowsett said she hopes to create a library at the orphanage in future visits.
“A major highlight for me was seeing the appreciation and interest from the children when sharing picture story books, which were donated by the staff at Elizabeth Street Primary School in Moe,” Ms Dowsett said. “They were especially fascinated with the story Wombat Stew. I saw no other books at ATS and I think a future project could be to create a library with books and literacy games.”
The team travelled a further three hours to remote San Rafael, where 12 orphans sleep on the pews and concrete floor of the local church.
It was a stark reminder of the great need for a second orphanage.
Ps Tom took the team to a 4.9 hectare block which he hopes will become the site of the second A Thousand Smiles home. Almost $30,000 is needed to purchase the land and another $25,000 for construction of the centre, but the opportunities are endless.
“We could run rice paddies, pineapples, coconuts, pigs and chickens,” Ps Tom said. “With 30 chooks, each child could get an egg a day. We would begin with 25 to 30 children at the home, and when we get things right like we have in Siargao, we can take more.”
The team was confronted with the tragic but all too common situations that led to children becoming orphans. Many are abandoned by their parents following family breakdown or if they have a disability. Parental death and poverty are also large contributors.
“We didn’t hear their stories, but we knew some of their background before we went,” Yolanda said. “I didn’t know what to expect until I got there. I thought I would feel so sorry for these kids, but even though they have come from a horrific past they are the happiest people.”
Ps Tom is proud that the children of A Thousand Smiles want a hand up rather than a hand out. Most are focussed on getting an education and a secure job that will help them support their family and friends and give back to their communities.
“The change in them is so dramatic,” Tom said. “They come in starving and underfed with all sorts of problems, and you just see them grow and mature physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“They are generous and want to grow up to succeed so they can help others.”
Another team will head to the Philippines in November, with more in January and June next year.
“If you come you won’t just be giving them your skills and expertise,” Yolanda said. “You will be digging deep, connecting with the people and giving them something of yourself. Don’t think you’re going to change someone else’s world - your world will change too.
“We can have a limited impact when we go over for 10 days, but if we partner together with them and commit to the future we can impact the whole community, not just the orphanage.”