We woke up at 6 in the morning to go to the village of Ilog, Infanta. It is located on the island of Luzon, which is the same island as Manila but on the East coast. To get there we had to go over two mountain ranges. There are so many squatters who have built houses along the roadside that we had to drive very slowly. It was a 4 hour trip one way.
In November/December 2004 when four Typhoons hit the area it looked a lot different. Much of the vegetation was gone because of mudslides and all the logging, both legal and illegal, the trees and mud ran down the mountains devastated the plains and stopped at the Philippine Sea. It was a true catastrophe. Now it looks totally different, all green and lush. There is no indication of the big disaster. We were there just a few days after the tragedy and I will never forget how it looked and how many people who suffered. Over 100,000 homes were lost and at least 5,000 people died. This disaster lead to Star of Hope building over 300 houses and delivering emergency aid such as food, water, blankets etc. to thousands of families. Ine hundred and twenty five (125) houses were built in Ilog village and we had the pleasure to have the Swedish Ambassador at that time, Annika Markovik, to inaugurate the “village”. Today we also have a school in the same location as the row houses for first to fifth grade (next year there will also be a sixth grade). Those school children were the reason for our visit.
When we arrived, we were met by the students and teachers. Every time I visit a Star of Hope school it is the happiness and curiosity of the children that excites me the most. When the children come up to me and asks questions it makes me happy. The strangest question I think I have ever gotten is “How do you bury your dead when your ground is frozen?” after explaining snow and cold weather. I actually did not know the answer so I had to look it up. For you curious people it is a special machine which heats the ground.
As is very common in the Philippines the children were dancing and singing for us. Song and music is a big part of the Filipino life and it impresses me so much when I see the children, especially the boys, (my boys would have to be threatened to sing and dance in front of an audience) sing loud and proud.
There are still needs at the school but most of them are simple things like basketballs, volley balls, chess boards and scrabble boards. We also have to put up a wall/fence. Not as big as the one in Argentina but still a good size. There must be a wall there so that squatters do not enter and assume ownership of the land, thieves do not enter and destroy property and steal equipment and so that animals don’t enter and eat the newly planted mango and other trees.
I also walked around the row houses. You could tell there was some wear and tear but everyone we met was happy with the opportunity to live in their own home. While walking around I saw a Sari Sari store, a small general store where you can buy most everything you would need from shampoo to food items.
The lady running the store Marife Ly said it does really well. On a good day she sold between 500-600 pesos (14 dollars ) worth of merchandise. Her biggest seller was biscuits, detergent bars and soap. A detergent bar cost 6 pesos (15 cent) and is used for hand washing clothes. She worked long hours from 5 am to 8 pm and was telling me how happy she was her two children John Marc and Maria was able to go to the Star of Hope School. “It means I can let them walk there themselves and I don’t need to spend money on transportation to the public school so far away.”
The teachers at the Star of Hope Christian School in Ilog were very proud to show the pictures from a volleyball tournament in which the children had participated. It was a regional tournament for 26 elementary schools. Eight teams from the area played in this event. The tournament took place at the Infanta town plaza about 20 minutes away from the school on the 21 of March. The boys from Star of Hope Christian School won 2nd place and everyone was extremely proud. They received medals, a diploma and a really nice trophy. Next year they will expand and also include girls. To continue preparing for next year’s tournament they are in need of new volleyball nets and volleyballs.
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