by Gemma Balein
"Launch us on the adventure of building bridges... Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor." When I heard these words of Pope Francis during the 32nd World Youth Day in Poland, I immediately thought of the many who are still recovering from the losses during Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.
IRAYA is a leadership center for students In Manila. For more than three decades, it has organized outreach trips to different parts of the Philippines. During the Year of Mercy, it finished its 2-year rebuilding program in La Paz, Leyte after Typhoon Yolanda. Iraya Study Center remains committed to helping the poor especially now that Pope Francis has urged the youth to move beyond their comfort zones and to be ready to embrace everyone...the homeless, the hungry, the refugees, etc.
On April 17, a group of university and high school students flew to Dulag, Leyte to do a one-week volunteer work in Nuestra Senora de Refugio Parochial School, Inc. NSRPSI serves the children of low income earning families of the parish and neighboring towns, In the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the school was damaged and has lost many facilities. It is still in the process of building back better and making its structures resilient to typhoons. Its students have poor performance in school due to lack of adequate facilities, lack of discipline and lack of proper attention from teachers and parents.
As soon as we reached Dulag, we began preparing for the work ahead. Our usual day was made up of teaching values and study habits in the morning and afternoon to different sets of pupils. On our first day, we were obviously nervous about how the teachers and students of NSRPSI would welcome us. After the first hour, all fears disappeared when we saw the warm giggles and welcoming atmosphere in each classroom. After classes, we would oversee and help in the renovation of the school library and principal's office.
One of the best parts of the outreach was witnessing the beautiful transformation of the school library. For sure, the pupils would like to hang out in this place. Another highlight was feeling the appreciativeness of the pupils. We were amazed at how they retained, by memory, the ideas we shared with them.
The walks along the seaside, catching the waves at Sabang Surf Camp and the solace of the beautiful parish church are just a few of our wonderful moments in Dulag. What made this outreach really meaningful are the people, strangers before, who welcomed us into their school, homes and lives.
Just a few days after coming back from Dulag, I received a message from Dianne, "The outreach was so fun and I really enjoyed it. It helped me to improve and to overcome some of my fears. It was a tiring week but worth it. The kids were so adorable. As we left Dulag, I didn't want to say goodbye yet. Perhaps it is because a gap was bridged; in this outreach I built new friendships with my co-volunteers and the people of Dulag."