Posted Feb 29, 2008
I suppose it was just another of those bizarre snapshot moments that have marked our progress through the Philippines in the past three weeks or so. There we were slithering down a steep, deep-rutted, muddy track through the banana and palm tree forest in a pick-up truck with a Filipino priest, all of us singing along to a Beatles CD!
The day had started with farewells to our friends in Cebu and the short flight to Mindanao. There we were met by another friend, the young priest we had met a year previously in the UK. A tight schedule had been arranged for us so our exchange of greetings had to be squeezed in with a rough briefing on our way in the truck to our first appointment.
For most of this trip we have not known exactly what to expect at any of our visits and today’s was no exception. The City Government-controlled centre for minors was located in the grounds of the local hospital. We were ushered through rough barbed-wire gates into a bare earth compound, maybe the size of a football pitch, surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. Along one side there was a low concrete building with small, barred, unglazed windows. In the far corner, under a makeshift roof but otherwise open, was a tap on a stand-pipe and a smoke-blackened pot on a small wood fire on which we guessed they were cooking lunch.
Inside the building were three bare concrete rooms, each equally dark and depressing and in one were a couple of beds – far too few for the number of boys who appeared to be detained here. In another room two or three boys were sitting on the concrete floor watching a TV.
At the far end of the compound, in a ramshackle collection of huts, sat two elderly people. We learned that they had been taken from where they were living on the streets of the city and placed here. We thought that there situation here, apart from being inappropriate, was probably no better than they had left behind.
In another building to our horror we found a young girl, sitting on the bare concrete floor of a tiny cell, measuring perhaps 3’x6’ and containing absolutely nothing. The barred door at the other end of the cell was open but the girl sat staring blankly out through the wall of bars where we stood. She gave a weak smile but could make very little response when we spoke to her. On enquiry we learned that she was 17, mentally ill (“crazy”, they said) and pregnant. She was placed here by social workers who apparently had nowhere else to put her.
We found it hard to comprehend the poverty of resources which had resulted in the chaotic and seemingly random use of this already woefully inadequate facility.
We determined that there were 27 boys, that the youngest two were just 9 years old and most were under 18 although one was 24. We were told that his case was still on-going from when he was 13 and he had therefore been detained for 11 years! All who are under 15 are being detained in blatant disregard of the law.
Our interview with one member of staff did nothing to alter this dismal and depressing picture. We learned that he had been dismissed because he refused to go along with the corrupt practices in the engineering department and that his placement at this centre was a punishment. He had received no training other than a day seminar and was totally unprepared to work in this setting. It was painfully obvious that the sole object was that of containment.
There is soon to be a new building on another site to replace this one and the staff suggested that this would make things better. As long as the present ethos and lack of commitment to bring about change continue it is hard to see that the move will make the slightest difference.
A day in the life of...
Posted Feb 6, 2008
It's been a while sine I entered anything in the journal – over a year in fact! So... here goes with a little taster from the Philippines.
Visit to Castellejos Tuesday 5th Feb 2008
Today was one of those days that, when you’re new to life in the developing world, leave you wondering where you could possibly have gone wrong. With a little experience – and believe me, you do learn quickly – you are able to accept it for what it is: normal!
The day started yesterday, if you see what I mean. Yesterday we had it all planned. Yes, that’s it. That’s where we got it wrong. We arranged to visit the new CFC Boys Programme centre in Castellejos, reportedly about 25 minutes drive from Olongapo. Travelling in one of the project mini-buses we were to pick up some lunch for delivery to the children and leave Olongapo at 11 o’clock in the morning. That would give us time to take a look around the new centre, interview a member of the staff there, talk with some of the boys and be home in time for tea, so to speak.
This morning our guide for the day told us that the trip would start just before 12 o’clock so we should go and ask in the kitchen if we could have an early lunch as there would not be an opportunity to eat once we got under way. She would not hear of us missing out on lunch so we dutifully asked in the kitchen for lunch at 11.30 and the cook happily agreed to the change of plan.
As we were about to leave our room to go for our lunch there was a knock at the door. It was our guide telling us that they were leaving immediately so we needed to be ready. OK, Plan C. Someone agreed to go and ask if we could have a snack to take with us instead of eating lunch at 11.30 and we gathered what we needed for the trip and made our way down to the driveway and the waiting mini-bus.
Well, the mini-bus had been waiting and had even been loaded with the children’s food that I mentioned. So far, so good. However, for some reason that we couldn’t quite follow, involving the driver being tired and being the only driver available, it had been decided that the mini-bus would not do. We must take the jeepney.
I should explain here that a jeepney is a uniquely Philippino mode of transport. It resembles a vintage US military jeep on steroids. Whilst no two are alike, they have in common a jeep front-end followed up by a stretched rear passenger compartment with a bench running the length of each side, the whole being covered by a roof so low that even the shortest must bend almost double to climb on board through the open rear end. The public transport system relies heavily on the jeepney which can be seen in great numbers at all times of the day and night, its strident engine drowning all but the noisiest truck and the horn sounding to clear the road, attract potential clients or indeed for no reason at all.
The project has its own private jeepney and, like the others, it is brightly coloured and festooned with chrome from radiator to tailpipe. With the food transferred from the mini-bus and several young passengers on board we took our place of honour in the cab with the driver – apparently now rejuvenated by this change of vehicle. As we were about to leave, an envoy arrived from the kitchen bearing a bag containing our snack, the full cooked lunch in pots and precariously held in a carrier bag! We placed the bag on the cab floor and with a crunch of gears and a growl from the motor we set off down the drive and onto the main road – in the opposite direction to Castellejos!
At the time it was hard for us to decide if this was Plan D or if in fact we had misunderstood all along and that ‘destination Castellejos’ had only been a fanciful notion of our own creation. On the principle that any progress was probably good, we waited to see what would happen next. The “Ahaa!” moment came as we pulled up outside a school and some of the young passengers alighted with some of the food which they took inside for the project’s children who attend there.
Deftly making use of a garage forecourt, the driver executed a u-turn in the busy main road and set off once more, this time in the direction of Castellejos, passing on the way the point from which we had set out half-an-hour before. We briefly entertained the foolish thought that maybe we could have eaten lunch and been picked up at the end of the driveway as the jeepney passed that way again? No, silly idea.
Any road journey in the Philippines evinces a mixture of emotions: mostly exhilaration with a dash of dread added as a flavour-enhancer. If the public jeepney is king of the road surely the project’s private one is, at the very least, a crown prince. A blast from the horn sends tricycles, hand-carts, pedestrians all scurrying respectfully to the side of the road as we pass on our way.
Our route today took us along the edge of Subic Bay, the road winding and dipping. Along the way we passed the entrances to numerous beach resorts. Once the proud indication of a hotel that occupied a carefully guarded stretch of beach but now showing signs of decay and dilapidation, they will still happily charge 100 pesos for a day-entry ticket.
After some distance on more open roads we then came to the community of Subic where the driver took a right turn off the main road into the back streets of the town. This, we then found out, was to deliver the last of the lunch food and some more passengers at the local school. Another U-turn and we returned to the main road and turned towards our final destination: Castellejos.
As we continued northwards the scenery began to change, the town streets giving way to open fields and in the distance the mountains. We saw small farmsteads, occasionally with one or two oxen in the fields. Quite suddenly we drove into Castellejos, a small town with a busy, bustling market and filled with tricycles, jeepneys, motorcycles and pedestrians all going about their business. The project’s new centre is located out of town so we drove for a further few kilometres once again emerging into open country as we travelled first on the main highway then turning onto an unmade road and finally leaving the road altogether to approach the centre over a rough dirt track between the fields. In all the journey had taken some one and a half hours!
The centre occupies a plot of level land about 2 hectares in area with a large, new concrete building still in the process of construction and a couple of small, wooden huts. We soon learned that the main building is to provide the accommodation for the residents of the centre. At the moment it consists of one very large space, completely open on one side, three smaller rooms leading off of that and a kitchen approached from the other side of the building. A hired contractor was painting the outside of the end wall and another was laying a floor screed in one of the smaller rooms. A further worker, in the shade of a tree, was sifting the stones out of the sand and cement mix in order to mix cement for the floor.
It was clear that the large open room, like a good-sized barn, was being used as sleeping accommodation for the boys who have already moved out to the unit from Olongapo. It also serves as a living area with a newly-acquired TV and at one end as parking space for the centre’s vehicles. On the land three men were marking out long beds ready for the boys to receive instruction in clearing the plots and planting vegetables. It was lunch-time when we arrived and most of the boys were eating in the shade at the rear of the building. We joined them with our ‘take-away’ and did battle with the flies that were intent on eating as much of our meal as we did!
Our intention was to interview one of the members of staff and then to talk with a few of the boys. I suppose 1 out of 2 is not a bad score. The boys were due to watch a film in the afternoon and it seemed churlish to deprive them of that pleasure so we contented ourselves with the staff interview and a chat with one of the land-workers.
The jeepney, being needed elsewhere, had departed some time earlier and we had agreed to take public transport from Castellejos town to return to Olongapo. To reach the town we accepted a ride in the centre’s tricycle, more recognisable to western eyes as a motorbike and sidecar. The driver and another passenger rode on the bike while Marion and I squeezed into the diminutive sidecar. I took heart from the seemingly robust welded construction of this part of the vehicle. The sidecars all seem to be of similar construction and I had seen the startling splash of the arc-welder’s fire-fountain in rough workshops and right alongside the road where they are put together.
After a little shopping in the market we boarded a jeepney bound for ‘home’ and passed a pleasant trip admiring the scenery and breathing the diesel fumes through the open back of the vehicle. The journey was uneventful by our normal standards being only slightly spoiled by over-shooting our stop back at Olongapo.
And the 25 minute drive? Well it’s a relative rather than an absolute measure, not to be taken too literally. A man might expect to embark on a 25 minute drive, there and back, in a morning – though he probably wouldn’t since some distraction would be sure to tempt him from his plan. Ah, there I go again. Using the “p” word. Have I learned nothing?
Posted Jan 3, 2007
Well it's been an interesting day!
This morning I spent doing a stock-take of the book shop.
This afternoon was passed taking a group of Japanese education/development workers on a tour of the study centre and giving them a talk on the origins and philosopy of Quakerism! It's a varied life isn't it?
Posted Jan 1, 2007
Well, here we are – 2007 and, guess what, it's raining! Still it could be much worse and now we've the spring to look forward to etc, etc.
I found myself thinking at breakfast about Mornington Croissant, but I see that I've been well and truly beaten to that one – "PEET" 2002 in "Mornington Salad". Ah well, back to the drawing board.
Here's to a good year of Crescenting, all the best to one and all! And above all...
Posted Dec 29, 2006
Not much time left for journal entries with a 2006 date!
I just spent some time wandering around the wonderful world of MC out there, courtesey of Google. There's some pretty wild stuff going on but I think this site takes some beating for dedicated gameplay. Long live Glummers, Nidders and players of Japanese variant I say.
Happy new year to one and all!