As Bryan mentioned, we experienced enormous differences between the regions we visited in the Philippines. The Manila and Baguio visits both took place on Luzon, the most populated island in the country. The Manila area is pushing 13 million people (a place where you and your car will never be lonely) and Baguio’s population is 319,000. Our guide kept referring to the Mindanao leg of the trip as “the provincial area,” which is incidentally where he grew up. He spoke of his boyhood home with a lot of fondness and nostalgia (and a few funny/naughty stories thrown in), but he doesn’t live there anymore. He lives in another major metro area, where there are jobs.
Our hotel was in Ozamis City, pop. 142,000, and Kurt lives in Oroquieta, a town of about 70,000. Being separated from the capital city by not only size but distance and water means that much less money has been spent in the provincial areas over the years. Mindanao has also had various problems with violence over the years, which tends to dampen tourist enthusiasm and infrastructure development.
We thought long and hard about whether to travel to an area that multiple countries’ state departments advised us strongly not to. We had the option of flying Kurt and one or two accompanying adults to Manila. But we knew it wouldn’t be anything near the same as going to his home. I’m happy we made the decision to arrange all the precautions and went.
It all felt like much ado about nothing while we were there. We weren’t in the area where the terrorist activity and kidnappings have happened, and a few hundred miles makes a big difference in the provincial areas. But there was one moment…one man in our hotel lobby who stared at us with an intense, hostile gaze for quite some time…and in that moment I was happy we had our entourage hedged around us.
More about Kurt: I’ve sponsored Kurt through Compassion for 4 years, since he was 9. His first letter let me know that he lived with his grandparents. His parents either couldn’t take care of him or didn’t want to. Of the many children I sponsor, he is hands down the best artist. He likes basketball (the most popular boys’ sport in the Philippines, compared to soccer in Africa). He calls me ma’am Ginger in his letters, which I found out is a very common form of respectful address among adults and children alike. I was ma’am’ed about 1000 times on our trip. Maybe more.
I was pleasantly surprised and impressed that Kurt could speak English decently well. Of course we both spent a fair amount of time trying to think of something to say, trying to be at ease in a completely pressure-filled and unnatural situation, and doing what other people told us to do. Child visits are not easy, for the child or for (this) sponsor. It’s kind of like having the president drop in for a visit. Sounds fun, but what do you actually do together? Especially with all those extra people hanging around?
But we did OK. The project director told me Kurt has one of the best attitudes of all the boys at the center. He was loving and gentle with his younger siblings (one brother and one sister, as far as I know, around 4 and 5). He’s intelligent and faith-filled, curious and thoughtful in his letters and in person too. I have high hopes for him.
In the photos below you can get a sense of the barely contained chaos going on. I brought a photo album for each child, which everyone is eager to see. I thought it was nice of him to let Little Sister in on the action.
Yes, that is a lei made of real flowers that I’m wearing. Kurt made them for us.
And yes, Kurt did change shirts in the course of the day. The gray one is one of the gift items I brought. I think it will fit him for at least the next 10 minutes.
A few really good men: