Lee Sinje’s World Vision Visit to Bohol, The Philippines

The child gazes at this stranger in front of her.

She has strands of blondish hair and a petite frame hidden under loose clothing.  Her tiny hands rest on her lap as she sits cross-legged on the floor.

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“I’m six,” says the child. When her parents and 7-year-old brother go to the dump site close to their home to collect garbage, she cooks and takes care of her four younger siblings.

She often feels hungry as she only gets two meals a day.

I hand the child some chocolate biscuits and she eats all of them immediately.

Tears swell in my eyes but I am determined to refrain from crying in front of her.

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I am reminded of my mother’s family who was also very poor.

My grandmother had to carry two big baskets of sarong to sell at a hilltop, and every trip would last an entire week before she returned.

My then 7-year-old auntie has to wake up early every morning to cook, wash and take care of her five siblings.

“If we were hungry at night, we would mix the burnt rice in the pot with sugar water and drink it,” said my mother.

Once, my mother nearly died because my grandmother simply could not afford to take her to the doctor.

But fuelled by her optimism and strong will, my grandmother single-handedly raised all her six children.

I can still remember the times when she took me to the temple to offer alms to the monks or visit poverty-stricken families living at the hilltop. Her selfless acts of love helped her to raise and protect her family.

She is the source of my compassion for the needy today. Through her, I learn how to love the people around me, and I have seen how a selfless act of love can light up one’s life and even the world.

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This is my fourth World Vision visit, and it’s a first for my husband. We are in Philippines, a country comprising more than 7,000 islands, with a population of over 90 million. Forty-one percent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning less than US$2 a day. This means that there are more than 40 million people who suffer from hunger every day.

The sun’s radiant ray shines through the crystal-clear sea water creating a breathtaking view of the sparkling coastline.

The leaves rustle as we take each step.

Finally, we arrive at an organic farm developed by World Vision in collaboration with the local community. We put a handful of earthworms into the organic fertilizer with our bare hands and join the farmers in harvesting at the organic rice fields with our sickles. The setting sun slowly lights up the youthful smiles on the farmers’ faces.

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We decide to spend the night at a villager’s house, showering with the cold water that was carried from far away, eating the chicken the family had raise in their backyard, and sleeping in beds covered by green mosquito nets. In the dark, I can see the moonlight streaming through the wooden plank walls.

The living condition of the villagers has greatly improved with the support from World Vision. No longer are they living without electricity and water; they have started growing organic plants to increase their income and, at the same time, protect the environment; some of their children are World Vision sponsored children and they enjoy going to school.

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I am overwhelmed by the kindness and passion of the villagers. Their homes may be simple and shabby, they may not be dressed in fine clothing, but they have the ability to impart the purest kind of love that touches the bottom of my heart.

On the other hand, our lives are built around concrete homes in dazzling cities and we are pampered by so much luxury. Yet, our hearts have grown distant from each other.

We own everything. We own the whole world. But the truth is, what do we really possess?

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It is the second last day of our trip. We are at a dump site located in a suburb on Bohol Island.

The smell of rubbish which has been accumulated over the last 20 years is utterly nauseating. A group of children are playing in an abandoned dump truck. This rubbish dump is the main source of income for the community here. The adults and children wait for the dump trucks to arrive every day. Once the rubbish is unloaded from the trucks, they will proceed to scavenge for things that they can sell.

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Afterwards, we visit a poor family who makes a living by scavenging rubbish.

We follow a trail in the bushes and arrive at a shabby wooden house. It is built out of branches and boards. There is only one room.

A one year-old boy is standing in front of the house with his feet soiled with faeces. His sister, who is only six years old, immediately takes him into the house and washes his feet as soon as she spots us approaching. The boy’s other brother and sister, aged 3 and 4, are sitting by the door. Their parents and their 7-year-old brother are at the dump site collecting rubbish. The 6-year-old sister is left to look after her three younger siblings.

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I walk up to the house and sit next to the older sister. I hand out some chocolate cookies to all of them; the older sister instantly gobbles up the cookies, then she crouches and stares at the cookies left in my hand. I give her the whole packet. She takes it and eats the cookies quietly.

The children are hungry. The girl tells me she cooks them food and takes care of them every day. They only get to eat twice a day and they get hungry very often. When the children speak, their faces don’t display any expression… there is no sadness, no joy, no anger – just a faint response.

Have you ever experienced hunger? One hour, two hours… Can you imagine what it feels like to be constantly hungry every single day?

Their bodies are so thin and small but what clear, beautiful eyes and pure hearts they have! They have the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen and they speak from their heart. They should grow up being surrounded by the light of love. But here, these children endure immense suffering and hunger. They have been robbed them of their childlike nature. Every day just seems hopeless.

My heart feels as though it is being pierced with a thousand needles. I try not to cry in front of them. I remember how I prayed for hope and miracles during those sleepless nights when I was a child, and now, I am once again reminded of my childhood fears and insecurities when I look at her; I promise to love this child with all my heart.

My grandmother, my mother and my daughter have nourished my life with their love. Children are all the same – they are little angels that need to be loved and protected. When I held the child, I felt strongly about how love can be extended to others. I now understand that much joy comes from giving.

You probably never knew that with a mere RM65 a month, you can change the future of these children. You probably never realised that your heart can be so close to a child who lives hundreds of miles away from you. You probably never discovered that you have the power within you to give hope to others.

Please join me in sponsoring a child through World Vision. Together, we can create a world filled with love and abundant life.

Written by Lee Sinje, World Vision Child Sponsor
May 3, 2010