Dave & Chelsea Frehulfer Iligan, Mindanao, Philippines
Mission Report: Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
Thank you all! First of all, we have a lot of thanks to offer. We appreciate your support, and are so blessed to have this kind of support for our mission. You are making dreams come true for the youth in our program—we can’t thank you enough! Since you will hear a lot about two foundations, Fidesco and Life Project 4 Youth, we will briefly explain the difference. Fidesco is our sending organization, and Life Project 4 Youth is our local partner. Fidesco has requests for volunteers from all over the world. Fidesco places volunteers in positions that match their skills and experience, and we have the choice to accept or deny our chosen mission. In our case, going to the Philippines was not our first choice (though we love our mission now), but we chose to accept that the Lord had different plans Presenting our program to the local community. for us. So here we are in the Philippines with Life Project 4 Youth, an organization that provides business and entrepreneurial training to youth ages 17-24 (sometimes older) in seven southeast Asia locations. While we are here, Fidesco continues to support us with a stipend, insurance, and any other needed support.
Welcome to the Philippines! We spent our first week in the Philippines training to prepare for our project centers. Manila greeted us with a typhoon. On our second night, we awoke to the sound of heavy rain and running water. Dave sat up to turn on the light, and found himself ankle deep in water, our bags floating around the room, and his computer amid a submarine dive! The rain kept us indoors for the first five days. Luckily, we had plenty of training to complete and sharing with other volunteers, and Dave’s computer to salvage. On the sixth day, we were able to emerge from the pedagogy cave, and venture out to a few of the project sites. One of the sites is located in Tondo, metro Manila, and accepts young mothers from the nearby slums. After meeting the young women, we did something I could not have prepared to do. We donned rubber galoshes, and headed into the local slums. Happyland, as it is called by the residents, is a mile-wide slum built on an old dump site (though, I personally witnessed the trash pile growing while we were there). It houses thousands of residents in scrap wood homes, peeling garlic for a few cents per day. We navigated through 3 foot high mounds of dirty diapers, old shoes, and plastic waste, and then followed a maze of narrow walkways to one of the homes. People stood by their doors, cautiously. At first, I was nervous. I felt so uncomfortable. I was scared they were judging the “rich, white Americans” walking through their lives, as if for entertainment. I was embarrassed…until I observed a frail, old woman gazing intently at us, standing in her doorway with a crooked back, sun-darkened skin, and wrinkly knees. The woman was leaning on her cane, and saw me—she started to cry. Apparently, the youth all got together last year to help rebuild her home after it collapsed. She was still so touched, so grateful, for the group, only a year later. And that is when I learned a big lesson. People aren’t ashamed of their situation—it is reality. People don’t judge you for entering their territory, or spending time with you. In fact, the people only look at you with wonder, for often it is the first time someone has taken the time to acknowledge their existence! They welcome your openness, your willingness to see their humanity, and your love. With the world, they are nothing, but with you, they can see love. It is so touching. We continued sloshing on… 1
Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
Arrival in Iligan Our long-awaited arrival in Iligan can most accurately be characterized by the expression, “drinking from a fire hose”. This analogy describes the challenge of taking over a project center, learning dozens of new names, finding our way around a new city, and learning enough sign language to function on our own all within one month! After one month of sharing responsibilities with the former volunteers, we needed to be fully capable and self-reliant. Thanks to the efforts of Aymeric and Colombe, the former volunteers in Iligan, and the welcoming people of Iligan, this transition process was successful and enjoyable! Welcome Celebration in the Hear Us! House.
Prior to our arrival in the Philippines, we
attempted to learn some basic sign language, but we certainly learned more that first day than the two months before leaving the United States. The deaf youth are so full of energy and eagerness to communicate, that learning from them was a great joy for both of us. Because of the visual nature of sign language, we immediately noticed the attentiveness of the youth during our discussions. The connection and amount of expression felt is unlike any other experience in our lives . Our first day in the Hear Us! House was celebrated with a day of introductions, orientation, and team-building activities to help the youth get to know us. The youth presented a slideshow that described the work and community life of the Hear Us! Program, and we focused on learning the names and history of each member of the program. This is no ordinary task, as each person in the center has a spoken-name and a sign-name . The day continued with many team-building games and the most cherished Filipino tradition: eating! It was a great way to begin our time in Iligan, and we will certainly remember it when our time comes to welcome new volunteers. The following weeks were filled with the details of transitioning responsibility for the project center, but of course, learning American Sign Language remained at the top of our list of things to do. We spent time with the Spiritan priests, our partners here in Iligan. We were also greeted by many community and business partners, and we made it our priority to visit the families of all the youth at our center. Family is an integral part of every sector of life in the Philippines, and Iligan City is no different. Families are often large, and people are quite connected in this “small” town of 300,000 people. Because one of our missions here is to help integrate excluded, deaf youth, it was absolutely essential to connect personally both with families and businesses. Before leaving, the former volunteers passed us a spreadsheet containing more than 370 contacts in Iligan!
Menchu, one of the youth in the Hear Us! Program.
Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
About the Hear Us! House In the Hear Us! Program, we have fourteen youth. The youth commit to 12-18 months of professional training focused on three core areas: Work, learn, and guide. Work is what keeps the organization going. We spend 2.5 days per week on an economic activity—in the Hear Us! Program, we specialize in encoding and data entry. We accept real clients (and are always looking for more…), which provides the youth with professional training and practice, and sets the life project center on a path to self-sufficiency. We spend 1.5 days covering learn topics; we have a mobile teacher come one day a week, and we spend a half day on another topic—keyboarding, sharing the news, working on improving English, or even improving signing vocabulary. The last day of the week is used for guidance topics—values training, building a resume, job searching, self-reflection, practicing interviews, nutrition, or other relevant topics. At the end of their time in the program, we help the youth find jobs that can support a family. We work together to build all the requirements, apply, and interview with their future employer. We then serve as a liaison to solve any issues in understanding tasks, ensuring professionalism, and accepting praise and criticism. After the youth have six months of successful working, they officially graduate from the program. Of course, many of them continue to visit the house to provide training for the new youth, promote the deaf community, and just enjoy the joyful spirit here.
Life with the deaf Many of the deaf were not able to attend school to learn how to sign until they were 10 or 11. Many others were able to attend part of elementary school, but had to stop due to lack of money to support school, or the need for a helper at home. Many families do not know how to sign, and the deaf communicate using only natural gestures. Some families do not acknowledge their youth because they are deaf. Many now look at their youth in disbelief as they learn to sign, understand commitment, and develop resilience for life’s challenges. The youth live together in the Hear Us! house. They learn to live and organize as a community—shopping, cooking, gardening, and sharing together. They hold life community meetings to ensure the house runs smoothly, and they divide up the house responsibilities to keep the house safe and beautiful. Even their evenings and weekends are spent together, often with the addition of other deaf visitors from around the community. It is an open house for all deaf to come to play basketball or board games, enjoy movies, or just share with the other deaf.
Dave discussing kitchen improvements with the youth.
This month, we are focusing on controlling emotions and expressing feelings. As we welcome five new deaf into the program, we will to emphasize the importance of written communication to all. We are working on long-term goal setting, and learning to face problems encountered in the workplace. We hope to place two youth in jobs before Christmas: Menchu and Jay-Ar. Menchu is a 29 year old who suffered from polio as a child. She stopped her education at grade 4. She continued to volunteer, teaching young children basic sign language. Her dream for the future is to become a baker. In November, she starts a month-long training opportunity in a local bakery. She will learn baking skills to help her find a job near her family. Jay-Ar is 23 years old. He graduated elementary school. He loves to play basketball in his free time, but his professional dream is to work at Jollibee (more popular than McDonald’s in the Philippines!). 3
Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
Joys of the Hear Us! House One of the most amazing parts of living in a deaf community is walking into a silent room and feeling startled by the amount of energy of a dozen youth signing, sharing their expressive language with one another. I can recognize their voices in the evening. Sitting in our kitchen, we can hear them voicing, hear their emotions. Sometimes they are very shy. Many of the youth became deaf due to illness and medical overdoses as a child. Some of them still remember what it was like to hear, and they can use their voice to express sounds they recall. Personally, I have to remember the youth are not mute. They can voice, but sometimes are shy of what others will think. They cannot speak words, because they have not heard how words should sound. They are bright
Sharing a home-cooked meal with the youth.
and clever individuals with so much to share. It just takes a while to learn to listen. I have learned to set aside a little bit of time each day to enjoy conversation with the youth. Since I am still learning, a conversation is probably twice as long as normal...but worth every minute.
Experiencing Deaf One of the first challenges we accepting in Iligan came at the recommendation of a local volunteer. “You should pretend to be deaf for a few hours—it will change your perspective.” I didn’t think so—I’ve put on headphones and avoided the world for hours at a time before. I have ignored my favorite people, and I have played all those team-building games. So off I went, ASL dictionary in hand and blue earplugs hanging out of my ears. Hour 1: I already know the plan for the day and the youth are in training, so this is not so difficult. Hour 3: I write on the board, pull out my notebook whenever I want to communicate. Hour 5: I try to explain to Dave about lunch. We get confused, but end up with a staple meal: fish soup and rice lunch. Hour 7: I have to go to the market. I don’t say a word, but I don’t try to sign. I don’t want people to think I am angry, so I smile and whisper “salamat” (thanks). Hour 9: Ugh, writing takes so long, and the youth sign so fast. Maybe I need to choose my words more carefully. Hour 11: I want to tell Dave about my day…I try. Dave gets frustrated because I am making up the signs I do not know. I keep half-literate ninja signing, but Dave stops listening with his eyes, and begins to read the news. Hour 13: Seriously, I am getting lonely and angry. I have so much to say. I start putting things off until tomorrow, when I know I will have a voice…and two good ears. I give up and go to sleep. Thoughts: In only one day, I learned how easy it is to be ignored—how many side conversations people have even when they know how to sign; it is tempting to get lazy and stop signing when we are just discussing. However, this is how youth miss out on many parts of social development. I also learned how differently people respond, and how easy it is to get frustrated. I wanted to keep talking and force myself through the signs, but Dave wanted to shut down. Many of the deaf are this way— very talkative and willing to express, or very hesitant because of the difficulty in problem solving. –C 4
Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
Encoding activity An important aspect of our mission is the centerâ€™s economic activity, encoding. Essentially, we operate a small computer encoding business with the deaf youth in order to help our partner fund the project. Though our project center is not self-sustaining, the revenue from the business provides the means to pay many of the bills and a small allowance to the youth. This is important because it provides a way for the youth to build savings for the future and provides experience living a professional life. Currently, we have one client in France for whom we provide data entry services. The deaf community is uniquely suited to this type of work because their disability prevents employers from hiring them for jobs that require significant interaction with customers or clients. Working on an encoding order for a client. We receive orders every month, and the youth duplicate each order to ensure accuracy. As the coaches, we are responsible for client interaction, assigning youth to each task, and doing the final quality check. It is a significant amount of work and the youth are very motivated to improve their speed and accuracy.
Jail Program In March of 2013, the project center in Iligan began a new initiative at the Iligan City Jail to provide guidance and training to incarcerated youth. It is common here for youth to share the same detention facilities as adults, so part of our purpose is to give them dedicated time for intellectual and practical development. Because of the obvious restraints working in the jail, we must operate an abbreviated version of our program. Unlike the Hear Us! Program, the jail program is only two mornings per week and has no economic activity. In partnership with another youth jail program in Lapu Lapu, Philippines, we are now beginning a jewelry making business based upon traditional Filipino designs. We await our first jewelry designs in order to receive formal training from a jewelry distributor from Cebu City. The youth are eager to begin this venture, and we are excited to elevate the jail program to the next level.
Youth Spotlight A young man from the jail program, Jicuy (pronounced Jee-koy), was released in July of 2013 and immediately began daily visits with the volunteers at the Hear Us! House. His case was dismissed and he was eager to start life againâ€”this time with a clear focus on earning his high school diploma. After qualifying for the Philippines Alternative Learning Systems (ALS) National Exam, he studied for three months at the Hear Us! House before taking the October exam. Jicuy excelled on the exam and he immediately returned to the house where we helped him prepare for his job search. After one week of preparing paperwork and looking for openings, Jicuy received an offer at a lechon manok (rotisserie chicken) restaurant with a starting salary of 150 Pesos or $3.50 per day. This does not sound like much, but it is more than the averJicuy with his sister and nephew. age salary. It is hard to describe the transformation that Jicuy underwent before our eyes upon the realization that he had succeeded to find his first job. On average, it costs 1200 Pesos just to apply to a job in Iligan, and many youth like Jicuy have no way to save that amount. It was massively rewarding for us to give him a chance to earn, save, and take that first step! 5
Together, We Can!
Issue 1, November 2013
About Iligan Like most cities around the world, Iligan has many faces. It has its commercial face, with everything from women selling fish from a cart along the road, to a 3-story mall in the heart of the city! Businessmen conduct their routine board meetings in high-rise offices, while members of the beggar class go car to car, jeepney to jeepney, bicycle to bicycle, asking for food and money. On a trip across town, it is easy to find a beautiful 2-story house with a raised bamboo hut next-door . Here, imbalanced distribution of wealth does not mean a large welfare class. It is manifest in the large poverty-stricken class of people that find some small niche to stay alive. This concept repeatedly struck us upon our arrival and continues to resonate in our daily lives. We’ve also gotten to experience a few colorful examples of the local culture: Every September, Iligan hosts a month-long celebration called Diyandi, uniting the "Dumagats" (now Christians), the Maranaos (Muslims), and the Higaonons (lumads or natives), and commemorates the successful battle of St. Michael against the devil. The costumes for the street dancing was amazing, and the dancing itself was enchanting. Even the youth took part in a dance competition. The whole community comes out to enjoy community, prayer, and, as with every great Filipino celebration, good food. We tried spicy raw fish—kinilaw, sisig—a mix of pig face and intestines, and Iligan’s famous crispy lechon—roasted pig. There are parades put on by every organization, and costumes galore. You know that makes me shout, “Viva Senor San Miguel!” Iligan Street Dancing
Dave’s birthday was in October. We wanted a cheap activity where the youth could accompany us. We decided to hike Mt. Agad-Agad. It is a famous mountain near Iligan, known for great views. We hiked upward, past dusty children playing with rubber tires in small rural areas, darkened men tending to family farms, grazing caribao, and women doing laundry in tranquil waterfalls. We spent some time overcoming fears, grabbing on trees to get up steep sections, and laughing during “jump shots” at the top. The cake we carried up made for a great snack, and you can’t complain about a tropical ocean view for a backdrop! Iligan celebrated All Saints Day on November 1st—it is a national holiday! I parked the motorbike 400 meters away, and gave an attendant 10 pesos to watch it. The street was lined small vendors selling candles and flowers, bakery rolls, and baggies of fruit salad. The cemetery was full of people. There were masses, one after another all day long. There were people repainting tombs, adding tiles, or just cleaning the cobwebs. There were families arriving with rosaries in hand, sitting silently or singing softly by the tomb of their loved ones. There were large groups picnicking with plates full of rice and pork, their large umbrellas protecting them form the hot sun. I sat silently for a moment, enjoying the sight and adding my own prayers while the sweat dripped down my face in heat. It was surprisingly peaceful, and I was happy for one more Iligan experience. We attend the Spiritan Church down the street, which happens to be a tight-knit ChineseFilipino church. We joined the church choir, and really enjoy praise with them. One of the deaf advocates in the town interprets mass for the deaf every Sunday morning, so we can share in faith with many of the youth, as well! Chelsea preparing the inmates to welcome the deaf.
Until next time... Thank you again for your support. This could not be happening without you. We welcome suggestions, comments, and prayers. In keeping with the LP4Y motto, “I can’t, but together we can!” Feel free to email us at email@example.com—we would love to hear from you! 6