I can honestly say that I never would have thought that I would be teaching kids to play Christmas songs in October...but as I found out during my first few days in the Philippines, the Christmas season actually starts in September so Jingle Bells it was!
The four weeks that I spent working with the kids at Mohon Elementary School was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had; everyone there from the children to the other teachers were amazingly warm and welcoming. They were so excited to be starting the ukulele project that the most disappointing part was I could only have 30 kids in the ensemble and not all of them. 30 ukuleles were donated by myself and some of my friends in the US, the delivery of which was organized by PAA and their partner organization in the Philippines, Volunteer for the Visayans; naturally they were in an assortment of colors and I had one little boy pick out a blue one and come up to me and say “I like this one... it is my destiny!” The ensemble currently has two songs that they are working on, Jingle Bells and Hey Soul Sister, now that I have left the ukulele kids are being taught by one of the other teachers at Mohon and are preparing for their Christmas program in December.
I will say one of the things that took some getting used to was the idea of “Filipino time”, basically don’t try to run things on too strict a schedule...it won’t work...the Filipino culture is much more relaxed and easy going about when things get done. While this was frustrating at the beginning, it does make you take a step back and learn to go with the flow...definitely a way different take on school schedules than what I was used to.
While in Tacloban I had the opportunity to experience a couple different local holidays, the first was the anniversary of General MacArthur’s landing in the Philippines at the end of WW2. The actual landing happened in Palo, the next town over from Tacloban, and there was an official ceremony with representatives from the US, UK, Australia and Japan. A couple other volunteers and myself even got to meet some members of the Philippine Army! On October 24 the barangay (Philippine version of a neighborhood) I was living in celebrated their fiesta. A highlight of a traditional Filipino fiesta is lechon baboy, or whole roast pig, the preparation of the lechon, from the live pigs through to the final product, happened in the plaza just steps from my front door...needless to say it was quite an unforgettable weekend.
My experiences in the Philippines were truly amazing and I am grateful to have been given such an amazing opportunity.