Three seniors from Center Place Restoration School in Independence, recently traveled to Tagum City in the Philippines for a mission trip. They led activities, played games and organized classes for the local children, teenagers and young adults. This was the first time any of the girls had traveled to the Philippines and several things came as a surprise to them.
However, all three said they enjoyed the experience so much that they would definitely return to the country.
“I want to get back there as soon as I can,” said Jenna Clark. “I feel like it is something I need to do in my life.”
Here are five things to know about the Philippines:
We’re not in Missouri anymore (food).
The Filipino cuisine has actually been influenced by a variety of cultures including Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Latin. Rice is the national grain, so it is prevalent in most dishes.
Clark said it was important to her to eat some of the local cuisine, versus going to the McDonald’s near the hotel. She said, however, there was an interesting item on the American fast food chain’s menu.
“They have fried chicken and spaghetti (called McSpaghetti in the Philippines), together, in one meal,” she said. “I think they called it Chicken McDo. It was interesting.”
The girls also saw an abundance of banana and coconut trees. Madelyn Cain said they even had the opportunity to grab a machete, and chop their own coconut in half, drinking the coconut milk from inside.
However, perhaps one of the more memorable moments was at one of the missions. The local children were singing to their American guests when black bananas started to be passed around. Clark said the bananas had been baked, which removed most of the flavor. Following the bananas, a bowl of gray paste was offered to the girls. Unlike her friends, Clark took a big scoop of the paste with her banana.
“It was fish paste,” she said with a smile on her face.” All of the villagers were looking at me to see my reaction.”
Because of terrorist activity, the southern island of Mindanao, which is where Tagum City is located, is under a travel warning through the U.S. Department of State. In fact, so few visitors come to the area that the Center Place group felt like “celebrities” because so many people were staring and taking photos.
“I think our parents were afraid because we were going to an area with a travel warning,” said Cain. “But I really think they were more nervous than we were. Everything lined up for us to go. I don’t believe that would have happened if God thought we would have been put in harm’s way.”
One of the first things that stood out to Cain when she vested the Philippines was the friendliness of the natives. “Everyone showed us such wonderful hospitality and respect while we were there,” she said. “Going over there, we didn’t know anybody. But after three days, it felt like we had life-long friends. We were all sad to leave.”
College is cheap, by American standards.
Unlike in the United States where going to college can cost thousands of dollars a year, some colleges in the Philippines cost less than $1,000 a year. Even tuition at the more expensive schools is less than $2,000 a year. But Cain said while this is cheap in U.S. standards, it is still cost prohibitive to those living in the Philippines, where going to college, she said, is all they think about.
“If they can go to college, then they have a better chance at supporting their family,” Cain said. “But many are still too poor to go to college. The poverty there is nothing like we have ever seen here.”
It’s not the Ritz.
The Center Place group stayed at the second best hotel in Tagum City, which cost roughly 1,600 pesos a night or less than $50 in U.S. dollars. Every night, the group invited some of the local girls to spend the night with them. And each morning, they found the group huddled together because they were cold.
“They were not used to the air-conditioning unit in the windows,” Cain said. “It didn’t even work that well. It was still 70 to 80 degrees in the hotel room, but they still thought it was cold.”