“At Tahanang Puso we try to give rest to our children and our friends. They live enclosed in the looban, or the slum, or the world of under the bridge. They so rarely see beyond crowded and ugly Navotas. We organise outings – to the swimming pool for the children, to the park for the young mothers we know and their babies. And every year, we organise the most anticipated event for the neighbourhood children, the annual summer camp.
Our camp is in Talim Island, a small bamboo island in Laguna Bay, where we are welcomed by the Community of Tiberiade. It was so exciting to travel to Talim with the fifteen children, all between 10 and 12 years old. They were all queasy from the hour long jeepney ride to the dock, where we caught a long-boat to the island. As the city thinned out, and the expanse of Laguna lake became visible, with its fish farms and lilies, these children from Marcello and our looban and the garbage dump slum and under the bridge opened their eyes wide and expressed how ‘maganda’ (beautiful) it all was. It was the first time for most of them to be outside Navotas.
The community of Tiberiade has young, energetic volunteers who animate games, songs, dancing and prayers for the children. On the first day, they asked the children what they hoped for from the camp. Their responses touched us. They wanted to enjoy nature, make friends, and to sing and dance, and especially to pray for their families. Over the five days of the camp, we watched a change in the children, something calmer. They sat quietly to listen to stories. They anticipated each next activity on the schedule eagerly. They prayed the rosary (a long prayer for some adults, let alone energetic children!) quietly all the way through. And they were fun too! They sang songs loudly, played water fights and chess, and danced constantly. The children spoke to us more. We learned about their hopes for school, their ‘berkada’ (the gang of friends they hang out with), and their families. Each morning the children were tasked with washing the dishes and sweeping their sleeping room and the outside paths. They hand-pumped water to wash themselves and their clothes. They loved this independence, this reliance on their own competence, and we marveled at them too. Joshua smiled more and more.
But it was Jossa who surprised us most. While the other children loved looking up the posted schedule, she struggled with the constraints of time, of being asked to wash at this moment, or to eat now, or to be quiet at this time. She cried often, and wanted us near her. She was afraid she was a bad girl, she said, and we did our best to comfort her and assure her Jesus loves her. I wondered more at her life on her little raft battered all these months by wind and rain. On the last day, the children cried and cried. They loved Talim Island they said. It is clean and quiet. There is no fighting at Talim. They love to pray in the chapel. They had many, many kuyas and ates to play with them and care for them. And they had so many friends.”