Estevan's Taerina Hunt has has spent the last three months in the Philippines, and the people of the picturesque island nation have left a tremendous impact on her.
Hunt has been volunteering for an organization called Young Focus. She works in Tondo, which is an impoverished area in the Filipino capital of Manila that is densely populated, and home to many of Manila's slums.
The opportunity to travel to the Philippines came after Hunt spoke with a friend in the Philippines who has been there for a few years with a non-government organization. That friend introduced Hunt to Paul and Ann van Wijgerden – the founders of Young Focus.
Having friends in the Philippines helped ease Hunt's adjustment to life in the country. And she also spoke with members of Estevan's Filipino community about what to expect once she arrived. They were concerned that she was heading to Tondo.
“The look on any Filipino's face, whether they live in Canada now, or here in the Philippines in other areas, is pure shock when I tell them that I live in Tondo,” Hunt said via e-mail.
But she has had great experiences with the Tondo people she has encountered.
“I love my community in Tondo,” said Hunt. “I feel at home here. I have a key to a beautiful condo in Makati (the richest area of Manila where a lot of expats and foreigners live) that's on the 24th floor. Pool and posh neighbourhood. But I don't want to be there. Tondo is my home, and in Makati I miss the people and faces and smiles of Tondo.”
Tondo is Young Focus' primary location. Young Focus is a non-government organization that wants to make education accessible to the poorest children in the Philippines.
They seek the mental, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development of underprivileged children and young people via education and personal coaching.
The organization saves lives, Hunt said.
“This is an organization that is so small that when any donation – be it $10 – (it) is known by its founders,” said Hunt. “The founders, Ann and Paul, are at the facility daily. The kids all know them by name. I'm so proud to be affiliated with YF, and also lucky to have found them.”
There haven't been many opportunities to leave Manila, she said. Hunt spends hours each day volunteering for Young Focus, or working on her business, Estevan-based website design company Nut-Nae Art. She did recently leave Manila for a two-day getaway about 300 kilometres to the north in mountainous Baguio – a beautiful area that Hunt compared to Banff, Alberta.
Estevan area residents have been very supportive of Hunt's efforts. Thanks to an estimated $4,500 that was raised locally, about 700 people from the Tondo area were able to attend and enjoy a Christmas supper.
Hunt posted on her Facebook page in November that people could give a family in the Philippines a Christmas supper for $12. After a quiet response initially, she wound up with 125 family sponsorships in a 24-hour span.
The meal was served on December 17, and the Filipino people were grateful to Estevan residents for the supper, Hunt said.
She noted that she has received more than $6,000 in other donations from the people of Estevan.
Her next fundraising effort is for Love 2 Learn – a Young Focus initiative that provides classes to children between eight and 14, who are not attending the local schools. For one year, the children receive elementary-level education to motivate them to go to school.
Love2Learn also focuses on the parents and involves them in their children’s activities.
Hunt said she misses Estevan and her friends in the city. But she loves it in the Philippines, and she can't imagine leaving the staff and the young people she has met in Tondo when her time in the country is finished in a few months.
For more on Hunt's experiences in the Philippines, please visit her blog at: http://tareinahunt.blogspot.ca/.