Above, volunteers are digging out the foundation for a new home. Photo courtesy of Michael Consul

Service trip helps build bonds in the Philippines

By 
  • February 20, 2015

TORONTO - Adrian Durlej, 17, was handing out toys, toiletries and food to underprivileged children in the Philippines over the Christmas holidays when one child’s choice fuelled Durlej’s passion for helping others.

The boy was about seven or eight, he recalls, and had a variety of toys to pick from, including an action figure. To Durlej’s surprise, the boy chose a can of Spam. Durlej asked why, to which the boy replied, “So my family can eat today.”

“I was just thinking about how lucky we are in Canada. I would never have picked that when I was younger,” said Durlej, a Grade 12 student at Toronto’s Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School.

This incident and his overall trip taught Durlej about the family oriented nature and struggles of the Philippines, his mother’s homeland, and gave him perspective on his goals.

“I’ve always had the passion for helping people and I guess this is my way of putting a foot in the door because I want to go on to international development in university,” he said. Even “small things make a huge difference.”

The Toronto Catholic District School Board organized Durlej’s Philippines Service Leadership trip. For four years in a row, Michael Consul, a teacher at Fr. Redmond Catholic Secondary School, has taken a diverse group of students from various backgrounds to volunteer and experience Filipino life and culture. The students raise funds to help cover the cost of their trip.

From Dec. 26 to Jan. 7, 21 TCDSB students visited villages and orphanages in a country where Consul says 44 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day. The students cleaned communities, taught dance, gave gifts, played games with kids and built houses side-by-side with those who would be living in those houses.

“It gives kids the opportunity to put their faith into action... We really want to make the curriculum come to life, so we teach religion from K to 12. This really allows you to live out your faith and model Jesus who served the poor,” said Consul, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines to Canada. “Our board has various service trips to Africa, to India and to Mexico. However, we didn’t have one to the Philippines. A lot of our students are of Philippines’ descent. So I saw a need there to serve people in that country.”

On the very first trip Consul organized, he says that “even though we were there to build houses, what was more important was building relationships with those in the community, especially with the kids, and we’d always take time to play with the kids, teach them games that we play here in Canada, get to know them on a personal level as well as learn from them.”

What most of the students say after the trip or in their reflections is that they are “shocked” by how happy Filipinos are though they have so little, “and it puts everything in perspective with regards to their own life. They always feel a much greater sense of gratitude for what they have and then a sense of responsibility grows because of that.”

The Philippines has had a lasting effect on students like Emily Palaganas, 17, whose parents moved to Canada in the late 1980s.

“When I first got there, even though there was poverty there, I know the people there were so happy. It really surprised me how welcoming and inviting everyone was... In Canada, even though we have more than ideal living conditions, our attitude towards each other can sometimes feel sort of cold. It’s still polite and stuff, but it doesn’t feel the same,” she said. “Overall, the whole atmosphere in the Philippines is so inviting, so welcoming that you don’t want to leave ever.”

For information on upcoming TCDSB trips, e-mail Consul at michael.consul@tcdsb.org.

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