Every Saturday afternoon, a handful of kids living in Agdao, one of the impoverished neighborhoods in Davao, Philippines, meet for class. Not only do they learn a Bible lesson, but they learn how to apply God’s Word in their often challenging lives. For the past three years, those who have regularly attended class have been invited to a Christmas party, a party that has grown a bit each year. The food is delicious, the crafts and activities are fun, and this year the kids even had the opportunity to swim. Each child goes home with a small present, but the true gift is the chance to leave the neighborhood, spend time bonding with each other, and have a carefree day.
Five year old Reynaldo has watched his older sisters attend the parties for the past two years, but this is the first year he is old enough to join in. The party invitations hold no less excitement than a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and he is delighted and surprised to finally get one.
The party is today! Walking into Agdao to pick up the kids, we are suddenly met by a mob scene. 29 ecstatic, screaming, cheering bodies running down the street, as if they are competing in an Olympic sprint.
Why yes, that is a bright pink vehicle! Jeepneys are the most popular form of public transportation in the Philippines, and they are also great for hauling loads of ecstatic, screaming, cheering kids. Jeepneys are hot, loud, and uncomfortable, but when it’s time to party, a little sweat and discomfort is covered by big, broad smiles from Nicole and Rufo.
Taking a break during his first time in a swimming pool, April John is another first time attendee. He is the youngest of four brothers who live with their parents in a small, very modest two room shanty. With four boys, the place is always buzzing and rattling with unbridled energy. April John’s mom was thrilled to have all four boys attend this year, giving her a rare gift of a quiet afternoon.
For the last few months, seven year old Jories (far right) has taken home food he has received for his pregnant mother. While he claims that he’s “full”, he is constantly sacrificing to be sure she and his younger sibling are taken care of. Today was no exception. His older brother Jaynier (left) helps Rhijohn and John Kurt decorate theirs without making too big of a mess, and was almost successful. Even on fun days, hard realities follow these kids, yet they are so unselfish and willing to share.
On the other hand, these cookies did not make it home. As Keziah and Daisy put the intricate finishing touches on their edible works of art, Rufo can’t resist waiting. His smile sums it up. Divine.
Guillier joined the Saturday class about six months ago. After losing everything in Typhoon Haiyan last year, his father included, the surviving members of his family moved from devastated Samar to Davao. Quiet, tentative, and unsure, smiles and interaction from Guillier have been rare. Every smile, however small, is a huge gift, knowing that he is one step closer to healing a huge emotional wound.
Chores are always more fun at someone else’s house! After “Kuya Dan” (Uncle Dan) showed Bianca how the hot and cold water, a rarity, worked, Bianca was insistent on helping clean up. The oldest girl in her family, she is often given the responsibility to clean and watch her younger siblings. This is a day for the kids to relax, have fun, and be served, but sweet Bianca loves helping, and there’s just no stopping her from giving back.
Reynaldo having an amazing time at his first party! Their elbows still adorned with red and white frosting, he and Boybeth take some quiet time to color a nativity scene, and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
“What is that smell?!” asks Jhasmen. A real Christmas tree in the tropics? Unheard of! We were blessed with a real pine tree this year, all the way from Oregon. The kids first thought that the “plastic tree” was sprayed with an unfamiliar, but wonderful, perfume. Once Jhasmen and the rest realized the tree, and the smell, were real, they couldn’t get enough of it.
As the swimming ended, and the activities wound down, the clouds quickly began to move in for the evening thunderstorms. While the kids tried their hardest to maintain a polite, thankful decorum, the anticipation for gifts began to build. For several of these kids, this is their Christmas; December 25th is just another day. The presents emerged from the back, and the energy level escalates again in a fun, giggly frenzy. It was the perfect way to top off a nearly perfect day of sharing gifts we all have.