'Reach for the Stars'

Monday, January 28, 2013

ATULAYAN ISLAND, PHILLIPINES - One thing can lead to another, with willingness of heart, for the poor innocent children of this remote island of Luzon, Philippines. Our 2011 project to bring sandals to the children, who own no shoes, was a 'spark' that has become a 'blaze'... growing from one box of used clothing to many, expanding from one village, to four (and counting.)

We launched Operation Tsinelas in 2011 to simply distribute the flip flops we had collected to the island in the region where I was born. Our group then began some small projects, such as building a house, fixing a roof, adding sanitary toilet facilities, and painting a chapel. Next we expanded to distribute medicine, used clothing, school supplies, seeds and even counseling. The people were very appreciative. The project was funded privately by my American family and I here in Laurens, Iowa. As word spreads, we also have began to receive donations from local people and organizations. My Philippine family soon became part of the team effort also. 

Good news about the project soon spread to other small towns in the rural areas of the island. Many people have requested used clothing, 'tsinelas' (sandals), and medicine. There simply is no money for such things in their society - the cost of a pair of flip flops buys a kilo of rice. Food needs comes first, so children either wear slippers full of holes or go barefoot. Many of the people in the villages depend on fishing, agriculture, and some are laborers. The unlucky go hungry. There is not enough money to do everything for these people, but I believe that it is not how much we give, but how we give it. I have faith God will provide.

In 2012, we expanded our outreach activities to many needy families in additional villages in Bikol Region, Luzon. We could not help the whole villages, but we helped those most desperately in need. This year we brought toothbrushes and toothpaste to give out, and we introduced proper dental care to many school children. 
One early morning, we were walking near the seashore of my birthplace in Tinambac, Luzon, and our feet took us into a small hut with eight children who possessed neither toothbrushes nor slippers. The mother, pale and sick, was doing pile of laundry to help the family income.

I asked how I could help them. Four of the little children bore signs of untreated wounds and skin diseases and these immediately caught my eye. I tended to them immediately, applying medication.

I set my niece Rachell to look for a guava twigs and showed her how to make them into small homemade toothbrushes. I brushed the children's teeth, using stove ashes to polish their teeth. My family was poor also and when I was a little girl in the village, so I performed the same practice I had learned - I could see myself in them. Their wondrous smiles brought me a great sense of satisfaction.

I became an instant ad hoc dentist technician and temporary nurse, and when I finished, we became acquainted with our new friends and I started evangelizing. To my amazement, an old widow rushed through the decrepit bamboo fence with a sense of amazement in her voice. "I hear someone is talking about God, can I listen also?" she asked. I smiled and she sat on a bamboo bench and the whole family and the old woman listened. I was surprised that the family knew nothing of how to pray. I taught them some basics and that made everyone's day.

I left the place and promised to return to cement the dirt floor of the family hut and also repair a home for the old woman. She was so grateful and happy.

We came back the next day to distribute toothbrushes, toothpaste, and some food.

For 2013, we begin phase three - Operation Reach for the Stars: Boat and Book Drive and Scholarships.

After visiting two poor villages, we walked back to our pilot project site on Atulayan Island, discovering special needs. An elementary teacher requested books that had illustrations that the children could use to learn books. The school has almost no books except for the teacher's curricuum guide.

This teacher also asked for dictionaries as 70 students now share two dictionaries.

With no electricity or computers on the island, a set of encyclopedia would be a great help and we are researching this now. Notebooks are also badly needed, as students have little to write or draw on.

People there hoped the government would build a library. Four empty rooms were available but the structure had no roof. Authorities promised this facility but nothing ever materialized. 
Transportation of high school students from the island to the mainland by boat proved to be a major problem. The little community required a boat large enough to carry more students, as many students miss out on the chance to attend class for lack of a larger craft.

I thought of an idea, a "Boat and Book Drive." The boat will cost $2,000. I believe that we can give them a boat in the near future. For now, we will start with the books. I couldn't wait for the following day to start the book drive. We went to a second hand store and begged the owner to help us find books - lot of books.

Treasure's Chest of Laurens, owned by Milly Burnham, was so generous, getting us 500 children's books at a price that our funding could afford.

I believe that if we want to have hope for our children, education will arm them to face their future world. They will need help to acquire reading skills, enhancement in their knowledge in all levels, and above all, improvement in mastery of the English language. This young generation, enhanced and fortified with education, will impact other lives, including those of their own children, when they someday start a family. This might even help control the population in the village and the country.

Phase three will sponsor 10 high school scholarships in 2013 to those who have good grades and aspire to higher education. Many of the parents of the students cannot afford to send their children to school, so these children marry young or are sent off to be housemaids or helpers.

All these projects cannot be carried through without all the support of many generous donors in small towns/cities of Iowa. The Atulayan Elementary School and other villages that were touched by the love and compassion extend their 'Thank you'. For more information on the Donations for our Boat and Book Drive, contact me at Flor Johnsen, 518 Bissell Street, Laurens, Iowa, 50554, phone 1-712-841 or email fjmusic@hotmail.com. If you have new or used books to donate please let us know and we will be glad to pick them up.

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