49 Swan Christian Education Association (SCEA) Students, along with 16 staff, have returned from the annual Leavers 2 Leaders service trip to the Philippines.
Year 11 and 12 Students from Southern Hills Christian College, Swan Christian College and Ellenbrook Christian College spent two weeks serving in remote communities, participating in cultural exchanges at Filipino schools, and learning about life in a developing country.
“Leavers 2 Leaders has grown to one of our largest international programs, both in terms of students on the trip and the number of areas we impact”, said Mr. Giles Creelman, Projects and Initiatives Manager at SCEA.
“The trip is focussed on service and so the three school groups, which visited three separate communities, were fully immersed in the culture – and work – of the local people.
“By participating in livelihood projects, they saw what local people did to make a living, and how hard they had to work to earn in a week what some students would earn in an hour in part time jobs.
“This counter-cultural program operates over the traditional ‘schoolies’ weeks, and provides our students the opportunity to be other-person-focussed and give back at the end of their schooling, as an alternative to other leavers activities”, he said.
After arriving in to Bacolod, Negros Occidental, the Philippines, the three groups visited the VMA Global Training Centre, a large local school and were greeted with a guard of honour of uniformed students, a marching band, and hundreds of friendly local students ready to buddy with them for the day.
Together with local buddies, the students participated in firefighting and ‘abandon ship’ simulations at VMA’s leading maritime training complex.
"It was amazing meeting my buddy and getting to know them,” said Ben, a Year 12 student from Southern Hills Christian College.
The three schools then split into three groups to serve for a week in different communities.
Southern Hills Christian College first visited the area of Isabella, where they were welcomed by the Mayor and local students in a phenomenal cultural display.
Throughout the first three days, Southern Hills students visited local the Marikudo settlement and met the local Ati tribe, and participated in construction, sugar cane cutting, weaving, and teaching local school classes.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done major construction, but it was really worthwhile and really exciting, and it makes you feel really good and really excited about how we are making others feel”, said Year 12 Southern Hills Student, Rebekah.
Her colleague Deanna, also on the construction station added that it wasn’t easy working in the local conditions.
“It was really tough dealing with the heat and humidity, so we got really hot and sweaty – but this is their community building and it would be really nice to give [the community] somewhere to meet in”, said Deanna.
Students also experienced the activities that local people did to make money, such as weaving.
“When we were learning how to make a coin purse, we watched the ladies do it we thought, ‘oh yeah, that will be easy’”, said Ben, a Year 12 student.
“So we had a shot and it’s so much harder than we thought, it’s so difficult – and one of these coin purses only sells for 20 Pesos, which is 50 cents,” he said.
While at Marikudo, the Southern Hills students had also forgone the luxuries of home and washed their clothes in a local river.
Meanwhile, students from Swan Christian College visited the community of Sagay, where the livelihood projects included work and fishing activities – including collecting fish by hand.
“To think that people do this all day, every day, is quite baffling to me”, said Jethro of Swan Christian College.
While in Sagay, Swan students also participated in field ploughing using a Carabao (water buffalo), and helped dig a hole in preparation for a future sewerage pit.
“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done”, said Mikayla, a Year 12 student from Swan Christian College.
“I’m so hot and sweaty but it’s rewarding because we’re helping the people, and that’s what we came here to do”, she said.
The final group of students of Ellenbrook Christian College visited the mountain community of Cabacungan, and participated in sugar cane field work, rice paddy work, teaching in local schools and food distribution.
“What we’ve found is that the community has really blessed us and taught us more about ourselves through this experience”, said Mr. John Taylor, a teacher at Ellenbrook Christian College.
“Living with the bare minimum and realising what everyone has to go through here, and what I get on a regular basis is a bit of a culture shock”, said Taylor, a student at Ellenbrook Christian College.
Students from all three groups also participated in ‘Live like a local day’, where their diet was restricted to three rationed meals of Lugaw, a basic rice meal.
“It’s quite interesting going in to breakfast and seeing a little bowl”, said Nathan, a student from Ellenbrook Christian College.
“It was shocking to try it for the first time and to realise that we’re really blessed with what we eat compared to what these other people get to eat”, he said.
Finally, students in their groups participated in Arnis classes, the official national sport and a traditional martial art of the Philippines.
After returning from the three communities, the students returned to Bacolod where they attended the ABSCBN TV Studios and appeared on The Morning Program, which is viewed by over 10 million people. Read more here.
En route back to Australia via Manila, students were welcomed to the Australian Embassy by representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the CEO of ANZ Philippines. Read more about the visit to the Embassy here.
“This trip continues to grow and we look forward to providing our senior and graduating students the opportunity to make a difference in the Philippines in 2016,” concluded Mr. Creelman.