By Sophie Passelecq

April 3, 2017

I left Manila knowing I was going to a wonderful place, a center of global biodiversity, the Eden of the Pacific… Of course I knew this was an immersion, I would be exposed to the living situation and struggles of the locals living in Lobo. I guess I should be expected to be more apprehensive knowing that I will be confronted with harsh realities of the poor. Except that I wasn’t, as always leaving for a new adventure I felt the ping of excitement at 6am in the morning, departure from Manila. I was excited to learn, to meet new people and once again experience another side of life.

It always surprises me how easily I can ‘forget’ about the less fortunate or ‘unlucky’ ones that are being less dignified in the name of ‘development’. I walked pass the beggars on the street in the cities of Brussel or Barcelona. I saw the houses of the poor as we traveled to our different destinations in the Philippines, the children playing and begging in the streets of Manila… It is easier to close my eyes to quiet my mind about their suffering.

You do not always forget with the intention to forget, you forget because you get caught up in your life, a natural consequence of life. But you can also forget because you don’t want to see, you do not want to be confronted with the less fortunate, with poverty. As I experienced myself, it is not easy to be confronted with real poverty, it gave me an uneasy feeling, a sense of helplessness, but also reminded me to be more grateful for everything I have, everything I take for granted. It reminded me that I can learn from another fellow human being that knows more about life and how to deal with it then I do. It reminded me to be brave and not shy away from the uncomfortable. It taught me to be open to feel, to learn and to be inspired.

Unlucky because they are unlucky, the undeniable truth of life is that everyone is the product of their environment and yes when you are born in conditions where education is not a given, parental care is depending on money and food is optional, you are unlucky… It is not their fault, because the saddest part is that they work hard with the means that they have and were given by life. One can only ask: What would they be able to achieve if they were empowered and given a fair chance?

Why is it so difficult to create a sustainable form of development? So much easier to pick the environmental friendly hotel, that recycles, encourages their guest to re-use their towels and save water. But what we often not realize, who was living there before the hotel was build? Who’s live was sacrificed in name of environmental friendly development?

One should be excited to learn, to reflect, to create new insights and be inspired by the less fortunate. And I did learn… about the consequences of rich natural raw materials and environmental laws … Environmental laws aim to protect nature but what about the people? Who protects them? Should your land be taken away from you because the soil holds gold or copper? Is that development?

What amazed me most of all is that the families I stayed with are so willing to share and give up their own comfort for my well-being. They do not realize I am more grateful to them than they are to us. The little meaning I have to come and visit them, to listen to them and share their stories. Or maybe our visit had more importance then I think because this is solidarity to share their stories, so they will be a little less forgotten.

Read more of Sophie’s stories as PSET’s volunteer at http://sophielippines.blogspot.com/