***The following two blog posts are delayed and were written 3 weeks ago. I returned home the 18th of July.

Also, a few additional pictures I didn’t get to post…

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This is Christopher, aka Tupe.

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Carlo and me at the Turtle Farm back in June.

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Just swinging around with Decery, and Rose Vhill eating her snack.

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Closing Post

As my trip comes to a close, I sadly sit here and write my last blog post in disbelief. However, a closing blog post can never adequately capture all of the expressions I wish to portray. I will never forget the Bethany House and all of the beautiful people here. The children have left a mark on my heart and I will never forget them. I am so graciously thankful for the Sisters opening up their home to me, and constantly making me feel a part of the Bethany family. These past 6 weeks at the orphanage are indescribable and will stay with me forever. This experience was filled with emotions. When I first arrived, I was scared. I arrived all alone to live with strangers not knowing a word of Tagalog. Now, as I prepare to leave I feel as if I am leaving family behind. This trip has undoubtedly been challenging, transformative, but most importantly rewarding. Spending the past six weeks with the children of Bethany was a privilege.

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I’ll never forget those sunny, carefree afternoons outside playing with the children. I’ll never forget the joy on Paolo’s face when he would tell me about his good grades in school after I helped him study. I’ll never forget the sight of a mass of children running towards me with their arms wide open after they got home from school. I’ll never forget Phillip’s little head popping up in his crib when he heard my voice enter the nursery.

Phillip and me.

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Saying good bye to the children was a very difficult farewell. I have a huge pile of letters and drawings from the kids to keep as a remembrance. The night before, the children handed me their letters one by one and then hugged and kissed me good bye. From then on up until my departure the next morning, the waterworks didn’t stop. It made me deeply saddened to see them all cry. In the morning, Sr. Analyn told me to sit on this bench outside and I see the boys and girls picking flowers. Then they form two lines, and one by one they give me their flower and a hug and kiss while every single child was singing “Let It Go” from Frozen. It was the cutest thing and it brought tears to my eyes! As I wrap this sappy blog post up, I want to send my endless thank yous to the Fr. Philip A. Smith Fellowship for making this transforming experience possible. I am so humbled by all of the love and support I received from my family and friends. Thank you to each and every one of you! Until next time, Bethany House Sto. Nino Orphanage! Love you all!

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The last group picture before I left for the airport.

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Arriving at JFK, I made it home. New York City and Jersey City from the sky.

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Baguio City: the Summer Capitol of the Philippines!

I’m back! I apologize for the hiatus in blog posts, it has certainly been a busy week. Last Monday, a Sister within the congregation (Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph) had passed away. Sr. Tes, whom I visited a few weeks back, was battling ovarian cancer. Since Bethany has a chapel and is in a central location to all of the other Sisters and family, they decided to have the funeral rites here at the orphanage. Everything started immediately on Monday and there were tons of people constantly coming in and out to pay their respects. The funeral mass and burial was held on Thursday. Until then, it was a busy few days for the Sisters and they were exhausted at the end of the week. It was also tiring for everybody else and the children. We had to stay out of the way and the kids remained inside for those days. However, there was a bright side to this week! A new preschooler was welcomed to the orphanage. His nick name is Rocky and he is 2 years old. He is so adorable and seems very happy here.

 

On Tuesday, we made a trip to Baguio City!!! It was truly an amazing day with insanely beautiful sites to see. Baguio City is called the Summer Capitol of the Philippines because of its “cool” weather. I put cool in parenthesis because I was sweating the entire time per usual, but apparently it is the coolest in the months of December/January and we were there during its hottest time. We left about 5:30 am and arrived around 10:30 am with a few pit stops. Originally it was just going to be me and the Sisters going on an outing, but Sr. Victoria had the idea to take 5 older children with us to reward them for being responsible and respectful. So, we took Paolo, Carol, Mai, Leslie, and Baby!

After about four hours in the van, we reached an entrance to humongous mountains and began our one hour climb on zigzag roads to the top! I was fascinated with looking out the window, it was so beautiful I thought that was what we came to see! I’ve never seen anything like it, my poor pictures do not do its justice. We would be driving alongside mini water falls and simultaneously see huge water falls in the distance. The mountains were covered with palm trees, banana trees, pine trees; everything was so tropical! After a while, we started to see colorful houses built into the side of the mountains. I couldn’t stop wondering how these people get to their homes. There were about eleven ‘camps’ where the countryside would stop and there would be a very small village with canteens to stop and buy food at. Eventually, we finished our climb and came to an entire city that was built on top of these enormous mountains. We made it to Baguio City!

 

A selfie once we made it to the top! Almost there!

 

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Baguio City was literally a city full of ups and downs, swerves and curves. I don’t think I saw one straight road. We first went to the famous Strawberry Farms and got delicious strawberry ice cream and walked around the shops. After, we visited Mother Mary’s Grotto at the top of this one mountain. We climbed 100 steps to place a rose at Mary’s feet. After, we went to Burnham Park where we had a picnic for lunch and then the six of us (five older children and I) went row boating on the large pond! It was so much fun and the kids had a blast. We then made our way to Mine’s View Park with a few stops beforehand for photo ops. Mine’s View Park was basically a cute little village with many tourist shops and food vendors. The main attraction was an observation deck to see the vast mountainous view in the distance. Our last stop was the Ube Jam Factory! Afterwards, we started to head home because of the typhoon that was coming and stopped at KFC for dinner. All in all, it was a wonderful time with great people, and an awesome way to close my stay.

Below, is a picture of the strawberry farms.

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Oh yeah! I witnessed a Grade 3 typhoon in the Philippines, Typhoon Glenda. The kids had no school on Tuesday, Wednesday and probably will not have school for the rest of the week. Thank God, nothing major happened here at the orphanage, just a few snapped trees and a couple uprooted ones. The power has gone out and as I write this it has been out for two days now. These past few days I have been showered with remembrance gifts by all of the people here. It truly makes me sad to go. I was even given gifts by two people I’ve only seen twice during my stay! The Sisters also keep giving me so many Pasalubongs (Filipino foods) to bring home to my family, I’m afraid I can’t fit them all in the my suitcase!

Trip to Malolos!

Malolos is the capitol city of the province of Bulacan. On Saturday, we made the 40 minute drive to go shopping for Laiza, Rodel, and Jonas. The three of them are going on adoption host programs for 1 month where they stay with their prospective adoptive family to help them adjust to a new life. Laiza is 6 years old and will be going to Wyoming to a family with 3 young boys. Rodel and Jonas, the Termulo brothers, are 12 and 11 years old respectively and will be going to Illinois for the month. They will leave July 8th, so they needed some clothes for their trip. The center of Malolos was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Obviously, it was very busy with a lot going on but we went down this very, very narrow street that seemed like it never ended. It was so colorful with rainbow umbrellas and many signs above you. Believe it or not, an occasional truck would come down the narrow street. It was filled with open store fronts and street vendors selling almost anything, but most of them sold clothes, shoes, and food. It was so loud with upbeat music blasting from each open store front, each time you walked past a different store or vendor a different song would be playing. There was so much energy, and in stead of helping Sr. Ana when I should have been I was just trying to take it all in. Before we left, we got ice cream! I had Buko ‘custard’. It was basically frozen Buko juice. Buko juice is just the water from a coconut and its shavings from inside the shell. Sometimes they add sugar to make it sweeter. SARAP! (yummy!)
The other day I stopped to appreciate how much I really enjoy the afternoons with the kids, especially when it is a nice evening with lovely weather. The sun is usually at a beautiful angle and there is a light breeze. I love playing on the playground, playing tag, and just watching the kids run around and have a good time. I even play basketball with the boys! They always want me on their team because I am tall compared to the others. I also helped the Tatays make fresh Buko juice, and tried the fruits santol, mangosteen, and lychee for the first time!
Making Buko Juice with the Tatays
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Kiddies on the see saw with Ate Aurille! (one of the social workers)
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The city of Malolos
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Rose Vhill and Decery being silly at lunch time with their santol fruits!
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Within the past week, two new babies came to the orphanage! JR (Jose Ramone) is 6 months old and has spent the beginning of his life in the hospital, and Gabriel is only 2 weeks old. He will need to go to the hospital to get surgery for cleft lip and palate. Speaking of hospitals, baby Maracar had to be admitted to last Thursday because she has pneumonia. Hopefully, she will be back by tomorrow.

A cute story…I was saying good night to the girls and a group of them kept saying “one more, one more!”. I heard them talking about the loom band bracelets (rubber band bracelets) earlier so I thought they were asking me for more loom bands! So I kept saying “no more, no more!” because I gave them each a bunch yesterday afternoon. And then Decery (5 years old) jumped up from her bed and said “one more KISS Ate Emily!!” and then once I figured it out the girls kept raising the number, “two more, four more, eight more!” They just wanted a bunch of kisses good night! It was so adorable!

Pagong (Turtles) Galore!

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Each month, the orphanage tries to take the toddlers on a trip to get outside of Bethany. On Tuesday, we went to the Hayashi Koi Farm in Pandi, Bulacan. It was about an hour drive away and I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.  To get to the farm, we passed many, many other fish farms in open fields where farmers raised koi  fish to sell. When we got to the farm, the owners greeted us and showed us the hundreds of varieties of turtles they bred. There were huge ones where they even let the kids ride on the back of them!
The braves ones, Owen and JM. Owen actually peed his pants while on the turtle and had to sit in his wet pants for the remainder of the trip.
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There were also many huge tanks of koi fish, stingrays, and lizards. It was a great day, and fun to see the kids outside of the orphanage!
These are the preschoolers getting ready to load the van!
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This group photo was taken the last day before Ericko, Arturo, and Melvin left.

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This is Carlo. His tummy is so big, I’m convinced it makes him fall over sometimes. He loves to cuddle, too!

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New Beginnings

On Monday I witnessed one of the best things, an adoption! The Barnes family traveled from Missouri to take home Arturo, Ericko, and Melvin! The whole morning we were anxiously awaiting their arrival. I was getting so excited for them as I watched them pack their belongings and listen to music while waiting for their family to get to Bethany. Their mom, dad, and brother Gerard came for the trip. Gerard is 13 years old and was adopted from the Philippines as well! He was such a cutie, and had a smile on his face the whole time. I learned that the Barnes family has 9 children in total now! They already had 4 adopted children from the Philippines.

The boys were quiet at first, as I cannot imagine what was going through their heads. It was a very overwhelming day for everyone! Their mom and dad were so loving, and they knew all of the right things to say. The twins understand some English, and Melvin just kept smiling. After their visit at Bethany, I accompanied them to visit the boys’ schools to say goodbye to their classmates. Then, they were on their way with their new family. They were going out to eat then going swimming for the rest of the day! They will be in the Philippines visiting for the remainder of the week before they return back to the US. I overheard the mom saying she brought 3 music players for them so they can listen to music on the plane! The boys loved listening to music on the CD player, singing, and playing the guitar. After I first met Mrs. Barnes, our conversation went like this, “Are you adopted from Korea!? Yes! South Korea!? Yes! Through Holt International Agency!? Yes! So you’re a Holt International adoptee?! Yes!” She excitedly explained that one of her sons was adopted through Holt International. When we were saying goodbye in the school parking lot, she gave me a great big hug and said, “I will hug you for your mom because I am sure she misses you a lot.”

Here is a family photo in the Bethany Chapel. From left to right: Mom, Gerard, Arturo, Melvin, Ericko, Dad
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After we all departed, Sr. Analyn, Aurielle (a Bethany social worker), and I rode on a tricycle to Walter Mart. Sr. Analyn surprised us and treated us to Jollibee! It was a nice treat, she even got us ice cream for desert!
This past weekend, I visited the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph’s Formation House in the countryside about an hour and a half drive from the Bethany House. Sr. Ellen and Sr. Analyn were going to visit a terminally ill Sister, Sr. Tes. Sr. Ellen really wanted me to go so I could see the Formation House, so I went. Despite the fact that I fell asleep on the ride both there and back, the scenery was beautiful! I also got to know 3 out of 7 of Sr. Analyn’s family sisters and her niece. They came for the ride as well because Sr. Tes grew up in the same village as Sr. Analyn’s family.
This is a picture of the scenery surrounding the Formation House. You can’t see the mountains in the distance, but they’re there.
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This past weekend I also had my first successful laundry load without anybody laughing at me! At first, I would get laughed at because I didn’t know how to hand wash clothes according to their procedure. Let’s just say I don’t think I will complain about laundry ever again back home. I also recently tried some new foods! I had egg adobo which was basically a hard boiled egg cooked in adobo sauce. Adobo sauce is just soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic can be added for extra flavor. I had mung (pronounced mongo) beans which kind of reminded me of lentils. Except, here they are sometimes eaten as a snack and you add evaporated powdered milk and sugar. Odd combination, but I liked it. For breakfast, Filipinos eat champorado which is the Milo chocolate drink, milk, and rice. I also forgot to mention the popular condiment, patis. It is basically fish juice and salt and it is left to sit for 5-10 years until eaten. I’ve seen it be put on fish, tomatoes, and I also tried it on mangoes…not a fan. Monday afternoon, Tatay Fernando showed me a container of meat and said “dog”. Interesting enough, some people eat dog meat! He wanted me to try it, but I opted out.
Recently, I have been riding with the children to school each morning. I love waving and saying ‘have a great day, see you later’ to each one, and I think they really enjoy having someone to wave goodbye to. Here is Michael, Jenny Babes, and Rose Vihhl in the back of the van one day.
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Speaking of school, on Monday night Sr. Analyn jokingly said ‘congrats!’ and shook my hand. I asked why and she said that Paolo told her he got a perfect score on is science quiz today that I helped him study for! I am so proud of him, he is so smart.
With the twins and Melvin’s adoption approaching this past weekend, I reflected on how special each and every child at Bethany is and how I wish every child were to be adopted. They are are all so loving, respectful, happy, and beautiful children. I ask some of them to express their dreams to me. I’ve gotten responses of teacher, nurse, cook, etc. and Gina said she wants to be ‘nice’ when she grows up! Anyways, each child deserves a family to love them, I wish I could adopt all of them! It’s going to be so very difficult leaving them. Leslie tells me everyday she doesn’t want me to leave because once I do she will have nobody to tell her feelings to.