The homes are small, the villages poor. They will sleep on bamboo beds or mats on the floor. Showers will be a bucket of water. For five days our students will stay with host families in and around Dumaguete, families of extremely limited means. Our experience over the last five years is that, come next Wednesday when it is time to leave, there will be a flood of tears and many, if not most, of the students will beg to stay. They will have found that life without cell phones and soft mattresses is possible, and that the warmth of family communities is something precious that we have lost in our lives.
Silliman University president Ben Malayang, in meeting our students this morning, told them that a major difference between east and west is the hierarchy of rights and relationships. As he said, in a divorce proceeding in the US, child custody is based on rights, not on relationships. This is not the case here; law is weak and does not protect the poor or disenfranchised. Relationships matter. Over five years we have built those relationships, partnering with these villages and families, helping where we can and trusting them to take care of our students for these precious five days each year. When the typhoons hit, we send help; when the school supplies run dry we re-stock. We give what we can and our friends give what they can, and so far I think we have come out way ahead. Cash is easy; they are sharing their homes and their lives.
If experience is the best teacher, fourteen students from San Diego are in for the most authentic learning of their lives over the next five days.