Canada's Navy brings cheer to underprivileged children in the Philippines

By Abie Ramos-Laguerta

photo caption: Crew of the HMCS Regina with the children from Ulingan Photo: Sidney Snoeck.

photo caption:Young boy saluting on the deck of the HMCS Regina.

Valentine's Day is a big celebration in the Philippines. People young and old see this day as an opportunity to celebrate the different forms of affection and emotions usually associated with the “feast day for the heart.”

But my husband and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day. We both see it as an occasion that is too commercialized and is given so much hype. But this year, Valentine's Day was very different.

In my personal time, I volunteer with Project Pearls, a non-governmental organization that assists the children of Ulingan, Tondo, a depressed area near the Port of Manila. It is has been helping residents of Ulingan through its food and educational programs.

Ulingan, which means “charcoal” in Tagalog, is a community that sits on a dumpsite, surrounded by charcoal factories. Children and families have no choice but to live with soot, garbage, mosquitoes, flies, and vermin. They derive their livelihood from the charcoal factory and/or the dumpsite. The average earnings are between $2 to $3 dollars a day. Children as young as three years old work in the charcoal factories, as coal packers or garbage scavengers to support the family income.

So when the crew of the Canadian Navy ship, the HMCS Regina chose Project Pearls as a partner organization for its outreach activity, we knew it would be a unique and meaningful celebration of Valentine's Day.

On February 14, the Regina crew brought the scholars and the volunteers onboard the ship. It was something new for the kids and for the volunteers. Just seeing the ship got them all excited, and all the more delighted when they were treated with a guided tour of the ship. Imagine the awe on the children's faces as they went up the ship to try on a pilot's helmet or a fireman's suit!

After the tour, the crew treated the kids to a party at the nearby Children's Museum, where they were served a healthy lunch and given a chance to play on the grounds and tour the museum. An added bonus was the gift that they each gave the kids.

It might have been a coincidence that it was held on Valentine's Day, but the event was the perfect way to bring joy to poor and downtrodden children. As some volunteers said, it may have been only one day, but for the Ulingan kids, the memory will remain for a long time.

Abie Ramos-Laguerta is a locally-engaged IT professional at the Embassy of Canada in Manila, Philippines.

photo caption: Canadian sailor with smiling children.

photo caption: A Canadian sailor and young girl at the Children's Museum
Photo: Sidney Snoeck.

photo caption:A young girl dressed in firefighting gear
Photo: Sidney Snoeck.