If you remember our Instagram photo of a Filipino girl on Ivana’s arms, in a blue dress and adorable smile, you already might know that she captured our heart straight away.
Diane is a 5-year-old girl living in Pandan in the Antique province of the Philippines, a small angel who only smiled at us from behind the curtain at the beginning. The curtain was in a small bistro where her mother Janis works as a dishwasher. Diane was there every day while her mother worked.
Shy, giggling angel
She was too shy to come closer to us, but stayed curious about the two Caucasian giants who were having their lunch there.
We smiled at her as she was hiding and giggling from behind a desk in the kitchen and when we were about to leave, she came to take a group picture with the children in the bistro.
All that we got know about her that day was that she was malnourished and this was the main reason why she accompanied her mother daily in the bistro so she could eat more. We felt compassion for her, but that was all.
I am sure we would have left Pandan with just a simple thought of a cute girl from a small restaurant if not for one chat that we had with Gigi Bautista, the owner of the resort where we stayed, who helps people in need in the town with her partner Leo.
After we heard that there are 600.000 of school-age children in the Philippines who suffer from severe malnutrition and the government is able to help and feed only 47.000 of them, we were pretty shaken up. Another shocking fact is that this statistic number does not account for kids who do not attend school yet!
Because it’s Thursday
There is a story going around in Pandan about a 9-year-old boy who fainted while singing an anthem at the morning ceremony at school. When he regained consciousness and they asked him whether he had eaten, he just shook his head. After they asked why, he responded, ‘because it’s Thursday’.
The boy was a member of a big family and to be able to feed all the children, parents have made a ‘schedule’ for eating, which means there are days when he eats, and days when he doesn’t. Apparently, Thursday was not the boy’s turn. Sadly, but there are thousands of kids in the country who have to wait for their days to eat.
After hearing this story, we suddenly realized how ignorant we had been; not seeing the problem around us, and not even asking Janis how serious was Diane’s health problem and if we could help somehow.
Still in shock but with a huge willingness to help, we bought a bag of goodies for all the kids from the bistro and a doll for Diane the next morning.
It was one day before we left Pandan when we visited Diane and Janis in their home: a repaired hut that was destroyed during typhoon Yolanda, with no electricity, no water, and where the only light they could get was from a petrol lamp and fireplace.
When we arrived, they were playing a game with bottle lids and welcomed us with a big smile. Janis cannot speak English so we asked a girl from bistro to help us to translate our conversation.
Although for those moments when you only want to share your love and compassion you don’t really need any words, we were glad the girl translated us what medicine Janis needs for her daughter, how much it costs and how long she can stay with one bottle of vitamin C for little Diane.
If you’re wondering about Diane’s father, he had been imprisoned and was not living with his family anymore.
“Just one more time”
We were in doubt if direct support of the individual would be more efficient than donating the money to a foundation. But seeing the living conditions of Diane’s family convinced us it was a good decision to give Janis some money directly so she could buy some medication for her daughter.
For us, Europeans, that money equaled one family-size pizza and two soft drinks at the average pizzeria back home. For them it meant 18 months supply of vitamins.
Later on, in the evening, we went to say good-bye to Diane and Janis and we brought some printed photos that we had taken during the previous days. We could not say good-bye easily. I was hugging Diane “just one more time” over and over as we wished her and mother only the best from the bottom of our hearts.
The day after we contacted Mrs. Gigi Bautista who was involved in a local foundation which gave away some food and hygienic products to the locals in need regularly and they helped Diane’s family promptly.
To get a chance
Why is this story special to us? Because we stood in front of the harsh reality of true hunger and poverty for the first time as travellers, not as readers, which made a big difference.
And why we are writing about this experience? Because we deeply believe in Gandhi’s words: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
We know that by a one-shot donation we probably do not save someone’s life, but we would like to encourage you to be more compassionate with the people and individuals around you or those who you stumble upon on the road and who live in poverty, bad conditions or need your psychological support.
Let’s be more curious about people around us while visiting new places, get more information about their living standards, about what they need and how we can possibly help them.
Not only because you will make their lives better and more fortunate, but after your actions, people will follow your initiative and real people will get the help they desperately need. You have the power to make a child, a girl like Diane, have a chance at health, and a chance at a better future on this planet. And this is what we all wish, don’t we?
Who has touched your heart while you were on the road and why? We would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!