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Cath in Philippines

Cath Bamber is a teacher from Liverpool who spent two years in the Philippines:

Cath in PhilippinesI will never forget September 13, 2006, the day I arrived in my assignment at Notre Dame Academy in Guimaras. I cried myself to sleep. Where was I? What was I doing here? Where is the internet café? The supermarket? Drinking water? How can I understand what people are saying? This was a strange place, a different and remote world, very far from my home in the UK, from my family and friends, from all the things I was used too and familiar with. A feeling of panic, vulnerability and intense loneliness swept over me as I finally surrendered to sleep on that first night. This was most definitely not my comfort zone.

Those first weeks passed slowly as I started teaching English, adjusting to my new life and absorbing everything that was new around me. Learning to manage my monthly allowance of 2,500 pesos, learning to cook with charcoal, learning how to cook rice and wash my clothes Filipino style, adjusting to life in a convent, getting used to curious looks from people and hearing again and again, 'Wow! Kana! (American), 'laba ilong' (long nose) and 'Wow! Taas!' (tall). Slowly, but surely I found myself 'letting go' of the life I had lived in the UK and embracing a very different way of living and in the process I found a strange sense of freedom, liberation and joy.

It's hard to believe that as I write this my assignment is nearly finished and I am preparing to leave Guimaras. Those early months of difficult adjustment are a very distant memory now. Words fail me when I try and explain the depth of my experience here and the transformation that has taken place in my heart and soul. My role as teacher in Notre Dame Academy has been a privilege and my heart is overflowing with love for the children, but, perhaps the greater journey has been the one that has taken place within me.

I have learnt more in the last 2 years than ever before:

  • I have learnt to value water and to be truly thankful when it rains. I love to eat rice and fish and will never forget the sweet taste of Guimaras mangoes.
  • I have learnt that a life lived in simplicity brings true joy - a deep joy that cannot be satisfied by material possessions
  • I have learnt that the most precious gift you can give to another person is time - time to be with them, in total honesty, sharing, laughing, listening - simply being 'present' to one another.
  • I have learnt that now is all we have, the past is over and the future has not yet happened so why worry about it.
  • I have learnt to love and embrace people who are very different from me and, perhaps most importantly, I have learnt that, no matter where we live in the world, we all share the same human experiences of sorrow, pain, challenge, disappointment, love, happiness and joy. This is what unites us as human beings and it is in meeting each other in the midst of these experiences that we experience true human solidarity, community, friendship and love. For me, this has been the place where I have found God, journeying alongside me and within the people who have shared my journey here.

Cath with familyI came to help others and in fact it was I who had been helped. I came to teach but I was the one who has been taught. I left a life in a 'rich' country only to learn that my life there was 'poor' in so many ways. I came to live in a country some would say is 'poor' and have found abundant riches. I gave up my career, my house, my car and discovered that those things alone would never bring me true happiness. I left the comfort and safety of my family and friends and have been blessed beyond measure in the family and friends I have found here.

Since those early days of unfamiliarity I have found my home here. I have rooted myself here in a way I wasn't quite prepared for. Guimaras has now become my 'comfort zone' in so many ways. I love this place; it's beautiful - I don't know how else to explain it. And as I land in the UK and fall into the loving embrace of family and friends for the first time in 2 years I am sure I will cry once again, tears of joy and happiness mixed with tears of sorrow - as one incredible chapter of my life finishes and I step into a new chapter. Only this time, I walk into the future joyfully, taking with me the many blessings I have received and as a person that has been shaped by a life lived richly here in Guimaras.

Madamo gid nga salamat. Naging parte kamo sang akon kabuhi. Indi ko gid kamo malimtan. Mabalik ako.

Thank you very much. You have become part of my life. I will not forget you. I will come back.