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Inspiration and hope at the Ninos Pag Asa Centre Olongapo, Philippines.

Friday 13th October 2023

Captain John Tollady from the Cable Retriever, shares his account of a long overdue visit to the charity.

At the end of September, six Officers and I visited the Ninos Pag Asa Centre in Olongapo. Due to an unprecedented cable repair programme and then Covid, nobody from Cable Retriever had been able to visit for over three years.

Cely and her team welcomed us into the Centre and we were placed at pride of place, behind a table in their main room. The children then put on a show for us. There was a mixture of song and dance.

Janvee was a small boy the last time I visited in 2014. He is now a first-year student at Gordon College. He moved between drums, bass guitar, electric piano and singing with ease. He is totally blind.

Joenard took his turn playing electric piano and belting out some beautiful ballads, a particular favourite in the Philippines. His voice was amazing. He too is totally blind, but that didn’t seem to trouble him one bit, as he played the keys and adjusted the various dials with aplomb. He is the one who gives the blind children at the orphanage music lessons.

Patricia has a beautiful smile and great voice. She stood in the middle of the room and sang wonderfully. Her eyes are white. She doesn’t have pupils or irises, like you or I. She is at Grade 11 at school. One of the deaf children walked with her to the place where she was to perform and then brought her back to her seat after her songs.

A lot of the children work in twos. The deaf seeing for the blind and the blind hearing for the deaf. Cely explained that as there were not only children and staff attending that day, but also various parents of children who are undergoing cleft palate operations, the Centre was unusually busy and this made it more difficult for the blind children. On less busy days, they are fine making their own way around the Centre, up and down stairs unaided. They have the same chores in the kitchen as the sighted children and need no assistance with almost every facet of life. It is just in the outside world where the dangers lie. Pavements, guide dogs, pelican crossings and the bobbly tiles on our pavements, that indicate the sloped approach of a road crossing, are just not part of where they live.

Cely called a lovely little girl over, Cely said that she was 12. Her name is Baby Girl and she is deaf. Cely explained that she had been abandoned in a Mall, presumably by her parents, with a small plastic shopping bag her only possession. The Mall security found her late in the evening, wandering alone. She was taken to a shelter. Cely took her in and that day became her birthday, she knew no other. Everybody called her Baby Girl and that is all she has ever been called. Broadcasts on local radio, photos in local papers and posters on lamp posts for miles around produced nobody that knew (or wanted to admit) to knowing who she was. After three months Cely took her to the dentist to establish a medical base level and for him to advise how old the girl most probably was, by aging her teeth. He said three. So, nine years ago, three year old Baby Girl became one of the children we all sponsor. She will hopefully work through the mental scars of being abandoned by her parents and with our help, go to college, get a job and have a ‘normal’ life.

Several of the children I met in 2014 have married and are starting families of their own now. Cely said that they all visit and help when they can.

Shelwin is a third year college student’ reading Criminology. Ronnel is a first year student as St. Joseph College.

Angelica and Samantha are fourth year students doing a BSed. They graduate next July. Mariele and Kenna are second year students taking Psychology at Aura College.

None of these young people would have had these opportunities without Global Marine Group’s support. Their success in education not only gives them a life but inspires the others still in the Centre, that they too can achieve success when they grow up. There is a future.

I think that Cely said that there are 32 children in the Orphanage at present. Back when I visited in 2014, I was struck by how hopeless it all seemed. The poor little kids had most often been abandoned by parents who could not look after a child with disabilities. At least with Cely and the Centre they were safe, but I wondered ‘and then what?’. It seems that whilst I was right about how hard their lives were, there have been so many great success stories. Children Global Marine Group have sponsored have attended college and now have good jobs. Many of them came to our visit on Tuesday, to express their gratitude for the chance we have given them. It is very humbling to sit there and listen to a procession of young people thank you for the support and chance we have given them to be something other than abandoned children.

We had brought Pizza and Coke and it became a scene I have witnessed before in that same room. Just kids eating a lunchtime meal and talking, signing and giggling together. It felt ‘normal’ (that word again) and some of the feelings of guilt, from having so much while they have so little, subsided. If not for the dishevelled surroundings and a general lack of uniform, it could have been any number of after school events I have attended, when my own children were in school.

Children kept on coming up to shake our hands and put the back of our hands against their forehead, as a sign of respect. All the “thank you’s” were followed by “Po”, which is a Tagalog expression of respect. These poor little things haven’t a real clue who you are or why you are there, but they know that you are something good in their life and are on their side. They must spend many hours wondering what will become of them and what their futures hold. That is why I was so glad to see older children and even adults who have gone on, with Global Marine Group’s assistance, to have full and meaningful lives. It gives the little ones hope.

I think that Cely said that we have sponsored over 70 cleft palate operations this year, with another 20 planned. This is something that I have rarely seen in Europe. A baby is born with a deformation of the palate/top lip and if nothing is done, that child will have a disfigured face all their life. We are a judgemental species and with such an obvious deformity, they suffer taunting and discrimination. It is a surprisingly easy, quick and successful procedure, sometimes needing a second operation. The result is transformative. What was once the defining feature of a person’s face, becomes a faint scar line. You wouldn’t really notice. The operations we pay for make a real difference to a lot of people’s lives out here.

Global Marine Group is currently sponsoring the building of an extra room in the Centre. It will become sleeping quarters for maybe 6 girls, with an integral bathroom. The boys’ dormitory was stifling. The two ceiling fans had motors, but no blades. Of course, air conditioning is not an option. The ship will see if we can supply some fans, to at least move the hot air around.

As with UK charities or even the NHS, need seems to grow to match the funds available. Rice is a lot more expensive since Covid. Everything seems to cost more. Something those of us who live in the UK can relate to. It is just that the Centre is starting at a much lower level.

Before we left, two boys came over to us. The taller, older one, leading the other, tiny boy. The little boy had the same white eyes that the girl who sang for us a couple of hours earlier had. A difference was that his right eye did have a pupil in one eye. Cely said that he has been for tests and they await the results to see if he can be operated on, to give him some sight in his right eye. She said that they had a similar case a couple of years ago and the surgeons managed to save an eye and that child therefore can see and has moved on. Global Marine Group money did that. A little boy now has a life that he would not otherwise have had, due to the contributions we make. The little boy who stood next to me is too young to understand, but we do. 

As we were driven away from the Centre, I again experienced the disbelieving words from the other guys in the car that I had heard nine years before, as to what they had seen. Such hardship and misfortune, but also such love and hope. It really is a very special place. Heart breaking, but also filling you with pride for what Global Marine Group does and that there are such good people around as Cely and her team, who do what we cannot or choose not to do, to help children.

About the Ninos Pag Asa Centre
The Centre provides much needed care and support and those who are not cared for or looked after by any other agency in the Philippines. It is authorised and licensed to operate as a social work agency giving medical assistance, educational programmes, skills training and community-based rehabilitation. The centre not only look after those who are resident, but also educate and assist other children and adults in the local community.

Global Marine Group has been supporting the centre since our vessel the Cable Retriever arrived nearby in 1998 to support the SEAIOCMA region with cable maintenance and repairs. The Captain of the Cable Retriever, together with Richard McFarlane in the Philippines depot, and colleagues in the UK take responsibility for supporting the centre and organise many activities to this end throughout the year. For more information about how we support the centre click here.