My final week at Tuloy was filled with mixed emotions. It was the perfect way to end one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I apologize in advance for the long blog post!
Every morning, Dylan and I continued to work in aquaponics. We lined the insides of pots with wood shavings so that water could filter through the cracks when they were sitting under water. We then filled these small pots with soil and placed them in hundreds of holes along a long piece of Styrofoam that floated on the surface of the water. Before Friday, the final day of our internship, I did not truly understand and appreciate the purpose of our work in aquaponics. In fact, I probably considered aquaponics to be some of our least important work.
God surprised me by opening my eyes to the importance of our work in aquaponics. On Friday, around 250 Voc-Tech students came to watch Dylan’s players’ championship basketball game and my students’ dance performance (the halftime show) to conclude our clinics. After the game and performance, Father Rocky thanked us and spoke to the children about all that we had done for the past seven weeks at Tuloy. He talked about how we were working in aquaponics ten hours per week by pulling weeds, planting seeds, filling pots, and painting grates…things the children do on a daily-basis as well. The emphasis and reasoning behind his speech was servant leadership and leading by example. For five weeks, I hadn’t thought about aquaponics as a means of gaining respect from the Tuloy kids. Because we were doing the same work every morning that they did every afternoon, the kids looked up to us in a more meaningful way. We were serving as role models that they could respect not only for what we were telling and teaching them, but also for what we were doing.
Thursday was the final day of our English tutoring sessions, so Dylan, Camille (another volunteer at Tuloy and a new friend of mine), and I hosted a pizza party for our students. On Wednesday, we told each of our three groups of five students that there was going to be a surprise the following day, but they would need to create skits within their groups to present to the other two groups in order to get that surprise. We required our students to incorporate into their skits a designated number of vocabulary words and phrases that they had learned. I gave my students the scenario of new students coming to Tuloy, and they worked together to develop the rest. They had two kids play the “existing students” at Tuloy, and three kids play the “new students” at Tuloy. The “existing students” showed the “new students” around Tuloy and taught them what chores and activities they did on a daily basis. They did such a great job working together to create and practice their skit as I answered their questions about grammar.
When Thursday came around, the students were so excited to present their skits. They eagerly watched the other groups perform and cheered loudly when each one had finished. My kids surprised me with an extra performance that they presented in front of the students and tutors after each group had performed their required skits. They announced that they wanted to thank me for teaching them and then sang my favorite Filipino song, Pusong Bato, that I had told them about during our first lesson together. They continued by singing a song that said, “Thank you, God bless you, Thank you, We’ll miss you!” With tears in my eyes and the biggest smile on my face, I ran up to them to thank them and give them a huge group hug. It was so sweet and so unexpected. The other two groups then went up front to thank us and present songs and dances, too. After the performances, I presented certificates and gift bags to my students as we ate pizza. The gift bags contained an English-Filipino dictionary, their notebooks and art projects, and coloring utensils that we had used. As I presented these to each student one-by-one, I might as well have been giving them a million dollars. They thanked me close to twenty times and held on to their bags with such excitement. They held their certificates up high and asked to take a million pictures with them. We finished the pizza party by playing games and talking with the kids. My students spoke a different dialect of Filipino called Waray. They taught me simple things like “good morning” and “I love you.” We laughed as I tried to pronounce these new sounds to which I had not yet been exposed. I’m so grateful for the time we had to celebrate these students’ accomplishments in learning English.
One of the girls in my English sessions particularly touched my heart. From the first lesson, Marian stayed after every day to help me clean up and to push in every other student’s chair that had forgotten. She would thank me ten times after every lesson with a huge smile, and I would see her rapidly taking notes to remember all that she had learned. She was so joyful and so grateful. As we said goodbye and I hugged each of my students on Thursday, I looked over to see Marian with tears in her eyes. She squeezed me so hard and begged me to come back soon. She told me that she had learned so much and thanked me over and over. I will miss Marian’s smile, selflessness, and joy so much.
That same afternoon, Dylan and I said goodbye to the staff with whom we had eaten lunch every day of our internship. We decided to get their favorite desserts from a local bakeshop and restaurant called Conti’s. Before serving dessert, we spoke to the group of about fifteen nuns, priests, marketing employees, financial employees, and others from the management committee about how grateful we were for the opportunity to serve at Tuloy. We wanted to make this memorable, so we had Dylan’s Filipina grandmother translate our speeches into Tagalog. We laughed at our inability to pronounce the long words as we read our speeches, but the staff was so supportive and truly appreciated our attempt. They thanked us after and we all enjoyed the delicious mango and chocolate cakes.
Like I mentioned before, we had a big basketball game and dance performance on Friday for the Voc-Tech students to watch. We welcomed our audience and told them a little about what we had done for the past five weeks in our dance and basketball clinics. The game started and all of the students excitedly cheered on the two teams. My dancers were so nervous, so I went around and gave hugs and encouragement as I wished them all good luck. They performed four dances (two contemporary, two jazz) for the halftime show, and the crowd LOVED it. Their classmates in the audience cheered loudly every time there was a leap, lift, or exciting part in the dance. A lot of the adults present said that the contemporary pieces really touched them. I was so proud and so excited for my students. After the show, staff members at Tuloy came up to compliment the choreography and work of the students. Father Rocky told me that he did not expect the students to perform anything like that. The students had exceeded everybody’s expectations, and it was all because of their hard work and love for dance.
Two of the girls in Group 2 came up to me to apologize after their first piece for being off on the timing of their dance. They started to cry and said that they were so embarrassed. I told them that they should be proud and that there was no reason at all to cry. I even told them about how I had fallen on stage at a dance competition a couple years ago. I was so embarrassed but I had to get up and continue dancing…in front of an audience and judges. I had to shake it off, realize what I did wrong, and continue to perform for the rest of the competition. They seemed comforted that I had been through an embarrassing moment on stage and that I could relate to them. They apologized again and I reminded them not to apologize. They needed to be proud of their ability to stay together as a group and perform with excitement and energy.
After the basketball game ended, the Tuloy residents (including our clinic students as well as others) performed songs and dances for us. This was a special moment for me, because it brought back memories of when I had visited Tuloy in January of this year. The kids had performed different songs and dances for my family and me…and that’s when I fell in love with the Tuloy kids and knew I wanted to spend my summer working there. Now I was watching the kids perform for me, thanking me for spending forty hours per week for the past seven weeks with them. Where had the time gone? My heart broke as I thought about leaving these kids. I tried to remind myself that I would be back in the Philippines by December, and Tuloy would be one of the first places I would go after landing in Manila. Some of the kids broke off from the group of performers that continued to sing for us so that they could give Dylan and I thank you notes. We each ended up with close to fifty, heartfelt, sweet, and compassionate thank you cards and posters that I have compiled into a scrapbook that I will treasure forever. One of my favorite messages in a card that I received said, “Thank you...with you, I feel I belong.” These kids were so grateful that we had spent our time at Tuloy, but I definitely was more grateful for the joy and inspiration they had given me.
Father Rocky spoke after the kids’ performance, and then Dylan and I said our final goodbyes. I had my dancers stay after to receive certificates and silk roses as a “thank you” and “congratulations.” Every hug and goodbye to each of my dancers was so hard. I truly appreciate the hard work they have shown me these past five weeks. They learn so quickly because they do not take their time in class for granted. They are so grateful to call Tuloy home and to learn in school and in other activities like dance. Their drive has inspired me to work harder in school and in my dance career. I have learned that every opportunity I have to learn and grow is a blessing. All of my students begged me to teach dance when I return…so hopefully this will not be the end of my teaching at Tuloy. I will miss those kids so much!
Tuloy has taught me so much. I have a greater appreciation for my relationships with others and I value deep connections with people more than ever. I also appreciate my opportunity to receive an education more. I know that I take for granted the ability to go to college and develop a clear career path, while so many kids are left with no ability to go to school because they spend their time searching for food on the streets. Fortunately, Tuloy has given so many of these kids the opportunity to learn basic skills, a trade, and about the God’s grace and plan for their lives. Tuloy will hold a special place in my heart forever, and I am excited to continue to support them in any way I can. Tuloy, this is not “goodbye,” only a “see you soon.” I am counting down the days until I return.
If you want to learn more about Tuloy and its mission, visit their website at tuloyfoundation.org.
Thank you for reading my blog!