Happiness is a thousand smiles

SURROUNDED by lush jungle on the remote island of Siargao, Philippines, is A Thousand Smiles orphanage. The facilities might be basic, but the centre lives up to its name.

At any time throughout the day, sounds of laughter and singing can be heard echoing through the centre from the 28 children who call it home.

Earlier this month, the children of A Thousand Smiles welcomed a team of Gippslanders to the orphanage on a 10-day missions trip. The initial reserve from the children quickly gave way to new friendships as they excitedly welcomed the foreigners.

Among the visitors was Sale City Church assistant pastor, and Gippsland Times advertising manager Julian McIvor, who said he was overwhelmed by the happiness and positivity at the orphanage.

“It’s a very uplifting place, you don’t walk in there and feel sad,” he said.

“The kids are so positive that you don’t find yourself thinking about their past and what they had gone through, although at some point in the trip you were confronted with this.

“You just see beautiful, happy kids.”

Solely supported by local churches, the orphanage has for the last five years offered hope to the underprivileged children of Siargao. It was established under the vision of Traralgon pastors Tom and Maravic Scott with the help of Sale City Church.

The local team comprised people with expertise in the areas of health, education, construction and leadership training.

To get to Siargao, they had to take a one-hour flight from Manila to Butuan, then a three-hour van ride and three-hour ferry trip.

One of the first things the crew members did after arriving there was roll up their sleeves and paint the concrete walls of the multi-purpose room in an effort to make the humble centre more homely. The paint job was quick and the 28 pairs of hands assisting was a challenge, but the group was touched when the children excitedly renamed the brightly-coloured building their “palace”.

Over the next few days the children were treated to dinner at a local restaurant, a visit to the beach, ice creams and plenty of games and sport. In the meantime the local group was touched by their respect, generosity with what little they had and the sincerity and passion of their faith.

Local nurse Yolanda Marchant and paramedic Nicole Blackwell conducted health checks, training and education, and provided basic medications and a thorough first aid kit.

Jenny Doswett, principal of Elizabeth Street Primary School in Moe, focussed on the psychological health of the children through a program.

Sale City Church pastor Brian Heath said the aim of the local team was to make a lasting impact that would continue long after they had returned home.

“We came to serve, support and empower the children and staff at A Thousand Smiles, and the entire community,” he said.

“It is not our intention to parachute in and tell them how to live. We are coming alongside them and helping them build for the future.

“I believe not only Sale City Church but the whole Gippsland community will have a long-term commitment to this orphanage and the lives of these children.”

The team also travelled to remote San Rafael, where 12 orphans sleep on the pews and concrete floor of the church.

The members saw a stark reminder of the need for the proposed A Thousand Smiles orphanage.

They visited the site on which Tom Scott hopes to build the second home – a 4.9 hectare block which will cost around $30,000. Another $25,000 would be required for construction.

The site will have enough room to make the orphanage self-sufficient.

“You can run rice paddies, pineapple, coconut, pig, chickens. With 30 chooks, each child gets an egg a day,” Tom said.

“We’ll begin with 25 to 30 children (at the home), when we get things right like we’ve got Siargao right, we can take more.”

The children became orphans after being abandoned by their parents following a family breakdown or because they have a disability.

Despite the tragedies, there are stories of hope.

“We didn’t hear their stories, but we knew their stories before we went. We didn’t know what to expect until we got there. I thought I would feel so sorry for these kids,” Yolanda said.

“They have come from a horrific past, but they are the happiest people. They have nothing but are so generous with the little they have.”

All the children are after is a hand up, not a hand out. They want an education and a better future.

“The change in them is so dramatic,” Tom said.

“They come in starving and underfed with all sort of problems. You just see them grow.”

Another works teams will head to the Philippines in November, with more in January and June next year.

“If you come you won’t just be using your expertise,” Yolanda said.

“You will be digging deep inside yourself connecting with the people and giving them something of yourself.

“Don’t think you’re going to change someone else’s world – your world will change too.

“We can have a limited impact when we go over for 10 days, but if we partner together with them and commit to the future we can impact the whole community, not just the orphanage.”

Anyone looking to register their interest in joining future visits can contact Sale City Church via its website, www.salecitychurch.com

For more information about A Thousand Smiles Children’s Home and how to make a donation, visit www.latrobecitychristianchurch.com