New Beginnings in Cebu: Softchoice
February 26, 2018
Today was our first day in Cebu and oh, what a start! Upon our arrival at the school, we were greeted by 800 cheering students waving their ‘homemade’ Canadian flags. We were each gifted handmade pendants and then individually escorted through the crowd to the guest of honour section at the front of the assembly. Once the cheering had subsided, we were entertained by incredibly talented students performing a variety of traditional, pop and hip-hop songs and dances. Despite the fact that they were the entertainers, we were the ones that felt like Rock Stars and we loved every second of it!
As we spent time with and got to know some of the children we found out that it is not uncommon for them to walk up to one hour each way to get to school each day. Additionally, mudslides are a real concern – their impact is visible as every couple of hundred meters, the road is down to one lane, the other lane taken up with debris from recent slides. Often during the rainy season, the children do not go to school. The risk of being buried or swept away is just too extreme.
The student are so excited to be receiving laptops. But I think, and maybe naively, that they are just as excited to spend time, chat and take selfies with us. As with most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it.
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice
Now we know, and knowing is half the battle!
February 28, 2018
The sun rises on the third day of our international project. Despite how physically sore we may feel from yesterday, it seems everyone made it to breakfast an hour before we’re set to depart for the school – each individual re-energized and reflecting on what was accomplished the previous day.
During our introduction at the Camp 7 National High School, I was told most students will refer to us as “Joe,” which is a reference to G.I. Joe and a result of the U.S. military presence here years ago. Yesterday, as I walked down the steps to the school and was greeted by various students, I realized how many were now calling me “Peter” instead of “Joe.” Although we’ve only been here for 48 hours, I’m amazed at how connected we are with the students. Their each of their faces are becoming more familiar and we’re already on a first name basis with many.
Although both days so far have been special in their own way, today we’re especially excited as we’re preparing a lunch to serve to 400 elementary students.
As the day approached noon, a long line of excited and hungry students formed. We served Lugaw, which is a Filipino chicken and rice-based soup. The kids are going crazy for it! After the students were served, I grabbed a bowl for myself and sat down with a group of students. We chatted about their favorite school subjects, and what sports they play. Basketball was the clear winner.
Often times when I’m at work, I have a habit of just eating lunch at my desk. As I chatted with these kids, who are loving every minute of the Lugaw, I was reminded of how important it is to take a second every now and then to appreciate the moment.
We’re incredibly fortunate to lead the lives we do in North America, and to witness the genuine happiness that a simple lunch can bring these students is something I’ll carry with me for a long time.
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice
Let the games begin!
March 1, 2018
As we got to our fourth day of work for the project, it had a bit of a different start. Something that made us feel as though we should all be 7’ tall and having our own shoe lines. Well before you think we abandoned the trip and headed to Hollywood, you’re incorrect. Instead we arrived to a paparazzi style crowd of kids ages 5-18 for the game of the century: The Cebu Varsity basketball team vs. the Softchoice basketball team.
So you have to ask yourself, the Softchoice basketball team? Do we even have one of those? Well after today, playing against a highly skilled group of Varsity Boys, one can assume the talented group of IT professionals from Softchoice will NOT be filling that position.
However, once the game came to a close, and all the Softchoice team was able to catch their breath and limp off the court, we we’re surrounded by a grove of our screaming fans from Camp 7 School. Our faces hurt from the megawatt smiles we had for countless selfies. These kids loved cheering for their school, but as a member of the losing team, we were treated as though we were LeBron James, himself.
Once we got back to the project work, our NBA All-star fans and the celebrity experience propelled us through our workday. Even as we were wrapping up, and having our evening group discussion, we as a board aren’t discussing the work itself, but more how we see these kids like they’re the celebrities in our lives. The way they’ve impacted our lives in four short days, we talk about them like they’re the all-stars, or the athlete on the cover of ESPN. They’re constant happiness and love of life makes this all worth it. Orange Nation are all fans. We’re the cheering crowd and routing for each and every kid that Softchoice Cares comes into contact with.
In the game of life, as we navigate our own teams up and down the court, it’s nice to take into consideration the “plays” others around the world are trying. The simple skills in basketball are key to anyone’s success in life. The fundamentals of the game are simple. Be kind, try and find simple happiness, and realize the small moments in life can be the greatest plays, to do your best at the game of life.
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice
One week down, one to go
March 2, 2018
Our first week has come to a close in Cebu. This voyage has been rewarding in being completely entrenched in the Cebu culture, and also physically demanding in the labor work of improving this community’s technological future.
In hopes of helping our Softchoice family and friends to understand the time we have spent in Cebu, I wanted to provide a brief overview of the work we’ve accomplished thus far. We have focused our time on three key projects:
1) Configuration of technical infrastructure: The team dedicated to configuring the technical infrastructure for the students have worked in a temporary lab in while construction continues in the final building. Each of the 25 Lenovo computers were set up with focus learning applications (OpenOffice, Chrome, Scratch) and security software (Sophos) ensuring sustainability of the project. This was done with an emphasis of instilling best practice procedures for both student and teacher profiles.
2) Reconstruction of permanent computer lab: While the temporary lab was in progress, another team focused on the construction of the permanent computer lab. This required demolition of the existing eroding roof, retrofitting windows for security, and improving the bathroom facilities. The team dedicated to the project spent many hours ensuring the longevity of the learning environment.
3) Renovation of student assembly area: The student assembly space is used for many school events: morning announcements, pledge of allegiance, and other cultural presentations. This is the same assembly area the Softchoice team was greeted earlier this week. The goal of the renovation is to provide a space for the students that will further meet their daily wants and needs. One of the improvements include a functional basketball court, which will help the school prepare for its next match against the Softchoice international basketball team!
While blood, sweat and tears have poured into our daily tasks of this endeavor, the inclusion we have felt in this community is overwhelming. I have never in my life felt so revered by complete strangers. Many of the teachers and students understand and appreciate why we are here, but a majority simply cherish an unprecedented opportunity to spend time with and learn from strangers from the other side of the world.
My life will be forever changed by this experience. I can’t wait to see what the future has to bring to these amazing people.
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice
What a difference a weekend can make
March 5, 2018
After one week at the Camp 7 School, our Softchoice team was able to put away our shovels, hammers, drills, and filthy clothes for a weekend in the city. It was a nice break for our bodies as my hands are now no longer bruised and swollen and my back hurts much less. It was also a chance for us as Softchoice employees to get to know each other a bit better outside of the working environment.
For me, there is no better way to get to know people than over a meal, since the dinner table is a sacred place to share stories, opinions, feelings, and most importantly, food! For those that know me, I enjoy eating (sometimes to my own detriment), and I especially enjoy trying new foods in a different country that I likely won’t get to eat anywhere else. Fortunately enough we have had some great cooks at our hotel in the province that have treated us to some outstanding Filipino food…but there were still a couple of dishes on my list (like lechon and halo-halo), and I knew I would get these in the city. First stop was Rico’s Lechon, which specializes in…you guessed it, LECHON! Lechon is essentially a full pig that is roasted on a spit and they pull off big chunks of meat depending on how much you want (for those wondering we went with a one kilo plate for three even though it was recommended for five-six people). We coupled that with some shrimps and a delicious soup called sinigang. After dinner, it was then time for dessert. To find the best halo-halo, we were recommended a fast food restaurant called Chow King. This was to be my first halo-halo, and I had no idea what to expect since it is made with a scoop of purple yam ice cream on top of shaved ice with evaporated milk, jellies, fruits, nuts and even some beans mixed in below. I could not have been more impressed with how delicious it was. I will definitely be going back for both these dishes at the next opportunity.
As for the conversations around the dinner table, one thing kept coming back, which was how much and how often we kept thinking back to the kids at the school. By now, we each have a few different kids that hover around us at any given time and with whom we share stories, pictures and even secret handshakes. When we were able to go to a grocery store, the first thing I thought of was to get some snacks to share with the kids. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one with the idea. We knew that one of the girls at the school LOVED Harry Potter but had only read the first book over and over as it was the only book of the series available at the school. As they came across a bookstore in the city, some of our Softchoice employees went and found four out of the six remaining books from the series and donated them to the school so that the kids can learn what happens to Harry and his friends at Hogwarts.
As we wrap up the first day of our second week here in Cebu, we can start to see the end approaching. Friendships have been forged not just between us Softchoicers, but with the kids, who just seem to brighten up whenever they see us, and it will be very sad to say goodbye when that time comes. However, tonight is the final night of 13 for the Fiesta of San Pedro and the street party at the church next door is ready to get started!
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice
Salamat from the Students
March 6, 2018
The week before we departed for the Philippines, Softchoice Cares (SCCares) learned that many of the classrooms at Camp 7 lacked basic school supplies. Some examples of these are teachers sharing chalk between classes, and many students lacking anything to hold their homework to and from school. Knowing something needed to be done, SCCares sent one last internal campaign to raise money for both student and teacher school supplies.
Fast forward to this week. In conjunction with the Rise Above Foundation and a local school supply store, we were able to use the money raised to invest in a plastic envelope case, a pack of one dozen pencils, eraser, and pencil sharpener for all 1000 students. Additionally, chalk, red pens, crayons, tape, chalk erasers, school paper were purchased for each classroom. We even had enough left over to buy the school a fresh basketball hoop for the new cement platform being built this week. Even the owner of the school supply shop thought we had mistaken our numbers and was shocked to find our order count intentions were true.
To say the teachers and students were surprised would be an understatement. Although this may seem like a simple act of kindness in North America, the students and teachers were beyond thankful. The Principal later shared with us that in the 11 years she has been with the school, not once has anyone donated school supplies. Even one of the girls was so excited, she sharpened all 12 of her pencils right then and there.
To any Softchoice employee reading this blog, know that your generosity has moved and inspired the students and teachers of Camp 7 High School. None of this would be possible without each and every one of you. Your monetary donations have gone a long way to enhance their classroom experience.
Lastly, I’ll share with y’all this beautiful drawing one of the students made for us today. It’s of the students and Softchoice employees embracing each other as they look into the Cebu Mountains. Above it, reads “Together we can make a difference.”
DWC Volunteer | Softchoice