Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I lift up my eyes to the hills

One of the many activities which make up the TVED programme is the "Youth Encounter" a three day retreat (encountering themselves, each other and God) which takes place in the "Don Bosco House of Peace" in Mantalongon. Each of the last three Fridays a group of students has set off, and each of the last three Saturdays, after our lessons finish, we have set off to join them, staying the night and returning with the students on Sunday afternoon. It has been a welcome break from the somewhat mundane routine of planning, teaching and marking, and also been very positive to spend some time with the students outside the classroom.

Mantalongon is about a three hour drive from Cebu, including the last half hour or so up a steep and only partially paved mountain road. For some of the students, who have never left Cebu city, it is a major adventure. For us, currently living on the opposite side of the world and accustomed to travelling fairly extensively around Britain and the rest of Europe, talking to some of the students gave a real insight into how small their world is. We talk about the world shrinking because of technology and transport, but for some of our students the world is very small in a completely different way, and the world outside that still seems like a very, very big place.

Being in the mountains, Mantalongon is noticeably cooler than Cebu, which for us has been a welcome respite for the ever-increasing summer temperatures; and for the students has brought another novelty: feeling cold. By British standards, it would hardly be described as cold, but then we do have glass in our windows, central hetaing and appropriate jumpers, coats and shoes.

The middle weekend was notably marked by my overnight battle with a very hungry mosquito, which I lost, spectacularly, meaning I spent the following two days looking like I'd been in a fight with my face so swollen that keeping my eyes open required physical effort. The swelling had gone down by Tuesday allowing me to count the 32 bites! For this weekend's trip, duly armed with an extra weapon in the form of insect repellant, it was my turn to come out on top!

Each Sunday morning we have been awake at 4.30am to be out and hiking up the nearby Mercado Peak by 5am. It has been a very pleasant change to be somewhere cool enough to go for a walk of a reasonable length at a reasonable pace. The top of the mountain is the location for photo taking, breakfast and individual silent prayer. Each week, the weather for these morning excursions has been gradually improving. The first week we sat on the mountain top buffeted by wind and rain, with some students believing they might die of cold.  The rain held off for our second climb, but any sort of view was shrouded in cloud. Third time lucky, for our final trip, the weather was perfect: still cool enough to be pleasant but bright with just a light breeze, meaning when we reached the top of our climb a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and the sea were spread out beneath us.

With the sessions mostly conducted in Cebuano, I can't really comment on the content of the retreat, but I know enough to know that the whole experience is something the students won't forget, and, in spite of the very uncomfortable bus rides, and not having had a lie in or day off for a month, it's something I am very glad we were a part of.

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