I contacted Ruel Foundation five days before my flight left for the Philippines. Bags packed and ready to go, the ladies behind Ruel sorted my transfer, told me where to go from the airport and with that I was heading to Calapan City to spend a week with the Ruel Foundation Crisis Centre and Orphanage.
Calapan City sits on the island of Mindoro, a two-hour bus ride with a two-hour boat ride from Manila, capital city of the Philippines. Travelling is an amazing and life changing experience, but I didn’t just want to see the buildings and the beaches, I wanted to get to know more about the country and do a little to help where I could. Ruel House was the perfect place to have my eyes opened wide.
No sooner had I stepped foot into the centre, placed my bags into my room, was I faced with the most beautiful set of eyes staring up at me from the ground. Nina is a two-year-old girl who is unable to walk and doctors are still working out how to help her swollen joints. She sits on the ground and shuffles around on her bottom or is carried by the care team. Her family loves her, but they come from high up in the mountains surrounding Calapan and are unable to care for her complex needs. The moment I saw her I knew a little piece of my heart would always be in that centre. Each day, camera in hand I would slip into the Malnourished Centre (a separate building from the rest of the centre for children with special care requirements) and play with Nina. And each day her face would give the most incredible facial expressions. She’s yet to start talking, but her smile, her frown and stare-down never left me wondering what she was thinking. Toward the end of my stay I was helping to encourage her to feed herself from her bowl and taking her for walks outside.
Children come to Ruel for a number of reasons. Some need assistance with cleft palates or other medical needs, others have parents who simply cannot provide for them and their only option is to put the child for adoption, others come for a short time while families figure out how to best deal with the complex needs of their child. Every child needs sponsorship.
Having done a few volunteer trips I was amazed with not only how organised Ruel is, but at the patience and empathy they have in spades. Not only are they dealing with the children’s needs, but the needs of volunteers, of the families of the children there and the families who may adopt children.
It is a difficult trip to sum up in just a matter of words because each child touches your heart in so many different ways. The centre is well set up for volunteer groups and is more than affordable for accommodation onsite with (delicious) meals provided. My particular skill set saw me taking school photos and photos to be used for sponsorship. Others head there to teach, to help out with the children’s medical needs, or to simply be there with the children to provide support for the other workers. I learnt to calm tiny crying babies, to feed premature babies, to have small conversations with toddlers who spoke a different language, and how to get a group of restless school kids to smile for a photo at the same time! I was challenged in everyway and felt I left with a different view of children and of my own world. For anyone wanting the experience of a life time, I would certainly recommend volunteering for Ruel and seeing the beautiful children who are in their care and the amazing people behind the foundation who keep it ticking over every day.
If you are interested in volunteering you can find out more here https://www.ruelfoundation.com/volunteer-ruel-foundation