Why I fell in love with the GSF village …

Why I fell in love with the GSF village …

Before the opening ceremony, my son Josh, Dean Russell and I were privileged to be in the village for a few days …. 

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Rosario and Norman picked us up from Iloilo City and we headed out of the city and into the countryside. It was breathtaking driving along the roads – not only because it is so beautiful but also because of the risks that people take! There are so many motorbikes, trucks, buses, jeepney’s, people, water buffalo, dogs, all on the road at the same time and you have to negotiate your way through them letting each person know that you are coming through with a little beep.  

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After an hour or so, Norman and Rosario stopped at a bus stop for us to grab some water and crisps – they had some native Filipino delicacies for sale – ‘Balut’ eggs which Norman was trying to make us try?! We gave it a miss but I am assured that a developing bird embryo with a beer is a must! Maybe next time??  With a nice healthy packet of crisps and a coke in hand we set off again leaving the flat land of rice paddy fields and into the hills.  

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The landscape was so green – the hills covered in palm trees and maize that had been planted by the farmers – it was looking more like the jungle. We soon arrived into Lemery which is the nearest town to the GSF village. It was market day and the town seemed really busy with people everywhere, carrying chickens, bags of vegetables and all sorts of other delicious looking foods. 

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Rosario was telling us that since she had been here, (she landed on 16 December) that they had had three Typhoons. For this time of year it is not usual and it has made life very difficult in the village to get things ready for the big day. The road into the village was un passable unless by motorbike or foot, which has meant that supplies have been unable to get in. Today, we were lucky as we were in a 4×4 pick up and even that was finding it hard work. We slipped and slided and at one stage I thought, hear we go, time to hop out and push!  Rosario had managed to get the local contractors to help and already there was a grader on the track trying to level the mud out. I will be honest, at this time, I actually thought – how on earth are we going to get everyone into the village?  Looking out of the window of the pick up – black clouds looming in the hills – we really did not want any more rain. This road really does need to be properly constructed so that the villagers are able to get in and out for schooling, work, and day to day living. 

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As we rounded the last corner of the dirt road, we arrived into the village. I have been writing about the village for a while now and to actually be here was breathtaking. This amazing village in the middle of nowhere – surrounded by jungle and maize plantations. What blows you away is that the village really is a village – it has concrete roads through the village – the houses are proper concrete typhoon resistant houses with electricity, running water and it is such a contrast to the shacks, (that are also houses), that I have just passed along the dirt road.  It is incredible to think that these houses have been built here by the construction team and the beneficiaries, and materials have come in along a road that honestly is not a road – it is a dirt track – that when it rains, and it does a lot here is completely un passable. It can not have been an easy job this last two years – I am in awe of everyone that has achieved what has been done here. 

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As we all hopped out of the pick up we were instantly hit by the humidity and heat – it was tropical heat and within five minutes we had all changed into shorts – flip flops and t-shirts.  Arriving in jeans was not such a good idea!

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It wasn’t long before Josh had made friends with the children. Children are so much better at this than us adults.  He was playing IT, hide and seek, running races – all with limited conversation but just having fun. The children are beautiful, there is laughter, singing, squeals of happiness as you walk around, it is so nice to see them running around actually being children. No i-pads, x-boxes, PS4’s that keep them hidden behind closed doors and only focused on the screen in front of them. Maybe one day it will reach here but for now it was refreshing to see children being children.

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I ventured to the top of the village and this to me was the most special place. This is where the Training Centre (phase 2) will be built and to me, it is the best spot in the village.  It overlooks the whole village in front of you and as you turn around, you are surrounded by lush green jungle. It really takes your breath away – the noises of crickets, birds and actually a cow and calf were next me munching away too!  I could have stayed up here all day … but we had work to do!

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Once we had eaten some lunch, kindly cooked by Rosario, we had meetings with the film crew and event management team who were both getting ready for the 5th.  

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Walking around the village I passed fathers, mothers, children, and EVERYONE says, hello ma’am, umaga, hello, morning, kamusta, all smiling – they are just so friendly. I can think of places at home – I don’t even catch peoples eyes. The community spirit here in this village is something I really miss living in the UK.

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The fathers were busy finishing making their tables for their houses, creating  an area for eating in case it rains on the 5th, tidying up areas where construction materials had been, making signs, fixing the roads, making steps up to the training centre area and more – everyone was working and helping to get the village ready for the big day.  The mothers were tidying the gardens, every garden had its own definitive look with different flowers and plants. It was all looking good.

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As the sun went down we headed into DR’s house for a well deserved beer – luckily no ‘Balut’ eggs in site!  Tomorrow is another day – the teams from the UK, SA and AUS arrive for a day of filming in the village.  Can’t wait to welcome them into the village – it feels like home to me. I love it here – the people are warm, welcoming and have so much love.  heart  by Sammy Schwind,

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The Opening Ceremony – 5th January 2018

The Opening Ceremony – 5th January 2018

What an incredible few days – where to start is actually quite hard to do. We have done so much in the last few days, so I figured the best way was to talk about the actual opening ceremony and then work backwards letting you know about the build up to the big day. 

Today is the day that the 100 families will move into their new homes. Today is January 5th 2018. It started early with Greg’s family, friends and colleagues all meeting for a hearty breakfast before jumping into buses to travel to the village.  The Greg Secker Foundation village is a 2 hour drive from Iloilo City and along some pretty hair raising roads.

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We joined the hustle and bustle of a normal morning for the commuters of Iloilo. Families of five, six and seven people all crammed onto one motorbike – not a helmet in site! The Filipino ‘Jeepney’ jam packed as people pushed to get the last seat in – and in fact – no need to get a seat inside – just sit on top! 

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As we travelled through the city in convoy it wasn’t too long before the roads opened up into the countryside. Fields and fields of rice with water buffalo (Carabao) duly working with the farmers.

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As we arrived into Lemery, which is the nearest town to the village, crowds of people had heard about the big day and the arrival of Mr Greg Secker. They lined the streets, waving and cheering – all excited to get a glimpse of this incredible man who had built an entire village of 100 houses. 

 

As we turned onto the dirt track that only 2 days previously was literally un-passable due to heavy rain, we began the final approach up into the hills.  We could hear the beat of drums and we were instantly in the throws of the celebrations. Today the families would move into their houses, it was time to party!

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We hopped out of the buses and immediately Greg was surrounded by TV news crews all hustling and bustling to get the first interview with him. The atmosphere was electric as guests, entertainers, beneficiaries all crowded into the social hall.  

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The ceremony started with both the Philippine and English National anthems, and then Greg was introduced to start the speeches. There was not a dry eye in the house as Greg talked of the story behind this project and where we are today.

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It was heart warming to see the children on the stage with Greg – singing and laughing. It was important to Greg that the beneficiaries really felt it was their home so one member from every family came up to receive their “Certificate Of Occupancy” to their new homes.

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After Greg had spoken, our guest speaker, Nonito Donaire who had flown in from Las Vegas with his wife Rachel, spoke to the children of the village giving them a few inspirational words for the future. Rosario, DR and Alya also spoke – it was just so emotional – looking around at guests, dignitaries, VIPS and beneficiaries dabbing their eyes.  We were very honoured to be joined by Dionne Monsanto, Winston George Ellis, Ms. Angelia Ong (our GSF Ambassador), Under Secretary of Justice – Antonio Kho, Housing and Urban Development – Asec. Keira Buan, Secretary of Department of Justice – Vittilano Aguirre, Mayor of Lemery – Ligaya Porras Apura and Governor Arthur Defensor.  Thank you all so much for supporting us and joining in with the celebrations. 

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After lunch it was time for Greg and his family to walk around the houses and officially cut the ribbon and hand them over. What an amazing experience for Greg’s children to have this opportunity to not only see how hard life can be … but what you can do to make changes and help others.  

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One family in particular that Greg was keen to handover was Raymond’s family. A few months ago, Greg flew out on an emergency mission to help Raymond move the remains of his then home to higher ground as the rains had washed his home away.  

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As Greg’s family approached the top of the village and looked back there must have been 500 people following – a truly incredible site. 

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Now Phase 1 is complete, the houses are built – it is on to Phase 2 – building a training centre so the families can learn life skills and become sustainable in the future.  This project will officially be known as the Quine and Mathews Training Centre so it was only apt that James Mathews officially opened this. 

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Then it was back down the hill to the other side of the village where a ‘Monument of Gratitude’ has been built. Every person that has helped – worked – volunteered on the build of the village is to be recognised with a personal plaque put onto the wall. 

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Each person is to leave their handprint underneath – such a lovely idea and one to be able to show future generations.  Greg and his family took turns in leaving handprints.

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It was now time for all the children to relax and party – a magician entertained the children … and in fact the adults too! Ice cream served by Jolibee, popcorn and other treats were available all afternoon to keep the children well fuelled!  

As it got dark, it was time for music – Fourth Impact were on stage and it was time to party even more. Their music instantly got people dancing, it was a great site to see beneficiaries and guests all together just laughing and having fun.  As the band came to an end it really was time to finish the day. We all walked up to the top of the village and lit 100 chinese lanterns.. These were very symbolic to watch as they disappeared off into the night sky – a symbol of a bright future for the village.

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And finally, what better way to finish a day of celebrations than fireworks – these were just fantastic. The echo of the boom in the hills and the flash of the lights is normally a huge electric storm here, but this time for the beneficiaries it was not. The sky was lit up in every colour and the whoosh and whiz of the noise of the fireworks as they went up had us all oohing and ahhing! What a way to end the day. Most people living here had never seen fireworks so it was pretty special to see so many little faces with jaws just wide open in amazement! I am sure these memories will be with them for years to come. 

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After lots of hugs and tears it was time for everyone to find their transport and head back to the city.  The rain god timed it perfectly, as we all set off, so did he!  

Time to leave these lovely families for now and let them get some well deserved sleep in their homes for the first night.  Tomorrow they will wake up in their bed, in their house, in their village!! And so well deserved …. all thanks to Greg Secker. A man with so much compassion for others and the hugest heart.  heart

 

 

 

 

Our last update from the GSF village of 2017!

Our last update from the GSF village of 2017!

There is so much excitement in the village and understandably. Not only have our beneficiaries been celebrating Christmas with lots of games, presentations and a party, but in just a few days time, on January 5th 2018, we will be having the biggest party as our lovely families move into their new homes. 

Everyone has been so busy getting everything ready for the big party. The men were busy making tables today whilst the women were busy around the village making sure it all looks beautiful!

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As our last update of the year, we wanted to firstly let you know who won the Christmas Tree competition. We posted pictures on Facebook and had such a great response, with so many of you voting for your favourite tree.   After adding up your votes and the village votes … Christmas Tree Number ONE was the winner. 

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The blue team standing proud with their first prize.

And a reminder of what Christmas Tree Number One looked like!

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During the Christmas party the beneficiaries had a dance competition with the green team winning this.

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And the yellow team won the best team of the day for winning most of the games!

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There were so many prizes donated from everyone who has been part of the village – and with all the games … came a prize!

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One of our builders won the major prize – a gas stove.  

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The men played a native Filipino game called ‘Palo Sebo’, which looks terrifying! A pot of money is put at the end of a bamboo stick that has been oiled so it is very greasy to climb. The person who successfully climbs the bamboo, wins the post of money!

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Central Philippine University have been a huge part of the village this last year, visiting regularly and giving lectures on lots of different subjects. The children have enjoyed Saturday school with the students and a real friendship has built up. The Packaging Engineering students arrived with presents for the mothers, Jollibee meals for the children and held a party in the village. There were cash prizes for best dancers, paint me picture games and lots of celebrating. We can not thank you enough for all of your support. 

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So… our next update will be in the New Year … we can’t wait to show you the families moving into their homes and the celebrations that we will be holding. Phase 1 is complete – lets celebrate! 

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL.

Christmas Tree Decorating Competition

Christmas Tree Decorating Competition

A couple of weeks ago we told you about our beneficiaries starting a Christmas Tree competition which will be judged at their Christmas party in the village on 23rd December.  

The decorating has been taken very seriously by the five groups and the results of the finished trees are truly spectacular! All the trees have been made with various recyclable items from around the village.

We would love to hear which tree you think should win the competition. Please comment in the comment section of our Facebook post!

Here are the contenders:

CHRISTMAS TREE NO: 1 

Tree No 1

Christmas Tree No: 1 is made from… a real tree! But, the group have covered it with decorations of stars and butterflies cut out of plastic bottles and plastic wrappers.   The base of the tree is decorated with their trash in a bottle project which they started a few months ago, any rubbish found in the village was put into plastic water bottles.  Baby Jesus can be found in a manger to the side of the tree and this is made with materials from the coconut tree – husk and leaves. 

CHRISTMAS TREE NO: 2

Tree No 2

Christmas Tree No: 2 has been made of plastic wrappers from biscuits, breads, chips and wrapped around bamboo which was used as a base. 

CHRISTMAS TREE NO: 3

Tree No 3

Christmas Tree No: 3 has been made of tin cups, soda bottles, straw and plastic bottles. The base is made of the trash in the bottle project and the star on the top is made of plastic disposable spoons. 

CHRISTMAS TREE NO: 4

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Christmas Tree No: 4 has been made of plastic bottles of soda and the star on top is also made of plastic. They have planted plants in bottles added to the base so that the tree looks like it is behind a fence.

CHRISTMAS TREE NO: 5

Tree No 5

Christmas Tree No: 5 is made of dried leaves, fruits. The star is also made of the same but the tassles are made of cloth gathered from the dressmaker. The base of the tree is the trash in the bottle project and already they have planted plants around the base to make it look beautiful!

Please do let us know which tree you think should win. The final judging day is on the 23rd December 2017.

 

The Fire Department of Lemery, Iloilo visit the village.

The Fire Department of Lemery, Iloilo visit the village.

Our beneficiaries are going to be so well prepared for when they move into their new homes in 3 weeks.  This week the Fire Department of Lemery, Iloilo visited the village to give the beneficiaries a lecture on Fire hazards and protection. 

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Every house will come equipped with a fire extinguisher but many of our beneficiaries have never seen one before, so it is very important that they actually know how to use it, if they needed to!  Handbooks were also handed out for them to read about Fire Safety Tips.

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(Fire extinguisher lesson)

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The lecture finished with a fire drill and meeting point that they must all meet at, in an event of a fire. 

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Helping families in South London at Christmas time.

Helping families in South London at Christmas time.

On Thursday 14th December we partnered with The Salvation Army to help disadvantaged families in South London.  It was a huge team effort with employees from Learn to Trade, volunteers from the Salvation Army and volunteer friends and family who all helped in the organisation and throughout the day.  

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(Learn to Trade employees and volunteers helping to pack the hampers)

We kicked off at 9am and started packing 100 hampers with essential food items that will help these families through Christmas.  These food items are the foods that push up your household food bill, so for us to help out at Christmas in what can be a very hard time financially anyway, is extremely important.  Every family that had a child/children in their family also received a personalised present especially handpicked to suit their age group, wrapped and put into a gift bag.   

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(Food hampers ready to go… )

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(presents ready to go)

By midday the deliveries started and this is when the real rewards began! To see the families faces light up as we knocked on the door is truly the most special moment.   Some laughed with joy, some cried with joy but every single one of them were so thankful and it really does make you realise how hard life can be and how much of a difference these hampers and presents will make to them. 

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(Dean Russell ready to deliver presents) 

We certainly recommend that if you have never done anything like this before, please do. 

 

Our beneficiaries listen to a lecture on “Filipino Values”

Our beneficiaries listen to a lecture on “Filipino Values”

It is very important that when our beneficiaries move into the village, in less than a month, that they all have a deep understanding of respect for each other.

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A lecture was taken by Professor Kareen Jay Lozada, and she emphasised to them all, that although they all come from different areas in Lemery, and have different backgrounds that, it is important they understand that the key to a harmonious relationship with each other will ultimately be respect for each other. 

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When they live together in the village they must all help each other, look out for each other and raise any concerns immediately. 

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This community have got to know each other well since the building project began. They have all been involved in different projects around the village and have had to work together, planting, decorating, building and cooking. It has been a fantastic way of them getting to know each other, so, we hope that the transition of moving into the village and actually living together comes naturally. 

The Christmas Tree Decorating Competition is well on its way!

The Christmas Tree Decorating Competition is well on its way!

Christmas preparations start as early as September in the Philippines, so it was no surprise to have the Christmas Tree decorating already started.  

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On Greg’s recent visit to the village, (a week ago!) he was amazed by some of these started creations.  He pledged some cash prizes to the top three trees.

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There are 5 groups taking part and the criteria is as follows:

The trees have to be decorated using recyclable items from the village and will be judged on:  

Originality & Uniqueness 20%

Materials used 20%

Cooperation & Unity 30%

Overall Impact/Theme 30%

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The first round of judging will be on 2nd December, with the final judging on 20th December, so that they have more time between dates to improve their trees!! 

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We will have a voting day shared on Facebook too – so please keep an eye out and make sure to cast your vote!

Mothers making decorations

The announcement of the winners will be on Saturday 23rd December during the Christmas Party here in the village. Everyone has been invited: the beneficiary families, builders, workers, engineers and contractors. 

 

“All in a week’s work”

“All in a week’s work”

All in a week’s work ….. 

Greg and his team have shown us how it can be done, all in just ONE WEEK! It is the pure passion in Greg that just comes naturally to him, to help everyone in his path and to help make a difference. 

This is how his week unfolded …. On Monday the team left London Heathrow and flew to Dubai and then connected onto Manila. In Manila they were joined by our Ambassador, Ms Angelia Ong and they all flew on to Iloilo.  After an overnight in Iloilo they then flew to Lemery and then drove to the GSF village. 

On arriving at the village, there was a buzz in the air – Mr Secker is here. The beneficiaries followed Greg around the village, not letting him out of their sight!  After a fantastic community lunch, cooked by the mothers of the village, the team were then entertained with dancing, games and a christmas tree decoration competition. Who was going to win 1st prize?

Whilst in the village, Greg was also being filmed for a pilot for a documentary which is about encouraging other successful entrepreneurs to integrate the gift of  giving into their “business as normal”. If Greg can house 500 people .. there are certainly a lot more entrepreneurs out there who can do the same.  

Meanwhile in the village, Dean and Angelia did some story telling. Dean had written a book for the children of the village and with Angelia’s help translating it into Filipino they soon had the children giggling away.

After spending a day and a half in the GSF village it was time for the team to visit the school that the Foundation have pledged to help for the next 10 years.  Capanihan School is 2km from the GSF village.  Over the next few months we will build toilet facilities, an ICT computer training centre, a playground, a full refurbishment of the entire school and full catering for the children.

It was time for the team to bid farewell to the community and set off back to Manila to join Bill and Tani Austin from the Starkey Hearing Foundation, where they helped fit hearing aids to children that were deaf. To assist in the giving of a gift of hearing was a very emotional day with many of the team in floods of tears as the child gave the thumbs up as he or she heard for the first time in their life.  

The team had two more important visits to make before flying home – one was the House of Refuge Orphanage where Greg had sponsored the build of the medical centre, named after his late Grandmother, The Maud Clinic. They firstly stocked up with presents and then went and caught up with all the children.  And secondly, to personally thank all the wonderful Learn to Trade employees who have raised a fantastic amount of money towards the construction of the village. 

After five days it was time for the flight home …. Manila – Dubai – London.

 “All in a week’s work!” – Greg Secker – you are a true inspiration to us all. heart

 

A busy, yet very rewarding week for the GSF team.

A busy, yet very rewarding week for the GSF team.

What an incredible week, – our head of GSF, Peter Cameron-Burnett and our Foundation Coordinator, Racquel Kiffin flew out to the Philippines to spend time at the Foundation village. So far this week,  they have joined in with a Medical Mission and today they visited a small local school that GSF are to help repair and expand. 

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Wednesday 8th November, started with a beautiful sunrise, marking both a subo (sad) and nalipay (happy) day.  Today marked the anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, a sad day, but 4 years later, a happy day.  

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A Medical Mission was held for our beneficiaries where they received free medical and dental care. Medical personnel spent the day at the village volunteering their time to ensure that the community is well cared for, ensuring that they are healthy and happy. A day of remembering the past, but also looking forward to a brighter future…

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The beneficiaries were so happy to also be joined by our Ambassador, Ms. Angelia Ong and her close friend, Ms. Michelle Gomez. They too spent the day showing their support,  joining in with the party atmosphere of the day – and dancing with the parents and children! 

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A heartfelt thank you to everyone involved – our GSF team, led by DR our project coordinator, all our volunteers, the medical personnel and of course our beautiful Ambassador, Ms. Angelia Ong.

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Waking up the next morning  – was back to school day!  The GSF team visited the small local school that we are to help rebuild. It lies about a mile from the Foundation village in the hamlet of Capinahan.  The GSF team brought a few presents along to say hello! It’s a heart melting moment to see the reaction when you present the children with basics such as pens and pencils and simple toys. When you have nothing, even a little means a lot. 

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It was wonderful to meet the children at the local school, –  the teachers are doing an amazing job supporting them. The repair and expansion works we are engaged in will go towards helping to give them a brighter future.

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