— Children Of Paradise
Siargao Island is an almost savage, perfect representation of Paradise.
But with all its breathtaking beaches and forest, what intrigued me the most during my time in Siargao Island were the people. Particularly the children.
Traveling through the island, depending on the area, we wouldn't see a human being for hours. But if we saw any, it would probably be a flock of children with an unleashed curiosity for us. There wasn't a moment I didn't see a child smiling at me if one was around.
The sight of some kids going to school or church with their uniforms on while others of the same age were carrying bags of rice or shrimp, made me very curious about their social realities; and considering the fast-growing tourism in the area, what is our role in their present and future?
While tourism creates new local jobs, it also increases the value of the floor which forces many families to sell their land out of necessity, thus giving up a chance to make a better income. I found that most island families in Siargao have between 5 and seven children. They earn a small income fishing and coconut farming ($100 per month on average), just enough to feed their families. The majority of parents do not have the financial means to educate their children. Everyone including kids have to make an effort. To help bring home some extra income, many children often start to work at a very young age —a seven-year-old girl filled my gas tank one day-, rather than going to school. Some families have savings or sponsorship programs, but even in those cases, most children face a life of poverty outside the school.
With this fragile economic context, I can’t help but wonder if the new foreign influences will have a positive or a negative impact in the quality of life and education of these children and families. Will new jobs in tourism help children grow happier? Will culture and traditions change as outsiders arrive? Will the island become overcrowded? Will we damage their natural environment significantly affecting their lives?
I had a unique chance to meet these kids in their safe and familiar environment. On a spacious and undeveloped island. Much like Bali Island was back in the day. This time, all the children were happy to share their streets with us. I now wonder: Will these children gradually stop being excited to see us? Or rather, how long until they do?