— Children Of Paradise

Located 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, Siargao Island is an almost savage, perfect representation of Paradise. But with all its breathtaking and endless, untouched beaches and stunning forest (largest mangrove forest in the Philippines), what intrigued me the most during my time in Siargao last November, were the people.
Particularly the children.

Depending on the area of the island, you might not see a human being for hours. But if you saw any, it would probably be children. Everywhere we rode our motorbike to, we would run into a flock of smiling children with an unleashed curiosity for us. They would be either leaving or on their way to school, Catholic Church, work (yes, work) or just running around in boarshorts. But whatever they were busy with, they would drop anything they were doing the moment they saw us to interact and connect with us.

The sight of some children going to school while other of the same age, the same Monday morning, were carrying bags of rice or jumping in the ocean for fun instead of going to class, made me very curious about their social realities;
I found that most island families in Siargao have between 5 and 7 children. They earn a very small income fishing and coconut farming ($100 per month on average), just enough to feed their families. So the majority of parents do not have the financial means to educate their children and to go to school, everyone including kids have to make an effort. To help bring home 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. And in many cases even the lucky ones who have access to education through their families savings or sponsorship programs, face a life of poverty outside school, helping their fishermen, farmer or laborer parents, during and after school days. The situation gets more challenging with a fast growing tourism which may be good for local jobs, but also increases the value of the floor. This forces many families to sell their land out of necessity, thus giving up a chance to make better income. Still, the kids keep going to school, keep going to church and keep smiling.

I had a special chance to see this island in it’s still pure, savage, “happy children” state. But the fragile economic context and new foreign influences raise many questions in my mind: What’s next for the locals? What is our role as visitors and paradise-land owners in the future of these children? Do we care?

Will children gradually stop being excited to see us? Or rather, how long until they do?
— Felicidad