— 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, what intrigued me the most during my time in Siargao Island, 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 a flock of children with an unleashed curiosity for you. They would be either leaving or on their way to school, Catholic Church, work (yes, work) or just running around in boarshorts. But they would drop anything they were doing the moment they saw us walking by, just to interact 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 and shrimp, jumping in the ocean or talking about our unfamiliar faces for fun instead of going to class, made me very curious about their social realities and the role of a fast growing tourism in their present and future.

While tourism is good for 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 better income. 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.

With the 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 live of these children and their families. Will the jobs created be worth it? Will important culture and traditions change as outsiders arrive? Will the place become overcrowded? Will we damage their natural environment, litter? Prices are already increasing in local shops as tourists are often more wealthy than the locals. I had a special chance to see this kids in it’s still pure, savage, “happy children” state. In an island that is not yet developed. Much like Bali was back in the day. I now wonder what our role as visitors and paradise-land owners will be in the future of Siargao.

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