— Children Of Paradise
Ongoing series: CHILDREN OF PARADISE
Siargao Island is a perfect representation of Paradise.
But with all its breathtaking beaches and forest, what intrigued me the most during my time in Siargao 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. The sight of some kids going to school with their uniforms on while others of the same age were carrying bags of shrimp or filling up the tank of tourist motorcycles, made me very curious about their social realities. How is life changing in Siargao with steady growth in tourism on the island?
I found that most families on the island 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. 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.
Increased tourism has the benefit of creating new local jobs, creating unprecedented growth opportunities for these families. On the other hand, Tourism 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. Many questions come to mind; will new land-owners consider what's best for the locals? Will tourists damage their natural environment? More visitors could mean more business, but at the same time, it could bring crowds and litter. It could influence their culture and traditions. In any case, this is a life-altering moment for the people in Siargao who have already started adapting to the changes.
Aside from the fragile economic context, 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. What I'm wondering is, will these children become accustomed and gradually stop being excited to see us? Or rather, how long until they do?