Island life – humanity and the tourism conundrum.

When I think ‘humanity’ I almost automatically think ‘children’.  This week’s humanity theme for the WordPress weekly photo challenge comes from ThirdEyeMom.  She writes about her own interpretation and understanding of humanity, by way of introduction:

The more I see the world, the more I realize that although people are different, we’re very much the same.  We speak different languages, have different cultures, religions, values, and physical traits, yet we all share common hopes and dreams of love, family, and survival.

I think that sense of sameness, that ability to overcome barriers of language, religion and so on is never more obvious than when you meet a child for the first time.  Children find a way to engage you and interact with you, no matter what.

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Kids being kids. Fun in the water!

These children from a local village in the Philippines were completely fascinated by my underwater camera.  They swam out to me, full of curiosity and desperate to have a look at me using it in the sea.  They were thrilled to get their photo taken and then see themselves on screen.

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Taking a break from the day job, selling fried bananas to the tourists relaxing on their sun-loungers by the beach.

I love meeting children, reciprocating their warmth, playing with them and getting to know a little bit about them.  But I’m also aware of the potential pitfalls.  These children were incredibly friendly, but also really tenacious street sellers, peddling holiday trinkets to the tourist market that floods this island year-round for the diving opportunities on offer there. Although their smiles were endearing, the young sales teams could become a bit of a nuisance, badgering the same people day in day out to buy something from them.  But more importantly, in order to be on the tourist beaches desperately trying to sell their wares, they were missing out on school.

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Smile for the camera!

Unfortunately it was a common problem on the island. For many poor families struggling to make ends meet, the immediate and urgent need for income took priority over securing future earning potential through a solid educational foundation.  It is easy to make judgements about ill-advised parenting choices, but when people are living genuinely hand to mouth, sometimes the choices just aren’t there.

While I was on the island I spent some of my time teaching school children about basic marine science and conservation principles.  Part of the role was also trying to inspire the children, extolling the benefits of staying in school and getting a good education.  Classrooms were crowded, often with forty or more children crammed in a tiny space.  With children spilling out of the room, teaching from the front using the chalkboard – the only teaching tool available – was the only way.  Despite the rudimentary conditions, the children were always engaged, enthusiastic and eager to learn.  A scatter-gun approach to attendance, based on family earning needs, must make educational progress far harder for the children.  But at least those that go learn some of the basics while they are there.  Hopefully that counts for something.

Over the weeks I saw this little girl hanging around a lot outside one of the dive shops on the island.  I think her mum worked inside, and so the little girl took care of her own day care needs on the beach outside.  I often wondered what future she had ahead of her.  Such a bright, happy-go-lucky, bubbly little girl, but in all probability, lacking sufficient financial security and family support to seize the educational opportunities available to her.

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Finding her own amusement. Shy, but always ready with a smile.

As a tourist, it is such a dilemma.  Education is so important.  A genuine lifeline.  But money made on the back of the tourism industry by these children and their parents can actually keep the poorest families afloat.  If you make a stand and don’t buy their wares on principle – a statement that children should be at school not selling on the beach – those families suffer.

Short term pain for long-term gain is a laudable principle, but the reality for some families is that it can mean doing without food, medication, clean drinking water.  It is that stark.  I found it very hard, watching the very real struggle between economics and education, played out on such a human level every day.  I haven’t got the answer, but when I look back at these cheeky, smiling faces it leaves me with a real bitter-sweet feeling about humanity and the global inequalities in education and opportunity.

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28 thoughts on “Island life – humanity and the tourism conundrum.

  1. funfamilyfeats

    Sad but true. I’m from the Philippines. We have a beautiful country, many talented people but we have a corrupt government. The poorest of the poor suffer from these greedy public officials. People are struggling, some leave the country for a better life away from home.

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    1. jenny Post author

      It is a tragedy isn’t it, that corruption and politics get in the way of people having a better life. Although it’s not just the Philippines, of course. Hoping for change, as always. People deserve better.

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  2. Mabel Kwong

    These are such beautiful photos, and your story on the children in the Philippines went very well with them – very touching story that is so very true. Even if children don’t have the basic amenities in their lives, they will somehow make the best of what they have, learn to appreciate what little they have and learn to smile. We can all definitely learn something from them. Great interpretation of this week’s theme 🙂

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thank you, Mabel. And thank you for taking the time to comment. Children’s capacity for happiness really is a beautiful thing isn’t it? I agree, we could all learn something from them.

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      1. Mabel Kwong

        No, Jenny. Thank you for sharing these happy snaps from the Philippines. It looks as if they have so much to keep themselves occupied on land and in water. Lots of palm trees too, I hope there are coconuts there (I love coconuts!)

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        1. jenny Post author

          They do look like they are having fun! Yes, lots of coconuts – I’ve got other shots of them scaling palm trees like it is nothing at all! 🙂

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  3. ivy

    I too was born in the Philippines, and have always said that it is one of the things we as a society have to work on. It may just be the silver bullet: education. Not just in the third world, where education is a privilege and not a right where it should be, but everywhere.

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment, Ivy. It’s taking a long time, globally, for the reality of education as a right not a privilege to catch up with the vision isn’t it? I like your description – it could well be the silver bullet.

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  4. Amy

    It’s hard to see how young kids are not getting education and have no hope for better living in the future…

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    1. jenny Post author

      Those children were so full of joy and optimism, living in the moment, but I totally agree Amy, it was so sad.

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  5. Renate Flynn

    This was a wonderful homage to the enthusiasm and eagerness our children – everywhere, really – greet this world. Jenny, the emotional struggle comes through clearly as you discuss the need for survival vs the need for education (which ensures long-term survival). Ah, I wish I had the answer, too. Thank you for sharing this post and its wonderful photos.
    Renate

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thank you, Renate. It took me by surprise a bit, how powerfully I was affected by the human elements around me. I’d gone there to work with marine life, but there was so much more to it. It was an amazing, emotional experience.

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment – you must be very busy this week, with all the entries there have been! Well done on such an inspiring theme.

      They were beautiful and so full of fun. Basic healthcare and education should be a bare minimum, but we are still such a long way off. One day…

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      1. thirdeyemom

        You’re welcome! Yes it was busy but now I can relax! 🙂 I do a lot of advocating for children, education and global health. I believe so strongly in it. We are so fortunate to have so many things, even clean safe water, that millions around the world do not have. 🙂

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        1. jenny Post author

          We are very fortunate, indeed. I think you do amazing work, and your blog helps extend the awareness, which is a wonderful thing. Sometimes we all need a little reminder about others less fortunate than ourselves, and a catalyst to do what we can to help make a difference. 🙂

          Have a good – relaxing! – weekend.

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thank you Sarah, I’m touched.

      We all do what we can in our own different ways, I think. It was a pleasure and a privilege. I gained so much by doing it.

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      1. Sarah Longes - Mirador Design

        I know what you mean about gaining a lot! I’ve done volunteering in the UK for years.Just photography now but I used to do a lot for Crohn’s and Colitis UK. Learned loads and made some wonderful friends too 🙂

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        1. jenny Post author

          Oh, me too Sarah – so many great friends and memories from volunteering. There is no such thing as ‘just photography’! Everything and anything that anyone does in volunteering their time and effort is a big deal. It sounds like you have done a lot for others. 🙂

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  6. katpegimana

    You have captured this well – it’s a reality almost everywhere I’m afraid – inequality in education & opportunities. The best post I have come across for the WPC theme Humanity. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. jenny Post author

      Thank you for stopping by, Jo. Yes, it’s a really tough call – we can all only do our best and go with what we think is right at the time. You are welcome – great blog! :o)

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