Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bonding with Tembari kids

CJ, aka Charlotta Rayner Johansson, an expatriate visitor, shows something on her cell phone while the kids get enthusiastic about looking at it.

CJ (from left), Hayward Sagembo, Tembari president; Thomas Kuo, fishing-export company High Energy general manager; and an employee of High Energy, at The Center on Saturday. Thomas dropped by at The Center on Saturday to deliver 20kg of frozen fish for the children. (More pictures at the end of story.)


A Friend of Tembari Children

THE ONLY word that could sum up this little tale is “bonding”.

It was one of those rare occasions at Tembari Center that a first-time visitor would opt to stay on some more beyond what a normal visit like this one would be -- just to be with the kids and bond with them.

And considering that our new friend has just been in the country for about two years to work with an international company, her instant personal attraction with the Tembari kids is even more heartwarming.

Having lived in Port Moresby for more than 17 years, I know that many, many expatriates have aversions to being with Papua New Guinean kids, much less work for them, as in serving them.

The reasons whatsoever for their being would be many but I respect such feelings, which I hope would somehow change for the better one day.

CJ, as Charlotta Johansson would like to be called, was unaware of Tembari children until last week.

She read a story in The National newspaper about them being named beneficiary of a fundraising concert sponsored by the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG) last Valentine’s Day.

Her company, Taubmans & International Paint, local maker and distributor of global paint brand Azko Nobel, was apparently scouting for some social outlets where it could channel its charitable juices, being part of its corporate responsibilities.

The firm has been in PNG for more than four decades.

And to CJ, Tembari’s public appeal for assistance from the general public so it could continue providing services to some 175 unfortunate children from ATS Oro Settlement outside of Port Moresby is such an opportunity for her company to look into.

She clipped the two-column item headlined “Filipinos aid Tembari” and emailed it to her bosses – for their consideration.

She has crossed her fingers, meanwhile.

But personally, it was an opportunity for her to work closely for a group of children that she would be meeting for the first time – if there was an opportunity for her to see them.

In short, she would like to have personal relationships with them.

The truth is that she has wanted to have something like this for quite sometime now with Papua New Guinean children. But the problem was that she did not know where to start, or where to find them.

In an email to me last Friday, CJ offered to come to The Center to help us with our cooking activities on Saturday – at least for a start.

At the same time, she wanted to find out for herself what assistance she could provide to the children on a personal level.

Arriving at The Center at past 10am after we convoyed to the settlement from Boroko Foodworld supermarket where we met for the first time, CJ was greeted with the frenzied excitement from Tembari children.

The kids have been used to being paid visits by outsiders, most of them first-time visitors who later became ardent supporters after leaving the center – and CJ’s showing up at their doorsteps was, as usual, one of those and therefore, a cause for celebration.

“Oh, my God …! They’re so excited …” were the first words I heard from her as soon as she got out her car.

“This place is great … I would love to be here as often as I could …”

Instantly, she mingled with the kids, asking them how they were doing on such a sunny Saturday morning.

She asked me what she could do to start her day with the kids who came, as usual, for the day’s special lunch.

She talked to our volunteer mothers doing the cooking (under my supervision, of course) and tried to find out what she could do to help them with kitchen work.

As always, Hayward Sagembo, Tembari president, was on hand to brief new visitors on our services, and this morning he did it, telling CJ that we have been doing the especial Saturday feeding since last year as part of our nutrition program.

More importantly, CJ was apprised of what assistance the children would need to further enhance their lives.

From snatches of our conversations while I was trying to orchestrate last Saturday’s lunch cooking that almost went disastrous due to some oversight in cooking process -- in which I prepared minced beef and special soup -- CJ says she has now a pretty good idea of what she could do to help.

“I have a good network of friends to whom I could tell the story of these children … I know they won’t resist this opportunity to help m…”

The kids need to be busy while waiting for lunch and after – maybe some new picture books they could browse, she says.

“I would look into this … I’ve got friends back home in Australia who have children that have outgrown kiddy books.”

During her four hours with the kids, she had been assaulted by shrieks and sounds only Tembari children could draw out.

But she dismissed them all; it was part of her baptism into volunteer work like what she was having on Saturday.

But for the first time, she loved what was happening in her life that day – that of being surrounded with children (there were about 80 of them who came for lunch).

I never knew what she was telling the kids and what the kids were telling her in return but the process of building a relationship with them was pretty obvious.

There was this bunch of small kids who cornered her in a huddle, engaging her in some nursery games like “rock, paper and scissor …” – one kiddy stuff which CJ obviously knew of very well, herself being a child long, long ago.

And she merrily played along, knowing that these kinds were enjoying the whole affair immensely as she herself was enjoying it, something she did not expect until that moment when it was actually happening.

Suddenly, it was 2pm – all the young diners in this especial Saturday feeding took off to return to their respective homes in the village, except for this bunch of little kids – preschoolers at that – who continued to hostage CJ with their nursery games.

And she did not mind a bit.

Truly, the Tembari children have been blessed with so many donors – corporate and individuals -- during the last one year and three months since I decided to help by marketing their future to prospective benefactors through my blogsite

And many of them gave but disappeared for good.

Personally, I felt CJ’s Saturday encounter with the Tembari children was a cause for celebration.

I know too well that her instant bonding with the children would outlast many donations that came in the past, but whose donors have decided to forget for good.

Bonding with CJ, the Tembari children would always be big winners like they are now.

Without doubt, the bond between them is certain to hold for long.

CJ and the children who look at her cell phone.

CJ helps volunteer mothers prepare food bowls.

Preschoolers sit on the blue mat while waiting for lunch to cook on Saturday.

A young kid takes a nap in his bilum while lunch is being cooked.

Another batch of kids sit at the dining tables while waiting for lunch.

A bunch of chicken drops by to pick morsel of food around the dirty kitchen.

Volunteer mother splits firewood.

Children kill time chatting inside the classroom

Children in queue to wash hands before having lunch.

A small kid gets help in washing his hands.

CJ with Hayward inside the preschool classroom. Hayward explains to her the various things the preschoolers need.

Hayward explains to CJ how Tembari operates, with help from various supporters and donors.

CJ and Penny Sage-embo, Tembari founder and program manager.

CJ poses with kids at the dining table.

With a bunch of kids who wanted to have their picture taken with CJ.

CJ with a group of grown-up kids.

Volunteer moms cooking lunch - rice, minced beef stew and soup.

Kids inside their classroom while sipping soup.

This group of kids prefer to have their soup outside the classroom.

Another batch of kids having soup just before lunch is serve – stewed minced beef with lots of veggies.

A girl dispenses cordial drinks.

Volunteer mothers wash used dishes.

Kids collect donated goodies from the car of blogger APH.

Kids drink iced water from the dispenser.

24) CJ (right) laughs as she looks amused at children helping themselves to iced water. (All pictures by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ)

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