This winter break, 24 Toronto Catholic District School Board high school students will embark on the annual service trip to the Philippines.
With the help of two TCDSB teachers and his father, Bernie Consul, TCDSB staff member Michael Consul has brought students to the Philippines for years.
Although students learn about Philippine history at Fort Santiago, relax their feet at Tagaytay’s fish spa, and watch New Year's Eve fireworks outside the Mall of Asia, the main purpose of the trip is to serve others.
At ANCOP-affiliated villages, students visit a build site where they dig holes, sift sand and rocks, and paint walls alongside local construction workers. At the end of the trip, they donate equipment and leave their hard hats behind.
“We bring Christmas gifts everywhere we go”
At every village and build site, TCDSB students distribute gifts to local children.
“Because we’re allowed to bring a second luggage, we ask kids to bring donations from their school, their church,” said Consul.
“They fill it up with toys, stationery, clothes. We distribute them at six villages and an orphanage, and we bring Christmas gifts everywhere we go.”
Student Jairuz Junio emigrated from the Philippines in 2008 and returned in 2013 as a program participant.
As a Tagalog speaker, he had the least amount of culture shock in the group. However, he realized that he still had a lot to learn.
“I was giving out gifts, and the eight-year-old kids were picking Colgate and soap instead of toys. I was supposed to teach them, but I was actually the one who picked up a lot of stuff from them," said Junio.
"I realized I should pay more attention to things than the PS4.”
“A really personal mark”
Since the trip is a senior-level TCDSB course, students complete evening classes in the fall semester, and after the trip, they complete their final assignment: two presentations to family, friends or classmates on what they have learned abroad.
Many students find that the high mark from the trip boosts their final grade average.
For Filipino-Italian student Joe Fantauzzi, the mark helped him get into Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.
“It’s a really personal mark,” said Fantauzzi. “It definitely helped my average, and it got me a scholarship, too.”
The trip is open for TCDSB students of all ethnicities and grades. For many students, witnessing poverty for the first time changed them forever.
After students visited Tondo through Smokey Tours, many of them changed their habits, vowing to conserve water and electricity and to finish the food on their plates.
“I’d never been to the Philippines before, even though I’m Filipino,” said Erica Cinco, a recent graduate of Francis Libermann CHS.
“The one thing I kept with me would be working hard for the people you love, and for the people you don’t even know. Helping the kids build their homes and their future and a better tomorrow— that’s what I brought back with me.”
To participate in the course, each student must fundraise to pay the $3995 fee that covers the flight, transportation, accommodations, food, water, and building materials.
For Emily, a Madonna CSS graduate who is now in her first year of Life Sciences at the University of Toronto, spending the fall semester fundraising was a learning experience in itself.
“My mom was supportive, although she was concerned about the money. But I showed her,” said Emily. “Most of it came from my school and from donations from the Mabuhay Toronto Lions Club.”
Jairuz Junio was able to raise the money with the help of his mother and his principal at Marshall McLuhan CSS.
“I was so thankful that Ms. Cangelosi was so supportive,” said Junio. “I sold spring rolls and made $800 in one day. My mom made them for me.”
Individuals, groups or businesses interested in sponsoring a TCDSB student’s Philippines Service Trip can contact Michael Consul at 416-569-6813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on October 9, 2015.