When the Bellinger brothers turned up at a small Filipino village and started handing out chicken soup to children, the big smiles they received proved their efforts had been worthwhile.
Braden, 17 and Kian, 14 undertook a “life-changing” self-funded volunteer trip to help children in one of the poorest areas in The Philippines last month.
“My mom is from The Philippines and she grew up in those kinds of areas. She is always telling me stories about how there is a lot of poverty and kids don’t get help,” Braden told the Richmond News.
“We were just inspired to help the community there. It’s also special to me to help them out, because I’m also Filipino.”
The two McNair secondary students raised $3,000 prior to their trip from their own savings, and from family and friends.
Through a family friend, they reached out to a municipal Province of Bulacan, where their mom was born, before being connected to a village elementary.
After an hour in the car from the city to the harbour and a half-hour boat ride, they arrived at the village and the school — both were built on stilts above the water.
“We played games with the students every night, and bought gifts for all the children at school, about 400 of them,” he said.
“On the first day, we gave them hygiene kits, including toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap; on the second day, we bought everyone new slippers.”
Braden explained that most students there either were on barefoot or in broken sandals.
On the last day of their stay, the brothers paid for a “luxurious” soup to be made for the students and the villagers, that had chicken, sausage, pasta and vegetables.
“Perhaps for their whole life, they wouldn’t be getting this kind of blessing and we came and we made them very happy,” said Braden.
“I felt very, very humbled; I was happy I was able to do something in a small way but to make such an impact on them.”
In the following two weeks, the boys joined the local education ministry as full-time volunteers, delivering school supplies to remote schools.
Some villages are so remote that it takes hours in the car, recalled Braden, and some were flooded and could only be reached by a sidecar (a bike with seats attached at the back).
“A lot of what we saw were poor areas in The Philippines; children or communities living in poverty. That’s just a recurring sight everywhere we went,” he said.
However, what Braden and Kian were impressed the most by, was not the hardship they witnessed, but the happiness and positivity those children have.
“I think the people there in the Philippines, especially the children, are much happier than I would have expected.
"Although they don’t really have a lot, they are probably one of the happiest people I’ve seen in my life,” said Braden.
“And I was very moved to see just how much the kids value things. Because they don’t have a lot at all, so everything they have, they value so much.”
Braden said the trip has inspired him and his brother to appreciate more what they have in life.
“My mom always told us stories about when she lived in poverty in The Philippines, but I never experienced it; now I really get the full depth of what poverty is like,” said Braden.
“And I think everyone in first world countries should experience that – the connection of poverty and what you live in.”
Kian said the problems those kids have are “a lot different” compared to what they have here.
“They probably are wondering what they eat for dinner, but a problem I would have is that, oh, my shoes get dirty,” said Kian.
“I saw kids at my age carrying big heavy bags and trying to put stuff down. The difference is so amazing to me, how much work and effort they put in to help their community and their villages.”
Braden and Kian aim to continue their journey and bring happiness to more children in other areas of the world.
They have started a GoFundMe (GoFundMe.com/Bradens-Outreach-Programs) page to raise funds for their next trip.
“We will try to continue to organize it on our own. It doesn’t matter where I go – anywhere I can help out and make a small difference,” said Braden.
Marilou Bellinger said she is very proud of her sons.
“I was so poor; I (used to be one) of those kids. I didn’t have shoes. When the classroom was flooded, we were in while our feet were in the water,” said an emotional Bellinger.
“I’m so, so happy to see the boys going back to where I come from, and that they are willing to give back.”