For two weeks in 2018, the Softchoice Cares Board embarked on an international project to build a computer lab in Cebu, Philippines. Below is a day-by-day recap of their journey and experiences. To read a quick overview of the project, click here.
Feb. 26: A rock star’s welcome in Cebu!
By: Kathleen D’Sylva
Today was our first day in Cebu City, Philippines. Oh, what a start!
Upon our arrival at the Camp 7 National High School, we were greeted by 800 cheering students waving their handmade Canadian flags. We were each gifted handmade pendants, and then individually escorted through the crowd to the guest of honor section at the front of the assembly.
Once the cheering had subsided, we were entertained by incredibly talented students performing a variety of traditional, pop, and hip-hop songs and dances. Despite the fact that they were the entertainers, we were the ones that felt like rock stars, and we loved every second of it!
As we got to know some of the children, we found out that it is not uncommon for them to walk up to one hour each way to get to school each day. Additionally, mudslides are a real concern. Their impact is visible, as every few hundred meters the road we came in on is reduced to one lane. The other lane is filled with debris from recent slides. Often during the rainy season, the children do not go to school at all. The risk of being buried or swept away is just too extreme.
The students are excited to be receiving laptops, but I think they are just as excited to meet new people from a different country and culture, chat with us, and take selfies to commemorate the moment.
I’m really looking forward to our time here!
Feb. 27: A fresh perspective
By: David Wagner
Whether I’m at home or at our local Softchoice office, I take such pride in my daily motion of PowerPoint decks, strategic business discussions, and tasks that if not completed may slowly begin to unravel my world.
Saying that sounds a bit silly. I know that won’t actually happen, and yet I continue to wake up day after day and begin striving for my next “win.” Whether that’s being the top sales team for the month or to get a promotion at Softchoice, I push forward just the same. I actually believe that my worth has more to do with winning and what I accumulate before I retire. Whatever that means.
Today was different. I’m surrounded by people who I’ve known for several years from all across North America, and each of them are experts in their Softchoice roles. Today, I saw a sales executive from New York using a sledgehammer to demolish a tile bench. I also saw one of our channel partner leaders entertain a group of students with magic tricks. Every one of us stripped down to our most natural being.
It took just two days here in Cebu to look at this world differently. Nineteen people coming together to represent a corporation of many with the same mission of helping someone less fortunate. My hands are sore, my back is tired and my heart is full.
Feb. 28: Now we know, and knowing is half the battle!
By: Peter Jones
The sun rises on the third day of our international project. Despite how physically sore we may feel from yesterday, it seems everyone made it to breakfast an hour before we’re set to depart for the school – each individual re-energized and reflecting on what was accomplished the previous day.
During our introduction at the Camp 7 National High School, I was told most students will refer to us as “Joe,” which is a reference to G.I. Joe and a result of the U.S. military presence here years ago. Yesterday, as I walked down the steps to the school and was greeted by various students, I realized how many were now calling me “Peter” instead of “Joe.” Although we’ve only been here for 48 hours, I’m amazed at how connected we are with the students. Each of their faces are becoming more familiar and we’re already on a first name basis with many.
Although both days so far have been special in their own way, today we’re especially excited as we’re preparing a lunch to serve to 400 elementary students.
As the day approached noon, a long line of excited and hungry students formed. We served Lugaw, which is a Filipino chicken and rice-based soup. The kids are going crazy for it! After the students were served, I grabbed a bowl for myself and sat down with a group of students. We chatted about their favorite school subjects, and what sports they play. Basketball was the clear winner.
Often times when I’m at work, I have a habit of just eating lunch at my desk. As I chatted with these kids, who are loving every minute of the Lugaw, I was reminded of how important it is to take a second every now and then to appreciate the moment.
We’re incredibly fortunate to lead the lives we do in North America, and to witness the genuine happiness that a simple lunch can bring these students is something I’ll carry with me for a long time.
March 1: Let the games begin!
By: Ross Thornton
The fourth day of work for the project had a bit of a different start. Something that made us feel as though we were 7-feet tall and should have our own shoe lines.
Well before you think we abandoned the trip to join the NBA, you’re incorrect. Instead we arrived to a paparazzi style crowd of kids ages 5-18 for the game of the century: The Cebu varsity basketball team vs. the Softchoice basketball team.
So, you have to ask yourself, the Softchoice basketball team? Do we even have one of those? Well, after today, playing against a highly skilled group of varsity boys, one can assume the talented group of IT professionals from Softchoice will NOT be filling taking up the sport professionally any time soon.
Once the game came to a close, however, and the Softchoice team was able to catch its breath and limp off the court, we we’re surrounded by a grove of screaming fans from Camp 7 School. Our faces hurt from the megawatt smiles we had for countless selfies. These kids loved cheering for their school, but as a member of the losing team, we were treated as though we were LeBron James, himself.
Once we got back to the project work, our NBA all-star fans and the celebrity experience propelled us through our workday. Even as we were wrapping up, and having our evening group discussion, we as a board didn’t discuss the work itself, but more how we see these kids like they’re the celebrities in our lives.
The way they’ve impacted our lives in four short days, we talk about them like they’re the all-stars, or the athlete on the cover of ESPN. They’re constant happiness and love of life makes this all worth it. The Softchoice squad are going to be life-long fans of theirs. We’re the cheering crowd and routing for each and every kid that Softchoice Cares comes into contact with.
In the game of life, as we navigate our own teams up and down the court, it’s nice to take into consideration the “plays” others around the world are making. The simple skills in basketball are key to anyone’s success in life. The fundamentals of the game are simple. Be kind, try to find simple happiness, and realize the small moments in life can be the greatest plays – to do your best at the game of life.
March 2: One week down, one to go
By: Nicholas Young
Our first week has come to a close in Cebu. This voyage has been rewarding in being completely entrenched in the Cebu culture, and also physically demanding in the labor work of improving this community’s technological future.
In hopes of helping our Softchoice family and friends to understand the time we have spent in Cebu, I wanted to provide a brief overview of the work we’ve accomplished thus far. We have focused our time on three key projects:
- Configuration of technical infrastructure: The team dedicated to configuring the technical infrastructure for the students have worked in a temporary lab in while construction continues in the final building. Each of the 25 Lenovo computers were set up with focus learning applications (OpenOffice, Chrome, Scratch) and security software (Sophos) ensuring sustainability of the project. This was done with an emphasis of instilling best practice procedures for both student and teacher profiles.
- Reconstruction of permanent computer lab: While the temporary lab was in progress, another team focused on the construction of the permanent computer lab. This required demolition of the existing eroding roof, retrofitting windows for security, and improving the bathroom facilities. The team dedicated to the project spent many hours ensuring the longevity of the learning environment.
- Renovation of student assembly area: The student assembly space is used for many school events: morning announcements, pledge of allegiance, and other cultural presentations. This is the same assembly area the Softchoice team was greeted earlier this week. The goal of the renovation is to provide a space for the students that will further meet their daily wants and needs. One of the improvements include a functional basketball court, which will help the school prepare for its next match against the Softchoice international basketball team!
While blood, sweat and tears have poured into our daily tasks of this endeavor, the inclusion we have felt in this community is overwhelming. I have never in my life felt so revered by complete strangers. Many of the teachers and students understand and appreciate why we are here, but a majority simply cherish an unprecedented opportunity to spend time with and learn from strangers from the other side of the world.
My life will be forever changed by this experience. I can’t wait to see what the future has to bring to these amazing people.
March 5: What a difference a weekend can make
By: Chris Plouffe
After one week at the Camp 7 School, our Softchoice team was able to put away our shovels, hammers, drills, and filthy clothes for a weekend in the city. It was a nice break for our bodies as my hands are now no longer bruised and swollen and my back hurts much less. It was also a chance for us as Softchoice employees to get to know each other a bit better outside of the working environment.
For me, there is no better way to get to know people than over a meal, since the dinner table is a sacred place to share stories, opinions, feelings, and most importantly, food! For those that know me, I enjoy eating (sometimes to my own detriment), and I especially enjoy trying new foods in a different country that I likely won’t get to eat anywhere else. Fortunately enough we have had some great cooks at our hotel in the province that have treated us to some outstanding Filipino food…but there were still a couple of dishes on my list (like lechon and halo-halo), and I knew I would get these in the city. First stop was Rico’s Lechon, which specializes in…you guessed it, LECHON! Lechon is essentially a full pig that is roasted on a spit and they pull off big chunks of meat depending on how much you want (for those wondering we went with a one kilo plate for three even though it was recommended for five-six people). We coupled that with some shrimps and a delicious soup called sinigang. After dinner, it was then time for dessert. To find the best halo-halo, we were recommended a fast food restaurant called Chow King. This was to be my first halo-halo, and I had no idea what to expect since it is made with a scoop of purple yam ice cream on top of shaved ice with evaporated milk, jellies, fruits, nuts and even some beans mixed in below. I could not have been more impressed with how delicious it was. I will definitely be going back for both these dishes at the next opportunity.
As for the conversations around the dinner table, one thing kept coming back, which was how much and how often we kept thinking back to the kids at the school. By now, we each have a few different kids that hover around us at any given time and with whom we share stories, pictures and even secret handshakes. When we were able to go to a grocery store, the first thing I thought of was to get some snacks to share with the kids. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one with the idea. We knew that one of the girls at the school LOVED Harry Potter but had only read the first book over and over as it was the only book of the series available at the school. As they came across a bookstore in the city, some of our Softchoice employees went and found four out of the six remaining books from the series and donated them to the school so that the kids can learn what happens to Harry and his friends at Hogwarts.
As we wrap up the first day of our second week here in Cebu, we can start to see the end approaching. Friendships have been forged not just between us Softchoicers, but with the kids, who just seem to brighten up whenever they see us, and it will be very sad to say goodbye when that time comes. However, tonight is the final night of 13 for the Fiesta of San Pedro and the street party at the church next door is ready to get started!
March 6: Salamat from the students
By: Alex Lee
The week before we departed for the Philippines, Softchoice Cares (SCCares) learned that many of the classrooms at Camp 7 lacked basic school supplies. Some examples of these are teachers sharing chalk between classes, and many students lacking anything to hold their homework to and from school. Knowing something needed to be done, SCCares launched an internal campaign to raise money for both student and teacher school supplies.
Fast forward to this week. In conjunction with the Rise Above Foundation and a local school supply store, we were able to use the money raised to invest in a plastic envelope case and a pack of one dozen pencils, eraser, and pencil sharpener for each of all 1000 students. Additionally, chalk, red pens, crayons, tape, chalk erasers and school paper were purchased for each classroom. We even had enough left over to buy the school a fresh basketball hoop for the new cement platform being built this week. Even the owner of the school supply shop thought we had our numbers wrong!
To say the teachers and students were surprised would be an understatement. Although this may seem like a simple act of kindness in North America, the students and teachers were beyond thankful. The Principal later shared with us that in the 11 years she has been with the school, not once has anyone donated school supplies. One of the girls was so excited, she sharpened all 12 of her pencils right then and there.
To any Softchoice employee reading this blog, know that your generosity has moved and inspired the students and teachers of Camp 7 High School. None of this would be possible without each and every one of you. Your monetary donations have gone a long way to enhance their classroom experience.
Lastly, I’ll share with you this beautiful drawing one of the students made for us today. It shows students and Softchoice employees embracing each other as they look into the Cebu Mountains and it reads “Together we can make a difference.”
March 8: Teaching Camp 7 students how to code
By: Attique Ajmal
The international project is just one of many initiatives the Softchoice Cares Board gets to work on, but it is arguably the most life-changing.
A week ago, after a long flight and a 90-minute drive into the mountains neighboring Cebu to a place called Minglanilla, we got to meet the students, teachers and staff at Camp 7 National High School. And what an adventure it has been since we first met them.
Whether it is building the computer lab, working on the school’s basketball court, setting up laptops or mentoring students, each day brings a new incredible experience. The people here are phenomenal. I’ve particularly enjoyed spending time with local people and learn from other humanitarians in the area.
Today, I got to spend some time with the kids teaching them how to code with a program called Scratch. You should have seen the look on their faces when they created an ‘animee’—an animation by making a cat dance using basic coding!
As I am dreading our departure on Friday, I cannot stress how inspiring this experience has been.
March 9: Signing off from Cebu
By: the Softchoice Cares Board
The 2018 Softchoice Cares Board international project to Cebu is officially wrapped. Our team of 18 arrived at Camp 7 High School with the goal of carrying out Softchoice’s vision “to create better communities through technology.”
We are proud to report that, after our two weeks in the country, we completed our work to double the size of the school’s events pavilion and install a new computer lab – with 25 Lenovo laptops that have the potential to forever change these students’ lives.
It was our lives, however, that may have been impacted the most. The students and teachers at Camp 7 inspired us with their welcoming spirit, positive attitude and community pride.
A project of this scale takes many people to make it successful. With that in mind, the Softchoice Cares Board would like to thank the following:
- The Softchoice executive leadership team for believing in us and making this entire project possible. Your support was inspirational and we thank you for it!
- All Softchoice employees for your support. Simply put, this project does not happen without each and every one of you. You allowed us to focus on the task at hand in Cebu, and we will always be grateful.
- Joshua Molsberry and Developing World Connecting for your leadership, non-stop encouragement, and your friendship. You made this project a great experience for our entire team!
- The Rise Above Foundation for your patience with our on-the-job training! By the end of the project, the entire Board all became experts at mixing concrete! We were honored to work alongside your team.
- Craig Taylor and Lenovo for once again sponsoring the Softchoice Cares international project with your technology donation. Having you on the project added greatly to our team.
- Sophos for supporting the project with the end point and access point solutions.
- All of our families and friends for your support and encouragement, which motivated us every moment of every day. Thank you for all that you did to make the project a reality!
- And finally, to the Camp 7 High School students and teachers – from the celebratory welcoming event to our tearful goodbyes – you made every minute of the project special. You are all incredibly talented, smart, and enthusiastic learners. We are so very proud of you, and look forward to seeing you accomplish your dreams in the years to come. We already miss you!
During Principal Nova’s speech at our farewell event, she officially declared Softchoice a part of the Camp 7 extended family. Her words brought many tears, as we realized our work had made an impact far greater than physical facilities and technology.
We had truly connected with them, and they with us. Together we created a community that spans halfway around the world, and that is a bond that will not be broken. To quote the chorus from the first song the students taught us, “We Love Cebu,” and we always will.
The Softchoice Cares Board