Discovering my place in culture and community in Bendum: A journey reflection

Embracing change and diversity in culture and community – Maaike Leyens (middle) with community volunteers and staff at APC. A warm welcome and making connections with children and local youth despite the communication and lifestyle challenges made for a truly transformative visit.

Maaike Leyens

My Bendum adventure started with my arrival in Manila where I stayed for several days at the university campus and got to know some people involved with APC and ESSC: Andres, Ching, and Julie. Together with some posters in the ESSC office, they created my first impression of Bendum. But since then, a lot of these impressions and feelings about Bendum changed.

When I arrived in Bendum, I had a little shock because of the toilets, after which the excitement of discovering a new place took over. For the first week, I encountered difficulties with the food, personal hygiene, and mosquito bites. By the second week, I overcame the first two difficulties, but I still had to cope with the mosquito bites (and other animal bites). This is how I see the evolution of one part of my experience.

Another part is the volunteer work I did in different APC tasks. I was assigned to the English and the investigation class of Grades 11 and 12 at the APC school. While I enjoyed assisting the English class, I did not feel very useful in the other class most of the time. Where I experienced more usefulness is with the professional course (the Jesuit Worldwide Learning program that APC operates) where I did some tutoring of the learners. My last week was extremely busy as I got involved in setting up the crèche, and I like how things have turned out and I felt useful and busy.

Although I have to say, I also enjoyed my first calm week.

The last part of my experience has to do with my social life. I immediately felt very welcome when I arrived in Bendum. All the children laughed with me and tried to have a conversation. The staff made me feel comfortable and were interested to find out more about me.

But although I felt welcomed, I didn’t feel at ease at the beginning as I had to deal with a whole new world: new people, new languages, a new way of living, a new place, a new culture. After a while, I started to connect with some of the children and the local youth, even though there was difficulty in communicating in English.

And for a time, the world of Bendum for me was only Campus 2. Later, I began to learn more and more about the people involved in the Bendum community. Of course, I should stay longer to increase my understanding of this community.

For me, it is interesting to see how the people in the Bendum are striving to educate their children, themselves, and to do work that they like and that enhances their knowledge. This is all done in a sustainable way; the future will have more places, I hope.

I think I should come back in the future to help more and learn more. I also want to come back to enjoy this beautiful place and these beautiful people.

Maaike Leyens is from The Netherlands and stayed in Bendum in February 2023 as a volunteer. She finished her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the University of Utrecht in July 2022 and took a sabbatical year to travel, before starting a master’s degree, possibly in environmental and social sciences. She learned about Bendum through her father, Professor Stéphane Leyens at the University of Namur in Belgium, who has visited Bendum in previous work collaboration with ESSC, and Maaike was really enthusiastic about the idea of having such an experience.

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