Hello everyone, my name is Sofia and I’m from Italy. Now I live in the Philippines. I have been here for about 2 months and 5 days now. 15 days to go.

There would be countless topics to tackle if I write about “how I have changed”. It is too wide of a subject. Exchange students change so much, your vision of everything changes, so automatically everything you have ever experienced, seen, done changes or assumes an additional perspective. That’s one of the meanings of becoming a Global Citizen, widening your range and learning how to see a country both from the inside, immersed in it, and from the outside, from the perspective of other countries. Because to fully “know” a culture or a country’s customs it is not only necessary to be immersed in its culture. It is important to get out of the shell to understand the shell in itself. This is why not only I learned so much about my host country, however, I learned really a lot about my home country and primarily myself.

In this blog I will write about my Active Project, in particular about my first day with the Kythe Foundation, a non-profit organization which helps children with cancer or chronic illnesses learn, play and grow even if they are confined in the hospital.

I woke up early that day. As I stared at the ceiling waiting for my legs to fall off the mattress, I took a glimpse at my watch. It was the 24th of August, 5:30 AM. I stared back at the ceiling and knew it was going to be another special day. As soon as I realized it, I jumped off the mattress, stood up and prepared for the day. While taking the usual cold, refreshing shower, I thought about the orientation I had had the previous day. It left me a little uncertain but excited at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest I was a bit nervous about entering an environment such as a hospital, I knew it would be very impactful. These are the feelings and the experience you feel every time in this exchange, it is completely normal. It is even the first feeling you feel. It is all an adventure into the unknown, into life. And that is what makes it so exciting and stressing at the same time. This, saying “let’s see”, is probably the feeling I have felt the most during these 2.5 months here in the Philippines. Therefore, as in every occasion, I just jumped into the adventure. After the orientation, I knew that I would be going to interact with children from ages from 2 to 16 which have different diseases and of course, depending on the age range I would have to interact with the children in different ways. I thought about all the possible things I could prepare to bring to these children. I prepared some paper puppets, color, and paper and hoped there would be some other activities at Kythe’s “playroom” in the hospital. As we drove towards Quezon City, there was so much rain! There was a really small typhoon, a harmless one but that flushed down so much rain. Many roads were flooded. The cars seemed to surf and float on water. Many children were playing in the flood. Typhoon life. I was assigned to the POC (Philippine Orthopedic Center), where people with cancer or chronic illnesses related to bones are cured.

As I walked out of the hospital at the end, in the afternoon I knew it was an amazing experience. It wasn’t a simple and mere interaction. It was making a difference in these children’s lives.

People might think that playing with a child is not really that “difficult” or neither fulfilling, however maybe personally wise it didn’t enhance any skill except interacting with children, but when a child stares at you with a smile, laughs, forgets all the pain, you know that you have made a child happier, you have given them a smile and you smile even more in return. It was so nice to be able to bring joy into these children confined in such a dull and scary environment. In fact, being the hospital an environment which children are naturally afraid of and being public hospitals in the Philippines a very dull and poor setting (one big room, with tonnes of beds one next to each other, with children on them attached to IVs, poor colors), the Kythe foundation really brings some color to the children’s vision of the hospital. While there I played with children of different ages, from 2 to 7 years old. In particular, I stayed with a 6-year-old girl called Princess who had bone cancer. We played board games, uno, and we colored paper puppets. We teach them too and keep their faces smiling. I’ve heard very impactful stories as well. The coordinator of Kythe in the POC himself he is a bone cancer survivor. When I heard his story I was shocked, I would have wanted to shed some tears. He shed them of course while telling me his story. I will not refer it here for privacy, however, it was very impactful, and because of what Kythe has done to keep him positive and because of how Kythe helped him fight his cancer through happiness, he is now a Kythe Volunteer.

I’ve learned a lot of things. Most importantly I made an impact on children’s lives. I’ve really learned how positivity and happiness can be a medicine to fight illnesses, pains, and sufferings. It is a very powerful way. That smile on the children’s faces reflects on their whole body. And surely I have learned how much color can one person put in a child’s life with one simple action, playing and how powerful a smile is. If everyone smiled torwards the difficulties encountered in life they can fight it strongly. These children have taught me so. A smile from others and from yourself is medicine.