Thirty years after my first trip to Manila as a wide-eyed college student, I was able to go back in December with my daughter, Michele. We had the most amazing trip and it’s taken me a few weeks to not only begin sorting the overwhelming number of gorgeous photos, but to process the complicated gamut of emotions the trip inspired, as well.

Connie Mann

The beauty we saw on our sightseeing trips contrasted so starkly with the poverty that permeates the country. In between, we met some of the nicest people, and the children and staff at the School in a Cart completely stole our hearts.

Our flight to Manila included an 8-hour layover in Tokyo. After scouring the internet for savvy traveler tips, we stored our luggage, hopped on a train, and spent several hours exploring the Shinshoji Temple and surrounding area. It was much colder than we’d expected, but we were fascinated by this glimpse into Japan’s history and this beautiful Buddhist temple.

Shinshoji TempleShinshoji Temple

To warm up, we wandered the covered shopping area and ordered authentic ramen from a vending machine (yes, vending machine) outside a tiny restaurant that boasted three tables and a counter. After we made our selection and paid, we went inside and handed the ticket to the chef. It was the perfect choice for a chilly night.

Ramen shop Tokyo

From Tokyo, we flew to Manila, and then boarded a regional jet to El Nido, on the island of Palawan. Palawan is gorgeous and the views from our hotel were postcard perfect.

We spent two days sightseeing on tours with about 20 other people. When they called your boat’s name, held your bag over your head and waded out to a wooden boat with bamboo outriggers. We saw some of the most beautiful scenery we’d ever seen and got to kayak and snorkel in crystal-clear water. The crew also cooked lunch for us every day and it was delicious.

One day, we hiked straight up a limestone cliff—in our sandals, no less—but the view was totally worth it (though the climb was terrifying, LOL!)

We flew back to Manila just before Christmas and spent most of Christmas week with the children at the School in a Cart in Quezon City. Sara Goff, whose charity Lift-the-Lid.org supports the center, was also there with her family.

All the children are so precious; my daughter and I instantly fell in love. They are talented and full of creativity, laughter and boundless energy! Alfredo and Nonie work so hard to encourage them to do well in school. Without the meals, school fees, supplies, uniforms and support the center offers, these children–many of whom either live on the street or in crowded one-room shacks–would have no chance to break the poverty cycle. We loved cheering for those who received awards for academic excellence and had a blast joining in the games, singing and listening to the band play.

On the first day, street children on the periphery of the center’s programs were invited to attend. The second day focused on the core group of children they minister to and encourage all year long. And the third day took us to another part of the city for a Christmas party in Nonie’s neighborhood. Many of those children had never seen a white person and regularly reached out to touch Michele to see if her skin felt like theirs.

After meeting Alfredo and Nonie and falling in love with the children, the goodbyes were hard. But we’ll carry the connections with us always and make use of social media and technology to stay in touch

Our last day with the children, we learned Typhoon Ursula was scheduled to hit Coron, on the island of Busuanga—our next destination. After a day of frustrating delays, we arrived and did some more sightseeing, snorkeling and kayaking. The two islands felt so different, but were both equally gorgeous. As always, I was struck by the contrasts. Our modern-looking hotel bordered lush jungle vegetation and grazing water buffalo. Shiny new buildings butted up against tin-roofed shacks. In Manila, high-tech security was the norm. On the islands, tricycles were the common mode of transportation.

The trip home took almost 30 hours and we were dead-on-our-feet exhausted, but oh, so thankful we got the chance to go.

If you’d like more information on how Lift-the-Lid is helping the School in a Cart, please visit: www.Lift-the-Lid.org

Thanks for taking this trip with us! Your support and encouragement mean so very much.

Happy 2020! Wishing you all the courage to be the very best version of yourself you can possibly be!

Connie