Finding Hope Through a Camera

By Babylene Bocayes, Philippines Field Communications Specialist, in collaboration with Maricris Perez, Matina Aplaya Hope Center Director   |  Photos by Babylene Bocayes

OneChild Field Communications Specialist Babylene Bocayes visits her sponsored boy living in a hard place in the Philippines and discovers that, despite the stifling poverty, he finds joy in photography and in helping others even less fortunate than him.

Babylene Bocayes visits her sponsored boy, Justin, in his Badjao community in the Philippines.

I had the privilege to visit our sponsored child and see the work of OneChild in the Badjao community in Matina Aplaya, Davao City. The town is located in the southern region of the Philippines, which has plentiful natural resources. But this Badjao community is a hard place. As soon as you enter, the poverty is shattering.

The Badjao are a tribal group living mostly along coastal areas. They are also called sea gypsies because they rely on the sea for a living. Most are fishermen and some are pearl divers. But recently, they’ve ventured into selling used shoes and clothes because sometimes natural calamities like typhoons adversely affect their fishing.

Badjao people live in stilt houses that are so plain; no furniture, no separate rooms, no comfort rooms, not even a bin to collect their waste. Their wastes are washed out by the sea, or they accumulate along the shore and under the stilt houses. It is not a pleasant sight or smell.

But the Badjaos are used to this living. It is their reality. A hard place in your face. It takes a grateful and graceful heart to see beauty and hope in this community.

Learn more about the Badjao people, here:

Meet Young Justin

Justin, 11, is a natural charmer. He has brown eyes that speak so much curiosity and at the same time humility. He lives in Matina Aplaya. He is a Badjao, and he dreams of becoming a photographer.

Justin borrowed a camera from Rhea Juson, OneChild program advisor in Cebu, to try his hand at photography.

I went there to interview Justin for this story because his Child Champions have said a lot of beautiful things about him. As a Field Communications Specialist for OneChild, I went there to tell his story. But as his sponsor, it was a thrill knowing I would be walking, talking, and taking pictures with him.

I was welcomed with the Badjao’s traditional dance as I entered the Hope Center. Justin was among the children who danced. It was a grand gesture for me because I am not like other sponsors coming from other countries. I just flew 1 hour and 45 minutes from another island. But it was a humbling moment thinking that these kids took time to prepare and put their hearts into that dance. It was a beautiful dance number.

Justin and I are no strangers to each other as we met before I and my colleagues at OneChild Philippines sponsored him. We also have exchanged letters a few times. I also knew he loves photography.

The Badjao people live in tiny houses on stilts on the shoreline.

As soon as I took my camera out of my bag, I saw Justin’s eyes sparkle and he smiled.

Justin’s Home Demolished

We walked a few meters from the Hope Center to Justin’s house. It was a small house, barely 3- by 4-meters wide. There I met his father Julito, who is 55. I asked them how they were, and he told me their old house was just demolished.

Justin remembered that night when a man came to their door saying their house needed to be torn down because it was in the way of a coastal road project. So, the following day, Julito and his older son tore their house down.

Fifteen other houses were torn down as well. Without anywhere else to go, Justin’s family asked, with the help of Justin’s Child Champions, their community captain if they could still build a house within the community. Thankfully, they were allowed to rebuild their houses in another area away from the road project.

Justin at his home in Davao City.

According to Julito, each family received the equivalent of $500 from the government when their houses were demolished. It wasn’t nearly enough to build a new home, however.

“I give some of my money to my son whose house got demolished, too,” says Julito. He also shared some of the money with his other son to start a small business selling used rubber shoes.

“What’s left is for our daily food and rice,” he says. Despite his own crisis, he still thinks of his children’s welfare. No wonder Justin has a soft heart toward other people, too.

However, Justin’s church’s Family Care and Community Development Incorporated gave the family some construction materials to build a house.

“They were one of our recipients for construction materials because their house was old,” says Maricris Perez, Hope Center director.

Justin adds, “I am thankful to them because they gave us wood, galvanized sheet roof, and nails.”

A Compassionate and Generous Heart

But money is still tight.

“Sometimes, we did not have any money to buy rice,” Justin says, his voice breaking. “My father cannot work anymore because he is already old.” His father turned his back to discretely wipe his tears. Julito used to be a construction worker but now he can only do small house repairs.

Justin hones his photography skills at his Hope Center.

Justin wants his father to stop working. “I don’t want him to get too tired and to get hurt,” he says. “When he was building our house, he was hurt. I got sad that time. I do not want that to happen again.”

A few weeks after Justin’s house was demolished, he learned about the Super Typhoon Odette that affected many OneChild sponsored children and their families in Cebu. He was moved to give what little he had left, 30 cents.

Says Maricris, “Justin was upset when their house got demolished, but he was even more devastated when we learned of the families that lost their homes from the typhoon. He was the only kid who gave something for these families.”

Justin has a strong desire to help others. “I want to finish schooling so I can work and be a photographer. I want to help my family,” he says.

Justin Pursues His Dream

Justin says that Rhea Juson, OneChild program advisor in Cebu, and the American sponsors who visited them in 2019 inspired him to try photography.

Justin says his sponsors are praying with him to finish school and achieve his dream of becoming a photographer.

“The Americanos let me borrow their cameras, and when there was no battery, Ate Rhea lent me hers. I want to be like them,” says Justin. (Ate is a term that shows respect for other people.)

When I ask him why he likes being a photographer, he says, “I want to take photos of houses, people, especially flowers. It makes me happy.”

I was already in my 20s when I first held a camera. It was a powerful moment for me because I could capture beautiful things and moments and preserve them in a photo. I never thought that it would eventually be a career for me.

I believe that powerful moment also happened to Justin. Those people who lent him the cameras influenced Justin to dream. He has started to take hold of his dream.

Empowering Justin’s Dream

Now, Justin is getting training from his Child Champions to take photos in the Hope Center. I’m glad they are doing this to empower and encourage Justin to pursue his dream.

I believe as sponsors to Justin, we can do something to help him achieve his dream. I believe that, as long as people continue caring for him, he will become the best photographer Matina Aplaya has ever had.

And I thank God that OneChild is here to support Child Champions like us in providing holistic care to children like Justin – Child Champions who love and care and listen to them so they will have hopes, flourishing dreams, and a better future.

“My sponsors are helping me pray that I will finish my schooling and reach my dream of becoming a photographer,” says Justin.

Matina Aplaya is a hard place. But it is a special place because of little heroes like Justin. They may not have the most ideal place to grow up, but they can still smile, play, enjoy life, and be grateful. That is hope in this hard place.

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible,” is one of my favorite lines in the song, “Albertine,” by Brooke Fraser. To all of us who have seen children in poverty, we have the responsibility to stand in the gap for them. Speak up for them or sponsor a child through OneChild.

Below are some samples of Justin’s photography.



See how a sponsored girl in Cambodia learns that a better future is possible for her: 

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