The boy on the beach

The boy on the beach I met the other day keeps coming back to my mind. It was a gorgeous day on Boracay Island. A cool breeze. Wispy clouds near sunset time. There was promise of color.

I sat on a log and watched a few sailboats take a few tourists out for the sunset ride. Thicker clouds hung over the mountainous jungles on nearby Panay Island, called the ‘mainland’.

I’ve visited Boracay at least once a week from the mainland where we’ve rented an apartment since March 2020. Boracay’s beaches are amazing. On my weekly trips I also meet with a guy from Wales to talk about spiritual stuff, to socialize, to review world and local events.

The first time I saw kids climbing coconut trees on the famous White Beach, I realized they were simply hungry. Police looked the other way because that’s not allowed. But no tourists means no income. With young, growling bellies, well, it becomes a matter of survival.

This month, for the first time, several children begged me for money on different occasions. With tourism shattered by Omicron, again, so many people are really hard up.

One child, filthy and small, simply said, “Money?” over and over. That’s what they all do, actually. Until I met the boy on the beach. He used more English.

“Money? I buy rice, I’m hungry, I need food,” he said. I shook my head. He said the phrase again. I shook my head again. He looked so damn sad. And thin.

I asked him his name. He cocked his head and I realize it was a rehearsed phrase. Do you know English, I asked. No.

Pointing to myself, I said, “Ellen.” Waving at him (pointing at others is rude in the Philippines) I slowly said, “What is your name?” He got it. “Kingsley.” He sat down in front of me.

I looked around for momma or pappa or an older sibling or cousin. No one was around. Sometimes, an adult relative will be watching a child beggar.

Kingsley’s thin legs were caked with dirt, the skin looked like it should have been on a man, not a child. His shorts were soiled. I think he was embarrassed. Kingsley pulled his shirt over his legs. His face was peeling, especially between his eyes. This kid had been in the harsh sun a lot.

Kingsley, the boy on the beach Ellen met, pulling his shirt over his skinny legs.

We have helped so many people with so many problems. Indigenous Ati and local Filipinos. It’s always the children that really get me. In the Philippines, they’ve had two years of home schooling. Yet so many children don’t have a device or an internet connection for school.

With everyone we’ve helped, we try to give them tools to survive: boats, nets, water, electricity, eyeglasses, medicines, surgeries, repo prevention, utility bills — it’s endless. And it won’t ever get better until tourism comes back. When will that be? Who knows. My Welsh friend guesses maybe … 2025.

No matter where in the world our travels take us, economies formerly dependent on tourism face financial hardship and spawn beggar children, like the boy on the beach.

Kingsley made me smile a lot. We practiced English words related to the imminent sunset. At one point, he asked me for money again. I broke down and gave him some. He thanked me in English.

And then he stayed on the log with me and tried to make small talk.

He’s 10 years old, lives in another area of the island away from White Beach. He hadn’t seen his father that day because he was out trying to catch fish. His mother was trying to sell something somewhere.

It’s not like people aren’t trying. There’s simply no opportunities without tourism. Despite all we’ve done to help, it’s a molecule in a water drop in a bucket. And sometimes it really gets me down.

A few meters apart and from different worlds, Kingsley and I watched the sunset together. It was peaceful. Me, just a wandering soul. Him, just a boy on the beach.

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