Ada Davis – Nouri who recently graduated from Manhattan High School and at 17 years old, is a volunteer for The HELP Foundation in the Philippines.
Ada savoring a delicacy in the Philippines,
balut, an “almost hatched” duck egg!
From the minute I stepped off of the airplane into Manila, I knew the Philippines was going to be unlike any place I had ever been before. I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of traveling so far in my young life to places like Sweden and Japan, but never before to a still-developing country. I was setting myself up for an adventure unlike any I had experienced before.
My mother, Dr. Donna Davis, has worked for many years at KSU in the International Student Center. My father, Dr. Shawn Nouri, is a retired psychologist from the Topeka Youth Center. They raised me to love learning about other cultures and exploring life outside of my own bubble. They took me many places and enrolled me in photography classes so I could learn to document it all. So when I graduated this last semester from Manhattan High School and told my mom I wanted to take a gap semester trip, she came up with the perfect plan. She had grown up in the small Kansas town of Smith Center and told me that she had a neighbor there, Keith Hooper, who holds two degrees from KSU and now lives in the Philippines. He and his wife Pat founded a charity in 2005 to provide hope and opportunity to poor children in the Philippines. My mother told me he accepted volunteers in all branches of skill to help out with the program and perhaps they could use me as a photographer. Some meetings were held, some phone calls were made, a bag or two were packed, and the next thing I know I’m on a 30-some hour flight to Talakag, Bukidnon, the place I will be spending the five weeks working as a photojournalist for Keith and Pat Hooper, founders of the H.E.L.P (Humanitarian Efforts to Lessen Poverty in the Philippines) Foundation (US based) and BIGHOOP Charities Inc. (Philippine based). These foundations sponsor the schooling of 290 children living in poverty. They also have a large feeding program for malnourished children and a micro-loan project to help women who want to start or expand their own businesses. The foundation’s latest project is to raise rabbits as a source of protein for malnourished children. K-State students, under the tutelage of Assistant KSU Professor in the College of Architecture, Katrina Lewis, designed rabbit hutches for the foundation to vote on and eventually build for the project. Needless to say, life is quite busy here for all of the folks involved in the foundation.
Knowing of my interest in culture, Keith and Pat took me to Kaamulan, a regional festival here in Bukidnon where teams of tribal Philipino people competed and displayed their traditional dances and clothing. My first major dose of culture shock set in here when I began to see people turning their cameras away from the festival and towards me. Being one of the only foreigners in the area, I’ve become something of an attraction. I am still not yet used to the dripping heat as well as all of the staring and calls of “Americana” from the local people. Regardless as my status of oddity, these people are some of the friendliest, warmest, and most positive folks I’ve yet to meet. One of my first projects here was to document the stories of some of the mothers in the foundation’s feeding program/women’s health class. I got to meet some incredible women with some absolutely heart-breaking stories to tell. I couldn’t believe that one of the women sitting in front of me had been raped by her own brother which lead to the conception of a child with hydrocephalus. She was able to sit with such grace, full of pride about the knowledge she had gained from the health class and at the same time, smiling and laughing about my silly accent. One hears stories about people like this in the news and in the National Geographic, but it is a completely different experience to sit across from them face to face and hear their stories. I was blown away by cultural instinct to be positive and their general attitude of hospitality.
Traveling is all about building new relationships. These relationships come in all forms, internally, with other people, and sometimes even with the destination itself. Each new place I’ve gone, I’ve developed new relationships, and each pulls me back in a wish to visit again to see and learn more. I truly believe everyone should have at least one experience like this in their lifetime, it really does change you. I wouldn’t be myself without all of my traveling, nor would I be myself without my roots. Kansas will always be my home, living there has taught me about who I am, but leaving there teaches me about whom I want to be.