I met Kolbjorn for the first time on Facebook. That's not where you meet most 80 years old, but he is there. Reading his posts on a Norwegian-Philippine group, I quickly understood he was not like anyone else. So, I had to meet him. He invited me to come over for a weekend trip, everything paid for at a guesthouse. I feel that's taking advantage and being away from the family next weekend, I decided to just make it a day trip instead. Woke up around 5AM, took a tricykle to the pier, just made it in time to catch the 6AM Montenegro ferry to San Carlos, 225 peso and about 50 minutes ride. I've actually never been to San Carlos although the city is just across the Tanon Strait from Toledo. About time. If you want to have a better view, take one of the slow ferries instead, the fastcraft doesn't provide much view.
Arriving at the pier, I see a car waiting but I think it's probably for more important people than me. I walk outside the terminal gate, and suddenly I am surrounded by trisikad and tricykle guys wanting me to take a ride. I think I say "I have a pick-up" hundred times. Before I would be intimidated, but I am cool as a fish, calls DonDon, the young driver of Kolbjorn. He is in the car that waited for me just outside the pier, and drives out to meet me. I wave good bye to the tricykle drivers and peanut vendors,and head towards Kolbjorns house.
Hard to miss the Norwegian flag hanging outside. The house is in a quiet street, which there are plenty of in San Carlos. This is my first time in San Carlos, and my frist impression is that the city is bigger than I thought, and very flat without steep hills. Streets are wide and well maintained, and the city is quite clean.
Inside I go, where the big man is sitting in his rocking chair. I am greeted by him and his family, of helpers. They all speak English pretty good, and are busy preparing breakfast, cleaning and doing other things to help out. I feel welcome immidiately.
Kolbjorn turns out to be highly intelligent and shows a genuin interest in my affairs. Among others, he has been working as a journalist in his younger years, and he knows how to ask the right questions to really get to know persons. I feel comfortable and open up a little more than I usually do when I am visiting new people.
Time flies and it's time for breakfast. I has been awake since 5AM and am quite hungry, and my eyes feast on the table. Eggs, bacon, home made liver pate, gravherring, pickled curry herring and other Norwegian specialties I've never seen on a breakfast table in the Philippines before. Rather than complain that there is no Norwegian food available, Kolbjorn just makes his own instead. The things he cannot buy in San Carlos, he get delivered from Dumaguete or Cebu. They also have home made bread,but unfortunately I have to decline, being intolerant to gluten, so I have to bring my own bread. Food is excellent, and I have to ask for the recepies. It also struck me how Kolbjorn is eager to get everyone participating in the conversation. Sometimes he brings up a new subject or a question, giving everyone around the table their time to speak. Quite often when you eat with a local family, people are shy and afraid to speak up. This family is different, and I can see the confidence in their eyes, undoubtably planted by Kolbjorn, or "Lolo puti" as they call him, "White grandpa". One of the guys in the picture above was a street kid in Dumaguete before.
Kolbjorn starts telling me about the charity work he is involved in. Although the poverty in San Carlos is not striking, there used to be a few families living under a bridge. The parents could not find any work, and sent the kids out begging. Tracking them down, he created a plan to help out. During the first visits, they brought some food and new clothes. Next step, he started serving three meals to the families in their garden, making sure they got proper food. Later, and with funds from Norway, they opened up a kinder garden, which later was handed over to the local government. He collected money to purchase trisikads to the men, so they could start working. The women was trained in wickering.
Life is not only about school or work. DonDon, Kolbjorns driver, who picked me up at the pier, is an active football player, and also the trainer of three teams, a total of 75 kids. Kolbjorn tells me they struggle to get football shirts and shoes for all the kids. The football interest who is almost non-existent in Toledo, is very high in San Carlos. Driving around town with DonDon later, I notice plenty of foorball fields, very well maintained. DonDon tells me that most of the land is owned by a congress man, and he has donated lots of land for football fields. My kind of congress man!
Kolbjorn organized a football team for the poor street kids. They became pretty good, and later they were playing a tournament. The kids on the other team came from a rich school, and some of them pointed at the streets kids and said "Ha-ha, I've seen these kids begging before! Easy game!". The same kids was very quiet after the game, when the poor kids gave them a hell of a beating. Kolbjorn told me he allowed himself a glass of cognac to his coffee that night.
Kolbjorn has several DVD's he has been making, in order to collect money for helping the poor families. He is a great narrator, and explains the process of helping the kids in an excellent way. It's quite touching and my eyes get a little wet, looking at the progress they made. I feel a little ashamed of myself, not doing much. Kolbjorn tells me that there has been some disappoinments during the charity work, but his motto is "never surrender", so he just keeps walking through the dark tunnel, towards the bright light in the other end - no matter what dark or long the tunnel is. I will upload some of the DVD's on Youtube later on.
It was a genuine pleasure to meet Kolbjorn. The story doesn't end here - I will soon get back with more info from the visit. Kolbjorn is also involved in environmental projects who can both improve both people's health and economy, as well as the environment. Hopefully, Lolo Puti will do some writing here later on, reporting on the projects.
Thanks for having me over, Lolo Puti - we'll meet again and Ycebu readers will hear more from you in the future!