Philippine Self-Help Foundation


When I first left Europe on my round the world journey in September, 1984 I had no idea that I would be making a permanent move. My idea was simply to broaden my horizons for a few months and then return to Europe and resume my career in sports management. A short stay in Japan was included in my itinerary for two reasons; it was convenient for flights to the United States and my old school friend, Stephen Gill lived there and I was keen to meet up with him.

It turned out that Stephen would hold the key to the initial extension of my intended one week stay in Japan. I sent him an aerogram from Bangkok announcing the date of my expected arrival in Japan; at the same time, I asked him if there might be any scope for doing some English teaching there and thus be able to stay a bit longer in the country. His reply awaited me at the 'poste restante' in Singapore; he wrote that he had a part-time job in a language school and perhaps I might be able to replace him as he was getting married and would be returning to the UK for a while.

I vividly recall my first day in Japan. I had flown in from Seoul, arriving at Narita airport in the early afternoon. Stephen had instructed me to call him on arrival to receive his instructions on how to get to the coastal town of Katase Kaigan. He met me at the station and within a few minutes he had given me my first sight of the Pacific ocean. Later, he took me to the school to meet Mr Hirano, the elderly owner and he accepted me as the new teacher for his small school. Most significantly, the schoolroom was downstairs and there was a vacant three roomed apartment upstairs which I could use. So within a few hours of my arrival in Japan, I had a part-time job and a place to live!

When I had set out on my world tour in September 1984, Japan had just been one of 14 countries on my itinerary and my stay would be for just one single week before crossing the Pacific to the United States and back to Europe. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined settling in Japan and spending 25 years in this land.

My early days in Japan were generally happy ones. I taught in the school in Katase Kaigan for three months and then went to China which at the time was just opening up to individual tourism. Before my departure, I had answered an advertisement in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper for an English teaching job in Tokyo. I was accepted so on my return from China, I had a job and the promise of a working visa. In those days, you had to leave the country to obtain a working visa so I went to Hongkong and met up with my old friend from Thames Polytechnic, Carey Edwards, a British Airforce helicopter pilot.

I started my teaching job with Borgnan in the spring of 1985. I was initially hired to teach at Toshiba but for some reason, the commencement of classes was delayed so I did children's classes in Borgnan's schools instead. This entailed traveling all over Tokyo so I got to know the city's train network pretty well. At this time, I had started attending Tokyo Union Church and become a member.

I was now living in Kamakura near the beach in a small two-roomed apartment. I had a job and I was beginning to make friends. On the surface all was fine but I was about to face a major challenge.

For a period of two years, I was to experience a deep depression. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve deeply into its origins but suffice to say that the root cause lay in a poignant childhood experience long buried in my subconscious - I had rejected my childhood sweetheart and never forgiven myself for it.

Out of depression came a rekindled faith in God and the first glimpses of a life's purpose. In early, 1986, Kathy Matsushima, TUC associate pastor at the the time, knowing my interests, encouraged me to join the church Outreach Committee. I well remember my first meeting, I didn't have much to contribute, but I was relieved when the Elder, Wyman Robb asked me if I might like to join the team. At the time my self-esteem was low and my need for affirmation and acceptance very high.

At the following month's meeting, a guest speaker by the name of Virginia Fleenor came to talk to us about a Children's home located in the northern Philippines. Her talk struck a cord in me; I was resolved there and then to visit the home.

My stay at the Cagayan Valley Children's Home in April, 1986 left a mark. I had experienced love and joy in the home which had filled a void in my own life. I left disappointed not to have been offered a job; I was ready to leave Japan and work for nothing but God had other plans!

Soon after my return to Japan, I was alerted through a newspaper article to a famine on the Philippine island of Negros. The world price of sugar had collapsed and thousands of sugar workers could no longer feed their families. I resolved to go and on January 1st 1987, I landed in the capital city, Bacolod. 

The story of the early days of the PSHF are to be found elsewhere on the website, including the details of the first two livelihood loans. I should like to conclude by telling the reader about our first 'grant' for medical assistance. I was in the main square near Bacolod's Capitol building when I saw a child all on her own with an open wound in her leg. She was no more than 5 years old and her name was Christina Ambong. I took her to the doctor and was charged 50 pesos (US$1) to have her wound cleansed of pus and dressed. She walked out of there with a beautiful white dressing and soon after I met her mother, a vendor of plastic bags.

I plan to tell you more about Christina and her family in a separate article; indeed I hope to assemble a series of reminiscences over the coming months so watch this space!

Richard Foster
2nd September, 2010