Haiyan/Yolanda 004: Hope from a Ukelele & 130 Voices of Children Singing

I had my doubts about teaching 130 children a whole song in just a short bit of time.

We’d have just a few hours with the kids and the music was supposed to inspire a celebration, not a language lesson. Our message was hope, and we didn’t want it lost in translation.

The song was written in English, save for one key line written in their home language, Ilonggo. We were quite certain that the kids, all natives of Lawaan, Capiz, were fluent in Ilonggo and could more or less understand Tagalog. We were clueless about their understanding of English.

I speak Tagalog, with a meager understanding or Ilonggo. Milan, who wrote the song and would be leading the music, spoke neither Tagalog nor Ilonggo.

How exactly was this going to go?

It went spectacularly. Milan wrote the song especially for the children of Roxas, who had just two and a half months earlier, survived one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded in history. They lost their roof, their homes, their parent’s livelihood, a stable source of food or supplies.

What a privilege it was for us to spend an afternoon with this children. We were optimistic that they hadn’t lost their hope. If you watch this video, you’ll see that’s true.

See them clap their hands, stomp their feet, and sing out loud! Hope is not lost in this generation!

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Haiyan/Yolanda 003: Hope From the Storm-Tackled Kalachuchi Tree

Today, the trees are forever blowing in one direction near the shore of Capiz. Ever since the super typhoon hit in November, all their branches sling away from the sea. Like a cartoon character’s long hair when someone yells in their face, or when it’s been electrocuted. But the trees aren’t cartoons, and Yolanda wasn’t playing around when she howled at the Philippines.

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Sustained winds were reported at at 195 mph, with gusts reaching even 235. Internationally called Haiyan, the storm was locally known as Yolanda. In Roxas City, Capiz – glass shattered, signage torn off buildings, roofs whipped clear off their structures. Yolanda left a mess.

In June last year I climbed a kalachuchi tree in our friend’s front yard in Roxas City. The kids, Carrie and Iggy, showed me the tree, and did tricks as I watched from a branch. It was a beautiful and strong tree.20140128-133054.jpg

After Yolanda, this same kalachuchi tree now tilts, bowing away from shore, toward the mountain. It’s roots held on in the howling wind that brought down shanties, nipa huts, electric posts and uprooted many other old trees. Instead of helping the kalachuchi tree upright as they thought they might, our friends decided to let it grow as it was, now leaning at an angle.

Two days later, in the storm’s wake, new green sprouted on the kalachuchi tree! The comfort of new life to come. This tree became the inspiration for the art we made with the children of  Capiz.

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The secondary inspiration was the Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair we held in November 2013, at a girls’ shelter in Marillac Hills. One of the highlights was a mural collage of butterflies made out of recycled magazine paper. I prepared a painting of tree – just trunk and branches. The rest was up to our special guests of the day, the girls of the shelter. We taught them how to make these butterflies, and in the process, to consider the things they are thankful for. Each completed butterfly would represent something for which they give thanks – family, safety, a roof over their heads. As the morning went on, each girl went up to the tree and added their butterfly.

The result was beyond what I had imagined. A breathtaking tree of thanksgiving, from girls recovering from abuse, abandonment or homelessness.

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So last week, as we quickly planned the Children’s Fair for Capiz, we thought it would be great to bring a similar activity to the kids who experienced the storm. At that time, we hadn’t yet heard about kalachuchi tree story, and had no idea how it would later shape our afternoon with the children.

On Friday morning, the day of our fair, I laid out the brown paper on the floor and began to paint a tree. I held down the paper in the strong wind, with jars, magazines and chairs. In my line of sight, the storm-pitched kalachuchi tree.

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When we put it up on location, it was much larger than I had realized! We were on the third floor and because windows had not yet been replaced from the storm, steady strong winds blew through the space. We were worried the brown paper would tear.

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Then came 130 children! All from poor communities surrounding the school we were in. As we started the fair – an afternoon of singing, games and fun crafts, I had a chance to talk to the children. I told them about all the fun we were about to have, but more importantly of the tree that on the far end of the room.

What was missing? I asked them. “Leaves!!” they told me. “Fruit!!” they exclaimed.

We would have a chance to fill in the missing pieces! They’ll trace their own hands, decorate their handprint and cut it out. Their hands will be the leaves of the tree.

They’ll fold butterflies out of recycled magazine paper and tie them together with pipe cleaners. Their butterflies will be the fruit of the tree.

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I had the joy of manning the mural station, where kids came up with their finished leaf-hand or butterfly-fruit, ready to add to the tree. They all came shyly forward, craft in hand. Some were too shy to paint on the glue themselves and even more embarrassed to glue it on the collage on their own. After putting their work up, I would give them high fives which would stir up their smiles. Others had scuttled away before I could turn around to face them from the collage!

At the end of the day, we had a tree full of life and hope!

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Before dinner, we gathered them and told the story of the tree’s inspiration.

Much of their world is now changed because of the storm. These kids may not have lost family, but they have lost food supply, a parent’s livelihood, a room, a roof, their whole home, or electrical power. We drew their attention to our own tree in the room.

Nothing more was missing! Their own hands and fruit have filled in the space.

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Look at our tree! It may be leaning over, still bearing the weight of a historically catastrophic storm, but despite that, their is hope blooming.

Just like the kalachuchi tree who shared new green in just two days, new fruit can be born of life that has been tackled down.

Today, after the storm, perhaps we can see the tilt as beautiful and in time even find that the tree, and we, have grown stronger.

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Love and special thanks to the Conlu family, the Grand Gazebo in Baybay beach, Our Mother of Mercy Learning School Inc., and the Sister Servants of the Poor in Lawaan Capiz.

Buhay Makulay 004: Children’s Fair for Typhoon-Hit Capiz

The Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair has made it from public hospital to government shelter in Metro Manila in the seven years since we started it. We step out tomorrow and bring the fair to the mountain area of Lawaan in Capiz, a region affected by typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Hosted at local school run by nuns, our head count has jumped quickly from 100 kids, to 115, to the latest count at 122.

Today we visited the site, not knowing what to expect. We met the sweet nuns and witnessed the school marching band at practice in the schoolyard. When we were led up to the hall on the third floor, we were quickly convinced that it would be the best place for the fair. There’s enough space to accommodate and manage a large crowd of kids; while the large windows and great view also give a wonderful sense of openness. It will be perfect.

But let’s see how we feel when there’s 122 energized bodies running around and making noise in the large hall!

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The process of restoration on this island will take years, but we’re hoping our afternoon of singing, games, crafts and affirming hope will be a memorable hint of the brighter things yet to come to them.

Haiyan/Yolanda 002: The offering of Thread&Vine

After a long and busy day, there will be no real sleep tonight. In just a few hours I will be on the first flight to Roxas City, Capiz. Capiz was among the areas hit by the super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November. Though Capiz was not hit with the same devastation as others and was spared of grievous bloodshed, the island survives but completely altered. According to this report, 95% of the province has suffered damage to agriculture, infrastructure and livelihood.

In October, my mom and I launched a pilot livelihood program for mothers in need. With the Christmas season then fast approaching, and knowing a few mothers seriously in need of a source of income, we launched Thread & Vine.

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During my childhood in the 90’s, my mom ran a great business for the handmade hair accessories. Not only did this provide for our family’s day to day needs, but the business gave work to many mothers from the slums near our home. The business thrived for many years, producing beautiful headbands, scrunchies and clips designed by my mom, and made by the women workers right in our home. These products sold well in large department stores in Metro Manila, until we could no longer compete with the rise of factory-made, mass-produced plastic merchandise.

Fast forward to 2013 and Thread & Vine.

Taking cues from our family’s love for social businesses, we launched a pilot season with a simple objective: Give fair employment to moms-in-need. Make beautiful, handmade Christmas decor. Sell to friends. Share Christmas joy! 10% of the proceeds would go to the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc.

With a small seed capital, we bought materials from Divisoria and Quiapo, and my mom reopened her beloved workshop (our large kitchen counter) to begin the design process. My mom and I love this stuff! Give us ribbons, beads and string, and we’d be happy all day.

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A few weeks later, while Thread &Vine’s humble production and sales were underway, the Philippines was hit by one of the most brutal storms it has ever experienced. We soon decided that all proceeds from our pilot season would be given to victims of the super typhoon. With our family’s close ties to dear friends in Capiz, and the news that despite the post-storm ruin, aid was slow to arrive –  we determined Capiz as the best recipient for our small gift.

And that is what the upcoming two-day trip is all about! We’ll be contributing to the rebuilding of homes and even running the quickest Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair that we have ever planned. (It may also be the biggest. Our initial number of 100 kids rose to 115. Then earlier today, jumped to 122!)

More in a few hours.

2013: You Were Quite a Charmer; A Playlist

As always, this is late. But here comes my annual tradition: a playlist that sums up the tastes and flavors of the year that just ended. These songs loyally rolled me through the amazing adventures of the year that was.

Friends: enjoy the music! 2013: cheers to you, and on to the next!

Take what is weary, and flip it upside up.
Take what is weary, and flip it upside up.

Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It – Stars

Smother – Daughter

I am Not a Robot (Clock Opera Remix) – Marina and the Diamonds

Isaac – Bear’s Den

Lonesome Dreams – Lord Huron

Your Drums, Your Love – AlunaGeorge

Boy With a Coin – Iron and Wine

Goodbye, Goodbye – Tegan and Sara

Contact High – Architect on Helsinki

The Story – Brandi Carlile

Thirteen Thirty Five – Dillon

England – The National

Different Pulses – Asaf Avidan and the Mojos

Seoul – Amiina

Lippy Kids – Elbow

How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

You’re Missing – Bruce Springsteen

Big Blue Wave – Hey Ocean

Sans Soleil – Miike Snow (Second mention in a row, and now the finale at that! Still in love with this song, but this time I share it in the form of a lovely live recording!)