Touchdown Tacloban

“Now, this is a place where so many people died,” our friend told us, motioning to the area surrounding the Tacloban airport, “Ang dami talaga namatay dito.” image_1

Mom and I had just touched down in Leyte, the Visayan island ravaged by Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda in November 2013. Six months after, what a powerful experience to walk in these communities now changed by a violent force of nature, and hear their stories firsthand. Unlike the islands we had visited prior, this island suffered a huge loss of life, not only infrastructure. Everyone had lost somebody.

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 We were in Leyte to bring our third Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair this year to a small town called Abuyog, south of Tacloban.

We had arrived in the rain, and were greeted by a functional, but only barely restored airport. There was now a proper ceiling above the stock-still conveyor belt for luggage. (I’m told the ceiling was a recent improvement.) But much of the place was still under construction, and everything around seemed makeshift. Just temporary solutions, stopgaps surrounded by reminders of the brutality experienced.

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As we waited for the cargo, we were greeted by the pool of porters in uniform, standing off to the side. They were backdropped by the more skeletal side of the airport, tarps flying in the wind. Not all with bright smiles, but with a few loud claps, booming voices in unison, they welcomed us to their hometown.  It was not even six in the morning. I clapped my appreciation along with some of the other passengers, acknowledging their greeting with a smile.  I searched the eyes of the porters and wondered if they were happy, wondered what they had lost in the typhoon (more importantly, who), wondered if they walked around their city with an awareness of the shadow of the storm, as I, a visitor, would in the days following.

I searched their eyes, saw lots of story and a taste of the resilience I would come to know in the days following.  But I tried not to make too much out of it all, for I was barely a few minutes in their presence. Perhaps it was the routine of this clap-and-chant welcome, or the fatigue of manual labor, but in their eyes too, was something solemn, something sad. Something altered.

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Much of the rest of the city was like the airport – functional, but only barely restored and in the making. There were varying degrees of damage,  as well as varying developments in the efforts to rebuild. But all around: rebuilding. I could barely imagine what the landscape must have looked like immediately following the typhoon.

Yet, it seemed that everywhere people had decided it would be better to move forward, to not be fazed by the tragedy. The city clapped its hands, and with booming voices in unison, decided to live.

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We got back two days ago, and part of me continues to float, still trying to wrap my head around all I had seen and heard, and all I now envision for the city getting back on its feet. Hope arise.

 

Speak soon,

T

 

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My teacher-teacher adventures at twenty-four

Twenty four was a great year. Looking back at the adventures of the past twelve months, my gratitude just spills over. It was whirlwind of so many beautiful and challenging things.

As I write and reflect, one thing seems to stick out: I learned a lot this year. 

Sounds like a pretty ordinary statement because isn’t all of life a journey of learning? (Yes!) But even so, this past year more than the years that have preceded it, has gifted me with some serious learning opportunities.

My explanation for this is that my learning came hand in hand with my sharing (of the learning). But the sharing has added all the value for me.

One of my favorite games as a kid was “Teacher Teacher.” Alone, with a friend, my stuffed toys, or imaginary students – I would pretend I was a teacher. I’d make a lesson plan, grading sheets, and then conduct a lesson, complete with the reprimanding of unruly students.

Sometime in just the past twelve months I remember considering: “I think I’m am finally a teacher.”

There is still so much left to learn and discover; but I believe it was this year, at 24 years old, that I considered with more intention than ever, my role as a mentor and teacher to those in my circle of influence.

From June to December last year, I was leading Likha, a Buhay Makulay program. Over the course of six months, we met with a group of 31 children from the urban poor sector. Most of them live under a bridge and are considered invisible and unrecognized in their city. We were mentoring these little ones through movement and visual arts. Play used as learning. On one particular Saturday I was teaching them about complementary and contrasting colors. At the end of the art making session I realized that they got it. They grasped these basic art concepts! Sure, these weren’t deeply-scientific, mind-blowing theories, but it felt like an achievement nonetheless. They may never use that piece of knowledge again, but it’s the process of discovery that we valued. Despite barriers of economic or social background + my weakness in the language, something made it through – and clicked!

(Teaching this group of children was an entirely different experience from teaching my Sunday schoolers who came from some of the grade schools in the country and were completely used to well-equipped classrooms, the routine of a rigorous school day of reading, writing, learning, and communicating with others.)

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Likha 2013


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It’s been a few years since I discovered how much I enjoy facilitating small to medium sized group activities/workshops, handling group dynamics both serious and silly (which by the way I would have never pictured, as the shy little girl I was). And now I feel I have grown even more. I’m learning to teach the way I first understood teachers as a child – in a classroom setting.

Every day is a learning day for me.

 

“I think I’m am finally a teacher.”

I was led here by many different but sustained “sharing” experiences of my year 24:

I was teaching Sunday School to 4th graders every Sunday at 10:30 am. Two Saturday mornings of each month I was facilitating art/life lessons with children from our city slums through Likha, a program of the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. To get that program running, I mentored a group of teenagers from similar backgrounds, who now served as volunteers and youth leaders in Likha. I was teaching roughly 15 (muscle-burning!) fitness classes a week at PlanaFORMA to folks (mostly women) of all ages. I was teaching Zumba regularly at the same studios, but also with lovely senior citizens at my church, two Wednesdays of each month. I was mentoring and managing our full-time staff at The Paper Project. More recently, I’ve gone on the road with Buhay Makulay, traveling to communities affected by the typhoon last year to share a vision of hope with children.

Over and over again, I am grateful for these windows to serve, learn and be given inspiration by the people around me. Aren’t we all just students of life?

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Easter Sunday 2013 with the kiddos from my first year of teaching 4th grade Sunday school!

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Does 25 mean that my early twenties are over?

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By the Shore in San Vicente, Daanbantayan

Last Saturday at this time, we were just arriving at the venue of our Children’s Fair in Daanbantayan. After close to five hours on the road (some traffic + pistops for food and supplies included), we set foot in a coastal community of fisherfolk. The helpful Vice-Mayor, our direct contact to the community,  led us to the venue, waving directions to us on foot, as our van manoeuvred the small path to the community. It was a simple place, very basic. Houses surrounded the area. Off to the side, we had a view of the water. Fishing boats parked along the shore. The sun beat down. A lot of people – kids and adults – were sitting, standing or walking around, many of them curious about our arrival. We were in San Vicente Poblacion.

In a paved clearing among the houses was where we were to gather the children for the afternoon. It seemed to be their community basketball court, on which stood one tent, a stretched out tarp for extra shade, and an unfinished stage. Next to the court was a small chapel, basically a room with a couple of tables inside. In addition to the area, 100 chairs and a sound system, all we had for the big event were sacks and boxes of supplies in our van, our eagerly supportive driver for the day, Ariel, and the hope of three travellers – my Mom, Milan and me.

This was going to be a challenge. And I instantly fell in love with where we stood. I thanked God with a big smile. All this was more than enough! And I knew He was right there with us.

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A wave of excitement rushed over me. We had never brought the Children’s Fair thisclose to the homes of the children we played with. Most of the times the children would have to travel, a bit – by jeep or on foot, to come to our activities. We were never so deep into their community, except during the times we worked at government shelters. But still, this was different. This was their home base, their turf. These kids grow up here, play in these corners, celebrate their town fiesta. This was going to be special. We’ve brought the party to their very homes!

Someone began to pull out plastic chairs. Mom, Milan and I sat with the Vice-Mayor and a local mother. We surveyed the space. In just a few hours, we’d have one hundred children running around, experiencing their first Children’s Fair.

And though we had hours to the start of the activity, our special guests – the children of this community hit hard by the storm last year – were already starting to arrive. It was going to be a beautiful day!


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More on the Children’s Fair in Daanbantayan soon!