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.

Happy 2014!

“People with a meagre soul always try to make others feel small too, and the stranger, who could probably conceal his on the head of a pin, gave me his most disdainful look.”

-from The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

I read Zafón’s book on Christmas day (I highly recommend it!) and this was the one passage I will never forget. Haven’t we all come across such a soul? A person that just wanted to put you down and make you feel unimportant, invisible or incapable of measuring up?

Well, enough of that.

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A special installation piece by yours truly, from Buhay Makulay’s LIKHA exhibit. Medium: Japanese paper collage on glass jars by our children and volunteers & found objects.

Something tells me that 2014 is going to be a breakthrough year. In all the adventures that lie ahead, may this year be one of uplifting others and building up one another.

May our souls be generous, and hopefully larger than a head of a pin. So large that ego, hatred, or jealousy have no room. Let the light of others shine. And if given the opportunity, be the one that holds them up for all to see.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas snuck up on me again!

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Our Aritao tree on Christmas eve!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Christmas day may be one of the few that I leave unplanned,  no to-do list, no agenda, and no expectations. After a late night of hanging out with the family, eating ham, sipping wine and opening presents, a sweetly lit Christmas eve is followed by a day at home, taking a real day off.

Very late this morning, I woke up my favorite way: slowly. Through my bedroom window I was greeted by a lovely view – a crisp clear blue behind this brilliant white. I thought I may have woken up to snow covered mountains, and not the low, fluffy white clouds that eased me out of bed. With sleep still in my eyes I snapped a photo that doesn’t do it justice:

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Around Christmastime, the world has been inclined to suffer some of its heaviest hits, this year and in years past – be it from natural disaster like a supertyphoon, from discord between nations or families, or violence both intentional or accidental. These experiences cut even more pain when held in the light of celebration and the desire for peace.

Despite the darkness and ruin that overcomes so many, hope endures. Victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda spend this season very differently from the last, a long way down from their expectations of Christmas cheer. Despite promises of local organizations, not all families have had their electricity  reconnected since the storm, spending the holidays steeped in darkness. Many still clutch the gaping hole of loss -their first Christmas without a father, or without a home of their own. A night is haunted by nightmares of the savage flooding, and the daytime is not large enough to get lost in. Too many still survive in conditions that defy even the most basic of human needs. During this season of plenty, we cannot forget those that have little.

These people are not alone in their grief. All over the world are people sinking in their sorrow. All over the world, we must hail their resilience. There is no other way.

On Christmas Sunday, I had the privilege of leading the Prayers of the People. Portions of it, I share with you today. And if you would so wish, pray this prayer with me today: 

Dear Father, 

We come to You today with thanksgiving in our hearts, with worship for You on our lips, and hope rising among us.

You are our light through all season, through all generations. We are in awe of You.

We fall short of Your glory and acknowledge our wrongdoings, our hardened hearts and our eyes that have turned away from You. We are sorry.

Thank You for the coming of Jesus, for the joy of the advent season, waiting patiently and expectantly for You. 

We lift up to You the families represented in our church. Whether the holidays are spent in loud cheer or silently in our hearts, whether our table sits three generations or just You Jesus, and us – bring joy to all our homes, big and small, in plenty and in little, here and abroad. We invite You in. We celebrate You. 

We remember those all over the world, and right in our city, struck by tragedy, loss, sickness, natural disaster, injustice, depression, hatred, hunger or pain.

May the light of Your presence this Christmas push out every darkness, soothe every aching heart, every tearful child, or every family that has lost their hope. 

Bring your provision and joy to their place of need. Satisfy their hungry hearts. Satisfy our hungry hearts. Lastly, may Your Light, the Light that Jesus brings, shine the brightest of all the Christmas.

Amen. 

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Nothing lights up this season and every season, like the King born in a manger. Family and friends, thank you for being messengers of this light too – for your generosity of company, word, gift or smile – blessings on you! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, Merry Christmas!

Haiyan/Yolanda 001: When Cyclones Roar

They say that the floodwater came pungent and thick, the kind you could sink into and never rise from.

It’s been eleven days since super typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, hit land in the Philippines. The news says it was the second deadliest typhoon to ever hit the country. A woman I met this week told me that her relatives described the sound of the storm like heavy weaponry being fired without stopping.

On that night, I was enjoying a quiet evening at home on the couch, while outside the wind blew with incredible strength. It rattled the open screen windows in our living room. I did nothing more than marvel at the force of the wind, close the windows and say a breath of prayer for those braving the storm in harsher conditions. I yet had no idea of the heartache this one storm would cause. In my mind, it was just another typhoon,  one of the very many we experience each year.

Super typhoon” was the term people were throwing around. In the days immediately before and after the storm, I stayed away from reading the news, insisting not to worry. Perhaps it was an exaggeration by the media, especially from nations unfamiliar with our local typhoons and cyclones. But really it was denial.

"Survivors walk on a road amidst heavy downpour after Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines. One of the most powerful storms ever recorded has killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines province of Leyte, with coastal towns and the regional capital devastated by huge waves. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of the area in its path as it tore through the province, according to local authorities." Reuters
“Survivors walk on a road amidst heavy downpour after Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines. One of the most powerful storms ever recorded has killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines province of Leyte, with coastal towns and the regional capital devastated by huge waves. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of the area in its path as it tore through the province, according to local authorities.” Reuters. From the International Business Times

People began to talk about the damage. Slowly the news from far-off Leyte and Samar trickled in. Calamity was more than confirmed. The world began to talk about it. And I continued to stay away from the news. Hearing about it was enough. Perhaps it was survivor guilt, or the mere physical distance from harm, or the crippling feeling like I couldn’t really help from where I was.

By this time, I was flooded with messages from friends around the world, asking me if my family and I were affected by the storm. As it is when you are far away, many friends seem to have imagined the worst. Friend’s messages were full of incredible concern because to them, I could have easily been on any one of those islands that were struck with the hardest blows. I live far north of those islands, but those unfamiliar with Philippine geography wouldn’t know that. Messages kept coming in. Some of them thickened with worry. Many of them from friends I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. And more and more, these messages connected dots that drew lines closer and closer to me. Though I had felt so physically and emotionally distant from the tragedy in the Visayan islands, the storm was finally coming to me.

An aerial shot from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by Typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. From National Geographic. PHOTOGRAPH BY BULLIT MARQUEZ, AP
An aerial shot from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by Typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. From National Geographic.
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I haven’t even had a chance to respond to all the messages, but made sure to post a general message on my Facebook timeline, to ease any unnecessary concern for my safety.  Much like the overflow of well wishes and concern in my direction despite my distance from tragedy, the Philippines is experiencing an outpouring of generosity from resources at home and abroad. The response to the immediate need has been incredible. In Manila, it seems we have all been mobilized- working on packing relief goods, raising funds or even driving survivors from one drop off point to their families in the city. A look through this collection of photos on the international response to the typhoon warms your heart. Sure, as with all disasters, there has been much talk about the pitfalls in the relief efforts, but to me that is negative energy we can do without. (I found this article quite appropriate.) There is still so much good being poured into the channels that need it. Let us continue to pour in.

We sang this song in worship, Still, at church on Sunday. And the words just cut my heart. When the oceans rise and thunders roar / I will soar with You above the storm/ Father you are King over the flood / I will be still, know You are God. I sang. I closed my eyes. And there I was, standing in the expanse of flattened wreckage of the damaged cities, now all but rubble. As far as I could see was gray sky and brown ruin, not another person in sight. Tears ran down my face, and I finally mourned with the millions that survive the disaster. 

When the storm of this news has lost its power completely, and the world has moved on to respond to other tragedies, I will not move. I will not let this rest. When international concern has blown away, I will find myself standing in the rubble, praying over the land, and playing with the children who have survived.

They say that the floodwater came pungent and thick, the kind you could sink into and never rise from. But life will be restored. And life will grow.