the whisper they call inspiration

I want my art to show the world that we are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us.

 

to show you are loved

This whisper does not run out of breath. It is always speaking. (We don’t always listen.) It has a melody. It can flow clearly or indistinct – like a humble breeze, wordless. Gently, sometimes forcefully too, the whisper propels us forward.

Nobody else hears the whisper you hear. We’re not meant to. We can’t.

The whisper calls us by name, every time. We don’t notice because we think the whisper comes from our center, from the honest part that just can’t lie. But the whisper is not of us, not made from us. If it were, it would be made of filth.

It is a voice we know. Or think we know. Or think is ours.

It is not.

But it is a stirring from so deep within us, no two people can experience it in the same way. It is at times a jolting feeling. Not the kind that makes you jump in fright, but the sensation of faint electricity somewhere in the anatomy that biology can’t describe. The specific feel and touch of the whisper is different for each person- a tingling, a straining at the jaw, a tickle in your side, a half crescent of a smile, a coolness on your lower back, or valleys forming between your brows.

That moment that you will look back on as that flame of inspiration, that pivotal moment, that nanosecond of magic; that is the moment when our soul truly hears the whisper. We don’t know it as it occurs, though we might feel the clues. We understand only when the moment has passed,  when we have taken a step back to look at what has been formed, created, grown through us. It is also then that we doubt and simultaneously shrink back in awe. We feel alive in the most vulnerable, fiery, stumbling kind of way; because we allowed the whisper to speak not only to us, but through us and out into the world.

We can only afford to hear a whisper, because if we could hear the full voice in all its power and beauty, we would simply explode. There is no room in our human flesh to hold anything remotely as magnificent or significant.

I want my art to show the world that we are loved. Even if the art might speak of darkness. Even if the art might make you feel emotions you’d rather not feel. Especially when the art lifts you up. Even more if the art challenges who you are.

I want my art to make you understand that you are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us. When we do what we love and when we love, we hear the whisper.

When we let the whisper speak through us, like a prism, we are given the opportunity to disperse light into the world.

 

A note on this piece: Yesterday afternoon, I launched my work, what wakes you, an art installation of paintings and poetry inspired by a stunning sunrise. At the close of the exhausting but beautiful day I was overcome with gratitude to God. I couldn’t do much else as I sat in awe, considering how He would allow us selfish little humans to experience art, creativity and inspiration — and  to walk as witness to His exquisite creation that we continuously choose to destruct. What a Creator! As I began to process it all, and the journey of bringing my art into public space, I began to write the words that turned into this piece. (See more updates on my art here or here.)

What do you know about hope?

There are so many things I have been aching to share about my experiences with the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project this year. Each activity with the children leaves me in awe – of the resiliency of every Filipino child I’ve met, the gift of service so many kind hearts are willing to provide, but most of all of the steadfastness of God. I am bursting with stories, anecdotes, personal revelations. But I fail to carve out time to write them out, to find the right words that will sustain the power of the things I’ve seen, heard and learned.

In the past eight months alone, we’ve worked with thousands of children and hundreds of volunteers in five different communities, in as many different provinces of the Philippines. There are three more communities and hundreds more children lined up for the rest of the year. This is all in celebration of the eight years we’ve been facilitating the Children’s Fair for underserved communities. Even more than that, this is all in celebration of the enduring hope we have in God. Buhay Makulay’s vision remains: children at risk transformed into children of hope.

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Two girls eating their lunch in front of one of our three hope trees. Children’s Fair in Calauan, Laguna. August 23, 2014. 

Yesterday’s Children’s Fair in Calauan, Laguna, stands out for many reasons. Here are a few: We had the boldness (and spiritual whisper) to invite 1,500 children to the fair. (The most we’ve ever done was 500, and that felt like a reach!) Unlike some earlier locations this year, I have a professional and relational history with the community, and feel deeply invested in their growth. Close to the fair day, we also felt stalled by fences in our flow of finances and the lean-ness of our confirmed team of volunteers. The night before the fair, I was still greatly overwhelmed by the basic idea of managing thousands of people. And on a very personal note, I’ve been going through some private hurdles that have made the season coming up to the actual fair more challenging perhaps than any other point in my life. It has made this present season the most stretching, breaking and disorienting of all.

And perhaps all of that’s what made yesterday even more meaningful. Since traveling to Leyte in May, and understanding the depth of the super typhoon’s impact on the locals’ everyday life and oncoming future, a giant shadow of a question has plagued me: What do you know about hope, Tanya? What do you really know about hope?

The people I had met in Leyte survived a type of devastation I have never witnessed before. To hear of it makes your heart ache and tremble. But still it’s nothing compared to being the very person that has to walk through the devastation, one persistently painful inch at at time. And thus I questioned, what did I even know about hope? Why am I the person called to share this message?

And of course I know hope. I carry hope so preciously in my heart. But I wondered if the heart that carries it has been challenged enough. How would I take the punches, if the devastation had come knocking on my door and not Leyte’s, or Iloilio’s, or Cebu’s? I can’t say.

So once again, in preparation for speaking to 1,500 children yesterday about this very hope that they should carry in their own hearts, I found myself facing this question head on. What do I know about hope? I continue to search my heart. I continue to search God’s.

One thing is certain – that I am the one learning from each time I take the microphone to greet the children at our Children’s Fairs. Majority of the thousands of kids who’ve come to us, have walked (not ridden a car or train) from their homes, in their best (but worn or hand me down) clothes, through dusty streets, days after their last shower, on much less than full stomachs to get where they sit in front of me. That journey alone is one of hope.

More of this in future posts. Stay tuned, speak soon.

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Me at the microphone, sharing stories with 500 children in Leyte. Children’s Fair. May, 2014. 

 

 

Mid-Year Moment of Gratitude

Happy July 1st! Where did the first half of the year go?

Here are a few things I am thankful for today, the midpoint of 2014.

1. Work.

Whenever I am tired and feeling overworked, I try to remember how difficult it is for too many others to find a livelihood. I am blessed to have two jobs that are stable, safe, challenging, and engaging. I continue to love what I do.

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2. Ideas.

I feel the love of God when He plants a seed of an idea in my mind, and allows me to discover it. These are ideas for things to do – whether personal, professional or in between – Buhay Makulay activities, independent projects, creative initiatives, process improvement, troubleshooting, an interesting perspective, ways to mentor my staff, new ways to approach the classes I teach, or new adventures to go on. These are all gifts from above.

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3. Hope after the storm.

In the wake of devastating SuperTyphoon in November last year, and in celebration of the 8th year of the annual Fairs – we’ve taken our Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair on the road. The children and their communities continue to teach me about hope.

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4. Travel

Because of the #3, I’ve been able to travel the Philippines a bit more this year than most years. We’ve played with children from Capiz, Cebu and Leyte. Hopefully Iloilo and Negros in the coming months too. And I finally made my return to Singapore to visit my older sister – a plan six years in the making.

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5. Art

#3 has allowed me to do some community art. But in the past few months, I’ve been craving personal art-making time. I cannot always fit it into my schedule, but since reading a beautiful novel about Claude Monet, going on a painting afternoon, purchasing a sturdy & easy-to-carry sketchbook while in Singapore – I’ve picked up my drawing pen again and vowed to restore art to its rightful place in my life. I also want to start dancing again – and by dancing I mean, not Zumba..

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My pen portrait from a couple Sundays ago.

 

 

Speak soon,

T

 

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

 

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!