There is nothing our human hands can do

There is nothing our human hands can do to deserve a world so beautifully and intricately crafted. Nothing. Not even our minds, powerfully designed as they are. 

But if we lead with our hearts, our mighty, broken, open hearts, we might just have a chance at growing the love that this world was created with.

Baler, Philippines. January 2017.
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2015, thank you for the surprises

The celebration of Chinese New Year is the perfect excuse to share my long overdue personal review of 2015. I scribbled this list in my sketchbook while on vacation last month and never got around to typing it up. But here it is finally:

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2015 was a standout.

I put up my first solo art show at a local cafe, if the ground moves, a collection of poetry and paintings. I nicknamed it my exercise in vulnerability. On opening night, I held a reading and friends played music. At first I was frightened, then overwhelmed, then grateful – for all good reasons.
I traveled. For a wedding. For Buhay Makulay. For myself.
I paid more bills.
I wrote more checks.
I met a boy.
I taught a lot of fitness classes.
I lost my phone. And flipped my room over trying to look for it.
I got my first nephew.
I started a daily writing project as creative exercise and called it #StoriesOnSquares. I have yet to get back into it again.
I continued to cut my own hair, about once a month in my bathroom. Except once when I decided it might be good to clean up the cut professionally. The haircut I paid for ended up to be nothing special.
I had many sleepovers. And a couple picnics.
I worked on my artist website and shared my work online.
I made plans. Changed some.
I cooked a lot, but mostly for just me.
I ran my first “race.” 10k.
I began to read my Bible. Really read it.
I bought two pairs of shoes. (Only two!) One for work and one for the run.
I watched many sunsets.
I sat in countless meetings. I led many of them.
I went back to communities that Buhay Makulay had traveled to in 2014. Mom and I facilitated free training for teachers, community leaders, volunteers and even teenagers – a crash course child-centered and creative programming. These trips kept life in perspective.
I made time to read books. And finally finished my fasting challenge from the previous year – to abstain from any book purchases until I had read ten books already gathering dust on my own shelf.
I drew in my journal.
I painted by the mountains. I painted by the beach. I painted by my window.
I turned 26.
I led our operations team through some unforgettable challenges at the Paper Project. By the end of the year, I was keenly aware and grateful for the trust and respect given to me by the people I manage. Their openness to my leadership and mentoring despite being the (almost) youngest in the group humbled and inspired me.
I moved to a new apartment.
I sold a few paintings – my first sale of personal work since college.
I cried every now and then. At a few movies. In the middle of two different books.
After two and a half years of teaching fitness, I finished a contract and decided to take a break.
I relaunched Thread & Vine in partnership with my mom.
I started a Bible study group with women in my neighborhood.
I went out dancing.
I witnessed how much time it can take for an idea to sink in. After three years of working at The Paper Project, a few seeds planted when I started working there finally bore some fruit in others. It was wonderful to see.
I got very tense over travel visa applications.
I took a lot of Uber rides. I was stuck in a lot of traffic.
I walked a lot, but not enough.
I ate a lot of memorable meals.
I visited our fish farm and got to witness a harvest after many years.
I drank a lot of coffee.
I spoke at my church’s Youth lock-in about how our God does not change.
I didn’t dance enough.
I tried muay thai and loved it. Even the bruises.
I learned how to use a vintage letterpress machine.
I made the smoke alarm go off on my floor and panicked. It was just chicken in the toaster.
I traveled to Europe for the first time.
I went to Spain and got my luggage lost on the way. I fell in love with their ham and the tradition of the sobremesa.

I closed off the year in Rome, of all unexpected cities. I bid 2015 goodbye in the middle of the street by the famous Coliseum. And in the warm embrace of friends I hadn’t seen in almost eight years (and cheap wine), I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for another year full of great stories.

Those final moments of 2015 are hard to forget because Rome and that whimsical reunion hadn’t even been part of the plan. In fact it was only made possible because other plans hadn’t worked out. (An emerging trend of that year.) That new year’s eve was a great reminder to allow life to happen without holding on too tightly for control. Despite anxiety and impatience, things turned out just as they should have, and beautifully.

From one year of surprises to the next, may I carry that patience and sense of adventure this year. 2016, I dare you to be incredible.

 

 

 

Walk with me through my 2014.

Thank you for all your ridiculousness, your storms, your breakthroughs. One last look, but actually, 2014, I’m quite over you.

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I made new friends.
I traveled to see people. I traveled with Buhay Makulay. I traveled alone.
I stood in front of thousands of little children, from the poorest communities I know, trying my best to shape life into the word hope by telling stories and painting murals.
I was welcomed into the makeshift houses of families that lost theirs.
I saw the impact of history’s strongest storm and the brokenness, amidst powerful healing, that persisted months after.
I was reminded of God’s faithfulness.
I was left in awe of people living with less wanting. People living with less.
I turned 25.
I met heartbreak. The dream shattering, paradigm shifting, inky, moonless kind of heartbreak.
I paid a lot of bills.
I sold back my first car to my brother after an expensive year of maintaining it, and bought a smaller, more fuel-efficient new one in the same color.
I still didn’t gather enough courage to drive.
I went on adventures. I wandered.
I met healing. The joy mending, light pouring into your dusky musty cave, dewy, liberating kind of healing.
I picked up my pen again and wrote poetry.
I moved out of my family’s house and got my own place.
I received visitors. Friends with noise and laughter.
I learned how to teach four more classes at PlanaForma.
I was challenged.
I tried hard to make time for my sketchbook and blank canvases.
I made a lot of challenging decisions as a manager running operations at The Paper Project.
I listened to my gut.
I stood in front of the work of some of my favorite artists like Sebastiao Salgado and Mark Rothko.
I got to spend time with friends who live far away.
I wrote out checks.
I fell for coffee.
I cried more this year (almost certainly) than my whole lifetime of crying after the age of five.
I met hope, again and again.
I made a lot of messy, but valuable mistakes.
I was embraced by community. The spirit resuscitating kind of community.
I started to skip the trips to the salon. I cut my own hair.
I danced. But not enough.
I prayed. But also not enough.
I ate a lot of good food. A lot.
I laughed. Hopefully more than I ate good food, or at least just as much.
I dreamed new dreams.
I claimed big visions for the new year.

You were one for the books, 2014. Now, please pleasantly get out of my way.
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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!

 

Next stop: Daanbantayan!

It was the type of wind and rain that thrashed and screeched; completely dismantling the landscape. The typhoon pounded the town for five hours straight, after it hit land in the morning, reports say. Their houses, sources of livelihood, the ageing trees, power lines, communication lines – all yielded to the typhoon. The people were no strangers to heavy storms, but Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda cleaved a whole new kind of wound.

That was the 8th November 2013 in Daanbantayan.

This may have been the hardest hit region of Cebu, off to the north of the island and right on the coast.

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Photo from www.rappler.com

Five months later, we’re off to visit their children. We’re headed to Daanbantayan,  Cebu Island next weekend! And by we, I mean the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc! I’m incredibly grateful for another opportunity to visit a community hit by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, and to bring my beloved Children’s Fair to a new island shore.

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Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair in 2012

We’re preparing for 100 children join us for an afternoon of creative play, music and learning! But as it is in these communities, there are not just one hundred, but hundreds of children we wish we could invite and share time with. Arrangements are finally taking shape, and for the first time, we may be working directly with a local government unit to bring our activities to the children. Every day we get more and more excited!

I’m mulling over an idea for a mural the kids can work on, with the same approach as we did in Roxas City in January. If you’ve got any ideas make sure to pass them on!

Where once was thrashing and screeching, we hope to hear laughter and see dancing.

Speak soon,

T

 

P.S.  DONATE? If you’d like to share with these children in Cebu, or the hundreds of children we will play with as we go on the road this year, please consider making a donation in cash or kind. Sponsor one child at Php800/20USD/18euro. 

Deposits can be made directly to the following account: Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc., acct number 0041-0339-24, BPI.

 Donations in cash or kind may be dropped of at the Union Church of Manila, c/o Len Aritao. Corner Rada and Legazpi Sts. Legazpi Village, Makati.

Find the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to stay posted.

 

Data on typhoon sourced from: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/524437/5-hours-of-yolanda-pounding-daanbantayan-town