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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The tree on Peter Street that lost its leaves this week

There’s a tree on my street that has convinced itself that it is autumn in the Philippines. For those of you unfamiliar with Filipino weather, there is really no such thing as autumn in the Philippines. All we know of seasons are wet and dry, hot and hotter.

I ride by this tree every morning, right at the corner of Peter Street. It’s leaves are almost all gone, and the silhouette of it’s slinky bark and branches are exposed. I hadn’t been paying enough attention in the weeks or days before the leaves fell, so I am no witness to the process; but I doubt this tree’s leaves changed color with that fiesty passion, the way they do in landscapes that endure four seasons each year.


I feel a little bit like this tree, undergoing a season it believes it is accustomed to, in a landscape that finds it’s journey a little strange, a little unexpected. The greenery here is largely unchanging all throughout the year.

Everyone has their good days and their bad days. On some days, I sit in limbo for a bit, bouncing simple questions around my head that would drive a philosopher mad. The questions are simple and self-searching, but also posed emotionless and without consequence.

All these questions try to carve reason out of my blunt edges. Some days I feel I run on autopilot, in a happy but strange way. In this scenario, I am the pilot who finds herself sitting on the nose of the plane I am supposed to be flying, while it is soaring still safely through the atmosphere. (Scientific realities and probabilities must be set aside for this imagery.) The view is magical, and the plane is doing what it must be doing, but something is a little odd, a little outside of the body.

On contrasting days, I am giddy from right below my sternum and through my being. On those days, life is inspiring, I am recharged and all my previous questions melt like chocolate in my mouth. All it takes is a good meeting. A ball released to roll into a plan. A new connection. An old one restored. Some days, all it takes is a tug on the line, on one of the lines I’ve thrown out into the water that from day to day shifts from murky to clear, and back again as it pleases.

These days are the affirmation.


Over the twelve months of the year here, green is just green. Green does not often redden or yellow, or fall off the trees. Not all together does green dry up and curl into the crisp crunches below your stomping feet. Green stays within its family of green – no new green of spring, or cold green of winter. Well at least green does not season here, the way it does in the place I last lived. They live and die, yellowing and browning in their own time.

Here, it seems the earth does not prompt man to think and feel collectively the passing of time, the changing of season. Time is not forced upon you by the chill of the air or the warming up of the sun. Cycles of death and life are not thrown at you by the daily voice of  the weather. You must explore the passing of time in your own terms.

Again, I am like that tree on my street, undergoing change, undergoing transition, nudging new life out of my extremities. Some days I don’t understand why my leaves are falling, and why those of other trees do not. All I know, is that for this season, I am planted where I am supposed to be, growing upright, growing outward.

Some days the question is not why. Some days there is no question. Just a wondering – about the burden that God has put on my heart, one I cannot eloquently name or place as of yet. Though I call it burden, it does not feel like one, but rather its presence and its impetus are as ordinary as deciding to eat when you are hungry.

You just eat. You just do it. No need to reason why.

I miss the fall. And the people I have previously walked through the season with. The fire and bright that overwhelms the landscape during this time is arresting. Every day something is different, every day a new color, a new urgency. Unlike the tree on my street, I don’t want to skip the process of autumn, though it is not around me. I want to sink into it, enjoy it.

I will let my colors change, burn and swing away. Then I will keep trucking through the winter, in whatever form it finds me.