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. 

 

 

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!

 

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

The Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair is going on the road!

A few weeks ago my mom had an idea.

“We’re celebrating the eighth year of the Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair this 2014…  We should have eight children’s fairs this year!

IMG_0756 At that moment I could think of many reasons why this was maybe not the best of ideas: Not enough time to prepare. Not enough money. It’d be too much work. Not enough volunteers. I wanted to focus on something else for the NGO. Not enough time this year. That sounds like too many kids. We’ve never organized so many big events in one year. Etc. etc. 

But from the moment my Mom spoke the idea out loud, I knew it was no longer just an idea. All my “reasons,” they were just excuses and lies. Those things never stopped us before. Those challenges have always existed, and we’ve said yes to the ideas anyway!

Eight children’s fairs in 2014. YES!

It instantly became one of our missions for the year.

The idea came on the tail of the practically-impromptu children’s fair we held in January  just outside Roxas City, Capiz Island. Mom and I initially planned the trip in order to hand deliver the money we had raised for our friends and typhoon victims (through our Christmas pilot sale by Thread & Vine). But before we knew it, we were hosting a fair for 130 children! We can’t seem to turn away from the opportunity to bring children together to play, learn, and just be kids!

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So we are going on the road! Roxas City was just the beginning.

This April we are going to Cebu island for 100 children. In May, to Leyte for 500 children. In June, potentially Iloilo. In all these places are little children who survived one heck of a crazy storm.

Even in January, I felt that God was preparing my heart for something new and uncomfortable. Especially in the wake of the typhoon’s devastation, I feel called to go into the broken places. Let’s see where this takes me! Another dream come true!

Stay tuned for ways to help support the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. this year, we’re gonna need all the help we can get!

 

Speak soon,

T