By now you’ve seen the devastation that hurricane Haiyan has done to the Philippine Islands last week. My heart goes out to all the people who have lost their homes, jobs, not to mention the loss of friends and relatives. Rebuilding is going to take years, perhaps decades, but I admire the resiliency of the people, I always have. After viewing Anderson Cooper’s report (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/anderson-cooper-defends-philippines-coverage_n_4280683.html) I felt compelled to write a bit about my own short experience in the Philippines.
Although born a third generation Californian, most of my family’s ancestry is rooted in the Philippines. I had always wanted to visit the Philippine Islands even though pretty much all of my relatives had come to the US long ago. In 2004 I finally got my chance to go when my Uncle and Aunt decided to spend a couple of their retirement years living there and they invited us to go visit. As their son, my cousin, and I we were in the plane preparing for landing, I looked out the airplane window and looked over the first signs of civilization; a patchwork of fish ponds and huts and thought to myself, “This is the land of my ancestry” and I could have sworn I felt the twang of a distant, ancient, albeit thin tether binding myself to that land’s watery and green terrain. For 2 weeks, my cousin and I stayed with his parents and they took us everywhere they could for us to become familiar with the land.
One morning, after having our own huge breakfast, we were leaving their rented house on a pineapple plantation (simple, VERY simple to American standards, a luxurious abode to most indigenous standards) and we were invited to a birthday party taking place on the compound for one of the youngsters. Now let me explain something. Filipinos are a very welcoming often making those around them “family” even though there is no blood relation. They are very giving and it is perceived as dishonorable to have a party and not invite all of the “family” even when provisions cannot accommodate, which is why everyone who comes, brings something to share. So as you can imagine, one cannot turn down an invitation to attend without being rude.
The celebrants invited us into their home (a corrugated roof over a dirt floor), served us food (though we were already stuffed from our own breakfast) and we were compelled to eat because they gave us their all, pretty much everything they had. From right off the flame (not a stove) I was given rice and chicken adobo (I was wondering why there was one less crowing rooster that morning!) and I ate as much as I could, not letting them know I didn’t eat chicken (I gave it to my cousin when no one was looking). After eating as much as we could, we were then led outside for dessert. One member of the family climbed the coconut tree that shaded their home, threw down fresh green coconuts, and the father of the celebrant cut open each one and gave each of us our own and we drank the coconut water and ate the flesh. I have never been so full in all my life! Some music was played, the children danced, the old people laughed, the parents served, the babies clapped.
I was astounded that people who had so little could give so much. They could have very easily had their party without us knowing or given us smaller portions, knowing that we had just eaten, however, they actually took smaller portions for themselves. They were clearly living, “simply”, yet they gave like they were the richest people of the day. It would have been very easy for them to live in a poverty mind set and not celebrate their child’s birthday so “extravagantly”, but that was not an option, and the joy they shared despite their circumstance was unexpected. What a mind shift!
Since that time, another cousin of mine and his wife and children have spent the last 5 years or so ministering in the Philippines. They started a foundation called, Nothing 2 Lose and it was set up as leadership training for the youth which they do through basketball camps and scholarships. If you feel compelled to donate, if you haven’t already, know that there will be no “middle man” and your donation will go to where it is needed in areas that may be overlooked by other foundations. Here is the link: http://www.n2lfoundation.com/.
I thank you and ask you to continue to pray for all the victims of this disaster. I know that even now, they are still a joyful, giving people despite having lost pretty much everything. It’s who they are; it’s who I strive to be.
-Tessa L. Charles