Patrick Doromal, Gawad Kalinga, Davao.
Those who know me or have read my blog posts before will be aware of my long term love affair with the Philippines and the world's most hospitable people; the Filipinos. My heart was breaking at the news that these beautiful people were faced with such calamity last year. I thought of the tragedy had the typhoon ravaged a developed country and the horrifying effects are hard to fathom. Even harder then, to imagine the devastation to a family, a community, a country trying so hard to get on its feet, a country still facing the challenges of providing the very basics for its people.
I know I am abundantly blessed to be born into a family, a community, a country of wealth. By this luck, I accept the graces of an abundant life; clean food and water, a roof over my head, education to a tertiary level, health care and the surplus cash to enjoy the trappings of life; cars, travel, entertainment. But, it was by virtue of my wealth that I was introduced to the Philippines.
There I had my first taste of some of the world's most financially disadvantaged. I saw first hand the young children who worked to help support their family instead of going to school, the parents who toiled in the heat of the sun day after day to put rice on the table, the homes without toilets or access to clean water, the hospitals where children lay limp and almost lifeless on makeshift beds, the schools crowded with barefoot children trying to learn without the resources and space they desperately needed. There I learned that life really is not fair.
I learnt other lessons, too. I learnt that hospitality is a sacred gift; a sharing that binds one to another. I visited so many families both wealthy and poor, in cities and provinces who shared so generously with me. I was never hungry, thirsty or alone. I was tutored in Filipino culture not only by the families with whom I stayed but also by their house help. They taught me about food (a favourite hobby of mine while there), how to ride jeepneys, where to buy handcrafts in the markets, how to make telephone calls in Cebuano. They shared with me their stories, too, teaching me lessons in acceptance, patience, compassion, love, tolerance and inclusion. They inspired me with their deep faith, their generosity, their strong sense of family and respect for their elders, their joy and hope in the future. Filipinos are indeed spirited! people.
Typhoon Haiyan showed the world what I had experienced first hand. Stories emerged of the pedi-cab driver who gave his night's earnings to buy food for the homeless, the family members trudging for hours through the sludge to find their loved ones, those who left the relative safety of their homes to help their neighbours, those who could sing Happy! in spite of the horror that they were enduring. The world saw Filipinos as a resilient, prayerful, optimistic, cheerful, hopeful and faith filled people.
One year on, much has been done to help those affected by Haiyan by Filipinos both living in the Philippines and overseas, and through the generosity of so many countries across the world. One year on, there is still so much to do!
The avalanche of Haiyan news that filled our televisions, radios, newspapers and social media has all but moved on but the tragedy, the pain and the devastation continues. We must not be deceived by the joyful, smiling, gentle presence of the Filipino people and think that all is well. While families still cannot easily access the basics that we take for granted there is still so much to be done.
Yesterday, I participated in an online conversation with the Filipino organisation founded by Tony Meloto, Gawad Kalinga (GK). Through this conversation I not only learnt more about GK and their life changing work in the Philippines but more importantly I learnt about the camaraderie, the values and the strength of a group united by a common goal; to end poverty in a way that empowers and values each person.
The beautiful Filipino children are the face of our world's future. They deserve our care and compassion. They deserve the opportunities I have been blessed with. Today, this has been in my mind. I know the Filipino people need a hand; the people who have blessed and continue to bless my life. The question remains, What will I do?