It’s Been So Long!

Apologies! It’s been since last year!

Not a whole lot to report though. I had a lovely Christmas and New Year. Spent my 25th birthday on a plane back to the Philippines. But that’s ok because I had an amazing time with my family in Hawaii. Beautiful place, Hawaii.

Since I’ve been back in Davao, I’ve been around the office mostly. I’ve been applying to graduate schools, freaking out about graduate schools, applying for scholarships and aid, and freaking out about that as well.

I’ve also been working in the office a good bit. Just doing different tasks here and there and setting up my program for the last two months here. Yep! Last two months! March and April will be a whirlwind wrap up of sorts. I am quite excited about it.

I’m bittersweet about this all ending. I’ve got a lot of awesome friends here. I know I’ll be back but it’s just weird to think about not living in Davao anymore.

A lot of people are asking what my plans are after I get home. That’s a very involved question so here’s the sort of highlight reel.

April 30- Fly in to New York City. There until the 13th and then flying down to Columbia, SC back to home, back to the beautiful state of South Carolina. I’ll be in SC until the end of May and then I’ll be hopping up to DC to take part in an 8 or 9 week project with a Philippine-US Solidarity group that will be hosting an event. I’ll be part of the host staff. I’m excited to be a part of that. That brings me to the beginning of August and hopefully to the point where I’ll be starting graduate school either in DC, San Francisco, or Paris, France. I know, right?

But that is where I am now. To quote NASCAR analysts, I’m on turn four comin’ in to the home stretch. Full speed ahead friends.

I’ll post probably two more updates before I get back to the States. Then expect three or four more as I transition home, to DC, and finish off this crazy deal.

Let’s go!

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The People Walk to Manila… Quite Literally

So we got back from Tacloban and I had to scramble to rest and get some other things done.  As it turned out, I had another short turn around before the next trip.  This one, was big. Manilakbayan or The people’s walk to Manila. It was time for the people of Mindanao to take the issues to the government in the Capitol region (yes, I know… Hunger Games, much?).

So on November 15th we began our journey.  We drove to Surigao, met the other delegates, rode the barge overnight, drove on to Tacloban the next morning, had a quick march and rally (again), then made our way across town, crossed the bridge to the island of Samar, had another march, drove a few hours, had one more march, then stopped to rest for four hours.  Woke up, rode a barge, got off the barge, rallied, rode a couple hours, rallied, rode some more, stopped for some sleep.  I was exhausted already but there was so much more to come.  Each day was riding, marching, rallying, and small amounts of sleep.  We finally got to stop on the 20th to rest for the entire morning.  That was a much needed break. Then it was time to move on. From the afternoon of the 20th up to the 24th, we marched our way slowly towards the Capitol Region in Manila.  It was hot but the 300 plus delegates marched on and chanted their way to the gates of the presidential palace where we rallied and eventually camped the night of the 24th.  The camp part was a surprise.

On the 25th, we had to dismantle the camp and move to another location or be forcibly removed. This was suddenly not the safest trip I’ve taken.  All is well though.  We moved to a park and constructed a new campsite. It was an impressive campsite and it kept evolving with each day to become nicer and more accommodating. I was really impressed with how they built it using wires, a whole lot of bamboo, and tarps.  They set up some generators to give us power and we were settled.  For the next few weeks, our plan was to rally and present all of the issues and human rights violations in front of many government buildings and public spaces throughout Manila.  The weather, as usual, changed that.

Typhoon Hagupit suddenly became a huge threat to the Philippines.  There were conflicting reports that it could be the next Haiyan or it might be a bit weaker.  Our camp was dismantled and all the participants were scattered and moved to indoor facilities to keep us safe.  Unfortunately, our efforts seemed a little much as when the typhoon finally came to Manila, it wasn’t much more than a summer storm in South Carolina.  A lot of us were frustrated because so many events had been cancelled and moved around for seemingly nothing.  At any rate, on December 9th, we got going again.  A few more rallies and presentations were given and then the morning of the 10th we began the big event.  December 10th is International Human Rights day so we held a massive sunrise rally outside of a church then marched back to the Presidential Palace to hold an even bigger rally for the rest of the day.

After wrapping that up, we made our way to a church outside of the main part of Manila to hold our final solidarity night and camp out there. The solidarity night was awesome. The songs, dances, small messages of support, and film clips really brought the entire month together.  We were tired but we had made the issues known. There was plenty of media coverage throughout the month so much of what we set out to accomplish was done.

On the 11th, the group split up by region and had some time for assessment and then the departures began.  I flew back the morning of the 12th and have been resting and getting everything updated.

So that’s where I am today. Back in Davao and gearing up for Christmas and a family trip.  I am too excited to see family.  It’s going to give me the extra boost to get through the last few months here.

I do want to close this out with a huge thank you to everyone who donated to something on Giving Tuesday.  I don’t like Black Friday. I don’t. But Giving Tuesday redeems it a little for me.  So if you gave, thank you.  The people or organizations that you supported are going to be able to do great things with that support.  A special thank you to those who donated to my Advance number! It was a big success.  I more than exceeded my goal so thank you a hundred times over.  I’ll be sending out thank yous as soon as I can.

So that’s all for now.  I’ll be back after the new year.  I won’t post about the vacation.  Just know it will be great.  Stay tuned towards the end of January for the next update!

J

Haiyan: One Year Later

The fact that the title includes the words one year makes me realize just how fast time has moved. It’s almost Christmas 2014! That means this adventure is a lot closer to being done than I let myself realize some days.
I’ll be honest; I’m excited to return home. But I’m also really sad to leave. I’ve done a lot here and I’ve made some great friends. I’ll be sad to leave them. I will be back though. Many times.
Anyways, let’s get to the real subject of this post. Tacloban. The city has been almost the centerpiece to my time here. It was time to go back for round number five.
After returning from Japan, I did a lot of nothing. Just rested and got myself ready for the trip. There was not a lot going on in the office as we were all preparing for the trip. This time around looked a lot different from our usual trips to the areas. Instead, we were bringing survivors from different calamities from all over the Philippines to Tacloban to form a nationwide calamity survivors network: Daluyong.
So on November 3, we loaded up and made our way straight to Tacloban. No stops. A relentless drive. I did not enjoy that. However, after arriving on the morning of the 4th, I was able to rest and then later help set up for the conference. The other delegates would not begin arriving until the 5th. And then later, some of us went and got a massage. That was nice.
On the 5th, the people came. There were people from all over Mindanao, all over the Eastern and Western Visayas (the group of islands in the middle of the Philippines), and people from Luzon (the north). Hundreds of survivors had gathered to demand accountability from the government for the negligence of relief operations.
The night of the 5th we began a two day conference to hear testimonies from survivors of all the typhoons, earthquakes, and man-made calamities. Each testimony was filled with emotion and demanded that this new network hold the Filipino government accountable. All day on the 6th, the testimonies and reports came forth. I was amazed. Every year since 2009, there has been a typhoon or some kind of disaster that has ravaged some area of the Philippines. And most of those areas are still in need of relief. Can you imagine?
The morning of the 7th we closed down the conference and got ready for the next part. To commemorate the anniversary of typhoon Haiyan, we were going to march around Tacloban for two days and rally outside of different government buildings. And march we did. We made our way around Tacloban for the entire day as a massive crowd of over 500 people yelling for justice for the victims. It was an impressive march. That night, we gathered at the Tacloban Convention Center to hold another rally and prepare for the next day. Imagine more of the same of earlier in the day.
The 8th brought the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan. The anniversary of the horror that these people faced. Emotions were high. We marched on the city center and held our final rally in the streets. Every chant was loud, everyone was passionate, and we made ourselves heard.
At the end of the rally, we hopped back over to where we’d been staying, packed up, and began our journey home. Our job there was done. For the time being at least. I was tired. After Japan and the short turnaround in to this trip, I was looking forward to some rest. After all, I had another long trip coming towards me.
Another post coming right up!
J

Culture Shock

So.  With all of my tasks and conferences in the book.  I was finally able to relax and prepare for one the coolest and oddly most relaxing times of this experience.  My last update post got us to the beginning of October.  I got plenty of time to just be easy and relax.  I needed it.  Plus, I had some extra things to get done outside of the office so I finally had the chance to do so.

Anyways, October 18th I got up extra early and made my way to the airport.  It was time for our midterm gathering in Osaka, Japan.  I was really excited. I could not wait to get there and see everyone in the international group of our class (US-2s… I hope we can all see each other again).  I got on the plane to Manila and then started to make my way through customs. I had a little trouble.  Apparently my clearance to leave form was not current.  So after renewing and doing a little extra pleading, I got to my gate to take off to Japan.  The flight to Japan was odd. 4 and a half hours. For some reason it just felt like a completely awkward amount of time to be flying… Whatever.

I arrived at the Kansai International Airport in Japan and was met by this immaculately clean floor.  I felt bad rolling my carry on across it.  In fact, I felt bad walking through Japan the entire week because it was so clean.  I felt like my shoes were messing it up.  Japanese people are neat freaks.  Incredible neat freaks.

Immigration and customs were a bit of a hassle.  They really check everything.  My carefully packed bags were unpacked and sent through the x ray machine… one thing at a time.  So an hour after I landed I found our host for the week and he sent me on my way to our hotel in Osaka (I was the first to arrive).  I got to the hotel, got some dinner, and some sleep.

The next day, as more of us arrived, it was one slightly loud and hilarious reaction after another.  Excitement was palpable.  It was honestly a little hard to sleep that night… Unless you were jet-lagged like many people were. However we turned in and got ourselves a little rest before the week began.

The week started off with a bang and a lot of reflection.  It was quite an opening.  Emotions came out and we all let out what the past year had been like.  It was awesome. I think it set the tone for the week.  I felt a unity within the class that I hadn’t felt yet.

So with that tone set, we conquered the sessions that were planned for us one at a time.  It was a pretty enriching experience.  That’s where I’ll leave the official event. I appreciated it.

Now. Japan. More importantly Osaka.  Osaka was so clean. Like the airport. So clean. They are germaphobes and you could see it. Then, they are so quiet in public.  If we made a loud noise, we either got dirty looks or were heard for miles around us.  It was so different.  Here in Davao, it’s noisy and loud constantly.  Tons of cars and people all over the place.  Osaka, almost the opposite.

Oh and I can now use chop sticks at a better than average efficiency.  I bought a pair to keep practicing.  There were very few places with something other than chopsticks to use for eating.  Plus, I don’t speak Japanese and most of the people we encountered could not speak any English.  It was a hilarious week of hand gesturing, bowing, and pointing.  Oh and smiling a lot to say thanks.

It was so different. Just a couple thousand miles away from the Philippines was a nation that was on the polar opposite end of the spectrum in a sense.  All the streets were paved, all of the people wore business suits and clothing, and all of the cars had been manufactured and sold in the last ten years. I found myself staring a lot as a Rolls Royce or Lamborghini would drive by…

And then just 8 days after landing, I found myself back in Manila.  Back in Davao.  Back in my room.  It was so quick.  I really enjoyed my time there and will miss the others but in just six short months we will be descending upon New York to wrap up our international service.  It’s an odd thought but I am that close to being done. Definitely a bitter sweet feeling.

So that’s the update for this time around.  I’ll be posting a good bit more in an effort to rally some support for Giving Tuesday.  Sorry, I’m not sorry about it.  Giving Tuesday was a massive success last year so we are all hoping to see similar results this year.  December 2nd. Give a few dollars to my Advance and Global Ministries will match your donation (up to $2,500 per missionary).  Let’s see if we can take full advantage of that opportunity.  The missionaries to come will be able to have a similar experience to mine because of that.

Tacloban here I come! Update on that sometime around the 15th.

J

A Marathon of Sorts

Wow. I am a bit tired. It’s been a massive past few weeks.  This is probably the busiest I have been since I’ve been here and I am both amazed and slightly (ok more than slightly) exhausted at all that’s been done.

We as a network of organizations here just blitzed through about eight different conferences or events in the past two weeks.  The build up to them was nuts.  We had a massive planning meeting that went late into the night and then we got rolling.

I was mainly involved with 3.5 of all of these.  The first up is the .5.  The new Global Mission Fellow (that’s our new name) arrived on the 14th!  His name is Glory Mulimba and he comes from the great nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (my French degree is being put to use!).  I did not go to the airport to pick him up but I did meet him here at the office and helped him get situated for a bit.  Then I showed him around the nearby area here to start his orientation.  It is so weird to have a new missionary here (in a good way). I am now a veteran of sorts.  It’s been fun to get to know him and put my knowledge to use in a different way.  This part is the .5 because I’m not in charge or heavily involved in what he’ll be doing, just the friendly help.

So as the week moved on, we got ready for conference number one.  The Mindanao Human Rights and Peace Conference. This is probably the biggest conference I’ve been a part of in terms of importance.  It was huge. We had representatives from all over Mindanao and from all sectors.  There were religious leaders, Lumad leaders, lawyers, organizers, environmentalists, and more.  We tackled the big issues of right now- militarization, denial of education to lumad people, trumped up charges, and criminalizing of human rights defenders.  The second night brought a really inspiring solidarity and cultural night and then we capped off the whole event with a presentation by the students of an IP school.  The performance recounted their story of the forced evacuation they endured this past April. Their community was bombed by units from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  That’s right, bombed. The children reenacted the event and you could see the still present fear in their eyes. Talk about bone chilling. They and their families quite literally abandoned their homes to get to safety but it meant that they were homeless.  For about three months, these people lived here in Davao on the streets and in a makeshift evacuation center while waiting to be told they could go home.  They were finally able to and this performance helps them tell their story.  Why were they bombed? Because they’ve been labeled as members of the New People’s Army. They are called rebels and because of that, they are targets.  Children. Targets. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. That’s the start of the reality for IP children. This conference is but one of hundreds that have happened all over Mindanao for the past few decades.

For this conference, I was on the documentation team but it was a bit more than just taking pictures.  We took pictures, videos, audio recordings, minutes, collected all presentations from the speakers, and more.  At the end of the conference, we had over 50GB of data…. yikes.  Our poor laptops got put through the ringer.  I was happy to be so busy during the conference though.  I felt useful, I felt like things were getting done and I got much more out of the conference than previously.  It was nice.

With that conference wrapped up, we had a quick turnaround to get prepared for the next event.  Next up was the Ecumenical Bishops Forum: Regional Consolidation.  This was a gathering of pastors, reverends, fathers, bishops, etc (you think of the title, they were there) from a few regions here in Mindanao to get updates on some of the issues from us the organizers.  I was once again on the documentation team but we didn’t have as much to do this time.  Just pictures, audio, and gathering the presentations.  It was a piece of cake compared to the Human Rights Conference.

While that was going on, a group of foreigners from all over came to learn a bit about what was going on here.  I was not involved with their program but I did get to meet them.  They stopped by the Bishops Forum before heading to their exposure in the mining areas.  Nice people.

Finally, as we wrapped up the Bishops Forum we hopped in the van and headed over to the start of the final conference of this month.  The Save Our Schools Conference.  This conference zeroed in on the issues of militarization and paramilitarization around schools both government and non government supported.  It specifically looked at how the children and the communities were getting traumatized because of the threats and attacks.  There were representatives from all over Mindanao and they all represented the IP schools and learning centers that have been systematically attacked and red tagged as rebel camps.  The participants were so passionate.

I was again on the documentation team and it was just like the first conference.  Video, pictures, audio, minutes, presentation collecting, and more.  Another 50GB of data.

This was a marathon of sorts. I was constantly on the move, trading cameras, USBs, hunting people down to ask for a copy of their presentation, and sorting it all into nice neat folders.  When this past Saturday came, I was so ready to just relax.  I didn’t quite get to.

Instead, I joined in the KALUMARAN (IP Rights group) council meeting.  They needed a primer and wanted to update the paramilitary table that I began compiling at the beginning of September.  So Saturday night and most of Sunday, we sat in the conference room and had the meeting.  It was very productive and there is now a nice looking excel sheet full of paramilitary activities all over Mindanao.  I was just unhappy and longing for a mental break.

Luckily, this week has given me a chance to slow down and catch my breath.  I’m still working pretty hard but I can at least sit one place and not run around like a dog chasing his own tail.

So that’s all for now as far as an update goes.  However, if you would indulge me I would like to make a plug for an upcoming event.

This December 2, 2014 is Giving Tuesday.  An event that really pushes for us to give our gifts rather than spend them.  Global Ministries took part in this last year and raised an absurd amount of money for its missions around the world.  So now, we are challenging ourselves to do it again. Last year, I pushed people to give to Haiyan recovery efforts but this year, I ask you to support me and my fellow missionaries.  It is really simple.  On December 2, 2014 wherever you might be in the world, I invite you to take a few minutes of your time to donate to my Advance number.  I’ve spoken about the Advance before.  100% of what you give goes to missions.  It supports what we do at Global Ministries.  It’s really simple.  Head over to my missionary profile page on umcmission.org and click on the read button on the right side of the page. I really appreciate any and every little bit you may be able to contribute.  I’ll post links and more ways for you guys to contribute over then next couple months.  Be on the lookout.

SO… Thanks as always for listening to me babble on about everything here.  So much goes on and it’s really been a blessing.  In just under 7 months, I’ll be hopping on a plane back to New York City.  It’s so hard to believe.

One Year Down

Ok it’s actually been more than a year since I began this journey with training and commissioning. Today however, September 15th is the day I landed in Davao and began my international service. It’s surreal. At times I feel like this has flown by and at times I feel like it’s been a slow year.

This post is going to be a little different. Most all of my posts have been recaps, play by plays, and insight into what I’m doing with a few feelings. This time around. I’m going to open up a bit and give insight into how I’ve dealt with this on a personal level. Those of you that know me know how little I do this. It’s not that I don’t have feelings, it’s just that I don’t talk about them. It always feels weird and uncomfortable to me. Nevertheless I’m gritting my teeth and I’m laying it out there for you. Sorry if it’s… odd.

I mentioned that at times this journey has felt as if it has flown by and at other times it feels like a slow slow journey. I mean every word of that. The range of emotions and thoughts I’ve experienced has covered everything. The whole spectrum. I’ve had times of bliss, happiness, and extreme positives and I’ve also had times of despair, anger, sadness and lowness. I think that’s the point.

When I first arrived, there was this insane mix of sheer excitement and also wide eyed shock. My thoughts constantly jumped between, “I’m here! Yes! Let’s do this!” to “What have I done? 20 months? Here? Oh…” And that was just the first couple days.

Then, those thoughts and emotions leveled out. I felt more confidence. I felt that I could do this. I didn’t have much of a choice, I know, but sometimes you have to tell yourself you can do something even if there’s no other option. The initial shock had played itself out and I felt good. I felt that I was where I needed to be.

That last sentence. That has been the center point of so much of all this. As each new emotion and experience comes through, I find myself circling that notion of “Where am I supposed to be?” There has never been the point where I’ve felt completely sure that I was in the wrong place but there have been times when I’ve leaned towards that thought. I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure of anything.

Emotions. The feels as we’ve suddenly taken to calling them (which is odd… why use that phrase?). I’ll be honest, I don’t like emotions. Well, I don’t like them when they pertain to me. However they have come to me at all times. It’s not something I saw coming.

One of the biggest emotions, despite the undertones of the last few paragraphs, has been one of calm.  Just calm.  Somehow or another, with all of these experiences, I’ve been calm. Maybe it’s because I am where I’m supposed to be or maybe I missed something but this calmness has been present since the beginning.

There have also been moments of sheer joy. A lot of that has to do with the people I’ve met.  There’s an infectious lightheartedness to most Filipinos and it has definitely washed over me.  There have been so many moments- in the office, at the top of a mountain, or in the middle of a fruit plantation- where the laughter and the happiness has been so bright.  There are days where I just feel like I’ve found this beautiful joy that I want to hold on to. It’s amazing. I’m a pretty lighthearted person myself but these moments have been different.  They’ve been more fulfilling.

I think it’s because they have come after some of the darker moments I’ve had.  There have been some low moments.  Homesickness is inevitable so yes there was that.  There were also times where I saw people picking at the rubble that was once their home with a blankness in their eyes that took so much out of me.  Then there were the times where I saw all of you, the people who support me and read this (why, I don’t know but seriously thank you) getting engaged, having children, gathering as a family or friends.  It struck me how odd life is.  I’ve never thought the world revolved around me however I didn’t realize how much I took for granted.  Trust me, the stories and pictures I see online do give me joy and pride.  I have amazing friends and an amazing family.  I get so happy (and yes sometimes a little flustered) when I see the awesome things going on at home.  But at times I also get a little down.  Do not blame yourselves.  I left.  I made this decision and I don’t regret it.

The past year has done a lot for me.  I know myself a lot better. I guess it’s ok to get in touch with emotions (though I still don’t like it). It’s been a helluva ride.  Up and down and it’s still going at full steam.  I have seven and a half months left and I’m looking at it with mixed emotions.  It’s a little bit of dread, little bit of tiredness, and a little bit excitement.  However, I don’t know how to define where those emotions are coming from so interpret as you will.

Ok I’m going to stop here. This post hopefully was coherent enough to show you guys a little more of the personal part of my journey here.  It also might be just a completely off the wall post that went in way too many directions. At any rate, that’s all for now.

The rest of this month will be insane.  The next missionary has arrived so we are orienting him as well as preparing for an insane amount of conferences and events that will all happen before the 30th. Things are busy.  Expect an update the first week of October.

Thanks friends.

J