April & May: The Beginning of the End

Hello readers! I hope you are well despite floods in my hometown last week and many hardships occurring around the world in the past two months. I hope to provide updates for you on my work and life here as the clock slowly ticks toward my July 31 departure date. April and May are summer here in the Philippines, and they marked the busiest time of the year in my work with kids during the holiday. Our YAV site coordinators also took us on an amazing trip to the UCCP General Assembly, followed by an immersion with an indigenous group in the southern part of the Philippines, in late May- read on to find out more!

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The first highlight of my summer in the Philippines was a four-day day camp/workshop I coordinated for Earth Week in April. It featured 26 shelter & sponsored children from Little Children of the Philippines as well as the women & girls of Casa Esparanza Shelter. Participants joined together to create a covenant, participate in team building activities, craft nature inspired dream catchers & paintings using found/recycled items, and learn from a presenter on climate change and environmental issues facing the Philippines. Following a field trip to an indigenous tree farm, the final outcome of the workshop was a theater piece written by an LCP college sponsor and performed by the participants to showcase their learnings to the greater community. This group of kids made me laugh, cry, and even break out in goosebumps when I witnessed them take advantage of the opportunity to paint for the first time in their lives. They took creative risks in their artworks, and, by the end of the week, spoke passionately about their desire to care for creation. This was my favorite activity in my work so far in the Philippines. We had so many people to thank for this project, from LCP staff and volunteers to a local artist Hersley who donated paints for the participants to use. Below is an excerpt from a Facebook post I made that week:

Thank you Colleen Earp for supplying ideas for our daily devotions, which inspired our theme for each day. In the picture below, participants listened to a reading of Genesis 1 and were each assigned a word such as “birds,” “sea” and “green.” They passed a ball of yarn to one another as their word was read, and by the end of the activity a giant web had formed between us, representing a web of life. We demonstrated by having one participant pull their yarn backward that if tension is put on one part of creation, that tension is felt by all parts of creation. At the end of the workshop, one participant shared that it was this activity that really showed him how all of creation, from the trash we throw on our streets, to the runoff from our rivers to our oceans, is connected. We need nature more than nature needs us.

Two weeks later, I was able to assist with another project, the Little Children of the Philippines’ (LCP) annual 10-day overnight camp for 120 incoming 9th and 10th graders. LCP college-age students lead family groups who eat, sleep, worship and participate in activities together in a structure strikingly similar to the summer camp I work at in the US. This is the all time favorite event of many LCP children, coming from shelters and poor families in and around Dumaguete City, and therefore it was a joy to be a part of this high energy and transformative experience for the youth. My favorite part was getting to hang out with Filipino interns from a nearby college who are currently studying in Master of Divinity and were more than gracious in spending time with me throughout the camp and sharing about their experiences in seminary. This made me excited for next year.

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Last but not least, the director of an all girls shelter in Dumaguete where I have volunteered before asked me and fellow volunteer Lauren to organize a girls camp with girls from three shelters across Dumaguete. This final camp hosted 34 bright young women and girls, all survivors of past sexual violence and trauma, overnight for three nights and four days. The camp theme was Up & Up, symbolizing both the healing process and the theme of exploration in the movie Up. In family groups, participants earned adventure badges for completing activities including boxing, zumba, painting, crafts, cooking, yoga, a cyber safety session, cheering, and an amazing race scavenger hunt, while learning about themselves, God, and the environment. My role in the camp included everything from finding activity and group leaders, to designing activities and creating a schedule, to preparing arts and crafts materials to ensuring all meals were planned and prepared for. This project was a lot of work but worth it for the experience of the participants, who particularly enjoyed boxing, yoga, and earning badges. Thank you to members of my home church, First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, for their financial support in this project, which can hopefully go toward making the camp sustainable in the future.

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The week after the camp, LCP volunteers had our monthly volunteer meeting at the home of retired volunteers Dale & Sueann. Their house is overlooking the ocean and the nearby island of Cebu, which begged for a photo shoot. (View presentation below, hehe.) I was also able to take an overnight R&R with close friend Vida to the nearby island of Siquijor, which is said to be enchanted in its ancient Balete trees and numerous waterfalls. We stayed with a friend of a friend of ours who was so kind that she picked us up from the pier and arranged our transportation to her family home, which included a lagoon and treehouse cottages in the forest. She supplied us meals and snacks and even had her teenage neighbors stay the night with us in the cottages so we wouldn’t be scared. Thanks to her husband’s former career as an engineer, the place was equipped with fresh water from nearby rice fields for unlimited drinking water, as well as for an amazing swimming lagoon, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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The following week, my fellow volunteer Lauren and I attended the 11th quadrennial General Assembly of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (founded by 1948 by a combination of seven American Protestant churches) with our site coordinator Dessa and members of her advocacy theater group. Our role besides observing worship and meetings was helping usher an awarding ceremony. Overall, the Assembly reminded me a lot of the Presbyterian Church USA General Assemblies I have attended, but Filipino style- meaning a lot more jokes, a lot more flair, and way more snack breaks. I was also reminded throughout the assembly of the privilege my home church historically and currently enjoys of playing the role of the oppressor, and not the oppressed. In my denomination, it is more than safe to be from a Presbyterian Church, which is known for its wealth and whiteness. Yet in the UCCP opening worship, a video told stories of UCCP pastors who were extra judicially killed during martial law in the 1980s for defending human rights. I would never dream of this happening in my home church. An awardee in the awarding ceremony told about how her seminary was lit on fire and faculty were taken hostage last year in the war in Marawi City, Philippines- again, this is something I could never dream of happening in an institution of my home church.

Yet despite poverty, war, and oppression that continues today, a resounding theme I noticed was a call for unity, both externally with international church partners, and internally with the support of marginalized indigenous peoples to the Philippines. I admired the boldness of church workers who acknowledged the historical role of church in suppressing indigenous traditions, and ask for your prayers as the UCCP proceeds forward with many more barriers to face.

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We were able to gain a tiny bit of a feel for indigenous peoples in the Philippines in the days following the assembly, when we went with the same group to to Bukidnon, Mindanao. We stayed there for theee days with a friend of our site coordinator, Waway, an elder in the Talaandig tribe. This is one of four indigenous tribes in Mindanao, the southern islands in the Philippines archipelago. Over the past few decades, the Talaandig people went through a transformation of being shamed for their heritage to making an effort to celebrate, showcase and preserve it as they also evolve and adjust to changing technologies.

I was amazed at the way Waway and his family made us feel so at home, inviting us to use their kitchen to cook meals which we shared with all and sharing their own fruits and foods with us. We took the first full day to learn how to make traditional bamboo flutes, and spent the full day talking with Waway’s sons Oliver and Mats (these are their nicknames as I’m not sure how to spell their given names). They also make gorgeous paintings out of glue and different colored mud found in the mountains around their community. Waway told us creation stories around coffee made from local mais, or corn, in the evenings, and we were invited to attend a wedding of their neighbors on the last morning. The ceremony combined blessings from village elders, a Catholic priest, and a Muslim imam, as Islam is widespread in the Mindanao region. The tribal ritual included the sacrifice of eight chickens as well as the donation of an equal amount of coins by the family of the bride and groom, as a sign of mutual acceptance and support. Our stay with the Talaandig people went by too quickly, but was filled with art and kindness and I hope to someday return.

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Now that I have only two months remaining, I have many hopes for the time yet to be spent, and at the same time feel so filled with gratitude for all that I have learned and been nourished here. I have no doubt that I will continue to realize these gifts and this personal growth upon return to the US. I am missing American food, family and friends, but besides that, I feel that I could stay in the Philippines for a lot longer! I promise to keep you updated on my work as the next couple of months roll by. Take care in your start to the summer in US, and much love,

Emma

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