blog

Confessions of a YAV

I have been home in the U.S. for two weeks. The transition has been overall smooth but certainly not easy. My last month in the Philippines was filled with hectic despedida celebrations, nostalgic, and occasionally teary, farewells, and travels with my sister Abby through the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. More on this can be found at the bottom of this post, but first, I’d like to share a reflection on elements of my year that may not have made it onto social media or this blog.

YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) alum Quantisha Mason wrote a newsletter article recently in which she stated that it’s important we accept failure in our experiences. Failure is a natural part of life, yet it often seems in the age of digital media that we only post and talk about our successes. Quantisha says that a lot of what we try in life may lead to failure, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I did my best to compile a list of stories from this past year that show times I didn’t succeed as volunteer or person. I hope to be truthful in expressing that my year, although it had amazing parts, was far from flawless. Some of these stories may be odd, saddening, funny, or vague, since I couldn’t go into detail in all of them for various reasons. If you have a strong response to any of these, or would like to share similar experiences you’ve had, please reach out through comment or email. Thank you for following me today and throughout the past year. This may sound impossible, but I could count on one hand the few times I felt alone during this past year, and I credit that to the support I felt from home as well as from coordinators and community in site. You all are the absolute best.

YAV-Fessions: Times my experience was NOT Picture Perfect!

  • If you’re reading this, I’m not sure if you’ve had the opportunity to learn a new language in a place where you can use that learning right away. The opportunity to learn Cebuano for me made for some of my most favorite moments and some of my most embarrassing. One time, a coworker taught me a word in Cebuano that meant “unintelligent,” but for some reason I thought she said that it meant “cute,” so I used it to describe a woman’s baby at a store. I was greeted with an offended expression, and, unaware of my error at the time, just smiled and walked away. Awful, right? Another time, I tried to express in Cebuano in a Facebook group that I wanted to eat a steamed coconut rice snack, and instead I said that I wanted to eat toes. Oops.
  • A last story with me and language was when I tried to memorize a blessing for a meal in Cebuano before moving into my host family’s house. I practiced it for weeks, and when I finally presented it to my host family they were totally silent. I think they were trying not to burst out laughing. Then, for next week and a half, my eight-year old host brother offered to give the blessing at every dinner for a chance to imitate my bizarre accent. I was embarrassed at the time but it later became a running joke in the family.
  • During monsoon season, it would rain for days straight, and once I heard the crying of an animal outside for a whole day. I went outside to investigate and found two newborn kittens that were drenched and abandoned by their mother. I tried to rescue them and take care of them for three days, but neither of them survived. Needless to say, it was an emotional time. 😦
  • When I moved into a house of my own after five months, my new place was set on a concrete foundation with bamboo walls and roofing. One morning, I put some water on to boil and hopped in the shower. I heard a sound when I came out and peeked out at where the heating pot was sitting. There was smoke everywhere and the pot handle was melting onto the table- turns out I had forgotten to put water in it! There’s nothing like a terrifying moment of your own forgetfulness to wake you up in the morning. That is a mistake I will never make again!
  • I came to adore my workplace at the NGO Little Children of the Philippines, but at the same time, the workplace could be exhausting for me, especially at the start. Shouting and talkative Filipino culture combined with the nonstop, constantly-doing environment of any large NGO made for a tiring place to be around for long periods of time. At the beginning, I could barely last half of day without feeling sleepy or overwhelmed. I was amazed to notice how comfortable I became spending full days at work by the end of the year without feeling tired. Getting to know the people and language combined with LOTS of water, sleep and healthy food I made on my own helped with this. The organizational structure was by no means something I succeeded in mastering at first, either- but more on that in a post some other time.
  • For my largest work project, an arts fundraiser in February, I put in about four months of work, during which I spent three weeks writing and getting people to drive me around to deliver invitations to over fifty identified business owners in the small city. I even called business owners to follow up, but I didn’t hear back from a single one of them. After the fundraiser, which none of the formal invitees attended, was somehow a success, I was informed that if I had merely asked the out-of-country NGO director for the money needed, it would have been easily provided. Still, I see this project as worthwhile in terms of community involvement, and I hope it continues for the youth to be empowered and connected with local artist groups.
  • Catcalling (from “Hey, you’s” to thankfully rare sexual comments) as well as stares were often a part of my days throughout the year. In the culture I was raised, children are normally scolded for staring at people who look different from them. I found in the Philippines, however, the opposite to be the case; people from five-year-old kids to old men would stare uninterrupted at me for several minutes at a time, and this was considered perfectly normal! It took me a while to adjust to this and it still got to me on days where I was feeling anxious; most of the year it made me squirm and want to leave whatever place I was. The catcalling was the mildest I have experienced out of any country I’ve visited in Africa or Asia, but still present as it would be in any U.S. city. I wrote down questions in my journal such as, why do men find catcalling flattering? Why can’t I just bike to work in peace as a young woman? One time I wrote, where did patriarchy even come from? Clearly, these are big questions that I may never find the answer to, but it was definitely a part of my year.
  • Intentional community with volunteers and site coordinators in an international site can be really hard. I thought before my year that it was mostly YAVs in the U.S. who might struggle with community, since they live under the same roof. However, it turns out that difficulties in navigating togetherness and differences can happen anywhere. This led to both painful challenges and learning/personal growth in my year. I’m so grateful for the people that were there for me during these times.
  • I posted last month about joining a dragon boat team, which was one of my favorite things I did in the Philippines. What I didn’t post was that throughout the months I trained, there were so many times I wanted to quit. Taking time off of training for work activities and trips meant that my form would be totally off when I returned, and I felt like I was the only one being corrected again and again in front of the team at every practice. Fortunately, the team cohort was strong, supportive, and continued to welcome me back to practice. That, combined with my love for the new sport, led me to continue despite moments of frustration.
  • There was a definite moment during my year when I realized that Filipinos, just like any other people on Earth, also gossip, argue and can be mean to each other! I have a pretty positive outlook on individuals and groups, and believe it or not, it took a moment halfway through my year to realize that groups of Filipinos can act in this way just like anyone else.
  • Something present in many of my photos is the natural beauty of the Philippines, from coral reefs to mountain ranges, rocky hot springs to sandy beaches. The reality of the country I experienced is that close to all of its islands are barely keeping their head above the water with pollution, overcrowding, and garbage. My pictures may not capture this, but most streets, shores and properties are filled with litter and plastic waste. Beaches in the city I lived in weren’t safe to swim in due to dirty diapers, industrial wastewater runoff, and even human feces in the water, and the city is thousands of pesos or more in debt due to an overgrown landfill which has taken over homes and nearby streets. The landfill also emits toxic gas that is damaging the lungs of hundreds of people living within its range. Having witnessed these sights (and smells), I know I feel more aware of my own material waste, yet these are images I still struggle with.
  • It may not come as a surprise that reconciling with privilege is never an easy part of a volunteer role. Were the things I gave up over the year enough? Was I setting myself up for eliteness and comfort in committing to seminary at Princeton after my year of service? These questions may not represent failure, but they show that my YAV year wasn’t easy or perfect, and I don’t think life should be that way. These are questions that I hope will continue to make me uncomfortable so that I can continue to be motivated to carry out the work I want to do in the world.

Now that you‘ve read the truth behind the photos of my year, visit the following links to see an album of photos I posted over the year.

Photos of My Year (Now that you know some Truths behind them)

Malaysia & Vietnam Travels, August 2018

Send-off with work friends and clients at a videoke bar in Dumaguete. Cover photo at top of page: Me saying farewell to the cottage I lived in for my last five months of service.

Note on Travels: My 21-year old sister Abby visited me the week I finished my work in the Philippines, and we spent a few days on the beach on the island where I served and a few days visiting friends and family in Dumaguete for final goodbyes. After a last lunch with my host family and videoke with friends (if you haven’t heard of this, its a staple activity in Asia and a lot more fun than it sounds), we took an overnight boat to Cebu and flew to Borneo, Malaysia the next day. After one night in a hostel we were picked up for a short boat ride through a national park to a jungle homestay owned by a French couple who had the most adorable two-year old child. We kayaked, read in hammocks, and trekked the surrounding rainforest there for three days before spending one day in a nearby city called Kuching, where we rented bicycles and ate delicious foods native to the Sarawak region. Our final stop was Hanoi, Vietnam, where we stayed in a slightly smelly hostel that was in the Old Quarter. We loved this part of town and loved the downtown Vietnamese Women’s Museum even more, where we learned that Vietnamese women were an incredible fighting force in the Vietnamese stance against the Americans during the Vietnam War. Our trip ended with an overnight cruise on Halong Bay; a touristy and somewhat pricey endeavour that was more than worth it thanks to the limestone cliffs and all-you-can-eat buffet, thanks be to God. Over the past two weeks at home I have been able to catch up with friends and relax with family before I start the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary just after Labor Day. I hope to post here at least once more to update you on how seminary is going.

Thank you again for your support, prayers and love; sending peace to the start of your fall!

Advertisements

Fear the lady dragon: A thank you to unexpected family in Dumaguete

Happy July to US sisters and brothers and kapatids here in the Philippines. With only two weeks to go in my year of service, I thought I’d take a break from packing and share a bit about an activity I’ve been able to participate outside of my work at Little Children of the Philippines since last December.

My dear neighbor Ma’am Erelyn told me about a sports team she was on, a local dragon boat team that was training for an all women’s race in March and an international race in April. The team is called Umagu, taken from the name of the city D(umagu)ete, and an abbreviation for United Marine Guardians. When I agreed to join the team in training one night, I had no idea the shock I was in for.

Thunder was booming and rain was coming down in sheets, yet for some reason that night, Ma’am Erelyn still insisted we ride our bicycles to the hotel pool where practice was located that night. We showed up absolutely drenched to find a group of also drenched women and men of all ages huddled under a tent in the corner of an outdoor courtyard. The courtyard was about the size of a basketball court, and positioned behind a slightly old looking one-story hotel. A tiny three foot deep swimming pool occupied about a third of the space. I saw a few people holding paddles, but there was no boat anywhere to be seen- the only other items in the courtyard were a couple of folding chairs and tables, as well an assortment of buffet equipment. “I have no idea how this is going to work,” I thought to myself. I met a couple of girls who were around my age and intimidatingly cool (Aira & Mimings, hehe) and a woman who would become like a mother to me on the team, named Ma’am Weng. I was introduced to team captain Ma’am Jan, who immediately offered me a snack from her bag and sat down with me another newcomer to explain the history of the team and the basics of the sport.

Suddenly, a call behind us rang out, “Batch 1, Standby!,” and, in the midst of the continued thunderstorm, I turned to see two rows of five people lining each side of the pool in perfect position. They sat with legs straight in front of them, toes pointed forward, and arms extended far enough to grip a paddle frozen inches above flexed feet. “Attention!” And their upper bodies simultaneously pivoted forty-five degrees so that the paddles plunged into the water while arms remained ready. “Go!” With the last command, each paddle was guided through the water and exited at the hip in a perfect J-shape slice. The synchronicity was stunning. My newcomer partner and I were invited to join Batch 2, in which we practiced easy paddling and tried out strokes like starts, longs and power longs. I was shocked at how different the sport felt on the body from any rowing, kayaking, or canoeing I had tried, having grown up on the water in the Chesapeake Bay. I also had no clue how sore my lower back, shoulders and even legs would be the next day. (Note: Can you spot me in the following video?! Hint: 0:52)

My favorite part of the practice was talking with the team members on Batch 2 as we alternated water time with the first batch, completing sets of jumping jacks, squats, and arms in between. Welcoming teammates like Ma’am HiD explained that weeknights bring poolside practices while weekends cue 6AM practices on the water as the sun rises over Dumaguete and its surrounding islands (at least, once rainy season ends). Members have created a true sense of family by bringing snacks, boyfriends, girlfriends, and even their kids with them to practice each week. In fact, that first night in the pouring rain, a teammate provided bowls of steaming egg soup, the Filipino equivalent for chicken noodle soup, for everyone at the end of practice. When the team found out I was learning Bisaya, they immediately began cracking kind-hearted jokes about my accent and inability to pronounce the majority of words in the language. Since then, the team has included me in their advocacies and their trainings, as well as three races since March; one all women’s in Tambobo Bay, one international race here in Dumaguete, and one smaller race in Siqujior last weekend. I especially loved the all women’s race in Tambobo because it began with Zumba for all participants, and the atmosphere was competitive, empowering and friendly. We were thrilled to win first place in the women’s category in Siquijor last weekend, and the feeling on the boat in the women’s final was an adrenaline rush I haven’t felt since running cross country in high school.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being a member of Umagu has proved to me countless times the heart of the Filipino. It is resilient, it is determined, it is fun-loving and it cares always for family and for community. In this family, people of varying ages, experiences and backgrounds come together without hesitation to love and accept one another as they are. Some examples of this: Two weeks into practicing with the team, when the mother of our captain passed away, I saw the team come together in planning a vigil service for her family complete with songs, a sermon, and food. In April, when I was crazy busy in my work with kids’ camps, team members Ma’am Aidelyn, Wawa, HiD and Tetang came to my camp to set up and run an obstacle course for the girls I was working with. And lastly, at the end of each practice, we place our hands on a paddle held up by the captain, and thank God that we are able to come together to encourage one another and grow as individuals and as a team. Thanks be to God!

Follow Umagu Dragonboat Team on Facebook here, and read the following thank-you’s below.

Thank you to Maxuel for being patient with me every time my form needs correction, and to Wawa for helping me purchase a paddle and being like an older brother to me when I joined the team. Thank you to Aira and Shob (SHOB!!) for driving super far out of their way to scoop me for 5AM trainings. Thank you to Aira, Ma’am Kim, Ma’am Maru, Ma’am Shane, Arrah, Sabel, Marian, Sheila, Sasha, and Sheldaun for being kusgan & FIERCE women I was honored to paddle alongside in Siquijor last weekend! Thank you to the most recent batch of newbies for being amazing, to Sir Rey Tan for teaching me Bisaya, and, last but not least, to Ma’am Kim for being the absolute most sweetest, most organized, and most thoughtful leader who always makes sure I am taken care of. Umagu fam, I will miss you guys more than you know! Dragon love kanunay, “EE-mma”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Message on Courageous Hope in the Philippines & A Word on Future Plans

Happy April, everyone! It’s the hottest in the Philippines that it’s been since I arrived, since summer here is April to June. Maybe the heat is spreading, since I heard loved ones in the U.S. are finally getting a dose of spring weather! I hope all reading this are well.

I thought I would share a message on hope that I was invited to deliver at my host family’s church in Dumaguete, called Chapel of the Evangel, earlier this month. As I will mention my plans for next year at the end of the message, I included an addition for my blog readers to explain a bit more about what I’ll be doing and my hopes for this next chapter. Thank you always for joining and supporting me on the journey.

Chapel of the Evangel Message, Sunday, April 8, 2018

“I’m Emma, and I’m honored to be asked to share today. It’s been a true privilege to worship at CEF over the past six months, starting in October when I moved into the home of Mom Dizza Del Castillo, Papa Rubie, and Bur. It makes me feel at home in the Philippines to not only participate in the livelihood of a Filipino family, but to be able to join in a worshipping community here at CEF with so many familiar faces, particularly on holidays like Christmas and Easter. When Ma’am Ruth approached me about sharing, my response was “ang gamay Bisaya sa ako kabalo.” “Estorya nako: Wala ang qualifications ko, ma’am!”

What I mean to say, is by no means am I qualified to share a sermon or any kind of impressive knowledge with you today, but at least I hope to share a bit about my experience in the Philippines, both to express my gratitude for this community, and to talk on the theme of hope, in connection to the celebration of Easter last Sunday. I hope that “mu enjoy kamo akong estorya,” though sadly I will stick to English for its majority.

My story in the Philippines began really when I was just a child growing up in my home church in Maryland, the U.S. I  heard stories of church workers doing God’s work not only in our community and country, but around the world. I knew from a young age that, if given the opportunity, I would love nothing more than to learn about Jesus Christ by working alongside brothers and sisters in a different country or culture.

When I came to the end of my college, I eagerly applied to be a volunteer through a program offered by my church  that sends young people to volunteer in national or international placements for 11 months of service. I completed applications for three different countries, and when I received the news that I was placed in the Philippines, I was excited, though I had many questions. What did God want from me in this place? Where would I stay? What would the people be like? And, most importantly, what would they eat in this place? (At this time, I had never heard of lechon, the national dish of the Philippines.)

So therefore, the months before my departure, all I could do was HOPE. Coming out of a tense time in my country with a presidential administration that fuels hate and rage, all I could do was hope that my experience in the Philippines could teach me to follow God even in the darkest of times. Little did I know that my time here would give me more hope for the world than I could have ever imagined.

When I first arrived to Sibulan Airport with fellow U.S. volunteer Lauren Robinson, I was struck by the natural beauty of the Philippines as our plane flew over misty green mountains and sparkling coral reefs. Our site coordinators Dessa Quasada-Palm and Cobbie Palm had planned our first four weeks in country to be filled with learnings of the Bisaya language and Filipino history and culture. They toured us around the city of Dumaguete and arranged our immersions with UCCP church workers in rural Bohol and urban Cebu. Each day, as we learned about the colonisation of the Philippines, the inclination of the country to experience natural disasters time and time again, and its rocky political struggle since gaining independence, I felt my heart break open more and more for the Filipino people. Yet at the same time, I felt more and more confused as to why every Filipino we met was so joyful. It didn’t make any sense! To this day, I find it remarkable to see every Filipino I meet filled with a sense of determination to embetter their community, their country, and the world.

God continued to show me this theme of courageous hope when I moved in to the home of Reverend Dizza in early October. Living in Divinity Village, I met neighbors like Pastor Leah, Kuya June, Kuya Jeri and Ate Bhing Bhing as I was invited to accompany their Master of Theology class trip to Casororo Falls. In a debrief conversation following the visit, Mom Dizza was actually brought to tears as she described how God’s creation is like a mighty waterfall that keeps on giving and giving, even as we humans continue to take advantage of its resources without realizing the impact of our actions, or even without stopping to saying thank you to God. I was so moved by this sense of immense gratitude expressed by Mom Dizz. On this day, I realized that recognizing the love of God that surrounds us is an action that opens a door for us to have hope for the future.

When I began to attend fellowship dinners and celebrations in the Village, meeting neighbors like Pastor Ronald, Ate Yasmine, Ma’am Jean, Ma’am Magnolia, Ma’am Er, and of course Jobelle, Barth, Jade, Sophia, RJ, Little Jade, Jeus and SJ, I realized that hope lives in community. In the Village, community members share sorrows by giving massage and checking in on neighbors when they are sick. They share joys by celebrating each members’ birthday like its the most important day of the year, with fellowship, songs, and more food than I could have ever imagined, ranging from suso (local snails) to red rice to delicious grilled isda (fish). Community in the Philippines is where hope is fostered and cultivated, growing into a sensation that you cannot avoid every time you enter the Village to be greeted by children laughing and playing.

In my work placement here in Dumaguete, at the Little Children of the Philippines or LCP, I learned also that hope does not mean that you do not suffer. Monday through Saturday of each week, I work with children ranging from age six to twenty plus, in two separate ministries. The first is a leadership development program for high school and college students from some of Dumaguete’s poorest communities. The second is a program for children out of school who live in temporary housing along the Banica River near Hypermart. I will share a story today from this group of children, as I feel it epitomises the determination at the heart of the Filipino. Most of these children’s parents are out of work, and many are involved in drug use. Some parents have even been killed due to drug or gang violence in the community. Mental health affects families strongly and can be crippling when it comes to the care and development of their children.

One child who I work with closely in the program, I’ll call him Thomas, is 13 years old. He is sent by his parents to beg at Hypermart or 7/11 each night to provide income for the family. Thomas is beaten if he doesn’t bring back money by morning, and because of malnutrition and lack of sleep, he normally lacks focus and concentration when he comes to the program at LCP in the afternoons. One day, I learned that Thomas had been approached by a young woman in his community who asked him to help her with her night job of coordinating trafficking on the boulevard in Dumaguete. She had offered him food and money as a form of payment, and he began to engage in this work and stopped coming to LCP. I had worked with this child all year and had so much faith in him, but in that moment, there was nothing I could do about the situation he had found myself in. I found myself truly doubting the presence of God. Had God abandoned this program and these children? What would happen to Thomas if he continued this dangerous work? What if he was sent to jail and had to wait for a trial until the age of 18, or even worse, what if he was swept into trafficking himself? It seemed there was no hope in Thomas’s situation, until the LCP staff stepped in.

A social worker on the LCP staff began searching for Thomas along the boulevard at night, and talked to him seriously about what would happen if he was caught. An LCP preschool teacher who knew him well urged him to say no to the woman who had enlisted his help. Finally, Thomas found the strength to say no to the young woman when she came by his home, and shortly after, he miraculously returned to the program. Though his situation at home may always be unstable, it seems that he recognises that he is safe and loved at LCP, and he now continues to return there. When I see him laughing and playing today, I have this sense of hope that seems somehow deeper and more enriched than before. Through the trials of this child’s story, I have seen God’s love persist. This is a prevailing lesson I am learning here in the Philippines; that it is through suffering that hope for God’s salvation can become even stronger.

I am blessed to say that next year I will be pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary to further my knowledge of God, her Spirit, and her living image in Jesus Christ. Like my experience with the child Thomas from LCP, my decision to pursue a Master of Divinity was, and still is, marked with both hope and doubt. I approached Mom Dizza daily during the application process with questions about listening to my call, discerning what role I am meant to play, and questioning what this decision might mean for my future. I hope that this opportunity can give me a framework of understanding along with the hope I have learned about here in the Philippines. I hope that it can allow me to pursue some kind of work in advocacy or social justice. But in the end, wherever or whatever this work may be is up to God to decide.

I will always remember Jesus’s words in John 20:20-24 as a representation of the advice that my host mother Mom Dizza gave me throughout my discernment process, when Jesus addresses the doubting Thomas by saying to the disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Even in times when we do not know what the future brings, hope might be all we can hold onto, so we hold on tightly, and we hold on together. Thank you for receiving my message today, and may God bless you kanunay. Salamat kaayo tanan.”


Additional Note on Future Plans

I hope you enjoyed the above stories. As stated, I am humbled, nervous and excited to be beginning the three-year Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary this coming September. My eleven months of service in the Philippines will finish in late July, and I will spend the month of August with my family in the U.S. to prepare for this next chapter. Some amazing people who supported me in the discernment process included my host mother, my (U.S.) parents, my home pastor, my site coordinators here in the Philippines, Elon faculty, my sister, close friends, and several mentors in seminary as well as a mentor from camp. You know who you are- THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!

A bit about my discernment process

Until around this January, I pictured myself doing another year of service in the U.S. or applying for a non-profit or camp position after this year. I started looking at YAV sites in the U.S. and began a small job search, but nothing really clicked until I randomly went to a few seminary websites and began reading about their programs. As someone active in the church from a young age, seminary had always been in the back of my mind, but I was never certain about applying and definitely didn’t expect to apply so soon after finishing undergrad. However, I felt a thirst to want to learn more about the systems of oppression woven into the backdrop of Christian faith that I’ve encountered here in the Philippines, and the more I read about seminary programs, the more I became interested. I applied for three seminaries, then, still unsure if seminary was for me, at the last minute decided to apply for only one, which was Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), to see what would happen. When I was accepted and offered a scholarship, I was thrilled, and after talking with friends and mentors I decided to accept.

A bit about Princeton Theological Seminary

PTS was the first ever Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and today educates students from over 52 ecumenical backgrounds. Its student body is large and diverse in tradition and thought. Its staff are stellar and the school values hands-on learning in the community and abroad, including in a nearby farm owned by the seminary. Important to me is that not only do I have family in the area, but it’s only a two-hour train ride from my home, and it offered me a pretty amazing financial aid package. There’s a good chance I won’t have to pay anything for my education, including books, housing and food.

A bit about the Master of Divinity Program/What I hope to do with it

 

The Master of Divinity program aims to prepare students for ministry and promises to be adaptable depending on student’s personal goals. I’m not sure if I will become ordained in the church or even work in or for the church, but I am looking forward  to studying history, theology and ethics to learn more about the context of my faith background as well as what God wants me to do with my faith in the world. I’m excited to see where this opportunity will lead.

Other helpful links and information

Thank you for reading, and please don’t hesitate to reach out by clicking on my “Let’s Chat” button (above on top right) with any questions you have. Sending peace to your week, Emma

Coffins and Cordilleras

Hey all, can you believe it’s almost April already? Since my last post, I’ve mistaken the month to still be January at least a few times. I’ve also had the opportunity to wrap up the fundraiser at my work placement and to move houses. This is because my beloved host family will soon be returning to their home near a southern city called Davao for summer in the Philippines. My hopes for my remaining four months in country are that I may pour into communities here to the fullest extent possible, and continue to learn from these relationships and this special place.

As part of the YAV program, we recently visited a northern island in the Philippines called Luzon for our third quarterly retreat. Myself along with fellow volunteer Lauren and site coordinators Dessa and Cobbie were able to participate in reflection activities about our volunteer experience to this point, while simultaneously learning about the people of the Cordillera mountain range, named by the Spanish to mean a long winding rope. I have to give that one to the Spanish because truly, I’ve never experienced such winding and jerky roads as our overnight bus ride from Manila- and what’s more, we couldn’t believe the speed at which our driver was taking those mountain roads. At one point in the middle of the night, Lauren exclaimed loudly from the back, “What is this bus driver doing?! He’s going to get us KILLED!” A mortified Cobbie quickly shushed her as to not call too much attention to the foreigners in the back (us).

After a safe (phew!) arrival in Sagada, a remote town famous for its symbols and preservation of indigenous culture, we stayed with an old friend of our site coordinator Dessa. Mary is an expressive and passionate woman who was eager to tell us legends of the mountain people, as she has roots back to the Igorot people on her mother’s side. Her house was a cabin made of and surrounded by pine trees that covered the mountains at the high elevation; listening to Mary’s stories and eating lemon pie next to a warm fireplace made us feel like we were in a different country!

Mary shared with us that Igorot is a term widely used to describe the Cordillera mountain peoples. Today it consists of roughly seven major ethno-linguistic groups who resisted Spanish colonialism. Traditionally these groups traded salt, jewelry and clothing with lowlanders, occasionally engaging in “headhunts” or territorial disputes with nearby Cordillera groups. They lived in thatched huts with wood turned a smoky black color from fires to keep the interior warm.

A sign of the preservation of Igorot culture to Mary is that Tagalog, one of the National languages in the Philippines, is not spoken in this region. Not only has native culture been preserved, but it has been forced to adapt as human threats to natural resources have increased. In the 80s, when the Philippines was under martial law under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, warring tribes came together to create a peace pact to stop the administration from building a harmful dam that would cut off the water supply to these regions. Some parts of the Cordilleras are the top producers of oil and copper in world according to Mary, yet resistance to mining in these communities continues even today, with the Benguet region where Sagada is located having passed a law declaring corporate mining illegal. One famous story included a row of bare-chested female elders forming a human chain to stop a bulldozer from creating a mining site; the symbol a blatant way of reminding miners that they were destroying not only an environment, but a culture deeply attached to thar environment.

A form of resistance that Mary engages in to protect the rights of Igorot people is running a development radio, which started in different locations around the Philippines 70s thanks to a German grant and donated Swiss equipment. The radio costs about 60,000 pesos a month to run (a little over $1,000 USD) and informs rural women about their rights in accordance to laws on reproductive health and divorce. Mary brings in a local doctor for a health hour every week with a Q&A hour to follow; she also allows call-in greetings and country music sets on the daily show. Here’s a photo below of us getting to visit the studio.

Also in Sagada, to see a bit of Igorot legend we visited a series of hanging coffins nestled in limestone cliffs in the forest where Igorot elders are placed to rest. They rest inside the coffins in fetal position as that was the way in which they came into the world, and to qualify, elders must have grandchildren, and have passed from natural causes. The Episcopal Church came to Sagada in the early 1900s, bringing with it schools, a hospital, and a desire to “Americanize.” Though the church’s presence remains powerful in the town today, sacred ceremonies today include both an Episcopal priest and a village elder to lead parts of the ritual. According to our guide at the hanging coffins, this is seen at burial ceremonies still today.

Locally grown fruits, mountain rice and coffee fueled our days in Sagada before we took another windy bus ride to an enormous city in the mountains called Baguio. This bus ride featured the highest point on the Filipino highway. In Baguio we learned about the U.S. Missionary headquarters located there and the resulting “Little America” that was planted in this urban center in the middle of the mountains, complete with a Burnham Park with rowboats comparable to parks designed by the same architect in Chicago. We visited an art museum & enjoyed fresh strawberries and vegetarian meals thanks to the abundance of local veggies. Our last stop was a bus ride to Manila for the last two days to meet with PC(USA) Mission Coworker Cathy Chang, catch a showing of the movie Black Panther, and for me to meet up with a Filipino artist friend for another set of museum tours. Hope all is well with readers in the Philippines, States and abroad- shoutout to fellow YAVs, sending love to you & you’re not alone!

Peace always, Emma

Home folks, Dumaguete arts

This past week I was lucky enough to say that four members from my home church cared enough about my wellbeing and work to travel halfway across the world to see me. One of the members was my mom! 36 hours after leaving Washington D.C., the group landed in Dumaguete, tired but excited for a week of learning about my life in the Philippines. My site coordinators Dessa and Cobbie planned a stay and itinerary for them filled with informational sessions and tours of the outreach work of my church and volunteer placement- see photos below for a glimpse of some of their activities! The last event they attended was a community arts gallery that I collaborated with members of my work placement and local artists to plan.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I first arrived at the Little Children of the Philippines (LCP) and learned about their organization of high school and college youth that does trainings for youth in leadership and the arts, I asked about the biggest needs of the group. The response was funding for resources, as well as community involvement and connections. My site coordinator Dessa works with a local theater group that plans an city-wide Arts Month every February, and it was her suggestion to approach local visual artists and ask if they would be interested in holding a fundraising event. Meetings in early December led to an overwhelmingly positive response and initial planning with art professors and students. The youth of LCP thought of a name for the project, called Uswag Sining, which is Bisaya for development through visual arts. As the project progressed, the idea to display and sell works from local artists transformed into a gallery auction that would be open to anyone in Dumaguete who wanted to donate their works. Half of all proceeds would go to the artists, and the other half to the LCP youth organization.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We picked a date for the event in late February so that artists could donate works they had prepared for other exhibits throughout Arts Month. Artists joined the cause all the way until the day before the event; actually, we received messages even afterward from artists who hoped to participate. 31 total artists ranged from LCP college youth members to arts students to bankers to freelance artists,  all from Dumaguete. Youth from LCP helped recruit artists, invite patrons, and set up for the event.

The gallery opened last Friday in an event featuring a performance by the LCP youth and a welcome by the NGO director, Carmenia Benosa. We were also featured in a local newspaper. While the gallery is open to the Dumaguete public for two weeks, it is also open for patrons worldwide who wish to view or bid on works. A full listing of pieces is available on www.facebook.com/UswagSining2018, and if you hope to bid on a work, we are happy to arrange transportation of the work to wherever you are in the world. The auction will be open until next Friday, March 2 at 10PM EST (which is Saturday, March 3 at 11AM PHT), so feel free to share this post and spread the word in the coming week. Thank you to everyone keeping up with my work and experience in the Philippines; peace and creative vibes to you today!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

img_9228

-Emma

img_9434
Bonus pic of my mom with my host family, because having two worlds collide was pretty awesome.

Lessons from being stranded

The opportunity to serve as a volunteer in the Philippines has provided a context for me to identify parts of my identity such as values, needs, and comfort levels. I have known for several years that one of my needs is structure in routine, probably in part because I grew up in a society with the resources I for granted, such as a reliable public school education, dependable public transit and constant access to health care. Here in the Philippines, though I enjoy countless privileges including having the resources to pay for travel,  doctors visits, and needed supplies, anything related to scheduling or dependability is up in the air. Thus, living in this culture requires a certain willingness to be flexible to adjust to surprises and last-minute changes. This is something that I struggle with but believe I am slowly, slowly gaining, especially from experiences such as traveling alone after Christmas.

My Filipina friend Vida, who I met in Dumaguete City where I live, was working on an island called Semirara, situated about 3/4 of the way from Dumaguete to Manila. For a point of reference, the Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands, which altogether make up about the length and width of the state of California. I vowed to find a way to see her after Christmas, and though the distance to her would only take about an hour by flight, with my volunteer budget it would make more sense for me to travel by land an ocean. I was advised that about it would take two full days of travel to reach Semirara due to winding mountain roads, waiting time for buses and ferries, and rough seas during December, which falls during typhoon season. So I filled up my backpack with clothes and snacks, grabbed a few books and headed for the bus terminal Christmas day after spending Christmas Eve with my host family. Christmas morning was oddly sunny following the torrential downpours and winds we’d experienced for the previous three days- actually, Vida was doubtful as to whether I’d be able to reach Semirara at all due to countless delays and cancellations in travel during the prior week. However, I was determined to see her and experience more of the Philippines while I had the chance.

People-watching kept me occupied for the first hour of travel on Christmas morning, as the bus filled up with people visiting loved ones or commuting to their jobs. The family in the aisle across from me had two young girls under the age of 10, one of whom sported a t-shirt which stated in enormous letters, “SMOKE WEED.” I didn’t doubt for a second that neither of her parents spoke English or had any clue what the shirt meant. Ah, the Philippines. Seven bumpy hours later, we reached a port town called Bacolod on the northeast side of the island. I had asked the bus driver to drop me off at a convenient place to catch transit for the port, so the bus stopped at a gas station where a strange motorbike/tricycle/mini truck holding six or so people was waiting and I hopped on. When I asked the driver where he was from, he responded in not a single word that I understood. A sinking realization hit me: I was no longer in Bisaya-speaking territory. Bisaya, a derivative of the language Cebuano, is spoken almost exclusively in the central region of the Philippines called the Visayas, so if you’re an only-Bisaya speaking foreigner in the Philippines outside of this range, you are out of luck. I was just as clueless as any other foreigner now. Sigh. I grabbed the first boat to the island Ilo Ilo and waited thirty minutes to board.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Upon my arrival there, I was greeted by a friend of my site coordinator Cobbie. The friend sent his son to bring me to their family home for an overnight stay. As I had been informed on the bus that morning, my digestive system was feeling a bit out of sync from an apparent Christmas day stomach bug. However, I didn’t have the heart to tell the kind Sir Nick and his wife Jurgenne about my issue. We sat down to a beautiful Christmas dinner and I barely took a bite. “Still full from all my snacking today!” I lied cheerfully, before dismissing myself to the restroom and an early night’s sleep. The sweet couple arranged for a taxi to pick me up at 5:00 the next morning, and I bid them goodbye with hands full of sweets and snacks they prepared for my day’s travel. I was taken to a bus station a few kilometers from their home where I boarded a seven hour ride to a port city at the top of the island.

On the bus, I met a Filipino family taking a post-Christmas vacation to an island called Boracay, famous for its white sand beaches. “Must be a nice spot for local Filipinos,” I thought to myself, before wishing them a happy trip and heading toward the ticket counter for my boat to the island on the way to Semirara. Lo and behold, a post sign read, NO BOAT UNTIL 3PM TODAY. Given as the only boat to Semirara would leave no later than 5PM, I had no way to get there in time. What made the timing even worse was that the only boat to Semirara departed every two days, so I was stranded for more than 48 hours with no way to reach Vida. I glanced at an enormous sign on the entrance to the port. “FERRY TO BORACAY: ONLY 25 PESOS.” Less than 50 US cents to the supposed most beautiful beach on the planet? Since I had over 48 hours to kill, I headed to the ticket counter and boarded the ferry shortly thereafter.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As our ferry chugged away from the port, I noticed a strange phenomenon: foreigners of all colors and kinds pouring out of the very same port to board the very same ferries as me. Groups of Korean, French, Canadian and even Russian tourists clutched umbrellas and beach bags while sporting backpacking packs just like mine. Who were these people? How had they found this place? And, most importantly, how could the beautiful beach of Boracay possibly hold all of them? My last question was made clear the moment we arrived. A gleaming tourism office awaited us with lines of organized tricycles whisking people away to various groups of restaurants, hotels and resorts. My eyes widened as I felt my wallet deflate by the second. After asking around at a couple Sari-Sari stores (street convenience stores found in communities all over the Philippines) close by, I found out that with holiday crowds, my best chance at finding a place to crash for two nights would be heading to one of the four tourist/resort areas. I picked a station recommended by my Sari-Sari friends and boarded a tricycle. The hilly streets of Boracay, maybe once quaint and green, were congested with hoardes of high-rise buildings, motorbikes, tricycles, and groups of foreign travelers, some of whom rode rented road ATVs which drove so slowly that it was infuriating to be stuck behind them. It took over a two hours of walking through crowded sandy streets to find a hostel with an opening for one, and sellers of toys, foods, and tourist attractions waved flyers at me at every storefront. “Ma’am! We’ll go island hopping ma’am! Where you want to go?” “Like to windsurf ma’am? How about paddleboard?” “Fresh fruit shake ma’am! Mango, pineapple, whatever you like!” I was overwhelmed. In four months of the Philippines, I had never seen this many tourists or felt this much like a tourist. And I was alone, and way short on money.

I found a place to stay that was close-ish to my price range and hid there for the night and next morning. I found a quiet enough place to eat breakfast and a spot on the beach that wasn’t yet taken up by groups of selfie-stick holding tourists (this is way more common than I expected, particularly among the Korean and Chinese). In the afternoon I found a local driver to take me on a cheap tour around the island, and I spoke Bisaya even when only a few words were similar to Aklanan, the local language, to barter for a decent price. I found a beach that was a bit quieter to the one where I was staying and listened to a podcast.

Oh, and did I mention there was a typhoon coming? The above pictures are taken in one of the only moments of sunshine from the two days I spent in Boracay. For the most part, it poured rain and was super cloudy. I was glad to get a boat back to Ilo Ilo the next morning at 7, and, you can guess what the sign on the window when I arrived back at my friendly ticket office. Actually, I arrived at the office so early that I was able to watch a guy come up and post this sign on the window, as if in slow motion. AM BOAT CANCELLED. NEXT BOAT AT 4PM. I would never make it to Vida’s island in time. The next boat wasn’t for two more days, and I had nowhere to go until then.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I begged the young guy who posted the sign to help me find another way to get to the island. He waved me toward another ticket office, directing me to take a different boat north, then take a van south, to get to where I needed to go. I did the math in my head, and if the boat and van left on time, I would arrive with about ninety minutes to spare in time for the 5PM boat to Vida’s island. This gave just enough room for Filipino time, normally about 30 minutes to an hour behind schedule. I crossed my fingers, waited 90 minutes in line for my option two boat, and boarded. It stormed and rained on the six-hour open air ferry (the ferry I was supposed to take would have been only around three), and the few Filipinos on the boat huddled together to stay warm and dry. I was adopted by a motorcycle group of husbands, wives and teenage kids from Manila. They spoke some English and shared cookies, hot noodles and instant coffee during the ride. When we arrived, I persuaded a janitor who persuaded the driver to let me off before the cars and trucks. I literally ran to the nearest form of transportation, which was a minivan with a sign taped to the front window- BULOLACAO. This was my last chance. I explained to the driver my situation; that I only had two hours to get to the boat, that it was my only way to get there, that I had been stranded for the past two days, etc. He was unimpressed, but he took my money, and we drove. On the tops of tall mountain roads I could glimpse Vida’s island on the horizon- I was so close! We also stopped every ten or so minutes to pick up more and more people on the side of the road. Strangers packed in the van like sardines, which was normal for the Philippines, but I was anxious to get to the port in time. The last passenger we picked up was a man with no arm holding a rooster. The driver instructed him to hop in the front seat beside me. So there I was, in the middle of a minivan front seat between an indifferent driver and an armless man and a chicken. At that moment, a panicked Vida called me to inform me that the boat for her island was leaving due to the coast guard response to the incoming storm. We were an hour away from the port. Stranded again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some kind people in the van noticed my distress and assured me that there was one other way to get to Semirara, early the next morning. The weather would have to be good, and to get there would require two more hours travel south, then a four hour boat ride to the island (now tripling the amount of time the trip was supposed to take). Vida recommended a hotel I stay the night in, where I was given a room literally in the lobby, where people blasted music and laughed for most of the night. I left at the crack of dawn the next day and was about three hours early for the last option ferry. When we boarded and left the port an hour after scheduled departure, I thought it was too good to be true. I nearly fainted when Vida pulled up in a Jeep to the port at Semirara. She fed me, I slept the entire afternoon, and I attended a show put on by her work that evening. The next day, she informed me that we would have to leave the island ASAP due to another approaching storm. Stranded again…almost! We had time for an afternoon tour of Semirara, in which we were able to observe the ways in which a Filipino-Chinese mining company has changed the landscape and nature of the island in drastic ways. The coral, mangroves and sandy beaches of the island will be difficult to restore, and the water and air quality is visibly disturbed. However, I only had a glimpse of these unsettling changes, as the next day, Vida’s generous coworker, Denise, paid for our transit by land and ferry to Manila. We happily spent the New Year in Vida’s aunt’s home in a province outside the city, relaxing, laughing, and eating a whole lot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When it came time to go back to Dumaguete, I could barely stand the thought of four more days of waits and cancellations. I counted my Christmas money from extended family members and bought a flight back to Dumaguete with barely a second thought. Back in site now, and with a dent in my bank account larger than I’d like to admit, I can’t help but smile at the ten days of uncertainty I experienced on this journey. I was unsure of my next step or where I would stay that night in almost every day of the trip, yet surprisingly, overall, I found I was okay with that. Coming from a person who really likes to be in control, this was a big moment for me. I’m realizing that outside of our own thoughts and actions, there’s really not a whole lot we can control in our lives. I think God wants us to embrace a kind of uncertainty as we go about finding our places to find harmony and do justice in the world. I hope that this experience brought me a little bit closer to this place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you always for reading, and sending love, Emma