A Thank You Message

Before I left to come to Tacloban, I did a crowd sourcing fundraiser due to the urging from a couple of friends. I’m terrible at asking for help, favors, etc. so fundraising is not in my blood at all. This is counter to my belief and understanding that the more people you have on board, the more (easily) you can create change. After all, it takes all of us, or at least most of us to create a better world. Not that one individual can’t create a significant shift. They can and have, but take that person and multiply them, and the impact becomes exponential. Anyhow, back to point:

Together, we raised over $500 from crowdsourcing donations and an additional $300 from Thrivent Financial (thanks to Gwen). As I’m a huge proponent of people seeing meaning and purpose in life, particularly when giving money to a cause (as there are so many other places they could put their dollars), here’s what was done. I wanted to find projects with a direct impact, addressing specific needs that would bring a measure of hope — beacons and symbols remind us of what is possible. That is needed here. It’s needed everywhere.

Therefore, in the spirit of things, I “hope” I did well.

So Where Did the Money Go…?

School Supplies for Old Kawayan
The donations from Thrivent Financial were used as part of the Kusog Tacloban medical mission/distribution to Old Kawayan. All students, ~100 in total, grades Kinder to High School, received desperately needed school supplies. Their “thank you’s” were priceless.

I also gave them a number of donated handmade baby slings, chalk and crayons that I brought over during this time as well. Thank you, Nikki.

Cirilo Roy Montejo National High School
A place near and dear to my heart, home to Principal Valeria Gabriel. The school has made great progress since I first visited, due in large part to the hard work and care of the faculty and teachers, but as with much in Tacloban, CRMNHS still has many critical needs, including running water for their bathrooms. A portion of the funds raised was donated to be used to address the school’s greatest needs.

Retreat/Research House for Old Kawayan
Old Kawayan, a magical place if ever there is such a thing. I worked on digging steps out of the ground to allow the children quicker access to the main road, which is currently a 2km walk. Near the top of the hill is the framework for a small, single room building. Sister Helen is constructing it so there is a place of retreat for the teachers of Old Kawayan and a location for the children to research/study after school. They had no funds to complete the building.

They do now.

To everyone who helped — through monetary donations, sharing posts on social media, offering words of support or putting up with me in your house for a week+ — thank you. You helped make the world a better place, in an area you may never visit, for people you may never meet.

That’s heroic in my book.

Job well done. 🙂

David

…And Back Again

Being back in Tacloban is an experience. Coming here I didn’t know if I would have culture shock this trip around. I certainly didn’t the first time I arrived last November after SuperTyphoon Haiyan ravaged the country. Yet as with the first, the same holds true with the second. I actually felt more out of sorts in the crowded New Yorkian atmosphere of Manila.

Here, not at all.

It’s like trying on a familiar pair of shoes and then going for a long walk before you even realize you’ve left the comfort of your house. In part, I imagine, because you are greeted with hugs and smiles by friends, both old and new, along the way. And raiding the Department of Health for medical supplies before you’ve even dropped off your luggage at home helps in getting you back in the swing of it all.

Things have changed in the past year. That much is evident. I see locations that I had once visited, then serving as evacuation centers, over crowded with displaced populations, starving, in desperate need of the basic essentials of life such as clean water. These places are now vacant testaments that people and life have moved on in one fashion or another. It is good to take note of what can happen in such a short amount of time when one is resilient, determined and willing to repeatedly put in a hard day’s work.

Shiny new roofs reflect the sunlight along the drive through town. Bright new cars are seen here and there mixed among the familiar sights of trikes and jeepneys that once dominated the roads. Stores now sell mundane, non-vital supplies which denotes that the economy is returning to a state of disposable income. Oh, and there’s a little thing called electricity…and running water.

Some things, thankfully, have not changed. Kids still abound with energy, running through the streets, greeting you with questions. Driving is still chaotic with an “every man/woman/child for themselves” attitude, but never in a rude, in-your-face type of way. Smiles followed by ma’am and sir are still the default greeting across the generations. Here people still pitch in, regardless of age or size. Excuses of I’m too tired or It’s not my job are non-existent. It is simply the way of life as evidenced by the sight of young girls traveling along, arm in arm.

I see the I (heart) Tacloban signs scattered throughout the city, and know it to still be true for me as well.

There is a great deal of work yet to be done. Magina tells me of a number of projects over the (excellent) dinner at Giuseppe’s Italian restaurant. I am not disheartened by the enormity of the need, as I believe it all possible, nothing left undone, for in such a short amount of time as 48 hours, I am once again reminded of what I consider to be the greatest strength of the Filipino people —

They are the quintessential definition of community for they know what many of the rest of us too easily and too often forget:

We are all in this together.

David

In Questionable Times

I want to preface this as I received a few well-intentioned caring messages from friends after originally posting it, which I appreciate. This is not a “woe is me” post. Far from it. It is more of a “there is great need/kick in the ass” message to myself. I could edit it so it more reads as such but have decided to leave it as it was originally written, hoping the intention is now clearer.

I can smile and nod and say the world is okay.

The truth is that it isn’t. I have been struggling, more so than usual. I haven’t really said anything. I can hide it pretty well until the times I choose not to. I guess this is one of those times.

* * * * *

Her words echo inside:

“Have you given thought to the possibility that things suck because you are not doing what your soul is telling you to?…Until you balance everything out within yourself every aspect of your life will suffer.

Yeah, that’s probably the case. Okay, I know it’s the case but it’s often easier to not deal in absolutes. They feel so…final and when you’re waffling, the last thing you want to do is jump from the fence to one side or the other. I’ve never liked the “free fall” feeling.

* * * * *

I keep my eyes on the news, particularly Israel and Gaza. I was there 3 months earlier. A part of me wonders if I shouldn’t be there now — to do what, I don’t know — but this part of me doesn’t crave comfort and security. It desires meaning and purpose and you often only find that in the midst of chaos. At least for me. I thrive when the world around me is crumbling. It brings out the best part of me.

Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

Maybe I’m broken.

Either way, it is what it is.

It’s hard to not think the world is going to shit. The troubles there, in the MidEast, if left untended, will spread like a fire in the forest, engulfing everything it touches.

And then there’s Russia/Ukraine. And 217 girls kidnapped in Nigeria. Last I heard they hadn’t been rescued. The news of the world moved on to other things.

I fear that humanity cannot survive another massive conflict. We have grown our weapons in such a manner to ensure we don’t. I don’t need 20 years of humanitarian experience to know that peace doesn’t come without sacrifice. That sacrifice appears to be in the blood of men, women and children in hospitals and UN schools.

One thing I do know is nothing is worth the cost of innocent lives, no matter on which side of the border they lie.

Nothing.

* * * * *

I hear word of Valeria and how the students and faculty of Cirilo Roy Montejo National High School are still in great need. It’s been 9 months since I was there. Have I failed them? Cause it sure as hell feels like it. I’m trying to put a video together illustrating their needs to potential donors. Why haven’t I finished it?

Magina tells me of the Old Kawayan community. It sits on the water 45 minutes north of Tacloban, forgotten by the pressing needs of the larger surrounding areas of the Philippines. They are blessed to have two sisters of a cloistered order to watch over them. One is named Sister Helen and the way she’s described, I envision that she’s made out of magic. I believe this to be true, perhaps because I need to believe in something right now.

My thoughts shift to them often throughout the day. Is their need any less than my own? Again, I don’t know what I can do. More fundraisering? That’s not really what I do…For now I have asked Magina for more information about the community and a picture of the cloistered sisters.

It’s a start.

* * * * *

This afternoon a lady outside the Jersey Mike’s sub shop is holding a sign of need. It doesn’t matter what the words say. I’ve seen them all before. I rarely carry cash so I don’t have anything to offer except a heartfelt “Sorry.” When I finish my food I walk over to the ATM and then hand her $$ with a note:

Change is simply a matter of putting your foot in a different direction.

Maybe it’ll help.

* * * * *

One could argue that none of this is my responsibility. There was a time when I would have agreed, but now I know otherwise. The strongest discernible feeling I have right now is to pack up and thrust myself into the world, seeing what becomes of it. In truth it’s the only viable future I see because sitting on a couch in an air-conditioned townhome just isn’t doing it for me.

I don’t know that I have the answer right now. Or maybe I do and I’m not ready to buy into it.

Yeah, it’s the latter.

For now I’ll continue watching the world around me, knowing that change is coming, one way or another. I guess the question is will I be the catalyst or the recipient.

David

A Walk Through Remembrance

As I walk the halls of Yad VaShem Memorial and Holocaust Museum, it is not unlike the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. There are pictures accompanied by written words, places to sit while watching documentaries, and remnant artifacts from the time of the events.

It is no different, yet it is.

Yad VaShem hits closer to home, perhaps because it is in fact closer. Closer to those who suffered, closer to the location where it happened.

If you have never visited a Holocaust museum, you are led through the chronological recount of events, as one might expect in any typical retelling of a historical account. Yet the experience of it is something altogether different.

The cool air that blows through the museum halls is thick here, heavy with suffering endured in the past and hearts breaking in the present. The only real color that exists is carried on the clothes of the visitors, as black, white and gray dominate the exhibits and environment. I walk with headphones on to center myself against the harsh photography and writings. The words affect more than the images as you can feel the emotion of the author pour through. It is observance versus experience. Observing yields sympathy; experiencing brings about empathy, and that is something you can’t help but take with you as you travel from room to room.

Guides whisper to their tour groups, providing historical facts and insights that go beyond the museum content. Somber faces fill the halls, mothers silently touching their sons and daughters, reminding them that compassion still exists in the world. You need that reminder here, you need that human touch.

On one of the walls, there is a quote by Martin Niemöller, a German Pastor, that reads:

They came for the Communists,
and I did not object for
I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
and I did not object for
I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not object for I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to object…

What I take away from this is the importance of standing against injustice, no matter where it is found. It is not limited to race or creed or socio-economic status. It is not a political or government problem. It’s a human problem and as such, we must rage against it no matter where it is. For as Martin Niemöller discovered, if left uncontested, it will come home to roost.

There are words written by those in the Ghettos, speaking of defiance, of testaments that will exist beyond their lives. They fight the injustice from the inside out, striving to create some sense of the meaningless suffering that humanity must endure. Seven decades later, can we say that things have changed? I have only seen a fraction of this world, but I cannot rightfully answer that question the way I wish that I could. For when one suffers needlessly, we all do.

Another quote reads:

The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous,
Like judges.
Here all things scream silently…
— Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Babi Yar

The last line, Here all things scream silently, are haunting words that belie the truth. It reminds me of the age-old question of if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the screams of the suffering in the world fall silently on our ears, does it truly happen?

Before leaving on my trip, I told a friend that we all ultimately have two choices to make. We must decide who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Everything else stems from these foundational decisions. There is also a third choice, afforded to only some: how we choose to leave this world. I am reminded clearly that this final choice is not granted to all as I come upon the shoes.

Four clear panes line the floor, sitting atop hundreds of blackened shoes, only a few of which hint at their original color. Slippers are mixed with men’s dress shoes that lie atop heeled soles, as if to say no one shall be spared, regardless of age, gender or stature. If I could take one picture from here, this would be it. But pictures are not allowed. Perhaps because the curators know that memories are what matter most.

As I continue to travel the sobering corridors of this place, the two most poignant emotions are of sadness and anger. They compete with one another, each winning its rightful battle depending on where in the museum you are. But sometimes something unexpected happens. In the chaos of tragedy, they both surrender to grant a brief moment of solace. It is a most welcomed release, however temporary, for you need strength of heart to move your feet once again.

Towards the end of the exhibit is The Hall of Names, a visually stimulating sight to behold. Along the circular walls are hundreds of books memorializing the names of the Holocaust victims. In the middle of the room, if you look above, are pictures of victims that rise to the ceiling. Looking down you see rock cut out of the earth to reveal a pool of water with coins shimmering at the bottom. I toss in a coin only to see afterwards the sign requesting that no coins or objects be thrown. Oops!

The final room of Yad VaShem plays music with powerful words of victims projected on the wall in both English and Hebrew. As one fades, another takes its place. The room speaks of remembrance and one can’t help but yield to its call.

Exiting the museum is an experience in itself. The fresh air hits you immediately, bringing a much needed lightness to your step. The Easter sun is out in full force, generating warmth to the skin and the soul. And the sight of the Jerusalem Forest marked in the background by the city helps to provide a sense of renewed peace to a heavy heart.

The Yad VaShem Memorial and Holocaust Museum serves as a beacon of the atrocities of which the human heart is capable. I believe that to be only one view. For it too speaks of the other side of the coin, etched in the words of the victims and survivors alike, in their courage and sacrifice. It is a far more powerful force than all the suffering contained in the hallowed walls behind me. For although I have in many ways only yet to begin to explore my world, I have come to recognize it for what it is —

Hope.

May it find us in both our lightest and darkest hours, and in all the ones in between.

Happy Easter and Passover from the Holy Land to all of your lands, wherever they may be.

David

The Words of Others

“Others” will tell you that it can’t be done. “Others” will tell you why it will fail. They will tell you to play it safe and to not change what can’t be changed. And instead, we let the words of others become our own. But here’s the thing: 

“Never base your decisions on the advice of people who don’t have to deal with the consequences.”

“Others” don’t know. “Others” are basing their opinions — and that’s all they are — on their own experiences and the way they see the world, not your experiences and the way you see it. So if that’s the case, what’s really going on?

Too often we compromise because it’s easy. We compromise out of fear. Fear because we haven’t seen it done before. Fear of what it asks of us. I wish I could sit here and tell you to fuck the fear and just do it anyway, but that would make it sound like I too can do it easily and I can’t. But I’m trying. So I would encourage you to do the same.

I read an article recently called 7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life. It’s brash and in your face. I don’t necessarily agree with it point by point, but it does serve a purpose: it made me stop and think. It shook me out of the monotony of my day and asked what David Whyte in his poem Sometimes calls “questions that have no right to go away”. And at the the end, it sums it all up:

“Finally able to understand your lack of understanding, and then you would see; then you would know that the only thing holding you back from doing something truly amazing, is you.”

It reminds me, though I rarely forget, that we all have a purpose in life. And I believe that to be decided as much by us as by any outside force in the universe, divine or otherwise. Putting the genesis of purpose to the side, following “it”, whether you understand it or not, is not easy. It’s fucking hard. It’s not always nice and pretty and tied with a colorful bow. Often it is messy, and discouraging, confusion mixed with doubt and yes, fear. It requires sacrifices that make you question how badly you really want it.

Add a verse. A verse. And if you don’t like that notion, you should at least ask yourself why? Is it because it asks too much of you, because it is too disruptive?

But one thing I can tell you having been one to both do what I am supposed to and at times turned my back on it. If you have the courage and the faith in your path, the journey is worth it. It will change you in ways not yet imagined and bring you to places you never knew you needed to be. And sometimes you can do that without ever leaving your zip code, and other times you can’t.

As my best friend once said:

“Even if it’s an errant path, sometimes it’s worth taking.”

I hear it call in the quiet moments of the day, a gentle urging to do more, one that after time can no longer be ignored without consequences to who we are and more importantly who we desire to be. Perhaps one day it will all make sense again. That is a day I very much look forward to.

All the best in your current endeavors. May they lead you to a better tomorrow.

David