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 tbd 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, to people you may never meet. That’s heroic in my book.

You all made this possible. You all did this. 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

About Walking Into the Light

Walking Into the Light originally started out as a “home” for the various writings, projects and programs that I had created. It was a way to organize this part of my life into a workable framework. It has thus grown into the foundation for a 501c3 nonprofit, which is currently pending approval with the United States IRS. Currently it is a registered corporation in Virginia and is approved to solicit funds as a charitable organization.

The Vision
Through initiatives and programs that foster positive change, Walking Into the Light serves as a guide to inspire us all to live a life of inspiration and happiness. Admittedly, this may need some word smithing.

Belief & Purpose
What does this all mean? I’m still working on that, but ultimately I want this organization to be open to do what needs to be done to meet the current need. Currently, the first project is 2nd START, which is a 12-week program developed to spearhead positive change through a series of lectures, in-depth discussions, goal setting projects and physical fitness initiatives. With an initial focus on those of us who are either homeless or in transitional housing, 2nd START will provide participants with an opportunity to create a successful lifestyle by offering the elements for strategic personal development to not just create change, but engage in true life-changing transformation.

Walking Into the Light will also serve as a support system for additional programs and initiatives that may arise. Working in partnership with existing organizations, we can pool our resources to create a greater level of impact in the world. This may range from relief work during national or international disasters or by focusing on a social problem such as homelessness or poverty. The need is great, the opportunities wide open, and I want this organization to be flexible and adaptable as required.

Inspiration Initiatives — Thought Leadership — Inspire Others
Through various Inspiration Initiatives, I will create thought leadership content which is designed to inspire others to action and change. Thus, the purpose of this website and social media efforts is to serve as a vehicle for the thought leadership content derived from the Inspiration Initiatives.

With such a broad goal, how does one decide where to act and create significant change? Simple really. By focusing on one person and one program at a time, assessing capabilities and ensuring we do not spread ourselves too thin. Or in a nutshell: let Inspiration guide the way.

David Carson
President and Founder

Home Sweet Home

Would you find it strange if I told you as I fly back to the states that I feel like I’m leaving home and now heading to a foreign country? Because I think I would if roles were reversed. How could I not find it odd? The thing is I’ve had the same feeling that I was already home since I first boarded my flight on Korean Air bound for the Philippines.

They say home is where the heart is. I believe that to be true to the last word. And although I know it is time for me to return “home” once again, my heart is in Tacloban. It was there days before I first arrived. What I did not know then that I do now is that I was coming to find it, and meet it on its own terms. Sometimes you have to travel far to find what you had all along. Now that I have, I just hope I can bring it back with me.

At home in the states, my life is filled with many ordinary moments mixed in with a few of those that are inspired. It was the complete reverse during my trip to the Philippines. Extraordinary events happened regularly to the point that they became the ordinary occurrence. “Oh, you got an entire evac center water?” was on the same level as asking “How was your day, dear?” And that was an impressive thing to witness as it occurred day in and night out.

During my 9 days at Ground Zero, there was an energy, a passion, a “way” that I have never before experienced. The concepts of life and death are all too real here. One of the True Manila team members said that this devastation is worse than war. In war, there is collateral damage but people have the opportunity to leave. With Typhoon Yolanda, there was little warning, no real opportunity for people to exodus the islands.

Here there exists a sense of urgency and action to fulfill the demands that must be met. Deeds are done in the now because waiting may have detrimental consequences to the lives of the people around you. It’s not always to that serious of a degree but in some cases it very much is. And that, if nothing else along the way, changes you.

“Every day is probably amazing if you look in the right place,” said a good friend of mine. There’s no probably to it, pal. The days are filled with such experience that one sunrise to subsequent sunrise might as well be an entire lifetime. Thankfully I am reincarnated each day (usually by that damn rooster at 4am!) to begin anew. Each day is different in feel and nature. It requires me to be different, to rely on my skills, some of which I possess and others that are acquired on the go. My life has Mr. Miyagi prepared me well for this.

Another person commented that it must be like being a celebrity here. People smile, call out to you, ask you questions, vie for your attention. You have a choice what you do with that. I used it to try to make lives a little bit better.

I met people who were giving the best parts of themselves to the world and asking for nothing in return. If they happened to ask why I’m here doing “this,” it only took a few words before they understood, never needing for me to finish the first sentence. Many didn’t even have to ask. They all knew why. It was the same reason for us all. When you can look someone in the eye and understand them fully without saying a word, it is truly a beautiful thing.

An extremely positive result of this trip is that I don’t feel alone anymore. I have found an inner peace that has eluded me for such a very long time. Ít is because, in part, I now see and know that there are like-hearted people in life and purpose. And many of them were right before my eyes all along. I just didn’t know how to see them.

So I guess the looming question is “what now?” The answer: I have no idea. I have been home for three days now. The majority of my thoughts do center around Tacloban and although I thought that transitioning back to what my life was would be difficult, as of yet it has not been. This concerns me. Although I don’t know what “this” will mean for my future, I do know that I don’t want to return to the monotony where the days are only separated by a date on the calendar. I guess that it is very much up to me to change those pieces of my life and make it what I want it to be, as is true for all of us. Every moment of every day.

But one thing I said to a friend the night before I left for this adventure is that there are some choices that change you and there’s no going back to who you once were. And if you think you can just reinsert yourself into your old life as the version you are now and expect it to be a nice, snug fit, then you’re kidding yourself. You are changed and that means your life, the output of you, will as well. I hope I was right.

The anger and suffering that I brought with me halfway around the world found a home there. I hope that they have run their course. I didn’t have room for them on the plane ride back. As I said in a previous post, I like to travel light. Yet I also left just wanting my world to be safe. It is a naive, childish dream but it is a Dream nonetheless and I do my best to not give up on them no matter what.

To my friends and family, I look forward to seeing you once again. I didn’t come here to observe. I came here to experience. And you can’t “tell” experience, but I will do my best. Know that I bring back (hopefully) the best parts of myself. Take care though, for the days to come may be in many ways some of the hardest I have yet to face. I may be more fragile than I appear. Then again, aren’t we all? :)

So to bring this full circle, I have to address what you first said, Magina — the quote on CNN that in many ways brought me to Tacloban. Is it truly “…Worse Than Hell”?

I have to say that with everything I’ve seen, experienced and been blessed enough to be a part of — the answer is a resounding NO.

It may have been once upon a time but it is no longer. It’s now closer to the other side. There is hope here, with good people willing to put in a hard day’s work over and over again to rebuild their homes and their lives for a land that will rise once again to its former beauty. It is a place that I now name home if but only in spirit.

You called me here, Magina, and I hope I did you proud. So now I’m telling you to come on home. It’s time. And do not worry if you get lost along the path. I’ll show you the way.

Until next we meet, my friends, be safe and Dream well.

David

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The One We Call Casanova

(This one’s for you, pal.)

For those who don’t know (Casanova) Ron, here’s a little about him.

He and I were paired together for our UNFPA work. Actually I kind of asked for him since we had met by chance the day before.

Ron’s a good kid. He’s smart, savvy, analytical, extremely respectful (which to me is one of his most impressive qualities) and is filled with compassion. He’s the kind of person you’d want for a son and the one you’d be glad to find knocking on your door to call on your daughter. You’d be lucky to call him friend, know him as a brother and be blessed to hell and back again to have him at your side during a crisis.

He lives 1 1/2 hours away from Tacloban by bus. When the city was hit by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, Ron walked all the way here the very next day to check on the area. It took him 4 hours through what I can only imagine was nothing short of horrifying as he traveled to see his countryside ravaged by Mother Nature. And he’s been here since volunteering in the efforts.

The Filipino people should be proud to name him among them. At the time of this writing, he went home for a couple of days and will be back on Monday. He’s bringing me the best Tuba (coconut wine) that he can find. Safe travels on your way there and back again. I’ll be here when you arrive as I’m extending my stay by a few days.

If they were giving awards for unsung heroes, Ron would blow the competition out of the water. He’s got my vote all day long.

Ron, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you, bud. I see nothing but the best for you. No other deserves it more.

And if you don’t get what you want out of this world, let me know. I’ll rip it in fucking half to ensure that you do. Believe that. Anytime. Any place. I’ve got your back as you’ve had mine this whole time.

You’re all heart, pal, and you give me a shining ideal to strive for as a man and a citizen of the world. You’ve set a high bar and steep slope to climb to the top. I’ll try to meet you there. Just wait for me. I’m not as young as I used to be.

Love ya, man. Be good — I know you will. It’s who you are.

David

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Gabriel the Swift-footed

So Monday I asked for the day “off.” My personal mission has superceded the task I have been given when first I arrived. I said on Monday: it’s time for good things to happen and today is the day. If all goes according to plan, this for me will be a day of great deeds, hope and second chances. We all deserve them, so let’s make them happen together.

As an aside, I found Casanova Ron a very cute girl (and smart as that’s how he likes them) named Christina who is at the LNU Dormitory. We’ll make a pit stop for the introductions now that Ron is back in town. Don’t get me started on the fact he was supposed to come back on Monday and didn’t, then proceeded to not call me until Tuesday night. If I didn’t hear from him by this AM, I was fully prepared to go to his hometown in search.

Crystal joined me for another visit to Cirilo Roy Montejo Evacuation Center, the home of Valeria Gabriel and her group. If you have to ask who Valeria is, please read my blog post: Heroes Among Us from a few days ago. If I had it my way, everyone would know who Valeria is and she be dubbed a 62-year-young national treasure. This was my third visit in four days to Cirilo Roy and it was great to once again see everyone. Yes, I’ve “adopted” them and we will return today after another supply run. My pictures on Facebook show just a portion of the devastation to their school, which has almost 1600 students and many brave and extremely passionate teachers such as Jerry who is also a monster workhorse always with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

Now from what I gathered during my last visit, Valeria said that word has spread during the principals’ meetings and the other schools are wondering why two Americans are helping out Cirilo Roy Montejo. Apparently I’ve been mentioned by name. What began as a personal mission may very well become a crusade, which could mean a number of schools in need will be knocking on the door of David Carson. Um…resources?

That said, the purpose of this blog post is about Monday morning’s adventures…

There are moments where something inside you “clicks.” Call it life purpose, divine inspiration, or a sense of good ol’ plain humanity — whatever you believe it to be doesn’t change the fact that it is very much real. And when it happens, you have a choice. For me, it was never a choice between two options to do it or not do it. It was a choice of how to open myself up in a way that I am then able to realize what my “true” options are.

A few days ago, which here is like a few lifetimes, Ron and I were at the Abucay Elementary School Evac Center and learned they hadn’t been given any drinking water since the typhoon. I immediately called Jet and because she’s an angel, she got her contacts to supply water for the 95 people there. I’m happy to report that when I went there on Monday they had received their water shipment. That’s so awesome! But that’s not the reason I went to Abucay that morning.

Back up to our first visit to Abucay a few days before in which we were gathering data for the UNFPA medical missions to serve those women who are pregnant and had recently given birth. After our data collection task was done and I was beginning to leave, one of the girls in the last classroom yelled after me. Ron and I went back and he informed me that I had been asked to be the godfather of her son, Gabriel. He’s a beautiful, now four-week-old baby with a left club foot bent inwards. I was touched, honored and a bit unsure. Regardless of the nature of the offer, I accepted it as I take that responsibility seriously. Godfathers are to give the child a gift, which I did. That was that and there was still much to do so we moved on to our next Evacuation Center.

On Sunday, our mission was to go to the hospital with Ron Villas, Humanitarian Coordinator of the UNFPA, to transport the medical supplies that will be used this week for the sessions with the pregnant women/those who had recently given birth. On the way, I had a thought. “Ron, can you introduce me to a surgeon at the hospital? A Filipino one please.” Ron agreed and once we arrived at EVRMC (Eastern Versia Regional Medical Center) he did just that.

Enter Dr. Lito Cablao stage left. I told Dr. Cablao of Gabriel, showing him a picture, and inquired as to the cost of the surgery to correct the alignment of his foot, as I had been told by his mother that it is very, very expensive. Dr. Cablao took a moment to explain the process of casting the foot once a week over a 10-12 week period and then the final surgery to allow for the foot alignment to be corrected. He then said that due to the Typhoon Relief efforts the cost was covered. Um…did you just say FREE?!

If anyone ever tells you not to ask a question, tell them as politely as you can to shut the hell up and then proceed to ask it anyway. “So basically they just need pesos to cover the weekly trike rides?” Correct. Yeah, we got that covered. I’m his Godfather after all. I asked Dr. Cablao if I could bring the mother (I never got her name) and Gabriel into the hospital tomorrow for consultation to which he agreed as long as it was before noon.

Fast forward to Monday with me riding on the back of the motorcycle portion of a trike with a mother, someone I presume to be her husband or brother, and my Godson in the cab part. We arrived around 10:30 at EVRMC. Dr. Cablao was on a navy ship transporting a patient, so we had to wait for about an hour. Waiting for a doctor — I guess some things are universal regardless of borders.

Once Dr. Cablao arrived, he and Dr. Gilbert Ola examined Gabriel and proceeded to discuss the correction options. In a nutshell, he’ll be able to undergo the corrective casting either at the age of or within 1 1/2 months. I wasn’t clear on which timing. I asked Dr. Ola to keep me informed of any additional needs that may occur. We exchanged contact information.

With the initial consultation completed, it was time to get the family back home. I think they were still a little unsure of what was happening, which probably hadn’t changed much since I first showed up a couple hours before in their classroom that was serving as their shelter and asked, “Are you busy? Will you take a ride with me to the hospital?”

As I gave them the trike, I pulled out an envelope with my contact info, enough pesos to cover their trike rides and handed over one of my Under Armor Superman shirts (which was admittedly too tight even for me, and a bit damp from having just been washed.) I told the mother it was for Gabriel and that “he will grow into it. He’ll grow up big and strong.”

Remember, the S stands for Hope.

Gabriel’s mother reached out her hand and shook mine saying, “Thank you.” If you read my previous blog post you know my response was just a nod and a smile.

I am not naive enough to think that I did this alone and want to thank those who helped make it possible, whether you know it or not. Especially UNFPA Humanitarian Ron Villas who took time out of his busy day to introduce me to surgeons. I want to thank Dr. Lito Cablao and Dr. Gilbert Ola for choosing to be doctors and for being open to having a conversation with a big oaf from the United States of America.

But I especially want to thank my guide, who shall forever remain nameless — your secret is safe with me ;) — for leaving just the right amount of bread crumbs for me to be able to do this – you know who you are and, on behalf of Gabriel, you have my eternal gratitude and appreciation. We all, collectively, have been able to give a gift that will hopefully change the course of a life. There is truly hope among the madness, light within the darkness, and strength within us all.

There are a series of scenes in the 90s “buddy” movie The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. In it, Damon Wayans’ character makes a toast to Alex the Astronaut, Alex the Accountant and other variations of Alex + insert random profession. When asked about this in the movie, he says that his accountant could have been named Alex. Alex was his son who died in a car wreck along with his wife. While Gabriel is very much alive, like the character in the movie I may never see him grow up or know what kind of man he will become, though I imagine him to achieve greatness no matter what path he chooses. So in true Last Boy Scout fashion, please join me wherever you are in raising a glass in salute to my godson, Gabriel the Swift-footed.

God willing, Gabriel will be able to grow up with two feet planted firmly beneath him. He’ll have the opportunity to walk and run and play with all the other children who will hopefully have no memory of the typhoon that ripped apart their homes and their lives. He will be able to grow brave and strong and serve as a boon to the world if he so chooses. Yet that is his choice to make for himself, just as it is yours to decide for your life. Me? I already made mine long ago. Like Gabriel, it just took me a little while to find my footing.

May your feet be swift and full of purpose as you travel to wherever your heart takes you next.

With much hope for the best of today so that we may have a better tomorrow,

David

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Of Sacks And Men

“Rest,” says one of the ladies in the storage warehouse. I look around. I don’t see anyone else taking a breather. “I can rest when I get home,” I respond. Back to get another sack.

You can’t come here, or anywhere for that matter, expecting to save someone. Try to save one and you’ll think you can save them all. Try to save them all and you’ll fail before you even begin.

You have to understand at the very core of why you’re doing this that it’s not about you. It can’t be. The moment it becomes about you, you lose the ability to see the need. And you *need* to see the need.

Now take that and add in the fact that I have a hero complex. Always have. There, I said it. “My name’s David and I’m a hero addict.” This is where you all welcome me by saying, “Hi, David!”

Willing to stand against impossible odds and sacrifice one’s self for what you believe in. Yeah, I dig it. Glitz, glory, and heroedom. Sign me up. Not really sure what glitz is, but I’m sure it’s part of the hero package.

The thing is these people don’t need a savior. What they need is a friend and a helper, someone who is willing to put others before themselves, knowing that in doing so you are providing yourself with the greatest gift you could possibly give. I fail at this self-sacrificing ideal every day of my life, but I take heart in knowing I will never stop trying to achieve it. That I promise, and I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.

We cannot write another’s journey. We can only show them they have the pen.

You see, help isn’t about saving people and when you’re here, you don’t get to choose how you help or who you help. Not if you’re doing it for the right reasons. I’ve done everything from sweeping floors to lifting spirits with a smile to giving away my food to someone who didn’t even acknowledge the gesture. Here’s the thing and you may want to pay attention to this one: You don’t help people because they deserve it. You help them because it’s the right thing to do. The ThunderCats taught me that one, and my Mom and Dad.

“Thank you”s come in wherever you go. You just smile, nod and move on, never really accepting them. You can’t. As I said, it’s not about you and therefore no accolades can be taken. Argue with me all you want. You won’t win. I’m stubborn like that.

<Insert smooth transition to today’s events>

(Casanova) Ron and I started a bit earlier today. What’s it matter? My friend Mr. Rooster and his devout followers woke us up at 4:30am. Thanks for the extra 30 minutes of sleep, bud. Appreciate that.

We had to do more UNFPA due diligence at the remaining Evacuation Centers (ECs) and run some errands. Valeria (my swimming hero) had said that her center needed diapers and lights. We had picked up some of the supplies the day before but needed more. We hit the market first, navigated once again by our trusty Trike driver, Manuel. No Catholic cross signs over the heart today. Guess yesterday’s carried over.

We stopped by to see Ma’am Valeria to drop off the supplies. She didn’t know we were coming so she was surprised to see us. Her smile melts hearts. She still had mine from days ago when we first met. It was good to see the crew there. They had made progress clearing some of the debris. The five pairs of work gloves we brought them will hopefully help in their efforts. We had work to do at the other ECs, so couldn’t stay long. We dropped off what we brought – lighters/lights, diapers and gloves. Yes, Natasha, I need to find an ATM. Sorry, but you knew this was going to happen and you told me not to change. Couldn’t if I wanted to at this point.

I got a hug from Valeria and off we went. We visited two more ECs, one of them containing Ron’s new girl. He left me while I was taking a picture of a rather large pig that was tied up nearby. Guess he didn’t want me to cramp his style after my stunt yesterday when I told her (and everyone else in earshot) that he didn’t ask for her number for the EC data. Yep, that’s how I roll. Got it from my big bro who has no shame at all. I like to think I have at least a little dignity and self-respect.

On to the Astrodome EC which we were sent to by our head UNFPA honcho, Diva Ron. That man’s a machine. He doesn’t eat or sleep. He just works, chipping away for the cause he believes in, every moment he’s awake, which is pretty much 24-8. We’re lucky to have him.

Casanova Ron, the trooper that he is, was doing pretty much all the UNFPA work at this point. It’s hard to be helpful in that situation when everyone’s speaking a different language. You do the best you can but at this point let’s face it, I was dead weight. So I did what I do best. I walked around and talked to people, offering smiles and waves as greetings, answering the questions that the droves of kids would yell from the upper floors or as they walked by. “What’s your name, Joe?” Joe refers to military personnel (which I am not) and is derived from the 80s GI Joe cartoon. Asking someone’s name and offering a smile or handshake/fist bump goes a long way. It sets the stage to have an interaction and trust me, you want to have interactions here. I also get information by walking around, finding out if there are additional ways to help out. I do it at work, too. People just don’t know that’s what I’m doing. Guess some do now. ;)

So at one point there’s a red truck nearby. I noticed people were standing in line to unload large white sacks. I watched for a moment, feeling the pull inside. Sometimes you’re pulled towards something, sometimes called and sometimes you’re sent. They aren’t the same. I’ll let you figure out the difference. Let me know when you do.

Ron looked at me and asked, “You want to help?” Yeah, pal, you know me too well at this point. So Ron went to do the EC work and I got in line to carry a sack of various food items to the nearby storage area. I received more than a few stares and confused looks as I walked up to the back of the truck. I’m used to it at this point. I was told before I came here that I was either going to be the coolest thing people had ever seen or viewed as a target. Well no one’s stepped up to the plate on the latter, so must be the former, at least so far.

The helpers carry the sacks on their heads. That’s the technique. At one point I tried to take one of the sacks in my arms and they wouldn’t give it to me. On the head or not at all.

The sacks weigh about 100 kg, so one of the workers said. I don’t know what that translates into lbs and it doesn’t matter. They were heavy, but I’ll take that over the burden of being able to do something and choosing not to. I’ve carried that one for far too long. I’ll take the sacks any day of the week.

The sacks seemed to get heavier as I made more trips. (Duh!) At some point I noticed a crowd watching me. I can only speculate at what they were thinking, but I hope it was “here’s a guy who’s not like us, but he’s helping out anyway. Maybe we’re not so different after all.”

I carried about 10 sacks in all including the last one. But I didn’t carry the first one and many of the ones in between.

After the final sack, the truck packed up and left. I smiled and shook the hands of those involved in the unloading process. A line formed shortly after as the food was then being distributed. I was a bit worn out and my back and neck stiff, but took satisfaction in the sight that people were being fed by the food in both sacks that I did and did not carry. Yeah, remember:

It’s not about you.

And it’s not about them.

It’s about all of us. Now let’s get it done.

Standing with you in body and spirit — until the end and then some.

David

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Let’s Have a Good, Good Time

(Originally to be posted last night but I crashed instead)

Not all of life has to be heavy, not even in the wake of complete and total destruction. It can’t always be serious. We wouldn’t survive it. And although I tend to gravitate towards the heavy parts, even I know you have to appreciate the lighter side of things and allow yourself to experience it in its full richness. The light times will nourish the soul in ways nothing else can and ensure we have the strength of heart needed for the journey ahead, which I sincerely hope includes the following of Dreams to the end of the road, and then some.

Enough philosophical rhetoric.

I could tell you about the events of the day; about how one of the evac centers didn’t have drinking water and my KUSOG Tacloban contacts found them a supply of 200 bottles to be delivered tomorrow for 95 people in need; or how one of the young mothers of a 3 1/2 week old asked me to be her daughter’s godfather which I accepted (expecting a knock on my door in the future); or even the amazing kids that flocked to see us, following us around in droves, with one group performing a cheer+song choreographed competition to which I graciously accepted the honor of judging. I posted it on Facebook and will do picture updates for my blog once I return to the States. In the meantime, I’ll spoil the ending. It was a tie. :) Or how Casanova Ron (we’ll get to his name in a moment) and I stopped by a market to buy lighters and diapers to deliver to Valeria’s Evac Center, which we did this morning. It’s fun to play the part of the hero.

The devastation here is apparent. There is no denying that, but there is light-heartedness and, dare I say, fun as well. So let’s talk about the good stuff, of the celebration of new friends bound in purpose and forged through good-hearted teasing over (hopefully) some much needed adult beverages.

Tonight we head to Calle Zaragosa, a friend of German Ron’s who is reopening the first restaurant in Tacloban since the typhoon. We have three Rons in our group so we had to figure out names for each to differentiate them. This Ron is from…wait for it…Germany. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. So at the restaurant I am told we will have cold beer and soup. They had me at beer…shared in the presence of good friends of course. It should be a fine time (which it was). I’m from Kentucky after all. Give us a drink and conversation with good people and we’re good to go. That’s how we roll in the South.

So to recap, the day began with a trip to see dead pigs in the water. Exciting I know. I left my phone at the house as the battery was low, so no pictures. I’m sure you’re disappointed. One of the pigs was enormous, severely bloated to the point it didn’t look real. Hungry for pork now?

I was running a little low on emotional energy — yesterday’s events and corresponding blog post took a lot out of me — so I’m recharging a bit today. Refilling the internal tank just as I sit now in line for our Trike (motorcycle + cab) to refill its gas tank so we can partake in the day’s adventures. More UNFPA Evacuation Center data gathering and a few personal errands to run along the way.

It’s raining today but my mood is even keel. At home the rain makes my mood dreary and I long to stay inside. I’m a summer boy at heart which means sand, water and sun are my preferred vacation criteria, but here it’s not the same. Maybe it’s the place. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s the one writing this blog. Don’t know and frankly don’t care to dissect it. My overly analytical mind took a hiatus when I booked this trip. I’m not much missing it these days.

Gas refilled. Our Trike driver Manuel just cranked us up and performed the Catholic cross over his heart (98% of Filipinos are Catholic according to my contacts here). I’m all for a little divine support but hope he always does this and it’s not because he’s expecting we’re going to need it on this particular drive. He just did it again so I think we’re good.

Back on point. As we walked to the dead pig site, I took it as my personal mission to find Simple Ron a date to bring to the restaurant tonight. After yesterday’s car moving experience I tried to dub him Super Ron but he instead chose this variation. After going over his preference in the female department, I pointed out one girl who came up to him to chat. Apparently she was 13 and the daughter of a family friend. Ron’s 21. Strike one. A bit later I saw one that might turn Ron’s head. Pointing her out, Ron looked at me and said tactfully, “Um…that’s not a girl.” Strike two and three. In my defense he was dressed like a girl and who knows, maybe Ron bats that way. No judgment here!

Ron did get a number later that day on his own without my help (well, maybe I helped a tiny bit by asking if we could call her for the missing data we needed). Ron was smooth. I took notes. He also got four texts (that I know of) later that night. You go, big dog. He has rightly been renamed Casanova Ron.

The time we spent that night at Calle Zaragosa was great. Everyone from our group was there: Chris, Crystal (my fellow US volunteers), Firie, Jet, Michael (local volunteer), the three Ron’s and me. Marie, who started KUSOG Tacloban with Magina (we missed you!), had just arrived in town with her husband and two other volunteers. The perfect group comprised of people strong in purpose and filled with the desire to do good for their country and their world. There are people who change you and make you a better version of yourself just by being in their presence. This group has those people in spades. I am honored to be among them. I am blessed to call them friends.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work beside you and to share this time in my life with you. I will never forget it…or you.

David