What can I say about my trip?
That’s the problem. There is so much to be said, so many stories to be shared, so many lives that have effected mine, so many unforgettable humans that I encountered and a landscape that will forever be imprinted on my heart. I pray that what I have seen will forever remain in my heart, which is why I find it helpful to write it down.
Before beginning, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of those who made this trip possible. Thank you auntie Nadine for loving me, being an incredible example of Jesus’ compassion and basically embodying all that I hope to become. Thank you to Aaron and Esther for being awesome GSI’s! They convicted my heart daily with their serving hearts, awesome lessons and, frankly, by living by example. Thanks for all the laughs, trolls and memories made! Thank you to the Philippines Hope WorldWide staff for EVERYTHING (and I mean EVERYTHING). Thank you for constantly providing food, water and all other needs at every turn. Thank you for working all day and night to ensure that we were safe, having fun and taken care of. Thank you for allowing for us to come work alongside of you. I am truly inspired by all of your hard work and your hearts to serve. Lastly, thank you to all the HYC delegates who went. Whether you were a kiddlet (aka part of my unbreakable squad), part of the teens, a campus student, part the singles, a surrogate parent (or any other kind of human in case I missed an age group), you definitely made the trip a memorable one. I won’t forget the impact that you had on my life. If I don’t see you in this lifetime, I’ll see you for the rest of eternity (brace yourselves).
(Disclaimer: I learned a lot and my selfishness will be exposed throughout my post. Just know that this really was an answered prayer and I’m grateful for all that I was taught.)
The comfort room
My initial challenge: the toilets didn’t flush, toilet paper was considered to be a luxury as opposed to a need and squatting became part of my washroom ritual. It’s ironic how this is referred to as the “comfort room” given the fact that it pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. We also didn’t have a run of the mill shower. If you were lucky, you had a fosset with a bucket that you could use to wash yourself. My room also didn’t have hot water.
You’d think that I’d be searching for the next opportunity to access the luxuries of a Westernized bathroom as soon as I returned home. However, I can’t tell you how much I miss it. I miss filling up my bucket every morning to shower and running around my room trying to track down the last of the toilet paper.
What we want isn’t always what we need. This is something I learned very quickly and early on into my trip.
Fishing is an incredibly important economical aspect in Cebu and is deeply embedded in the livelihood of many citizens in this province. The fishermen community was gravely effected by the intensity of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. We took a day to spend with the fishermen and their families while repainting their boats and cooking lunch.
I’m going to be totally honest, as I was painting the boats, I felt really tired. It was one of the first days that we had been there, the sun was hot and, well, my heart could have been in a more humble place.
This is when God sits back and watches as I finally begin to recognize my spirit of entitlement.
After the first batch had come back, my group had a turn to go out fishing with these incredible men. Initially, all I could do was stand in awe of the beauty around me. I took never ending mental pictures as I desperately tried to capture what I was seeing. The water was clear and the perfect shade of blue. There was a net that connected itself from the boat that we were on to the one that was in front of us. It was impressive to watch them intricately lower their nets in a visibly strategic and meticulous way. As I watched, utterly impressed by their skill, one man continuously brought us sea life.
This is a starfish (crazy, right?). Initially, I thought that this man was bringing these sea creatures to us in hopes of selling them at the market. While watching him continuously dive in and out of the water, I realized that he did this just to make us smile. This man, who had so little and who worked harder than any of us put together, brought these guys to the surface in order to encourage us. The joy that it brought him to serve us is unequivocal because it came from such a pure hearted place that I hope to imitate.
Unfortunately, we caught zero fish. Apparently the best times to go are at dusk or dawn, meaning that the fruitlessness of our trip wasn’t overly disappointing. However, it felt weird going to go to shore without anything in hand. It obviously didn’t effect me personally, but the livelihood of these men and their families were riding on the catch of the day. Coming home empty handed significantly effected their food security and threatened the provision of their basic needs. It was an incredibly sobering experience. Their lives exemplify and embody a level of selflessness that I wish to emulate.
Children’s service project
After our Sunday service, we had over 500 children come to see a puppet show that we only had a couple of hours to practice for along with a series of activities that we had prepared.
You may be wondering why a puppet show would be integrated in our service project that day. Initially, I did as well. (Disclaimer: I can’t emphasize enough how innovative and creative Hope WorldWide is with regards to their approach to problems within the community.)
Children are considered to be an incredibly vulnerable demographic generally, but even more so in the Philippines. One thing that I valued was the level of respect shown towards those who are older than yourself. This, unfortunately, is often abused by adults who take advantage of children who are trained to respect them. This ongoing problem is not a welcomed conversation topic within the home, which prevents kids inthese communities from learning to differentiate what is and isn’t an appropriate touch.
Hope WorldWide, with the aid of this medium, are able to help children learn about sexual abuse and how to say no to their abuser(s). This is done in a way that they can understand and that is relatable. It was so moving to see advocacy in action and the kids responding to this powerful message in a positive way! Tito Bryan and Tito Wi are inspirations and truly exemplify a spirit of compassion.
Afterwards, we were all assigned an age group and we organized games for them. (This is when the party started.) It was total chaos. Our group had over 75 kids ranging from 7-8 years old. Only two of our teammates could speak the language (Hannah and Adriana, y’all are awesome.) In spite of the craziness, we had SO much fun with them. It was encouraging to see the kids just roll with the punches.
They could have gotten impatient or annoyed as we devised plans to execute the games but they were so quick to listen and follow instruction. They were willing to work with us, which made the whole thing worth it. I danced like a fool, did my crazy “baby shark” bit with them, taught them a dance and shamelessly embarrassed myself in front of them. All of us gave to the kids and they were so quick to give right back. I’ve worked with a lot of kids in my life, but never have I felt so respected and loved by such a huge group.
Once the activities were finished and we past out goodies to everyone, it was playtime. I tried to look nice for church, but by the end of the day I felt like I had reverted to a 6 year old. I had an absolute blast chasing after these kids, pretending to be airplanes, getting the back of my knees pinched and sharing special moments with all of their parents. Here I was, a human with a bajillion (yes, a bajillion) insecurities about feeling like an outsider and yet these people took me in so quickly as if I was family. It was a top 5 kind of day for me.
Oh, and let us not forget about this little munchkin. We clicked instantly. There was a time where he remained in my arms for a solid 15 minutes. Eventually, I was able to put him down (reluctantly, of course).
I had known only known these kids for a few hours and yet I had an visibly difficult time leaving them. I was loved so intensely by people who didn’t even know my first name and who were overflowing with gratitude.
It was an unforgettable experience. Truly, words cannot describe what I saw and felt that day.
Building a house
I remember first meeting this family and feeling totally out of my element. I wasn’t sure how much english they spoke, I didn’t want to be labelled as the privileged white girl along with a million other thoughts and emotions that went through my mind. Little did I know these people would change my life. (Disclaimer: I will be making a separate post about this particular group of humans as a result of my abounding love for them.)
The first day I remember just playing with them. Initially, I thought that they would be more reserved given the fact that most of the volunteers were visibly foreigners. However, they didn’t seem to care. We were able to get to know their lives, cook meals with them and, ultimately, build them a house. This family had been waiting for a new home for last two years after they had been struck with a typhoon back in 2013. Seeing their overflowing levels of gratitude in the midst of their visibly difficult situation made it easy to want to build to build them a beautiful home. In spite of the heat, the long day and whatever could have brought our spirits down, it felt like it was only a small way of expressing our appreciation for they taught us.
This was the inside of their home. It was a family of five living in a small space and this was the extent of what they owned. This is excluding kitchenware like pots, pans, dishes, etc., which was all kept outside under a small hut next to a fire pit. In terms of frivolous items that tend to fill up our lives, they had none of that. This family pilled their clothing in a corner, had a few pillows for sleeping and a hammock for the baby. From a Western perspective, this would be a sad life. “No TV?”, “no bed?” and a variety of other questions may come to mind.
What we want isn’t always what we need.
They truly taught me what genuine gratitude looks like.
So, as my team (TEAM 3 #DREAMTEAM) fell deeper and deeper in love with the family within the first day, we were resolved to build them that house within the three day period we were given. The carpenters were incredibly gracious and patient with us as we assisted them. It’s amazing that they allowed for us to take part in this process given the fact that we had never built a house before. This truly speaks to their amazing leadership abilities.
I have never sweat so much in my life. It was incredibly empowering getting to pound nails into the wood, shave the edges of bamboo with a machete and built stuff. (Disclaimer: women can do amazing things and gender norms are forever in the toilet. It was awesome to see both men and women step up and take the challenge in spite of the exhaustive nature of our workload.) Can we just talk about how inexpensive it is on our end to build a house in the Philippines? It ranges from 750-1000$… Yes, you heard me. (Fundraising ideas welcomed.)
After three and a half days, we did it. It was such a great feeling. This is not due to the fact that we had accomplished something, but because after we left, we could rest assured that the family we loved so dearly would have a home.
In total, the five teams were able to build five houses in less than a week! What a victory.
I miss this family a ton and hope to revisit them soon. (Dysfunctional family photos are my favourite. They really are perfect and beautiful humans.)
(Disclaimer: past this point, I can’t say whether or not the events listed will be in chronological order.)
This was an emotional day for me. I was extremely emotionally drained because I had presumably saw the family that I just talked about for the last time and had cried every last drop of available water in my body. We then began wrapping gift baskets full of a variety of different food/treats for specific families that Hope WorldWide had chosen to sponsor.
This was the time where self-denial was really needed. We were sad and tired, but we were being called to stretch our hearts in order to express true compassion to underprivileged members of the community. We finished wrapping our baskets, practiced the songs we chose and made our way.
I don’t think I could have expected what came next. Every family that we surprised with gifts and cheery songs broke out in tears with a sense of overwhelming gratitude. To me, what we did wasn’t incredibly significant (mind you, this was coming from someone who was in a pretty self focused place… God was totally working towards softening my heart). I was BEYOND humbled to see how far simple acts of service can go when it’s done with love and compassion. My level of gratitude was absolutely challenged. Why did I think that this wouldn’t encourage them?
Confession: I’ve been given so much that I’ve been desensitized by all that I have. My life is so full of stuff that, what can potentially be life changing for someone else, appeared to be less meaningful to me.
What we want isn’t always what we need.
If you didn’t think I was humbled enough, just wait.
This was the last house we went to, so we sang and danced our hearts out. We had a blast seeing the family’s face turn change and transform into a joyful expression. Once we finished and we handed over the gift basket, the older woman who lived there began to cry. She then began to share her story. Her husband had died the previous month and she was having a difficult time coping. She said that our surprise visit moved her heart in a very deep way. One by one, our team went up to the doorway to personally wish her a merry christmas. I gave her a kiss and walked away.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12:48 pretty much summed it up. I have been given so much and am called to give. Not only that, but also reevaluate my wealth, my lifestyle and ultimately my heart.
We had so much fun with these kids. We went to encouraged them by organizing some activities for them and their families followed by lunch!
They put on a few performances for us and we just had a blast with them. It was so encouraged to see the volunteers pour their hearts into these kids. They were so little and so vulnerable. Their families were awesome to get to know and spend time with. We had a blast having fun with them, being silly and just loving the community that we were in. Daanbantayan, thanks for everything.
Centre of Hope project
EMC squared? Every moment counts… squared. Amazing, right?
This facility would be used for a variety of different things including a day care centre, the church building upstairs, staff offices, etc. It was cool seeing this centre expand because it meant that Hope WorldWide’s impact would also grow throughout the community as well.
On one of the last days in the beautiful city of Daanbantayan (by then, I learned to properly pronounce the name), we were able to do a lot of the nitty gritty. One half of my team removed excess wood from one of the rooms on scaffolds while the other removed the nails from them outside. (Again, empowering moment.) We did a lot of physical labor that day, but I was grateful to take some of the load off of those who were helping renovate the place.
We were only supposed to be there for the morning, but God had provided a space where we had built so much momentum that we wanted to continue until all the work that we had to do could get done. Good vibes were everywhere and we were as unified as ever.
THE DREAM TEAM
These people… I am without words.
They were all amazing. Each individual impacted my heart in one way or another. Whether it was sharing a moment of laughter, joy or sadness with me, passing me a hammer when I needed it, hugging me in spite of my sweat levels, serving me a plate of food when I was running around like a crazy human, being gracious with me when I did/said something dumb (yeah, it happened frequently), loving me in spite of my selfishness, calling me higher by your example, being intentional about getting to know me, taking care of me when I was sick (special shoutout to my girl Steffi for letting me stay in her room), ETC ETC ETC. I loved being obnoxious with all of you and constantly screaming out to the universe that team three, was in fact, the absolute DREAM TEAM. Gosh, I carry all of your wonderful, nonsensical, ridiculous, kind and Jesus like selves in my heart (you guys currently occupy the MVP section). If you, even for a millisecond, doubt your level of impact… do me a favour? Don’t. Because, if anything, you impacted a girl all the way from Canada for the rest of eternity.
Shout out to the beautiful Marivic for being our site mom! You truly took SUCH great care of us. You poured your heart right out and we all felt super loved by you. Also, can’t forget Tito Brybry and Migs! You guys worked so hard and refreshed my souls. You guys truly exemplify working as if working for the Lord. All three of you deeply inspire and encourage me!
Anyways, all of these things are but a glimpse of what I saw while I was in the Philippines. This is merely a summary of what we did and how God moved while we were there. If you have any questions, feel free to message me because I’m over the moon excited to talk about it!
All in all, I can’t wait to be back.