A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 2

This post is continued from part 1. By 1pm, lunch is finished and we pile our dirt-crusted selves back into the jeepney and drive to an elementary school across town. Many of the classrooms are flooded and torn apart, but school is still held in the remaining usable spaces. Every day the kids play around rubble, rusted nails, and barely standing walls. We move desks, bag broken glass, and break-down timber  to clear out the school yard, while kids sing our names and giggle in groups around us.   One of the teachers brings out a bag of tuna salad sandwiches and insists we take a break. I happily consume three. A young boy shyly carries over a tray of mismatched glass cups and pours us all warm soda. I take a few quick gulps and watch the kids play while I uselessly wipe the beading sweat from my face and arms. The constant smiles and warmth from everyone make it easy to forget I’m in a disaster zone. People have come to us crying with relief and thanking us for our help. But, I have yet to encounter someone who was angry, despite being the victims of a disaster that has robbed them of their homes, jobs, and stability. Their single goal seems to be to rebuild their lives and remain unflappably positive while doing it. An hour before we are supposed to finish for the day, we head to the street outside the school building. Smoke is rising from several trash burn piles as children play on the half-roofed basketball court nearby. The remaining wind-torn tin clings in...
A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

A Disaster Relief Volunteer in the Philippines: Part 1

I wake up without an alarm. Unpeeling my sweaty shirt from my skin, I sit up on my mat. My sleeping space is directly in the middle of the giant hotel ballroom I call home with 40 other volunteers. This makes me the least likely target for the mosquitos that attack from the windows every evening, but the furthest from the fans. Seeing the itchy, red welts on the others, I decide sleeping in sweat is definitely the lesser of of two evils. It is my fourth day as a disaster relief volunteer in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the country three weeks earlier, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving half a million displaced. Shortly after, I canceled my plans to travel through Cambodia and signed up to volunteer instead. I applied with All Hands, an organization that does deconstruction work in disaster zones – cleaning up debris, pulling down wrecked houses, and salvaging materials for rebuilding.  Their project was based in the city of Ormoc, in the hardest hit region of the country. As I have the upper body strength of a six-year-old, no experience using tools outside of hanging pictures, and define manual labor as taking the time to read all the instructions, I have no idea what made me think I was suited to do this. But I bought a sleeping bag, boots, and a flight to to the Philippines and set out utterly terrified. I’d never been to a disaster zone, and I’d definitely never wielded a sledgehammer, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what the next two weeks would be like. But...
Leaving the New Life Foundation

Leaving the New Life Foundation

I’ve been here almost a month! Still not kidnapped and only one trip to the hospital! Success. Tomorrow, I leave the safe cocoon of the New Life Foundation to move to Chiang Mai. Beginning my trip at NLF was perfect. I got used to being alone on the other side of the world, without being alone at all. It’s like I’ve been wearing traveling training wheels. But, after four weeks, I feel ready to head out on my own. Here’s a quick summary of some of the experiences I’ll take with me from NLF: Meditation Since I arrived, I have been falling asleep, dying of boredom, squishing ants with my toes, learning to meditate. I am really really not good at it. In fact, the more I do it, the worse I get. The only session I enjoyed was one where the guy next to me started laughing and then we all started cracking up and had to call it off. See! Wasn’t that more fun? I know there is the cliched parable of the Westerner who travels to Asia and struggles to calm his or her overstimulated, technology-consuming-mind, but, after weeks of hard work, has a single blissful experience that changes life forever. Or at least that’s what happened in Eat, Pray, Love. That is not what happened to me. I still suck at it. The picture to the right is of the meditation hall. You’ll notice, I am not there. Life Coaching My general understanding is that the only people who aren’t crazy are the people you don’t know well enough. So, I thought it was great that...
Day in Photos: Amazing Kids Doing Adorable Things

Day in Photos: Amazing Kids Doing Adorable Things

This past Sunday afternoon, the foundation hosted children from the Agape Orphanage in Chiang Rai. This was the first time they had been on an organized outing in over a year, so we really wanted to make it special. Volunteers and residents donated money to buy supplies for decorating, activities, lunch, and taxis to bring them out. We set up a face painting station, balloon animals, soccer balls, hoola hoops, and the most enthusiastic game of musical yoga cushions ever attempted. Despite the look on the two girls’ faces in the middle, I promise they had a good time. When they finally had to leave, we were all a little devastated. They were some of the happiest, most gracious kids I’ve ever met, and it was a pleasure to get to spend the day with...
“Teaching” Kids English

“Teaching” Kids English

On Mondays and Wednesdays, one of the New Life Foundation volunteers goes to teach English at the local school.  This past week, the usual teacher was away from the foundation, so they needed people to fill in. I thought that with my experience teaching dance, I would naturally be able to handle teaching English. I was assigned the job, along with two other NLF volunteers. We arrived at the classroom, prepared for an organized few hours of teaching the alphabet and colors to some adorable kids. As anyone who went to elementary knows, the first thing you do to a substitute teacher – particularly ones as obviously inexperienced as we were- is push every boundary possible until they break. We lasted approximately thirty seconds. We chased them around the classroom. Our attempts to get them to sit down resembled a poorly executed game of whack-a-mole. Once the boys started lifting each other onto their shoulders and parading down the hall, we knew we’d lost. So we gave up and just spent the rest of the hour taking pictures. I’m pretty sure the only English things we may have taught them were “sit down, be quiet, ok-fine. pose for the camera.” They understood the last part perfectly. Oh well. Their real teacher will be back next...
The ice-cream bike and my village

The ice-cream bike and my village

As nearly every hour of my day is confined to the foundation’s grounds, an afternoon trip to our local village always feels like a major excursion.  Despite many repeated visits to the single street, it never ceases to entertain me. Furthest down the road is the market. Its inventory consists solely of chips, instant noodles, tobacco, candy, laundry detergent, incense (to appease the foundation’s hippie population) and Kit-Kat bars (to appease everyone). Shoes must be removed before entering. There is a single, long concrete aisle with one light at the front, leaving the rest of the store dark. It’s a mystery as to what’s on the last few feet of shelves. The back room, where the owners live, is open to the store and there are usually children napping on a mattress in the middle of the floor. Every few minutes a scooter will pull up to get gas. The “gas pumps” are basically giant plastic containers with a nozzle and handwritten measurements. In front of the store, men crowd around a TV to smoke and watch Muay Thai boxing. On more exciting days, the ice-cream bike will pass through! A man plays music on a boom box and drives down the road until someone stops him to get ice-cream from the cooler in his sidecar. Up the street, the woman who runs the “coffee shop,” also does laundry, gives massages, and cuts hair. On my first day, I pulled up one of the wobbly plastic chairs and ordered a mango smoothie, deciding it was best to first judge her craftsmanship on a beverage, rather than my hair. As...
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