bangon philippines

“do small things with great love.” – mother theresa

It’s taken me awhile to want to write about volunteering on the island of Leyte where typhoon Haiyan (also called Yolanda) hit the Philippines.  When we left the project I felt a bit down and it was hard for me to shake the funk I’d been in.  Last year when I was volunteering in Haiti I couldn’t help but feel happy working side by side with the families who’s new homes we were building.  There was so much excitement and anticipation as you helped to build new walls and put on a roof and eventually splash on some bright paint.  Juxtapose that with almost a year later digging through rubble and smashing down walls, pulling out stuffed animals and clothes and school papers.  Its was a humbling experience to say the least. It was also a very good lesson.  Everywhere you saw the word “bangon” which means rise up.  I can’t imagine being so cheerful or hopeful after having much of your life turned upside down. But Filipinos will show you that it is possible and you will never see a more hopeful spirit and positive attitude from anyone.


1455037_10153618385100249_742228239_nAs we deconstruct their collapsed homes they jump in to help (many times in flip flops and without protective gear), it’s the tools that many of them lack.  The kids giggle and everyone waves to you and thanks you for helping them. They would insist we take breaks and bring us drinks and snacks (sometimes full meals) while we know that many are struggling to provide enough food for their families. Why is it that the people who have nothing seem to be the most generous?


Each day your assignment changed.  Sometimes you would work on a school or a chapel, a home or a hospital.  There were also food distributions into the community.  Ezra was asked to do safety, which was the very necessary, but unsexy job of slowly figuring out how to bring down a structure without having it collapse on anyone.  I know he felt a lot of pressure with this job, but as always I was very proud of the way he approached the task.  It’s a lot easier to jump in with a sledgehammer and brute force, without a plan, than to meticulously bring down a wall and be mindful of your team. We took a course on humanitarian assistance a couple years back and it really opened our eyes to the process and organization that it takes to be successful and effective in the midst of a crisis or disaster zone. One may wonder why not just start rebuilding right away, but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes which gives us a lot of respect and appreciation for organizations like All Hands. At a base level it’s easy to question the process, but they seem to keep the big picture in mind, and stay long after other organizations have left.


On one of our days off a bunch of us volunteers went to Tacloban where Haiyan made landfall.  To say the damage was extensive is an understatement. I’ve never seen anything like it.  All the palms, which are a main source of income, were down and huge swaths of land were completely decimated and littered with debris.  Even so, as we drove through the countryside and into town on top of the jeepney kids yelled, “I love you” and everyone says “thank you for helping us.” A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will stop writing and show you what it looks like.


I’ve heard that with climate change we will continue to see extreme weather and the Philippines may be a place that will be worst effected.  One little girl asked when I was coming back, and I said I wasn’t sure.  She smiled, waved and said, “see you next Yolanda” and she may be absolutely right.  When talking with a student he mentioned he wanted to play an instrument. I asked if he could learn at school and he said, “no, ma’am, we’re poor.” This was not an uncommon answer to simple questions about school and activities or holiday plans, and further demonstrates how different our upbringings are around the world.  Sometimes when traveling it’s easy to see so much poverty and after awhile it begins to feel normal, and in much of the world it is.  Going without electricity or running water starts to feel like no big deal, but easy for me to say.  I can return to my life back home anytime I want.  Seeing a disaster on top of these conditions is that much more devastating and seems to highlight the disparities in life. Why do many of us who have everything, seem to find reasons to complain about everything. Sometimes I wonder why don’t we take better care of each other. If I were in their position would I be so happy?  Would I have as much grace and dignity and be as thankful. It’s a good reminder to keep a better perspective in life.


But I know these feelings are ultimately unproductive and there are a lot of individuals and organizations that are doing good work.  In our project alone we had volunteers from a dozen countries get to the project with only 5 days notice.  We worked six days a week and slept on the floor, took bucket showers and went without electricity – and had a great time. This was a magnet for wonderful people who came with nothing but good intentions. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a room with so many people who have such interesting stories and genuine concern for their fellow man. There are many friendships I feel lucky to take away from this experience.

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This experience has created a lot of thoughts and feelings that are continuing to swirl.  It seems unfair that people who are already struggling are also having to recover from an earthquake, and now this typhoon. There is a quote by someone (I can’t remember who) that more or less says you need to see suffering with your own eyes or it’s easy to look away.  I find this to be true.  We will never forget the people we met and the stories they’ve told.  It’s impossible to leave the same person.  I leave knowing that in many ways I am so incredibly lucky, it’s all just dumb luck.  But I also leave knowing that they are lucky too and have something that many of us long for.  They have a spirit and sense of community (called Bayanihan) and compassion that seems to be missing from many places around the world.  This seems to make them resilient and keep the smile on their face.


Thank you to everyone who made a donation to All Hands. Ezra and I were very touched that our family and friends wanted to help too! Also, I did not take many photos and many of these pictures are from friends. Thanks for letting me share these!


thailand and laos

“Live, Travel, Adventure, Bless and don’t be sorry.” – Jack Kerouac

It took some planning to be in Chiang Mai for Loi Krathong, the lantern festival, but we arranged it and my parents stayed on for another week to see it as well.  But before heading north we spent a few days in Bangkok.  Maybe it’s my short term memory but Bangkok seemed much more orderly compared to my last visit.  We went to a tailor and had a silk blouse made for my grandma, hit up Chinatown, saw the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

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My mom thought it would be fun to do a side trip to Ayuthaya but the morning of she was feeling a little rundown and decided to stay behind.  So off the three of us go to see more temples on one of the most blistering days.  We walked around grumbling about how hot we were, saying “great, more temples” and deciding my mom had just sent us off so she could have some alone time.  When we told her this she laughed, said she was sorry it was so hot, but we were happy to see that she at least looked refreshed.  The rest of us needed a cold shower and beer… and maybe a break from temples.

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Once in Chiang Mai we spent our days walking around markets and partaking in all the Loi Krathong festivities.  We sent off our own lanterns in the sky and afloat in the river.  As my incense kept blowing out and running into the river bank, I couldn’t help wondering if this was a bad omen.  It was a spectacular night, one that I can’t compare to others.  It was so beautiful seeing all the lanterns adrift in the night sky.

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We decided to spend one day at an elephant sanctuary, rafting down a river and watching some weaving at a local village.    It was fun feeding the elephants and bathing them in the river.  I probably could have done without the ride as ours kept misbehaving and she made me a little nervous.  Then it was time for my parents to head out and we said our tearful goodbyes at the airport.  It was such a fun trip and wonderful to see them.  I was thankful they stopped their lives and travelled so far to see us.

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After my parents left I felt a little sad, we were tired from travel, and I was feeling a bit uninspired if I’m going to be honest.  I wanted to do some training in Thai Massage or an herbalism course but just couldn’t muster up the energy.  I kept going back in forth between I really love Chiang Mai and I need to get the hell out of this circus.  I think I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind and it all started to feel a little lackluster.  So instead of forcing it we decided to relax a few days before just heading on.  Relaxing is one of my special gifts and with an abundance of affordable massage and fresh juices – I got a bit of a recharge.  I made the decision to come back later in the year and study then, so we decided to head for the border.

DSC09858 - Copy DSC09809 - Copy DSC09814 - CopyNeither of us had been to Laos and were excited to visit.  We decided to take the slow boat down the Mekong to get to Luang Prabang.  There was still a little of the prevailing feeling that lingered from Thailand and we found being on a boat full of drunk twenty-year olds was not helping the matter.  The past few weeks we were firmly on the backpacker trail and we wanted to get off.   Ezra calls Southeast Asia “the gateway travel.”  It was for us many years ago too, but as a result you tend to find yourself around a lot of young drunk travelers.

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That being said we just needed some down time and found that Luang Prabang was a great place to do this.  It felt quaint with all the French Colonial architecture, people were really kind, we were never hassled, and monastic life was all around – the town really has a special energy.  It also has amazing tofu sandwiches!  (I swear I’m not always this food crazy.)  We made friends with our next door neighbors, an American couple that had been traveling for awhile too, and it was fun to exchange ideas and stories with them.

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This was soon after typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines and we knew we wanted to try and help.  We had been planning another month in Laos and Cambodia before heading to the Philippines, but when All Hands Volunteers accepted us, we jumped at the opportunity to be of some service.  We were both needing some purpose and the Filipinos were really needing some help.  So we started a four day journey through Vientiane and Kuala Lumpar to get to the Philippines.

I just thought these were great – some more profound than others!

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