Living in the 4 walls of a concrete jungle and trying to survive in this fast paced life gets a toll on you after a while… You’d dream of your next beach destination to just unwind and relax or your next out of the country trip for a solo adventure. I so definitely wanted to get out of the city so bad and just not think of surviving in it even for just a little while. I wanted to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Killing time I checked my Facebook app and saw a post on our SYA Facebook page about helping in building homes of those that have lost theirs and loved ones in the storm called Yolanda, in Samar. As I was reading the post I wanted to jump to the chance to do so. I was hesitant because I didn’t know if I could be able to travel a 20- hour bus ride all the way to the site with strangers I didn’t know and cross seas from one island to the next on ferries. Yes the trip would be free of charge if I did join on the bus but the long hours sitting would be quite a challenge. I’ve already experienced a 10-hour bus ride from New York, NY to Pittsburgh, PA and I know the feeling of your derrière being numb as well as your legs from sitting down the whole time. I also wanted to be sure with whom I would be traveling with. So I didn’t grab the chance when I wanted to, just yet.
As part of the current team in SYA, a team member of mine announced in our Viber chat group about helping on Samar’s rebuild, about the post on our FB page. This time we didn’t have to travel with the bus and we could actually travel via plane and have shorter workdays. So I grabbed the chance then and was thrilled that there was an opportunity to go for shorter days than a 10-day build and not travel on the bus. I was excited to be able to give my time and be physically able to help in building the homes of those who have lost theirs in the storm. I wanted so much to do this ‘cause I know I won’t be able to give any financial aid. This was my way of serving for the church of SSAP, for SYA and for myself to give to those less unfortunate.
When the day came that 6 other SYAers and I were to travel to Tacloban we were all nervous because we don’t know what to expect; our sleeping arrangements, the mosquitos, the bugs, every city slicker’s nightmare. Though we were excited as well. This was our first trip to go help build homes and didn’t know a thing about building, but we were all pumped and thrilled to be part of this adventure and service for the people of Samar.
I thought of this trip to be my charity work cause I am not as active with the other ministries of the church than I should be. I just can’t find myself wanting to be active in them unlike being a part of this opportunity. This was to me a calling to serve, to be able to do the work of the Lord and be part of God’s army in rebuilding lives. This I was capable of doing.
As soon as we arrived at the airport of Tacloban, native dancers were there to greet us passengers. What a sight to see with all their smiling faces and energetic dancing. It didn’t feel like a place that has gone thru devastation. We made our way to one of our SYAers’ home near the airport, who which was part of the organization committee. We were all welcomed with open arms by her family and of course with a hearty breakfast to start the day. Then we headed off to the pier to catch a 15-min boat ride to San Antonio, Basey, Samar. As soon as we docked there was Fr. Reu to welcome us to the Barangay and show us where we would be spending our nights at, in the Parish Center of San Antonio.
We settled in nicely and we even got surprised that we would actually be having the air-conditioned office as our sleeping quarters. What a blessing we all thought, ‘cause this whole time we were prepping ourselves that we would be sleeping in quarters where only an electric fan would be given to us or even none, just the breeze of the province and mosquito nets as refuge from mosquitos. We didn’t expect to be sleeping in an air-conditioned area. So when we heard A/C we were all so happy knowing that after a tiring day at the work site we would be coming home to this. Sleeping on the floor we didn’t mind anymore.
Bags were all positioned neatly, we prepared and got into gear and set out to head to the site. It was a nice leisure walk from the parish, less than a kilometer. Lunch was served and we started to help out in steel work together with the other Franciscan brothers. Work wasn’t that bad because we had great company, good conversations, and delicious food to nourish us. All we did was laugh a lot, bonded with the Franciscan brothers also with the mothers and lolas who gave their time preparing our food every single day; from breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner they were there to keep us healthy☺we were well fed.
For 3 days we did manual labor: steel work, digging, transporting hollow blocks from the manufacturing station up towards the houses and tree planting. But we never forgot to say morning masses before we started our days. Our days would start at 630am for mass and would end at 6pm to clean up then dinner at 7pm onwards. Come the 3rdday our bodies were tired since we weren’t used to this kind of physical work. But the tiredness was worth every pain especially knowing that you are doing this for the families that lost a lot and even everything. Just seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing their ever non-stop “Thank you’s” was just so heart warming. Mobile reception there was sparse that I forgot about the city. Not having signal helped because I was so involved in the building and didn’t mind any more if I got a message or not.
Conversations were also being shared rather than everyone being busy checking out the news on their mobiles. I felt connected.
On the 4th day, Sunday, there was a medical mission planned and it was our last day before we, SYAers headed back to Tacloban and the friars and brothers back on the road to Manila. It was sad because all the mothers and lolas that had prepared our food were teary eyed to see us leave. It was also sad to know that we were going back to civilization and to the concrete jungle we call Manila. We all felt a little bit of separation anxiety (sepanx) leaving cause it meant that we wouldn’t be waking up early in the morning to go to the site to hear mass and work and laugh around and help out. Even if it was a short time of service work it was such meaningful service that we were doing and it meant so much to each and every one of us that it was sad to leave.
Back in Manila I’d be thinking and reflecting on what had happened during this charity work that I did. As Fr. Reu asked us, what was a striking memory for you; I would say that during the whole experience we all felt that everything was striking and memorable ‘cause everything was a first for all of us. But as we were reminiscing on what we did during the whole experience one thing came to mind that was very meaningful to me. It was when we had our sharings with the beneficiary families. We were all divided into groups so that time would be more efficient. There were stories told that some of them were all safe and intact as a family and some were devastating ones with one or two or three that had died during the storm. Some were miraculous stories too.
Hearing each and everyone’s experiences in my group kept me thinking that they are all so strong and that their faith has grown so much. Devastating news like this would make me think how can I move on? I’d probably even question the Lord why it happened. I would wonder how they can just look at life and be positive about it. No grudges on what happened to them. No ill feelings towards the Lord on the devastation that haunts them even until this very day. Where do they get this optimistic view in life? How can they just move on without being a bit negative about the experience?
There was one member in my group that even before she started sharing her story she started crying. She explained herself to the others in Waray, in which I could not understand. I could only figure out the context of what her explanation was about her crying and what I got from it was it’s either been a while or it was the first time she ever spoke about her experience. It made me tear up cause she was so brave to even go forward and share what had happened to her even if it was hard to do so. She lost her mom, her sister and another member of her family to Yolanda but if you see her now she seems happy and optimistic. Ready to take on the world.
There was also a mother who shared about their arduous incident on how she almost lost her child. Her child’s lips were already blue because of being swept by the water but she never let go of her in her arms and she kept on telling her daughter not to give up. Breath. Breath. She survived but had such a traumatic experience that she does not want to be left alone at home and when the rains start she would murmur to her mother “anjan ulit ang tubig” in their native tongue. How sad to hear these stories and feeling helpless not to be able to do something for them. What uplifts me though is the fact that all of them have been thanking God for keeping them alive and blessing them with people like us that helped them through moving on. In hearing them speak about what they went through and seeing how they are now, optimistic and happy, makes me realize that life is just simple if you make it to be and that if you have faith anything is possible in the Lord.
From hearing mass in the mornings, working the whole day, to bondings after dinner I would say this was a fun and meaningful experience for me. I’ve made friends, learned from the locals about life and faith, solidified my friendships with my co-SYAers that were there with me during this Franciscan Solidarity Camp and I realized that, as Jolly [Gomez] said it best (rephrased a bit), when you work with a community that works together the task is easier than doing it alone. So for those that seem to see the world as being difficult or challenging remember to ask for help from your community or faith family, ‘cause someone and maybe even everyone will definitely give a helping hand. We are all called to mission, whether to be disciples to spread the word of the Lord or to be carpenters to use our hands and help build lives. This is our mission.
Another mission trip to Samar will be done at the end of August. This project is a beneficiary of FrancisFest 2015. Your donations and support through FrancisFest will help raise more funds to finish the houses. – ed.
The Basey Samar Housing Project is one of the beneficiaries of 2015 Francisfest. Pls. support Francisfest 2015, featuring world renowned Filipina pianist, Cecile B. Licad, on October 2, Friday at 7PM in the Main Church.