It’s Hard to Answer the Question “How was Your Trip?”

Melanie interviewing a staff member
Melanie interviews Mark Lugo, Community Organizer with the ACT Alliance who is deployed to this municipality in the Philippines.

by
Apr 3, 2014

I returned from the Philippines almost two weeks ago. Just about every day I’ve heard some variation on the same question from friends, colleagues, family members, and people at church: how was your trip?

I’m not quite sure how to answer.

Sometimes I think people expect me to say “it was great!” (Perhaps that’s my own expectation of their expectation.) But that answer really seems to get caught in my throat, because it’s much more complicated.

The Philippines is a beautiful place. It has warm sunshine, beautiful beaches, stunning mountains and an amazing variety of plants and fruits and veggies. Everyone — from LWR staff to restaurant employees to partners to people involved in LWR’s projects— was warm, friendly and welcoming. So all those things really were great!

But alongside the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people, there’s the incredible damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Countless homes and businesses were destroyed. Many are still in need of significant repair. There are people who lost their livelihoods. For many, the cost of replacing boats and other supplies is overwhelming. There are people living in temporary shelters, tents, or in temporarily repaired homes. There are families grieving lost loved ones.

Those things are definitely not great.

To make a complex range of emotions even more complex, during my visit I met people whose stories both inspired and concerned me.

I met Valentina and Alan Arguillano. They live on the island of Leyte, in a community on the northwestern side of the island province. They lost the roof off their home during the storm, and Valentina’s parents’ home was also damaged. When her parents repaired their home, they were able to salvage and restore pieces from their original roof – enough to fully and permanently repair Valentina and Alan’s roof.

Alan is a fisherman, and he lost his boat in the storm. He is still working to save enough money to get a new boat, but it might take a long time. LWR’s cash-for-work program helped them make money in the meantime. Alan and Valentina spent 10 days helping to clean up debris in their community, and in return were paid for their work. Two things accomplished: a cleaner neighborhood and a family working toward restoring their livelihood.

But then I met Rosalie and her family. On the day we visited, it seemed their home was located in an idyllic situation, overlooking the gorgeous blue-green water. Once built on a small concrete foundation, their home all but washed away in the typhoon. The crumbled foundation nearby was a stark reminder of how vulnerable this family is to the unpredictable sea.

Rosalie & Family

Rosalie and her family stand in front of their home. Before the storm, her husband earned 200-300 pesos per catch. Now, his boat is damaged and so he’s not able to fish as frequently.

The family now sleeps and cooks under several tarps draped over scraps and pieces of what they were able to salvage and make into a makeshift dwelling. It is far from ideal. Rosalie’s husband is a fisherman, and his boat was badly damaged. The family struggled to make ends meet before their home was washed away, but now without any savings to put toward a new boat they are afraid, wondering what the future will bring, and how they will be able to adequately provide for their five growing children.

I saw the incredible resilience of the communities impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. Communities made up of strong, determined, creative people working hard to rebuild their homes and their lives, and helping their neighbors do the same.

I saw LWR staff and partners work to jump-start, support and provide resources to those communities. Work that is really your work—made possible by your generosity.

Families are rebuilding, restoring or repairing their homes with shelter repair kits. Schools providing clean drinking water to their students, helping them stay healthy and continue their studies. Families who may not see power restored for months on their remote islands are receiving solar-powered lanterns to help them when the light of the day fades.

More communities are benefiting from cash-for-work programs.

the muddy boots of a worker

A worker helps clean up an irrigation ditch as part of a cash-for-work program.

Families are receiving basic supplies through Quilts, Personal Care Kits, Baby Care Kits and School Kits.

So how was my trip?

It was a paradox. Good tempered with bad. Bad tempered with good. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:1, “therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet God in the face of our resilient neighbors all the way on the other side of the world. I am thankful for the joy of knowing you and meeting Christ through your generosity. It is making a difference in this world.

And I am thankful for God’s mercy, giving strength to the weary, opening hearts to give abundantly. The people of the Philippines are recovering, but they have a long way to go. I’m humbled and grateful to know that we — you, me, all of LWR — will be walking with them.

is Lutheran World Relief's Quilt & Kit Ministry Coordinator.

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Categories: Emergency Response, Lutherans, Philippines, Quilts & Kits
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  • MDBethann

    Melanie, as someone who has been eager to ask you that question, THIS was the kind of answer I’d be looking for. You weren’t on a vacation, so I hope most people don’t expect a “vacation response.” Great work and beautiful piece. Thank you for your service!