Home for the Holidays

Ten months after my recovery from an injury in 2018, I accepted a job to support the refugee crisis in Uganda. By mid-November, 2018, I found myself changing continent once again, and psyching myself to live up north, west of the Nile river. 

Uganda, like the Philippines, is mostly Catholic. They have the same faith practice as us, though we are more into the fanfare, colors, and traditions. Theirs from my experience is mostly tradition and loud music.

When December came, instead of me planning to take my holidays outside of my new country, I decided to spend it with the locals. Thinking that since it’s with a family, I’ll get to experience “holidays a la Uganda.” Of course, I had a bias coming from the Philippines where Christmas season begins the moment the months’ last syllables end in “ber.” 

It was not the same. Instead, I get to live and experience, central Uganda way of life, especially on food and experience my good friends family’s faith practice without the fun-fare, lights, and colors I am used in my country. 

That’s why when I was asked to stay for another year, one of my conditions was to be allowed to travel home and spend my collected leave in my home country. 

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As always, the Philippines did not disappoint. 

I arrived with music and decorations fitting to my expectations. The airport was alive with live music from a chorale while families and friends are eagerly awaiting their loved ones. 

At my home, the motif was blue and silver with LED fairy lights. My dad’s little yellow house is like always on fire when the tree is lighted. Food, of course, was what I missed – the traditional rice cakes and the pork dishes I only imagined back in Uganda. 

Meeting friends was inevitable, and it is still fun catching up on what has happened since we last met, also going back to our kindergarten life. 

I got sick, of course. The change in the weather and long travel made me weak after Christmas, so New Year was a little subdued, but still, nothing beats an hour of fireworks display before I return to a slower welcome to 2020. When I welcomed 2019, I was in bed before midnight, and we don’t have the big table of food and pastries that are served to welcome the year, and I was not part of our family’s welcome photo. But this year, our yellow motif was punctuated by me wearing my yellow and black Ketenga cloth wrap dress. 

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As I continue to enjoy my seven weeks break, the Taal volcano, which is 50 kilometers away from where my dad lives, erupted. One moment was still planning to make a road trip; the next thing I knew, all the places we planned to visit is covered in ash. 

The momentum change. I cannot be idle while on holiday. I was avoiding to work, but I cannot let my friends down. I helped in any way I can. 

Two days after it erupted, I had my eye surgery. A minor operation, but very sensitive. It prevented me from going to ash-laden provinces and be at the forefront. Instead, I used my connections to help mobilize support to the most vulnerable people in times like this – the people with disabilities and the elderly. Pretty much the same as what I am doing in Uganda.

I am glad I have friends that are present on the ground and providing specific support to people with disabilities in the evacuation centers. And those, making sure funds received are provided to those that needed them the most. 

In the end, my holidays turning out to be very enriching. I don’t celebrate the hardship people have now because of the Taal volcano erupting. I celebrate the people that heed the call for help, and the Batangueno affected for trying to help each other out. 

I celebrate those behind the scenes, helping in any way they can to support the efforts on the ground. 

I have a couple of weeks left before I go back to Uganda, but before I do that, I will celebrate my birth month through our yearly feeding program. Isang Bata Isang Tasa (One Child One Cup) started 13 years ago, as a way to thank God for a new year by sharing my blessing to the children in my community. 

We give special attention to children under five and children with disabilities to encourage them to live healthier. We also educate their caregivers – mother, father, sisters, grandmother, etc. on how to continue to live a healthy lifestyle, in body and mind. 

Once done,  I will plan now for the 14th year, looking for sponsors and additional activities to make sure that we bring this service beyond my village and help more kids appreciate growing up healthy and clean all the time. 

Until the next celebration!

This article had been published in World Pulse

https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/coolasas/posts/93687

Thatch

Home away from home.

For most people in the settlement, this is what they call home.

When before they live freely, roaming the streets without fear.

Finding everything they need.

Where children can play. You hear laughter like no cares in the world.

Now, they live under protection.

Because some people decided a life for them.

Where fighting becomes normal everyday life.

Men become greedy with power.

That they forget that the world is not only for them but for all.

Out of fear.

They run.They fled. They cry.

That one day, their life will be back to the way it was.

In their own home.

In their own land.

Wheelchairs for the CP Warriors

I asked Dr. Ferdz … which weekend are you free to give out the chairs? The only date that matched in our calendar was 12th of August, Sunday. 

I accepted because she’s very hard to catch and she’s an essential member of the team in my plan to finally give away most of the Wheelchairs-for-Kids that has been sitting in our storage for a little over 3 years now. She’s the wheelchair expert while I, handle the rehabilitation part of the process.

At the same time, I was selecting the kids that can use the wheelchairs. I only have on criteria – that they can sit with minimal support.  I tried to be strict because there are very few chairs to give to the number of children that needs them.  These are wheelchairs that are fitted and modified to the individual needs of the user.

All that preparation was done remotely. It was easy, I had years of training working in Palestine and Turkey! 

The coordinator Miss Holly gave me the information about the kids she recommended. I selected them based on the photos and passed on to my colleague to confirm.  Once we had the list, we were all set to roll the coming Sunday.

A little sacrifice for a slice of heaven 

Thanks to a friend, I was able to link and communicate with a group of advocates who will do anything and everything for their children with cerebral palsy.  The seven kids we chose are of the mixed type of cerebral palsy, the youngest is a 3-year old, and the oldest was a 7-year old, all non-verbal and comes with their unique temperament.

The group is called CPCARES.Ph, a newly minted NGO composed of mostly mothers who met each other in hospitals and rehabilitation centers where they get treatments. They decided to bond together and exchange information on how to support their children and each other and eventually get support like the wheelchair-for-kids I was offering.

The chair has to go, it’s long overdue 

The wheelchair-for-kids was given to me by a colleague from Rotary (WFK, Inc) in Australia. I collected them in Pampanga in 2014 to give to ten children in San Pedro. But life happens to my colleagues and to me (that’s for another story) that we didn’t get the chance to complete the donation of the chairs. I only gave one, and 9 other was stored between my house and another friends’ backroom until I find the time to give them out.

Then my accident happened this year, and suddenly I found myself with nothing worthwhile to do, I started reconnecting with my disability network. During one of my doctor’s visit, I dropped by one of the social department run orphanages (Elsie’s Gatches) in Alabang and tried to find kids that can benefit the chair, we were able to find only one.  The residents are either too old, too big or the disability is severe they cannot control their movements let alone sit without restraints.

After some time, through the mother of Gab, our very first recipient, she got me in touch with CPCARES.Ph and the rest as we say “is history.”! (Read Gabs’ latest story here)

Rain rain go away come again another day … please!

As the day of the activity approaches, a severe weather situation started happening in the metro including our province. The typhoon #Karding, though far from land was sucking the monsoon bringing in non-stop rain, and it’s putting my plans at risk of getting delayed again. I thought if I cannot give the wheelchairs away this time, I will not be able to do it ever!

I became friendly with the disaster alert, and the worst is yet to happen.

The day before the event, on a Saturday, I attended a creative writing course that puts me in the heart of EDSA, our infamous parking lot. And the day prior, I was with friends, and there was no problem with rain, but anything can change typical for this period, so I was confident the weekend will be good.

When I arrived at the workshop venue, the rain had started. I was not worried it doesn’t seem to be strong, I was wrong. At around 2 in the afternoon of Saturday all the mobile phones in the room gave out a unison fog horn sound announcing that the whole of Metro Manila and nearby provinces are on RED Typhoon Warning – it was not good.  There is more rain dropped than what can be handled by the cities and provinces – the worst flooding was imminent.

I managed to go home later that afternoon, risking walking in the rain and puddles and running after buses because I will have to get ahead of the situation.  Had I delayed even for 10 minutes I would have slept in one of the hotels nearby and not go home for the event. 

Image result for flooding in august 2018 manila Image result for flooding in august 2018 manila Image result for flooding in august 2018 manila    Image result for flooding in august 2018 manila

(Photos above are from the internet – it was what I escaped when I decided to hop in the bus to go home).

I was also on high alert. Continually checking the weather report and updating the coordinators.

My colleagues whose coming from the metro contacted me asking if the event is pushing through because people are being evacuated as the night progressed and there was a risk of the dam breaking or one of the big river overflowing if the rain continues overnight threatening more flooding.

All through the night, I was glued to the news telling people that if the situation doesn’t change I will advise postponing no later than 5.30 in the morning of Sunday. I was praying hard before sleeping, praying that when I check the news, I will have good news.

Good news indeed, the sun had shown its face … finally! 

I knew it, the moment I woke up, I know it’s a go. The RED warning was lifted, but it left significant devastation in the whole of the metro, where half of the kids and my colleague was coming from.

With God’s providence, all came, and nobody was affected by the massive flooding even if they lived in the area that was underwater. God really want these kids to get rolling in their new chairs, rain or shine.

One by one they arrived at the venue, and one by one the chairs were assembled. All hands were on deck, anticipating 3-hours each chair including fitting and adjustments, we needed to hustle.

After assembly, each kid was fitted in the chair while adjustments were made by mostly their dads. The moms were busy taking care of their kids until they are needed to sit and fit in the chairs.

Since the venue that was lent to us, thanks to another friend, was indoor we were not affected by the afternoon rain that continued to pour. It was less troublesome than it was the day before, and each one of them brought their own transport I was not worried they cannot go home with their chairs or get the chairs wet.

We finished in good time and was able to give out all the seven chairs without a hitch and immediately they were a hit to the kids and especially to the parents who witnessed the transformation of their child the moment they sat in their new and appropriate Wheelchair-For-Kids.

I think God was happy with what we had accomplished that day that the rain stopped altogether after.