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.

Almost Home

I like to take the car when I travel to and from Kampala from my home in Arua, almost 500 kilometers away. When alone in the car with the driver I get to see everything and take photos all I want, like this highway in front of me.

The bridge in front of me is the sign I am almost home after a little over six hours in the road. Two more and I will finally be at the comfort of it.

Meantime, I enjoyed watching the clouds in front of me and marvel at the blue skies that welcome me back in the north of Uganda.

#NeverAgain: The Parallelism of the Suffering of the Filipino People Then and Now

Ironically today is also the #InternationalDayofPeace and apt occasion for us to go back to the history of the #Philippines at the time we were ruled by Marcos, his family and his cronies.

I was still in cloth diapers when Martial Law was declared, I was in my ruffled knickers running around when all the atrocities were happening around me, and I was in grade school when #EdsaRevolution happened. The events that happened in those times did not impact my childhood because life then was normal. You can say, I enjoyed the perks of being under the rule because as a child I am impressionable — I will agree to anything you tell me and eat whatever was on the table.

But as I grew up I realized, life was not easy, we are not rich, many more are poorer than the poor us. While those in the government are rich, and so are their friends. I soon realized there’s wealth inequality in our country and there are insurgencies in the mountains fighting for the greater good of who is still something that baffles me up to now.

I never like politics, we never talk about it, but I am not naive. Mind you my mom was a loyalist to Marcos, and we never ate galunggong and just to oppose we say we are pro Aquino but it was not true because for me they are all cut from the same cloth only some are more greedy than the others.

Now fast forward to 2018, the early part of the video – a review of how it – the Martial Law all begun seems to be repeating itself in the personality of the self-proclaimed “good” leader – the good mayor who is deluding himself as the president of the Republic. He emulates someone who had divided the country into their own pieces of Legoland and does not care if the legos are trampled upon. We’re going back in the dark times and worst, the young and the poor are being led to believe that this is the way forward, to progress.

But do you see the parallelism of then and now?

The same is happening again and maybe worst … the prices of food are soaring while our lives continue to derail. Plummeting down like we didn’t know any better. Security even inside your own home is becoming insecure and an illusion of a good life seems to be getting blurry and the dreams becoming more unreachable.

You will hear, those loyal to the Marcoses and to the current government that no martial law happened. Conditioning the minds as if all of us are demented. I suggest you watch the video.

If you can maintain an open mind or remove bias in your system, you will see the parallelism of THEN and NOW and you ask again — did it or did it not happen?

If I can answer for you … it happened, and I will tell you it should not happen #NEVERAGAIN again because we should never let it happen for us now and for the future generations (again).

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.

Kalayaan Para Sa Pilipinas (Independence for the Philippines)

Today is the Philippine Independence.

This is the 120th day of independence from the Spanish colonizer. But we were also colonized by Japan and then the American who until now have very strong influence in our lives as a free country.

The Americanism is so engraved in our veins that we reek of anything and everything American even though many of us shouts patriotism. But that is not what ails my country now, we have a new set of colonizer – the Chinese.

Historically, colonizers are countries who invades a free country and claim it as theirs. They impose their own culture and their might if the people try to fight them off. Which is what our heroes did back in the Spanish, Japanese and American time. Our heroes are proud Filipino who knew what is important – our sovereignty.

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Screengrab http://www.google.com

Unfortunately, when you thought that Filipinos had learned from its history, now our supposed leaders had sold our soul to a new colonizer for the price of what?

The rise of populism

time-magazine

We had been fooled during the election campaign of 2015. The president that won promised so many nice things and sold change as the only way for our country to progress and many people who knew any better believed in the power of change. It was no different when an actor became our president he also promised of change especially to the poor, the disenfranchised, the dreamers and later impeached because he doesn’t know how to lead.

We are back in those time but the worst thing is, now the government are supposed to have well-intentioned and intelligent people, we thought are promising politicos that’s why they fooled a lot of people but by now I know they are also trapos (traditional politicians) in the making.

This time we as a country, and its people are bullied by our own government. The rise of populism not only in the Philippines but in other countries with an equally vile government have only one tactic – intimidation!

So yes, change indeed came! Because instead of the old colonizing method, the current government invited the colonizer to our shore. Offering the country like its a worthless nation with worthless people who cannot think and fend for itself.

Yes, the Philippines remains a developing country. We still belong to the third world, but with what’s happening we had gone down to maybe a notch lower — we are becoming a laughable country whose devastated by nature year in, year out and led by a clown.

We fought, we won, but we were sold by the devil to the devil

The contested islands within the water boundaries of the Philippines had been fought and won in the international court of the seas. The Philippines won based on historical data and facts! We were so proud because as a small nation of proud people we won over China. The other ASEAN brothers and sisters congratulated us because our win was also a win for them. We were a beacon of HOPE.

But that hope was easily put off. The current government did not act on that win – they didn’t even try! They let the Chinese encroach on the disputed island claiming we are too weak to protest and we don’t want to incite war. A war that we have no way of winning according to our enlightened leaders. While they say that the Chinese are they are stealing our natural resources and taking the livelihood of the rightful owners of the seas – our fishermen who brave the swells of the seas to find the fishes to feed a nation. They are braver than our government, they are claiming what is theirs! what is ours!

All talks but no actions to protect what is ours, to begin with. Instead, they are protecting their own interest, and still we don’t know what are those — power? wealth? nobody knows outside their inner cult.

We are not giving up

We are fighting back. There are still patriotic Filipinos that remains.

We are afraid that populism will take root in the country and many stupid people will rise to the ladder and lead a dumb country. In fact, it’s already happening — the executive and legislative branch already have jesters for leaders! And anything intelligent is taken out as you have seen in the drama that happened in the judiciary.

It is true when you empower stupid people, people with their own interests in their sleeves, they do not get better they become a strong influencer and claiming more and more minds to corrupt into becoming stupid!

We should not let that happen.

We are intelligent people!

Women this is our time to shine … the misogyny has to stop we should shout back and claim our right to be respected #BabaeAko.

Young people this is your future they are taking ... you should take it back to ensure you will have a future to look forward to. We still look forward to you leading the Philippines to greatness like what Jose Rizal said: “and bata ang pag-asa ng Bayan”.

Parents our values are being attacked as a person, as a family … our forefathers had thought us better, and we should continue to teach our children how to be good people and respect our history and our ancestors. #UpholdFamilyValues

To the new heroes – our overseas Filipino workers … is this why you’re toiling the land other than yours, to give better future for your country? You have the power to influence those left behind to be better human being and reach their potential so you can retire, provided for, and be the happy men and women you deserve to be at a ripe age. #BagongBayani

The Church regardless of denomination … it is being demonized by someone with two faces like the devil. We should not let the darkness envelop us because we are a nation of enlightened people. We were taught well in school and in life that evil doesn’t win over good!

Good people of the Philippines, those who still have their values and morality intact, still have their intelligence to know the difference and are still PATRIOTIC in the true sense of the word, this is our country, we should take it back from the new oppressors, from the new colonizers, from the devil.

Celebrate THE PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENCE like we really have it!

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Lupang Hinirang – Philippine National Anthem sung by Joey Ayala

Lupang Hinirang – Philippine National Anthem (Traditional)

Photo and video credit: All photos seen in this post are from http://www.google.com/image

On Becoming A Better Human Being

Yesterday I started sending messages to my friends in the Middle East wishing them “Ramadan Kareem” (which means Have a Generous Ramadan) despite all the sadness we hear in the news of Palestinian women, men and children being killed for wanting to return to their homeland and all the other countries at war now and of people being ostracized and killed for being different.

The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
[Quran 2:185]

The faithful continue to believe that all these shall pass and we will see a peaceful world. As Catholic, I also wish the same, and I think others too practicing other religions, wants a world where we can co-exist and enjoy the freedom to express who we are, what we believe and who we want to be.

***

Then I remembered a chapter in the book of the Dalai Lama talking about religion and how it can make us a better person.

We know that most of the crisis and war around the world are fought in the name of religion or the belief that that is what their gods believe they should do and gain their place in their heaven.

But many of us know that the teachings of the different religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism) and other faith practices are towards peace, love, tolerance, acceptance of our differences and in fighting off excessive desires (in wealth and fame). And all of that is inert individual characteristics that we already possess. That is why, if we banded together, we would eventually win the war that is ravaging our world now.

According to the Dalai Lama, we can have philosophical and metaphysical views on religion at the same time live it according to your daily existence. But he also said that although the philosophical views differ and sometimes contradicts each other, in spiritual practice all religions are connected. They all recommend inner transformation of our stream of consciousness which will make us better, more devout people”.

True right? It all boils down to our understanding and accepting that we may have different faith beliefs, but we are similar on a spiritual level. Others may profess it outwardly, but it doesn’t mean they are more faithful than the others. It really depends on how you live it out, on how you’re spirituality makes you a better person for others.

Each one of us may believe in one way and one truth but it doesn’t mean that it is the same for the next person, we should be open to accepting the truth of other traditions even if it goes against our own convictions regardless of its reasons and how it affects others.

We as a person should have our own conviction but we should keep an open mind and be tolerant to those who don’t share them because that makes us different from each other but at the same time similar in a way that we accept each other to be like you — a person living each day trying to be a better person for others.

Postscript:

I am happy to say that all my friends who responded to my messages are all fine together with their families. They want us to remember them in our prayers and to keep up wanting for world PEACE!

Reading suggestion(s):

My Spiritual Autobiography His Hoiness The Dalai Lama