A few hours ago I finished my 3 day Exposure [expo] Program in the Southern Tagalog region of the Philippines. I’m still trying to process everything I’ve experienced, so my mind is all over the place right now.
I’ve seen how going on expo has affected my friends and always wondered if it would be the same way with me. In just a few short days of integrating with different communities and talking to the masses, I’ve never been more proud of the Filipino people as I am right now. Despite all the hardships they face, they maintain such a resilient spirit and never seem to complain about the petty things that we often complain about in our more comfortable 1st World living conditions. After I parted ways with my expo guide today and was riding back to my grandpa’s house in Rizal, I really had to compose myself from completely breaking down. The tears that did come out weren’t from a source of pity for the people and their living conditions or guilt from my own privilege, instead, it was because of how touched I was by their hospitality.
These are people with relatively nothing in material possessions, yet they welcomed me into their homes and accepted a complete stranger as one of their own. There’s a good chance that I’ll never see a lot of those faces again, but I truly feel like I’m a part of their family. I didn’t find out until much later that one of the families who took us in literally fed us all the food they had, but not once did they even hint at the fact. Due to recent heavy rains, the crops that they worked on were completely destroyed. They couldn’t even offer their services and get paid in nearby areas because those fields were completely flooded as well. In what is truly a day to day struggle, no work means no food. Despite all this, they still went out of their way to ensure that their guests were ok.
One of the recurring questions I asked at the end of every conversation was, “As a Fil-Am, what would you want me to tell people when I go back to the U.S.? What do you want them to know about the Philippines?” Even though a lot of them were from different areas and didn’t know each other, the overwhelming answer was “Tell them our story.” Whether it’s through blogging, through music or just in everyday conversation, I know deep in my heart that I can help give voice to the voiceless — the ones who aren’t able to reach a wide audience and let their stories be known. But I also know that talking about it won’t be enough and that my actions will go a much longer way.
I’d like to say that this was a life changing experience (which it does feel like right now), but I think that can only be assessed on a more long term basis. What will happen months from now after I’ve gone back to my comfortable life in the States? Will I get caught up in all the distractions? Or will I be more grounded and inspired to keep organizing and keep fighting for the people?
I only have two more nights left in the Philippines before I have to leave. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back here, but these three weeks here have been fun, humbling and memorable. There were a couple times throughout the trip where I did miss some of the little luxuries I have in the U.S. and couldn’t wait to get back, but now that my time is almost up I realize that I’m really not ready to leave yet. I don’t know any other way to describe than to say that I have a heavy heart right now (but not in a sad or depressing way).
I’ll definitely be writing a lot more about my experiences in the upcoming weeks…