It is with mixed emotions I write this column today, as I am departing from the Philippines after joining my son in disaster relief volunteer work.
Working six days per week tearing apart damaged homes, sawing through rebar with a dull saw, sledge hammering through cement columns, eating rationed food, I depart with tears in my eyes.
I was humbled to be a part of a team that has only one thing on the agenda.........helping those in need. I lived at a camp with 63 other people from countries all over the world. I was doing work that is pretty much polar opposite to the Fashion Industry. For once, nobody asked me what I did for a living; that oh so common ice breaker of the Western World. I was just the lady from Canada, and "Mom" to the team leader (and a few others who adopted me as "mom").
Day 1 on the job site was quite intimidating, as we arrived at a large house which was now in a pile on the ground - a crew of six with a wheel barrow and a few hand tools. I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to begin. Finger nails cut off, and work gloves on, I dug in after being told we should expect to be finished at this job site by the end of the day. (Including sorting the debris into "good wood", "bad wood" and a pile for tin. Leaving the space empty and ready for rebuilding one day).
The home owner is there to tell us he was born in this house 65 years ago. I find his cell phone, her eye glasses and other personal effects in the rubble. There is a fine line to be drawn here! A fun-loving, youthful group of volunteers will keep the laughing and joking to a minimum as they complete the task, out of respect for the home owners. No high fives about completing the work until we are out of sight.
Day 4 presented me with a young teen boy who was watching us work. He was quite chatty, and happy to see us. He told us he lost his mother, father and sister. What does one say?! A hug is the best solution at such a helpless time.
At the end of a tiring work day we all climb onto the Jeepney for the ride back to camp. So much gratitude is felt as we drive along. Children running after us screaming "Haaaaaay", locals waving, signs erected stating "Thank You".
Philippines disaster relief
Each day bringing emotion to the volunteers, and then when it's time to go home, it seems that all the experiences from each day come to the surface. I can not put this feeling into words, I can only encourage you to apply to be a volunteer in a needy country. I completely understand why my son can't leave and "NEEDS" to be in the Philippines until the project is wrapped up. I will be cutting off my fingernails and donning unfashionable work clothes again. Soon!
Much love to all the volunteers at All Hands Project Bohol, and to the beautiful , gracious people of The Philippines.
Please check it out at www.hands.org