Friday, August 5, 2011
So as badly as I want to tell you all about the amazing friendships that I've formed here, or some of the awesome experiences (including a professional Filipino basketball game!) its going to have to wait until I see your beautiful faces!!! Which, is only about a week away. I fly out on Friday the 12th and will be back in cell phone range/America around noon that afternoon.
I can't wait to see all of you and hope you have all had as blessed a summer as I have. See you on the other side.
Monday, July 25, 2011
As you guys have probably figured out by now, I'm not the best writer when it comes to really serious topics and deep thoughts (I prefer telling crazy stories about floods and Jeepneys!) about poverty and foreign missions. I have been processing and experiencing so much about those two topics the past two months and I have not really fully formed my thoughts and heart yet, so I have remained hesitant to write any thoughts here. I know once given more time, the Lord will continue to work and show me his truth and light about poverty and missions, but until them I'm just going to let people who are a lot better at expressing these ideas do it!
The first a some thoughts from the HOPE intern in India. She really expresses a lot of what I see in the Philippines on a daily basis. Just exchange Indian with Filipinos and you basically have my thoughts.
"The more I see of these rural Indians, the more I question what drives their existence. It’s subsistence living at its finest. There’s nothing to be gained except survival for the day; curl up on a mat on the dusty floor at night in the air-condition-less room, preparing to wake up with the dawn to start all over again, in the rice fields, washing clothes, feeding the naked baby, keeping the dogs away from the family and little food. I guess I don’t understand what it is that gives these people hope. Is it merely the fact that this is how they have ALWAYS lived? Raised this way, they know nothing else? I’d like to think that the power of Jesus gives hope–most of the people I’ve seen are believers–but hope for what?! Surviving one more day? Waiting for heaven with everything in them?
Some days I’m filled with total disgust at American consumer culture which lives to be entertained. Shoot, these Indians don’t even know what entertainment is aside from a pale American girl making faces at their babies. That’s not part of their reason to live. But more than entertainment and pleasure, Americans–and all wealthy citizens really–live for freedom. Freedom to go where you want, buy what you want, see whomever you want and do what you want with these friends. When these things are taken away because of poverty that can’t fund a bus fare from one slum to the next, poverty that maybe could afford a coke but certainly not a book or the education to understand it, poverty that kills off your friends and makes your only reason for existence with them the joint goal of survival… this is a terrible kind of bondage."
This next link is to a really moving article written a few years ago about a huge 50 acre trash pile in metro Manila that collapsed 11 years ago killing hundreds of scavengers. This man is an incredibly gifted writer and does more with one paragraph than I could hope to do with 100. Here is a small sample if you don't have time to read the whole thing, but I HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to read it.
"We wander through warrens of shacks, built on blocks to weather the monsoon. The soot-covered houses seem half destroyed, and the people next to the dump don't own the land they live on. Squatters' shacks overhang the banks of the Pasig River, which has been turned into a vast cloaca for the city's waste and yearly rises above its banks to sweep away the most vulnerable settlements. Manila has a severe monsoon, and informal housing among the slum population leaves tens of thousands living in flood-prone, cramped, disease-ridden squalor. Even in the worst locations, or on the periphery where the city fades away into the rice fields and swamps, there is always the threat of a more powerful economic force that can edge squatters out from whatever place they've taken as theirs. They are haunted everywhere by the bulldozers of progress.
Time and again in Manila, huge slums have been emptied to avoid the unwanted notice of the outside world. Imelda Marcos was notorious for clearing out tens of thousands of slum dwellers in the mid-1970s before the arrival of the Miss Universe pageant, the visit of President Gerald Ford, and an IMF-World Bank meeting. Not to be outdone, her nominally democratic successor Corazon Aquino reportedly evicted 600,000 squatters during her presidency. When prices rise and landowners want to clear shantytowns from their property, one of the favored methods in Manila is arson, known as “hot demolition.” A popular technique involves releasing a rat or cat soaked in kerosene and set alight into a settlement, where the terrified creature can start dozens of fires before it dies.
But even in this swampy hell there is a degree of remove, of levity. At the edge of the pier, under a tin roof, a karaoke machine is running, the words spooling out on a screen beneath a shot of a beautiful girl walking on a beach. A young girl in rubber boots, covered with mud, grabs the microphone and starts singing a Filipino pop song in a cracked but totally heartfelt voice. The mangangalahigs have distilled survival, and even joy, down to an essence. That life prevails here is a testament to what can be endured; in the midst of squalor, laughter and karaoke can still be heard. Even the landscape insistently offers up signs of regeneration: when we leave the pier, there is a dim rainbow bent over the piled housing of Navotas. North of the slum, the fenced-off dumpsite of Smokey Mountain lies dormant and abandoned, after ten years its slopes already beginning to be reclaimed by grass and shrubs."
There is a hope I have seen in the poor of the Philippines that I believe is unmatched in most of the impoverished world. More thoughts to come later.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Sad news to all of you Veggie Tale lovers out there... I didn't get to go to Cebu last week...:(. Major bummer I know!!! A quick recap of my trip last week...
My two bosses and I flew out of Manila airport to a small little city on the island of Negroes called Bacolod. A wonderful CCT employee met us at the airport and brought us to our hotel. The next 4 days were a barrage of 4 hour drives and meetings with various SCA facilitators in the area. I quickly discovered just how beautiful this part of the Philippines is. I'll try and post some pictures later, but the weather was perfect all week and the city of Bacolod was surrounded by beautiful mountains and farm fields everywhere. One of the highlights of the week was when we drove a couple hours out to a little small town. We literally had to drive over and through 2 different mountains to get to this little town. Once at the town, we met with a small group of potential savings group members for about 2 hours.
It was really great to get a break from the incredibly busy life of a 17 million person city like Manila. One of the differences I saw immediately was just how bad the poverty in Manila is compared to poverty outside of the city. In Bacolod, the people were poor, but they still lived reasonably clean lives, and had much more land and places for the children to run and play safely. Their homes and neighborhoods were much cleaner and smelled more like nature than anything else. Contrast that scene with the enormous slums in Manila and it shows just how bad poverty is in Manila, where the average slum holds about 500 people per acre. The biggest difference in these two different kinds of poverty is the smell. The metro Manila slums smell of feces, blood, and straight garbage; quite different from the more natural smells of rural poverty.
Despite the nice break from Manila, the trip to Bacolod was incredibly exhausting. We had to work through a couple major problems with some of the facilitators and spent the entire 4 days either driving somewhere or meeting with someone. The biggest surprise of the entire week had to be Friday night when we flew back to Manila. I had expected to become attached to this country and the people, but walking into my apartment felt more like home than I ever thought possible. Even being away from "home" for only 4 days, made me long all the more for the familiarity in my neighborhood of "Vito Cruz". Being in a foreign country can be exhausting and more stressful that I ever realized, but I was amazed at how much more exhausting and stressful it was in a new and strange place like Bacolod. Although I miss my home, family, friends, and school more than anything in the world, it has been comforting to see how the Lord has been moving and answering prayer in such a way as to provide a "home" for me here.
A couple of random notes about flying the Philippines...
1. The safety video on Philippine Airlines was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It took everything within me to keep from bursting out laughing while they showed it. You know how most safety videos are just some flight attendants showing you how to buckle a seat belt? Well, this video was like a drama with a poor helpless Filipino passenger showcasing what not to do on an airplane. Whenever he did something wrong the flight attendants would pounce on him and catch him in the act. It was soooo funny!!!
2. Airport security here is not quite up to American standards. Upon entering the airport on our way back to Manila I had some ticket difficulty so I had to enter and exit the airport 3 times. Every single time I went back through the original safety check I forgot to take out my keys and the buzzer went off, but every single time no security guard seemed to care! I could have gone through 3 straight times with a gun in my pocket and no one would have noticed. So then we went through the main security to the terminal and the person who was in charge of looking at the x-rays of all our bags had her child in her lap letting her push the buttons and look at all the bags!!! I thought this was awesome and thought how much people would freak out if it happened in America...
This week I'm heading to the island of Palawan for 3 days for some more meetings. Based on the pictures and word of mouth, it looks like I am in for quite the treat next week.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
So not much has happened this week in terms of adventures, just the usual daily routine (although we are making some incredible progress with the savings groups). I'll be posting a "day in the life of..." post sometime next week, so look forward to that! But tomorrow I'm actually flying to a different group of islands in the Philippines called "Visays". There are three main island groups in the Philippines: Luzon (where I am), Mindinao (where the Muslim terrorists are, you don't want to go there), and Visays (which is basically the in between islands.
I'm really excited about seeing another part of the country and I am told that it is beautiful there, so there will be pictures to come. But I also thought it was funny when I learned that one of the cities were are visiting is called Cebu. Some of you might be thinking, "What's so funny about Cebu?" Well you have obviously never seen this awesome video that is sure to brighten your day! For those of you who have never seen this video before, I grieve your childhood (or lack thereof...) Enjoy!!!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Saturday was a fairly typical Saturday. Me and Charlie (other American) woke up bright and early and went to one of the nearby branches and played in the worship band again. For any of you wondering if I have lost any of my "sick" drumming skills, fear not, I have not lost a thing! Okay, so that last sentence was a stretch to say the least, but I'm still having a blast rekindling a past love of mine. After worship and breakfast with the staff, we headed over to Mall of Asia to catch the new Transformers movie. Following the movie we went over to check out an NBA 3 on 3 tournament that we had heard about. Rumor had it that a famous former NBA player was there for the tournament and to help promote the NBA in the Philippines (despite the fact that the league is currently in a lockout and in all likelihood will not have a season next year, thank you greedy owners!!!).
We walked out of the movie theater and followed the sound of extremely loud music and we found ourselves at the back of the mall with a half of a basketball court laid out with a few thousand people surrounding it.
Next thing we know an MC comes out and tries to get the crowd all fired up (he failed horribly, it was pretty hilarious to watch). Then the New York Knicks dancing team comes out and dance for like a min and then they announce the famous former NBA who was none other than fellow Clemson Tiger Horace Grant!!!! I did not have a Clemson shirt on or I am sure he would have picked me out of the crowd, invited me to hang out with him the rest of the day, grab dinner with him, give me his cell number, and invite me to go with him to every Clemson sporting event for the rest of his life... Unfortunately, none of those things happened, so we just enjoyed the day and watched the slam dunk contest and dancing contest. All in all it was incredibly entertaining and it was great knowing that me and Horace had something in common that none of the other 5,000 people did.
That night, we walked over to the nearby mall to grab some dinner and walked by the Philippines National Sports complex (right next to our apartments) and heard some music and a small crowd gathering around the gates. We had heard earlier that week that the Filipino soccer team (know as the "Azkals" in the Philippines) was playing against Sri Lanka sometime that weekend, but we figured it was being played somewhere not close to us. We go check what the crowd is doing and we see the team getting on the bus. We figured the match had been earlier that day, but when we asked some of the people around us they told that the game was the next day! We were pumped.
The next afternoon we walked the entire 1 block from our apartment complex to the Filipino National Stadium (only seats around 20,000 people) to check out the ticket situation. Well it turns out that Filipinos like soccer more than they let on because the game was sold out! However, using my expert ticket scalping skills (learned from my father) I was able to get us a couple tickets for just over face value (still only like $10). Although I'm pretty sure I still way overpaid, but I didn't speak the same language as the scalper, so can you blame me? We then went into the stadium and grabbed our seats behind one of the goals. It was a beautiful day outside and (fresh in my brand new Azkals t-shirt) we were ready for some Filipino football!!!
Of course a huge rain storm came literally 10 seconds after kickoff. It POURED rain for a solid 25 minutes. There was literally not one piece of clothing that was dry on any person in the entire stadium. But trust me, that didn't stop the rabid Filipino fans from going crazy!!! The stadium was packed and was the loudest small and spread out stadium I had ever heard! Every single person screamed their lungs out around us anytime anything remotely exciting happened. The girls sitting next to us may have permanently damaged my left ear drum as a result. The first goal was scored by the Philippines around the 20 min mark and the place went absolutely nuts!!! What made it even more exciting was the fact that it was still POURING down rain so I think the fans felt more connected to each other for being out there together for their... I mean, OUR team (Yes I now consider myself an official Filipino soccer fan).
I found out through the Azkals program book about how this was the first World Cup Qualifying match ever held in the Philippines. So we essentially attended the biggest game in Filipino soccer history! The Philippines has been truly awful at soccer for a long time and have just recently attempted to build a somewhat respectable team. Another interesting article in the program informed me about the two star players, two brothers named James and Phil Younghusband (yes that is in fact their real last name). They are only half Filipino and don't even look Filipino. Evidently they were born and raised in England (their dad is English) and played with the English Club Chelsea until just recently. Then their parents split up and the Filipino national team asked them to play for them. They agreed and have lived in the Philippines ever since.
The Philippines scored a second goal just before halftime which prompted another crazy celebration. The second half was more of the same, with the Philippines prevailing in the end 4-0. Poor Sri Lanka was just terrible. The players then took a victory lap around the stadium to thank all the fans and thus ended my first Filipino futbol experience. I'm not going to lie, I have never been a huge soccer fan. But this game made me practically fall in love with international soccer. If I ever get another chance to go to another international game, anywhere, I'm going. Seeing a game like that in person makes soccer so much more exciting and intense.
Well, that's all for the weekend adventures! Me and Charlie went and celebrated July 4th by finding the biggest cheeseburger we could. We found it at a TGI Fridays not far from the CCT office. And let me just say, it was delicious!!!
On a more serious note, I have had a lot of quiet and still time since things have settled down here. I tend to be a more extroverted person, so being here has really pushed me into more of an introverted state that I don't think I knew existed. I find myself at night, often just sitting and thinking for hours on end (I never thought I would be able to sit still for so long!). Letting my thoughts pour over life, Jesus, relationships, and God's word has been a powerful experience. Sitting still and being still before the Lord is something I am so bad at, but being forced to do it has led to so much fruit and revelation through the Holy Spirit.
I want to encourage all of you to get out a bible and read over these two passages at some point this week and just be still before the Lord for a bit. Put things down for a few minutes (although I would suggest at least an hour if you can) and just sit before your creator and think. Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts wherever he wants them to go. And if you find yourself getting way off on something stressful or something you have to do tomorrow, try and read these verses again and think about what Jesus did for you. If you have never done this before, its going to be difficult, but I think it could also become one of the most restful and filling things any of us can do.
Exodus 14 (all of it). "...Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still..."
Pslam 46 (all of it) "...Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth..."
My the grace of God be with you this week,
Sunday, June 26, 2011
After the first 3 or 4 days of the rain, I finally started wondering if it was ever going to stop. I mean, I had experienced some rain and storms before (Hurricane Isabel for all you Richmonders), but rain for 4 straight days!!! That just doesn't happen in the "real" world. So finally gave up on the rain ever stopping and on Thursday afternoon, I went out to an office branch about 20 min away from my apartment because a Filipino friend of mine invited me to come play music with them. I had zero idea what that entailed.
When I get out to the branch it was not raining hard, and I found out that what playing music meant was that I was going to play in the drums for the worship band on Saturday and we were practicing that afternoon. Every Saturday CCT has what they call corporate worship for all the staff at a few different branches across their network. Its a time to come together every Saturday morning for worship, prayer, and teaching. I was super stoked about that because I haven't really played the drums in about 3 years and its something that I have missed. We had a great time practicing as I slowly got the feeling back in the wrists! But what I didn't notice during our practice was that the rain had turned into a torrential downpour for the last 2 to 3 hours.
When we finished practicing around 7, and then realized that the flood waters had begun to flow! The head of the office we were at informed the staff that the water was at about calf level in the street and no Jeepney's were available to get us back to the elevated train station I needed to get to. So after waiting about 45 minutes, rolling up my jeans past my knees, and borrowing some flip flops, opps... i mean slippers, we thought we were going to have to walk to the station... BUT at the last second, one of the CCT trucks showed up and he willingly drove me through the flooded streets to the station, along with around 10 workers from the branch.
After slowing driving through the smaller streets the truck emerged to the main road which was even more flooded than the smaller roads. Traffic was hardly moving at all and people were running every which was through about a foot of water on the sidewalk. Our expert driver delivered us right to the stairs going up to the train (henceforth to be called the LRT). Me and two other Filipino guys scurried inside the mall right next to the station and grabbed some delicious KFC for dinner. After that, we said our goodbyes and I headed up to the LRT.
The LRT station was completely packed with people because neither the Jeepney's nor the tricylces were not running. I pushed and pushed and finally got myself on the train with my face pressed up against the glass because we were so tightly packed (this is actually pretty common on the LRT, not just on rainy days). After a 5 min ride I got off at my stop, not quite sure what to expect. Keep in mind that the hurricane like rain was still coming down, the wind was blowing around 30 mph, I was wearing borrowed flip flops, and my computer and leather shoes were packed tightly into my backpack.
I walked down the stairs and found myself on the sidewalk in knee deep water!!! The entire street that my apartment complex is on was flooded up to my knees, which consequently means it was sadly up to many Filipino's waists. As I slowly began walking to the street corner that I had to cross, I began to ponder what would happen if I stepped on an uncovered man hole. Way #3 that I could die in the Philippines... fall into an uncovered manhole during a flood and drown to death (#1 was a car crash while riding a tricycle, #2 was being smashed to death by the Philippines excessively responsive elevator doors). As I crossed the intersection the water went considerably up my thighs right to the edge of the phone that was in my right pocket.
Probably the most humorous part of this evening for me was when the buses drove by the intersection. Because the water was so deep, whenever the bus would drive in the water a huge wave would make its way towards the sidewalks, followed by a REALLY loud scream from all the Filipino women. It was pretty hilarious considering the wave was like 5 inches high and the women were already soaking wet from the rain. I crossed the intersection with a Moses crossing the Red Sea esque confidence (it was basically this in downtown Manila), hopeful that the road to my apartment (about 2 blocks away) would somehow be less flooded. I was wrong.
My street was even more flooded! The entire road and sidewalk was well up to my jean pockets, but there were also a lot of stairs leading up to different stores and high rises, so using my expert navigating skills I was able to lower my risk of falling in an uncovered man hole. After about 10 min of walking 2 blocks down the road I successfully arrived at my apartment complex, victory!!! Of course, I was 30 min. late to a Skype I had set up with some of the other interns for HOPE in Pennsylvania and Ukraine. But after I told my epic Indiana Jones like story, they understood (I think).
The biggest surprise about the whole week of rain and floods was how quickly the rain subsided. The next morning there was no evidence that the street had been flooded more than 2 feet the night before. The rain finally stopped on Saturday and the sun felt oh so glorious. I will never, ever, ever again be upset because of hot weather.
The weekend as a whole was pretty relaxing. My world debut on the drums on Saturday was great fun and very refreshing. I forgot how much I loved playing with other musicians. I had another little brief cultural experience on Sunday afternoon. After going a catching a movie after church, I wandered past Rizal Park to see if anything was happening. Much to my surprise, around 40,000 people (I kid you not) were gathered at the park with music blaring and a huge stage was set up right in front of the statue of Lapu Lapu. It turns out that this enormous gathering was the 30th anniversary celebration of a Catholic organization called Couples for Christ. Different CFC groups from around the country all came together for a big celebration.
They were basically having this enormous parade that never ended! I literally went out of my way through the crowd and tried to find the end of the line/march/parade thingy and I could not find it. Crazy. But anyway, it was fun to be around that many people and to just sit and watch and listen. Love experiencing little Filipino events like that. And don't worry, I have pictures of the never ending line in all its glory.
Hope all is well back in the states. Everyone eat an extra hamburger for me on July 4th!!! (still haven't found a good one here) Me and my American friend are trying to find a grill so we can show the Filipinos some true America culture... Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, fireworks, and s'mores!!!
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" -Psalm 8:3-4
Monday, June 20, 2011
Not much has happened the past week or so here in the Philippines. I've begun work on the two savings groups I will be starting and hope to introduce them later this week and officially begin the saving early next week. The past couple days have been filled with rain, so there haven't been any crazy adventures, but I thought I'd share with all of you a few more cultural nuggets I've discovered this past week.
Filipino Culture difference number: (you can find the other's in previous blogs fyi)
10. When Filipinos refer to "slippers" they mean flip flops. This really confused me the first time a guy at the office who I went to play basketball with asked me if I could borrow some slippers. So if you are ever in the Philippines, remember slippers=flip flops.
11. The drink sizes here continue to frustrate me! The average size of a Filipino drink at a typical food joint I would say is around kiddie size in America. The "larges" here correlate to around a typical small in America. This is rather annoying when all I want is a huge glass of water and it is around 100 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity. I miss America drink sizes :(
12. At the Filipino fast food places, you do not throw away your own trash. I actually love this feature of the Philippines, but I don't think I will ever ever ever ever ever get used to it!! It is the strangest feeling in the world to just get up and leave a McDonald's tray at the table. I feel like I'm committing a crime or something! Seriously, next time you eat at Chick-fil-a try standing up and just leaving you trash there. Even if you know a paid employee will pick it up behind you, it still just feels wrong, like its un-America or something...
13. Me and Charlie (the other American here) have decided that the American haircut industry is the biggest ripped off product in the World!!! Two days ago I got the best haircut of my life (yes, I am aware that I don't have much hair to cut, nevertheless!) for only $1!!! Like seriously!!! It would have cost at least $15 in America. I think we should launch an investigation into the legitimacy of America haircut places. Something smells fishy.
14. They show the previews at movie theaters before the advertised movie time here!!! I am completely convinced that this needs to be implemented in America today. Because if you're like me, you enjoy previews, but I also enjoy the movie starting on time. Obama should make this happen.
I hope everyone enjoys Jose Rizal day!!!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I busted out laughing at the office when I read this and thought you all would enjoy it too. Thanks for the laugh Phil.
Oh and here is a picture from the basketball court I played at last week (please take notice of the cars and bikes on the court). I finally got some good Internet going, probably won't last too long though... I apologize for the poor picture quality. I really didn't want to whip out my nice digital camera while being the only American in a poor area of a country I had only been in for 3 days...
This past week has been a much more business oriented week than a culture experiencing week. Last Tuesday, me, 2 guys who flew in from India, 3 CCT women from different branches, and one Filipino man from the CCT head office went out to the mountains to a beautiful retreat center that CCT is building. It was located in a town called Tagatay, which is of course infamous for housing the world's smallest volcano. When we first arrived in Tagatay we went to this great restaurant that overlooked the volcano and the huge lake that it sits on. I later learned that you used to be able to rise horses around the rim of this volcano, but it recently became reactive!!!
At this retreat center we underwent 3 days of trainings to learn how to implement what the microfinance world calls Savings and Credit Associations (SCAs). At the most basic level, an SCA is a group of really poor people (People who are too poor to qualify for regular microfinance) who come together (usually through the church) and decide they would like to save their money together. Typically they are started by what are called facilitators, who come in and teach the group members how to start a group. There are a number of different forms of SCAs including Rotating Savings Groups (ROSCAs), Accumulated Savings Groups (ASCAs), or a straight savings groups.
Most anyone within the microfinance industry would tell you that the biggest issue for people breaking the never ending cycle of poverty is no access to simple banking services such as savings accounts. Even the poorest of the poor want to save and have the ability to save small amounts of money, but they don't have access to banking services because the amount of their savings is too small for commercial banks to service the poor. So, what ROSCA's and straight savings groups do is allows for groups of 15-25 people to pool their money together and commit to saving a certain amount of money every week for a certain period of time (usually about a year) for a specific reason or purpose (typically paying for their children's education). Having access to a small lump sum of money is huge for these people. It allows them to pay for medicine if their child gets sick, pay for school fees they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise, and helps them invest sufficient capital into their business in order to advance their business.
Now ASCA's are even better because with an ASCA the group members also have the ability to lend to one another. Without getting too technical, basically the members of the ASCAs write an extensive contract committing to saving a certain amount per week. From this pool of money, loans can then be taken out by the group members with a small interest rate of course. This type of group allows the poorest of the poor to have access to loans that they could never have dreamed of receiving in the past.
So basically for 3 days we learned all about these groups, how to start them, and how to facilitate the groups ourselves. These mountain were unbelievably gorgeous and we got to visit the highest point in the Philippines while we were there. Here's a picture of the training crew at the top, where you could literally see 360 degrees of almost the entire island.
So after that weekend we all came back to Manila. We haven't done anything terribly exciting the past couple days, expect we did get to visit the oldest fort in the Philippines and in the process learned all about the Philippines national hero Jose Rizal. This guy was basically the Thomas Jefferson of the Philippines (if Thomas Jefferson was executed by the British) in that he was an incredibly gifted writer whose writings led to the uprising of the Filipinos against the Spanish, who had colonized the Philippines since the 1500s. Because of his writings, which called for Filipinos to rise up and take back their country, the Spanish imprisoned and executed him 2 years before the Philippines officially declared independence from Spain. Pretty intense. His 150th birthday is coming up this Sunday and they are declaring a national holiday on that Monday. He's pretty beloved here to say the least.
Along with our history lessons this week, I have also had several meetings with my supervisors about the work I will be doing the rest of the summer. Essentially I am going to be overseeing 3 different branch's savings groups as they begin this month. I will actually be leading and starting 1 of the branches, while just overseeing the other 2. Its going to be a lot of work and traveling back and forth between the branches, but I'm really pumped to get started. 2 of the 3 branches are going to be starting savings groups for elementary and middle school children. This way we can instill in them savings skills and attitudes starting at a young age.
The other exciting thing that happened this week was the other American who now works in the CCT office and lives right next to me! He is a graduate student from Columbia University named Charlie and more than anything he is American! The fact that there is now someone else here just to relate a little more too has been a huge blessing from Jesus, even in these short few days he has been here.
And I'd like to make a quick shout out to my little sister, Maddie Wood, who will be graduating from high school tomorrow and then joining me at Clemson in the fall. So pumped for her!!! Sorry I can't be there sis, I'll be there in spirit.
Thanks for reading about my life, hope its interesting!
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." -Isaiah 58:9-10
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I have officially survived my first week in the Philippines!!! I am now starting to adjust to the culture and am beginning to love it. Which is a good sign because for the first few days I was fairly terrified to say the least. I still haven't settled into a set schedule or routine because I'm leaving for a 4 day SCA (Savings and Credit Association) training on Tuesday for a few days. A couple of Hope International workers are flying into the Philippines and we are going to some sort of CCT (Hope's partner organization that I am working for) retreat center for a few days. After this training I should be settling into more of a set schedule and should begin some kind of work that I am itching to get started on.
For those of you who are itching to know, basketball last week was quite the experience to say the least. We took about a 30 minute Jeepney ride to a pretty poor area of town (There were around 7 CCT employees with me). In the middle of this neighborhood was what looked like a government sanctioned basketball court. In other words, this basketball court was straight out of NBA Street for all you video gamers out there. There was about 2 feet between the sidelines and the concret houses that lined the court. But the houses weren't the main thing constricting the court. All around the court sat motorcycles, cars, and motorcycle rickshaws (which I'll talk more about later) which the men use during the day as transportation to make some money. So if a ball went flying out of bounds, you had to avoid all the different modes of transportation as well as the 150 or so people who were lining the courts to watch.
However... that is not what made the court so ridiculous. What made this court so crazy was the fact that the court was not just a basketball court, it also served as the main road intersection for the neighborhood. So while we were playing, we would have to stop every minute or two to wait for a car or motorcyle to pass through. One of the roads went along the baseline, while the other road went all the way across on one of the sidelines. It was truly unbelievable. The other internsting thing about Filipino basketball is that there is always a wager on the game. Money is always invovled, no matter how poor the people are. Our particular game had a 500 Peso bet (around 12 dollars). We won, which meant that I got to take home a whopping $1.50!!! My first Filipino basketball experience was wild to say the least, but I loved every second of it.
After the game, literally every single kid watching the game came running over the me, the "Americana", and started asking me all these crazy questions. They all really wanted me to dunk, but I had to disappoint them, because unfortunately I can't dunk. I think I broke a few kids hearts that night :(
The rest of my week was spent going to one of the branch offices in a little province of Manile called Intramuros. This province was one of the first places the Spanish settled in the 1500s and contains the oldest Cathedral in the Philippines (around 500 years old). I went with a girl from the main office named Keren on both mornings and we went early for staff devotions. After worship, prayer, and reading the word we took what I consider the most dangerous mode of transportation on the planet over to some of the client meetings.
This hazardous mode of transportation I am referring to is the lovely motorcycle rickshaw. Think back to WWII motorcycles you see in old movies with the passenger seat attached to the motorcycle. There is one main difference. The passengers in the Philippines are completely boxed in by a big metal box. So essentially, 4 of us crammed on the back of this motorcycle and into the "box of death" as I am beginning to refer to it and await certain death. Since we are really heavy for 1 motorcycle to carry us, cars, taxis, and buses go whizzing by us like we are sitting still. I had the following order of thoughts on our first journey in the box of death. "Wow, we are going really slow right now." "Wonder what would happen if one of those cars hit us?" "I wonder if our driver is paying attention to all these cars around us?" "Let me check." "Oh good, he is listening to his ipod while driving and can't hear any of the traffic around him." "I now know how I am going to die..."
Once we survived this trip we got to sit in on what Hope International calls client meetings. These are once a week meetings with all the loan clients of a particular neighborhood where they gather together for what they call the 5 Ws: Welcome, Worship, Word, Work, Wrap-up. These meetings are mandatory for all loan clients of CCT and Hope around the world. This way, the loan officers can easily monitor clients and ensure that their clients are hearing about Jesus at every meeting. Someone does not have to be a Christian in order to become a client of CCT, however it is the explicit goal of both CCT and Hope International to tell all their clients about Jesus and ensure that the kingdom is growing.
Following the meetings on both days, I was able to walk around some of the neighborhoods and interview two of the loan clients. I have sent these interviews back to Hope so their marketing team can use them to spread the message about the work Hope and Hope's partners are doing around the world. The first woman I interviewed was a woman who owned a soda selling business. Out of her home she used to sell around 200 sodas a day, not a terrible living, just enough to feed her family every day. But after taking out around 15 loans with CCT, she now sells over 4800 sodas every day, has hired 3 full time workers, bought a new house, and can afford to send her two sons to a very good school. In the process of working with CCT, she has come to know the Lord much more fully and said herself that God has changed her family's lives through the loans and spiritual discipleship she has received from CCT. In her own words, "The neighbors now notice something very different about my family." It has been incredible just to see how these loans are actually changing people's lives. No words to truly descibe the feeling.
On a slightly different note, I was able to attend my first Filipino wedding this past Saturday. The wedding was between two people who work for CCT. One of them is actually my boss who I didn't meet until after the ceremony, haha. One of the older women in the office found out that I had never been to a Filipino wedding before and made it her mission to get me an invitation. I found out later that this wasn't that big of a deal because Filipinos typically send out their invitations only 10 days in advance. So Saturday morning I woke up super early and rode about 45 minutes to the outskirts of Manila where the ceremony was being held. The ceremony was great and a lot like an American wedding, although quite a bit longer.
After my wedding experience, I went to my first Filipino megachurch, called Cathedrals of Praise. It was a massive auditorium which was unlike any other chruch auditorium I had ever seen. The main stage was an octogon in the middle of what was basically a stadium of seats. The worship was great and contained no less than a 200 person choir, a full rock band, and at least 50 dancers scattered across the auditorium. It was loud, passionate, and most importantly all in English, praise the Lord!! The pastor was an American man who started the church in 1980. It was a little difficult to figure out exactly what the church was all about given some of the natural cultural barriers, but I am still excited about attending next week.
After church, a few of the people I had gone to church with went to the local mall to grab some food and catch a move. Movies here only cost 125 pesos ($3.50), but we went to the 25 peso movie, The Warrior's Way. Which was actually pretty good considering the price we paid (50 cents).
Following the movie we headed to a huge park for about an hour, where there was a 100 foot statue of a man named Lapu-Lapu who is a national hero of the Philippines. Evidently he is the man who killed Ferdinand Magellon in the 1500s when Spain was fighting to take over the Philippines. Everyone loves him and his statue makes him look pretyt fierce to say the least. I wouldn't want to get in a sword fight with him.
So all in all, this has been a pretty challenging week for me. I guess that comes with being in a completely different culture you have never experienced before, especially when you don't have someone to laugh with you at the crazy drivers, or the way elevators are over here. Which reminds me!!!
Filipino cultural difference #8 and #9
8. The "Close Door" button on the elevators here are incredibly responsive. Like, too responsive. I personally have been smashed by the elevators doors multiple times since arriving here and witnessed countless others undergo similar fates. This may become the #2 way that I envision myself getting horribly injured while I'm over here, getting smashed by an elevator door.
9. The Filipinos have a fascination with techno music. I don't really understand this one yet, but in most of the fast food places I go there is techno music playing. It is starting to get really annoying.
If I had to summarize what the Lord has been teaching me so far, it is patience and absolute reliance on him. I am finding that I am way too reliant on the comforts America's culture provides me. It is my prayer that the Lord can continue to grow me and humble me which he is obviously doing so far.
It is my prayer today that the Lord would reveal himself to each of you in an extremely powerful way, much like how he is showing himself to me here in Manila.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; Let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." Psalm 5:11
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
A "Jeepney" is a short, and long (think wiener dogish) jeep like vehicle that pack the streets of the Philippines and drive up and down certain streets. I haven't taken a single picture since I've been here, because I am living and working in a very non-touristy area, so I don't want to look like a tourist so that nobody robs me. But I have three months to take plenty of pictures so don't worry. However, fear not!!! Because google can provide you all with the visual representation of "jeepney" that my camera skills have failed to provide.
With all that said, there have been a few cultural differences about the Philippines that I though some of you might enjoy...
1. All these people do is eat chicken, like for real. Right now I am in a starbucks writing this post and across the street are 3 different fast food fried chicken places. Jollibee (the McDonlalds of the Philippines), Inasal (great grilled chicken), and Kenny Rogers. I think this country dreams about chicken.
2. They eat every single meal with a fork and spoon. I have yet to see a knife in the country and on top of this, they never ever touch their food. Which if you have ever tried to eat fried chicken with just a fork and spoon, you would understand my frustration!!!
3. Filipinos are the craziest drivers in the world. I have been to Shanghai and Beijing, where the driving is infamously crazy, but the Chinese have absolutely nothing on the Filipinos. There are pretty much, no traffic laws here and the thousands of "Jeepneys", cars, and buses just constantly weave in and out of each other like chickens with their heads cut off!!! (Pun very much intended)
4. Everyone I meet wants to know which state I'm from. I'm not really sure, why because I have yet to meet anyone that has heard of Virginia or South Carolina. They pretty much only know California and the names of the NBA teams. They can literally name ever NBA team and ask if I am close to any of them
5. On that note, basketball/Lebron James owns this city. Every single person I've talked to about the NBA (approx. 8 guys) have said that their favorite team is the Miami Heat. I usually go on and ask them who their 3 favorite players on that team are, and they always answer, "Lebron James. I don't know anyone else." I'm not sure how Lebron got so much more famous over here then any other player, but props to him. He's the most famous person here.
6. The men love rubbing their bellies. Still haven't figured this one out.
7. I am an absolute giant here. I mean like I have yet to see a Filipino man even close to my height!!! The closest I've seen is maybe 5' 10". On the subway earlier, I literally could see over ever single person on the train, and it was packed!!! This should bode well for my basketball prospects here.
That's about the major ones I can think of right now. I'll be sure to keep a tally going this whole summer of random/humorous cultural differences throughout my blog.
So anyway, on to the awesome adventure I had this morning...
So this whole week a guy named Allen who works for the company I am working for (CCT), have been basically in charge of helping me get around and showing me the company offices and making sure that I have everything I need. This morning he picked my up from my apartment complex (at 35 story massive building that I'm on the 34th floor of) and we went to what CCT calls its "Kaibigan" (or streetdweller) ministry. For those of you that understand the complexities of microfinance, you know that it can only reach the people who are just above the bottom of the poverty pyramid. Microfinance is completely useless for the poorest of the poor, or as Filipinos call them, streetdwellers.
What CCT has done is created a ministry that focuses exclusively on reaching these streedweller and I got to visit a halfway house for these streetdwellers. CCT has set up multiple compounds for these men and women to stay in order to effectively move them from the streets into a normal and functioning life. They provide housing and work for these former streetdwellers. They are in turn paid for this work, and are in charge of buying the food that CCT provides. They can then being saving some money and then graduate from the program. Many of them end up graduating and working for the program. I was with 4 such men today.
So we arrived at the complex at 6:30 am, but due to my jet lag, I still got 10 hours of sleep and had an hour long quiet time... haha. Got there in time to have the devotion, which included worship, prayer, and a few people sharing how they met the Lord and he got them off the streets. All in perfect Tagalog, so I didn't understand much, although I'm picking up on a few words because it does contain a little Spanish. I then toured the place and got to sit and talk with quite a few of the workers and see how exactly they operate.
They then fed everyone breakfast, which was the usual rice (every single meal here!!!) as well as scrambled eggs and an entire fish (the kind with the head attached an everything). I told the guys that my mom would freak out if we put that plate in front of her. We then talked to a few more people before 5 of us took a 90 min Jeepney ride over to the other side of the city to do their daily streetdweller feeding. They provide lunch one day a week to a different group of street dwellers everyday.
The men started by writing down every single man, women, and child's name who was there taking the food. They then preceded to preach the gospel (again in Tagalog unfortunately), which Allen told me focused on telling them to not just sing praises to CCT or sing songs to God, but to live a life of praise. They also told of their personal testimonies (4 of them had been former streetdwellers as well) and how they too could escape their current life if they work hard and put their faith in Jesus. I don't think the people responded too well considering. But I have faith that the holy spirit will move through them when the time is right.
After providing the people lunch (chicken and rice of course!!!) we headed our separate ways for the day. That's all I got, for today. I'm heading out now to play some basketball with some of the CCT employees. They already told me that I'll be playing center, so we'll see how I hold up. I hope life finds you all well. I miss all of you so much, even now because I am literally the only non-Filipino I have seen and have begun to think that I may be very lonely at times this summer. But knowing I have such an amazing family and friends comforts me so much.
"3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me."- Philippians 1:3-7
I truly feel those verses toward all of you reading this. Please pray for CCT and the Filipino people as I saw first hand today their desperate need for Jesus... in spirit and in truth.
Friday, May 27, 2011
One random fact about Lancaster, PA... There are a ton of rabbits in the neighborhoods!!!! When I say a ton, I mean that you cannot walk one block in a neighborhood without seeing two little rabbits dart in front of you. There are about as many rabbits in Lancaster as there are squirrels in Richmond/Clemson. If you are from either of those places, you understand!!! Maybe one day the Lancaster rabbits and the Richmond squirrels will join forces and take over the world... I think its a distinct possibility...
So on to a more serious note, I am flying out tomorrow afternoon for the Philippines and absolutely cannot wait to go!!! The lord has used this week to over saturate me with his love, mercy, and knowledge of microfinance that I feel as though I am about to explode all of those on to every single Filipino I meet!!! So please pray for the flight and smooth travels getting to my apartment. Also, please pray for the lord to keep the current typhoon out of my planes way because I would really love to not have to fly through a typhoon en route to my awaiting apartment!!!
The one aspect about the past week that I did not expect coming into the training, was the unbelievable friendships I've formed with the other interns. There are 20 of us total, 12 staying in Pennsylvania and 8 of us going abroad (some have actually already left). These 19 other college students have quickly become some of my closest friends. It was incredible to get to experience a week with other people who have a passion for Jesus, economics, and seeing the poor lift themselves out of poverty. It has been the biggest blessing in the world to get to know these unbelievable people and I cannot wait to hear stories from all of them as we keep in touch over the summer.
So next time I update the blog I will be in Manila!!!!! Can't wait!!!
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. - Isaiah 58:6-9
I am so blessed to be able to serve this amazing God who has promised to reveal himself to us on Earth!!!!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
So Thursday was my travel day and I hoped on a train in Richmond to ride up to Phili. The train ride was around 4 hours and I was able to finish this awesome book that my awesome sister lent me called "Heaven is for Real" which is an amazing true story about a little boy that gets to go to heaven and slowly tells his parents about it. You should read it, cause it will change the way you look at heaven, promise... Anyway, got to the Phili train station and was just itching to get a cheesesteak, but I didn't have time which was a major bummer because I LOVE cheesesteaks and have never had an authentic Philadelphia one. I jumped off my train and quickly got on a local train to get over to the airport where I was getting picked up by an HR rep from the company named Ray, who is a really funny guy from Malaysia.
After connecting with Ray and the other intern that was getting picked up we drove the 2 hours to Lancaster and got to the house we were staying at for the week of training. That night we walked over to the conference center and ate some dinner while the other 15 or so interns slowly trickled in. After a ton of eating, laughing, and talking with my fellow co-workers we decided to hit the sack early due to our early wake up time the next morning.
One incredible privilege we get to have this summer is that the Hope International Leadership Summit is going on at the same time as our internship training. The leadership summit happens once a year when all the leaders from Hope from all 15 countries they are in come together for worship, praise, prayer, fellowship, and direction for on week. So us interns get to meet and talk with all these incredible leaders from around the world, which is so humbling. So that morning we spent the day setting up the conference center for the summit. After that we went over to the main offices, got our computers all situated on their networks, and had a finance meeting with all the ex-pats (all the interns going abroad).
At the offices there was this great exhibit called "Pathways to Poverty" which was an audio tour through a ton of different rooms. Through the tour we got to experience and hear the stories of about 10 people in 10 different countries and how they were trapped in poverty. It was a humbling exhibit to say the least, but got me incredibly fired up to get to the Philippines and start working!!!
Following this moving experience, most of us were pretty tired, but decided that nothing would fix that than a game of basketball. So after dinner about 10 of us went to the local school and shot some hoops to get our legs moving for the first time in a couple days. One of the best parts of this experience so far has been just meeting and getting to know the other 19 interns here. Ever since meeting them it has been a constant part of our days to continually get to know each other and share our passions for Jesus together. And believe it or not, there are other people my age on this planet who actually enjoy majoring in economics, who knew!!! I think it is actually going to be difficult for me to say goodbye to these new friends of mine, as I can already tell that I am going to miss them greatly once all the ex-pats part ways for the summer.
So yesterday (Saturday) was another big day for Hope International. Last night they hosted their annual Fundraising dinner which was an enormous success. We spent all day traveling to the Lancaster convention center and setting up for the dinner. We mainly focused on setting up the four different booths from the four areas of the world that Hope is set up in (Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia). We also set up the silent auction which contained items from all over these four regions. I spent the 2 hours preceding the dinner welcoming people to the dinner.
The dinner itself was unbelievable. The president and CEO, Peter Greer, spoke and then gave awards to five different clients spread around the world and spoke on how a microloan from Hope International had changed their lives and their communities lives. Then the main speaker was a man named Scott Todd from Compassion International. You need to check out that website because he and his organization have a goal to end extreme poverty in the world by the year 2035, which is you look at the statistics is a very possible goal. You may think he's crazy, but I and a ton of other really smart people believe it can be done.
So anyway, that has been the last few days for me and today has been a great day of rest. The rest of the week is going to be slammed packed with training and meetings, but I'll try to post one more time before my plane heads out for the Philippines on Saturday the 28th. Thanks for reading and I pray that the Lord gives you rest today wherever life may find you.
Monday, May 16, 2011
I first heard about microfinance in January 2010 and immediately fell in love with the idea of it. This past fall semester I started looking into microfinance much more deeply and found out about Hope International at the Passion conference in January and was able to hear their president speak at a breakout session, which confirmed with everything in me that microfinance is what I wanted to pursue this summer. After talking with some people who work for the company I went online and applied for their internship program and got the job in April.
I am incredibly excited and nervous about this incredible opportunity that the Lord has graciously provided me. Excited because I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am doing exactly what God wants me to do, but nervous/anxious because I have never been in a foreign country for 3 months. But above it all I know that the Lord is going to be with me as I go and do his work and I cannot wait to get started!!!!
I leave for a week of training on May 19th in Pennsylvania where the country is headquartered and can't wait to spend a week learning before I head out for the Philippines on the 29th. There will be 20 interns total that I'll be meeting next week, 12 of them will be staying at the company's headquarters while 8 of us will be traveling to different countries all over the world. I am pumped about this incredible adventure and plan on updating the blog at least once a week. In the couple weeks leading up to my departure, I have been especially comforted by Jesus' words in Matthew 28 that know matter where I go or what I do, he will always be with me. What an amazing God...
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -Matthew 28:18-20