Planes, trains, and automobiles…

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Thought I would do a little video montage of my transport experiences in the Philippines. Instead of planes, trains, and automobiles we have Jeepneys, Tri-cycles and Pedi-cabs footage.

      1. Jeepneys-
      2. Tri-cycles –
        3. Pedi-Cabs-

All three are quite the sweaty adventure of getting around this crazy city but if you haven’t tried them then you don’t know what it is like to live here.

Today was a good day

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Today was a good day. First off, I got invited to my second office birthday celebration, which always makes me feel at home in a work place. Second, I got to try Adobo (a special marinade for Filippino method of cooking meat) pizza for the birthday. It was delicious!

The aforementioned items are just the little day-to-day things that make life feel comfortable here but on a larger scale, what does a good day look like as a new Kiva Fellow in the Philippines? Each day, so far is a day of discovery but in all honesty, some are better than others. The reason today was good was because of the small moments like Adobo birthday pizza but because I got a small glimpse at the potential fruits of my labor here.

I will start with a story about sustainability. Both the NGO I am working with (Center for Community Transformation) and Kiva has stated values that included implementing changes and activities that are sustainable for the organization after a fellow leaves.  Even though I am a brand new fellow, I got my chance, a week into my time here, to present a training to various CCT staff.  I covered various topics from photography, camera maintenance, and sharing the compelling stories of our borrowers. At this training, I shared the stage with my new partner (and Kiva coordinator) Edwin.  All together the training went well and according to those who attended, I did not talk too fast and everyone could understand me (this has not always been the case as often default into hyper speech 😉 ).

Those  were the details that really just set the stage for the cool moment. After that training, Edwin and I got to complete the same training today, to other CCT employees who could not attend the other training.  As Edwin and I walked up to the training, he turned to me and asked if I could take over part of the training I had previously completed. Excited, that he wanted to take on the challenge, I happily agreed.  Over the next hour, I got to sit back and watch Edwin, beautifully present all the aspects of my presentation and as well as inspire his crew by sharing the benefits of partnering with Kiva.

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due and say that I have already seen Edwin’s work and other presentations, and him and the CCT crew do a beautiful job at doing presentations.  But, I also have to say that it was a really great feeling to see collaboration happen and to know that the fruits of the labor will be sustained in the future.

Salamat Po, Thank you Po

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         “And when you add Po, to end of everthing, if you want to show respect to someone”, she told me. My new Filippina friend, an English teacher, took the opportunity to put her teaching skills into action but accepting a new student, me.  This girl is just one among many who became my welcoming committee into Filippine hospitality.  She continued to inform that hospitality is one of the key values of Fillipinos and that I should be ready to accept overwhelming amounts of it.  Over the last 3 days, I found this to be true.  Let me list for you the ways

1. The chaos of the Manila airport can be a bit much, but there underneath the “H” sign (they are ordered alphabetically) was a friendly voice yelling my name, “Jill, Jill”. You see the hospitality goes back to before I left the states as all of my Filippino friends (there are many in LA) put me in touch with their sister, long last friend, and cousin’s cousin, to make sure I would be okay upon arrival. So, my ride awaited me and off I went to receive the best whirlwind cultural introduction of my life.

2. Filippinos are proud of their food. I have been consistently introduced to new foods each meal. These have included a. Pancit b. Bulalo C. Santol D. Halo Halo E. Rice, rice and rice.

3. Karaoke- I will let every Filippino address this for themselves but I was told that Karaoke is extremely popular and so I too, sang into the wee hours of the night, various renditions of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey (perhaps induced by some Jetlag). I just hope there is not video verification of this 😉

4. Pride in their home. Already I have been all over the beautiful places of the city and asked to be in several modeling sessions to be promptly posted on Facebook (or FB as everyone here calls it). I got to spend the day at Taygaytay yesterday in order to see the volcano in the middle of a lake and indulge in a little Ziplining (there is a picture of a mug as verification) and horseback riding.

This is just the tip of the iceberg into my introduction to the land of Pacquiao. Maraming Salamat Po (Thank you VERY much) to all my Filippino friends from home, new friends in Manila and future friends. I am truly blessed.

Kiva Mission Statement

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“Nothing stops a bullet like a job”, is a quote by Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle realized that having a job, purpose and income can be a powerful motivator in the process of change and development of the people in East Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries was started as an organization rooted with the mission to provide jobs and meaningful activity to ex-convicts, gang members and the urban poor of that area.

The reason I quote Father Boyle is because of his mission and the connection that it has to my life mission and goals. The urban poor and those “at-risk” are people with whom I have had much experience with over the last 7 years of my life, in both a domestic and international level. My job experience has taken place in inner-city Los Angeles, working with multi-cultural adolescents and families who are at-risk. Our organization seeks to collaborate with these individuals to “promote possibilities” and train them with the life skills they need to pursue gainful employment and further education.

Working in schools and mental health, through my job, has provided me with the experience and skills to transition well into international work. I have been able to travel to various areas of the developing world in order to volunteer with organizations that are working to support the urban and rural poor. My international volunteer experiences have included; Morocco, Zambia, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Dominican Republic, and Mexico.  In each of the countries, I worked to provide training and support in different areas of development; education, health care, psycho-social care and relief work.  Each of these countries had different areas of needed improvement, but so many of those issues are connected to poverty.

Kiva was introduced to me about 3 years ago and when friends of mine left last year to take part in the Kiva Fellows program, I realized that it was the organization whose mission aligned with my life missions. Combined, my experience in domestic and international work, I had been left with a desire to be in the segment of development which is working to prevent and change the issues of poverty.  My life plan is to continue my education in the fields of education and development in order to be part of the movement working to end global poverty. Consistently throughout my personal research into areas of development, I have heard how education and microfinance are two ways in which people can be directly empowered to better their situation. The inspiring aspects of microfinance include the direct lending to the loan recipients, the creation of community amongst those who have little support, and the encouragement of generousity among citizens in developed countries.  Kiva is a way to allow those with enough in life, to be generous and support those who desire to bring themselves and their families to the same place.

Generosity is an inspiring thing.  It is for this reason that I wish to be a part of Kiva. It is an organization that encourages generosity in some to enable the potential of others who live in settings that lack the support to do so. My skills and experiences in working in domestic and international development settings have provided the experience needed to be a strong addition to the KIVA organization.


Lucky

His name is Lucky. Or at least that is what we call him. His story needs to be out there because it is one of those stories that makes you want to think about things differently.

Lucky has been our”handler” the last two years when we have visited the refugee camp in Thailand.  One of the only people we have met there who speaks somewhat fluent English, we have naturally become quite good friends with him. His story begins in Thailand after his parents decided to send him across the border when he was fifteen so that the Burma Army could not come to make him a soldier in their forces. Their logic was, if our son is not here, then we can just deny that we have one and keep him safe.  Since that age, he is currently twenty-two years old, Lucky has been living in a few different camps on the border of Thailand and Burma.  He learned English in one of the camps, and therefore has become an official translater/guardian/tour guide while we spent time in the camp.

He has only seen one sister a year ago, out of his numerous siblings, and since then has not seen his family since he left Burma. He told of us his plans to return to see his family for the first since he left.  He plans to go over the Karen New Year in January of next year. His journey will consist of paying a network of Karen Freedom Fighters, to transport him across the jungle.  These “path guardians” use walkie talkies to communicate and verify which parts of the journey are safe. If portions of the “easy” route are intersecting with Burma army forces, the journey will take 5 days through the jungle. If the army forces are not present then the journey will only take 3 days.

The fascinating thing about his story is his dedication to his people and his situation. When you ask Lucky about his future, that includes visions of developing his leadership skills to be a visionary to his people. He is an amazing young man. He continues to take classes to grow in leadership and development skills and he is one of the caregivers for a boys home.  His love and leadership are inspirational. It is hope that he can be a leader for his people to eventually help them return home.

All of the above is the reason I think differently. Different in ways of gratitude for my blessings but also in ways of challenge for my leadership. How too, do I care for my “people” in whatever way I can help them return “home”, whatever that means to them.

Freedom

Freedom.

“I have realized that I am a helper, but that what I want to help with is freedom. No matter what I do, my rubrics has become, ‘does this activity, time, item, task; help me bring someone to freedom? It could be all sort of freedoms, but freedom is what I hope they find”.

It was funny to hear my friend talk about that concept because it is something I have been thinking about since I got home from Thailand/Burma a couple of weeks ago. I met with a friend last week to hear about her thoughts about life after volunteering abroad for a short stint.  She confessed having a bit of a crisis of purpose, as many do after a trip abroad, and after a lot of research and processing, she now knows that this is her purpose. Her new mission statement is to be a person who helps others find their freedom.

Sometimes things in my life ring significant only after these things have presented themselves repeatedly, in different contexts and conversations.  That is why this conversation was significant. Just a few days prior I was speaking to a group of people about my recent trip to work with the Karen people of Burma, who are refugees in Thailand, and the thing I found myself saying is that what really struck me about these people was their lack of freedom to go home. They may have found freedom in spirit, purpose, education, but they have no freedom to go home. Home is the one thing that most want to freedom to pursue.

I knew, after I heard my friend say the word freedom that I too wanted to be a “freedom fighter” or a conduit of freedom.  In many ways, we are all seeking freedom, different freedoms, but a sense of that, nonetheless. Financial freedom, spiritual freedom, emotional freedom; whichever, let me help you, be a part of the journey to find the elusive and make it less that way. Whether it is with my client’s in inner-city Los Angeles or my Karen friends in the jungles on the Thai/Burma border, it would be a privilege to be a part of the journey to discover the freedom to experience the potential with which each person has been created.

For now that is the beginning of my mission statement, more to come……..

Nupo Refugee camp. Thai/Burma border.

There and back again.

There and back again.

” Think about what it means to be starting out on a journey, about what is really involved in being on our way. Of course, to begin with, we just put one foot ahead of the other foot, leg over leg, and our steps make a little thud as they carry us farther and farther down the road. Then we probably climb into a car or a train or a plane, and then the miles begin to go by a lot faster, and soon we look around, and the place that we have left has disappeared entirely, and the place where we  are going still lies off in the distance somewhere, and there we are somewhere in between. It is really a strange sort of state to be in, not quite like anything else.

For instance, the most real thing is there is for us then is the journey itself, and not only the place that we left but even the place where we are going become almost dreamlike by comparison, even though they may be the place that we know best in the world. What is real is the ache in our arms and the shoulders as we lug our baggage from one station to another. What is real is the stranger with no eyes who is waiting there at the street corner for somebody to come along and tell him when the light has changed. What is real is the way our hearts leap into our throats when suddenly is begins snowing and all in a minute we know that the world is really a beautiful place after all and that life is good beyond all telling and the little boy standing near us sticks out his tongue and lets a snowflake melt on it.

When we are on a journey, what is real is not so much the role we play, the mask we wear, in the place that we are leaving, and not even the roles we will soon be called on to play when we get to the place where w are going. Instead, what becomes increasingly real as we travel along is something much closer to the actual face that lies behind all the masks and that gives a kind of relative unity to all the different parts that our life demands that we play. In other words, travel can be a very unmasking experience, bringing us suddenly face to face with ourselves- as when we are gazing out a train window at the endless line of telegraph poles whipping by, and we find that part of what we are looking at is our own reflection.

And it can be unmasking in another way too, I think, because when we are moving through that no-man’s land, that everyman’s land, between worlds, there is no one around to hold us to any particular form of conduct or even to look to us to behave in a way consistent with the way that we have usually behaved in the past. And the result of this is that to an extraordinary extent w are free to do whatever we like, and the result of this is that what you do is apt to be more accurate definition than usual of who you really are.

The blind stranger waits at the corner for someone to tell him when the light has changed- or God only knows what the blind stranger is waiting there for, maybe he’s waiting even for you- and whatever you do then or do not do, just that is apt to be precisely who you are. “you break my heart, stranger without any eyes” you may say, “but it’s already late, and I have miles to go before I sleep”. Or, “stranger who is not a stranger, we both in our own ways labor and are heavy-laden. Let us bear each other’s burdens”. Or what? Frederick Buechner in “The Magnificent Defeat”

And so, I suppose it is really unfair to use so many of another’s person’s words to describe all aspects of my journey but these words to me are perfect and so, here they are.  I guess, coming back again from Thai/Burma, what I was struck by was the last sentiment of the last paragraph listed above. “Stranger who is not a stranger, we both in our own ways labor and are heavy-laden. Let us bear each other’s burdens”.  Because really that is what happens, joy (covering the burdens within us) was reciprocated; both sides were changed, for the better.

Here is a video of some of the joy shared.

Drawing from the past

As summer approaches (even LA there is a slight nuance of greater heat to come), and the kids I work with look forward to a respite from their school year, I begin to reminisce about the humid summers of Wisconsin childhood’s past. So probably not to anyone’s surprise, there is not much to do in a rural Wisconsin town for summer break aside from swim and play endless games of “Sharks” or “blob tag” with the neighborhood kids.  With so many options to be had, my sister and I decided from an early age to be a part of the summer swim team.  Swimming was hard, but soooo fun and provided endless formative experiences in my young life.  One of the pervasive memories was that of the long distance trips to swim meets and the hours filled with camp songs and pump-up cheers.  What is so funny to think now is that little did I know that one of those camp cheers would become one of the most successful cross cultural connector I have used to date.

Twenty or so years later summer is here again but will look much different now. In the last couple of year my summers ( and other seasons too) have become filled with journeys of working and volunteering abroad. The journey’s abroad have afforded me great adventures to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain, England, and more but most recently to North Africa and the Thai/Burma border.  Both of the latter trips were in the context of volunteer service and so as much volunteer work is filled with, lots of time with kids.  This, of course, is where boom-chicka-boom comes in.  Boom-chicka-boom is the kind of song you find that resonates deep in your soul.  This is not because the words are especially inspiring (with a name like boom-chicka-boom, that is difficult to understand) or because (please see attached instructional youtube video) has been my good ole stand-by when my knowledge of Derija (Moroccan arabic) or Karen (Burmese Hill tribe) children’s songs have not been on the tip of my tongue.

My first experience with this was leading a basketball camp in Morocco. The kids at an orphanage were gathered up for a group warm-up time aka “wiggles galore”. This time mostly just turned into an awkward dance circle where each instructor was called out to lead a dance move. Well when “Yasmine” was called, all I had been boom-chicka-boom. Now did I really think this not arabic cheer would go over well, no, but the response was overwhelming to the point where each day the boys would not finish warm up until boom-chicka-boom was done.

My second experience was just as entertaining and such an unexpected surprise. The summer I traveled with a team to volunteer in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border. Our mission was to provide training to the adults there, but asalways happens, the staff asked us to spend some time with the kids. Each of us were professionals who knew little about working with kids and so again, I dug deep to the days if swim caps and brought out boom-chicka-boom. It is just funny that non-sensical words string together to form such a vibrant energy and connection from these kids who are limited to bamboo huts in jungles.  Boom-chicka-boom became such a hit that you could hear kids walking around the camp singing it to themselves and naming kick moves to a game they play the “boom chicka”.

I guess at then end of all of this, I am just amazed at the resources our histories afford us. Who would have known, that a silly little cheer I did at swim meets would allow me to cross cultural gaps and create extremely meaningful experiences. What can you draw from your past?

The Mutual Admiration Society

“We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society

My baby and me

We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society”

The mutual admiration society song is a small tidbit of great memories I share of my dad signing me his version of bedtime songs (this one a 1950’s classic).

I had all but forgotten about this song until a few weeks ago when my dad and I had a sappy/sarcastic moment that resulted in the resurrection of his tenor voice, happily recounting this song to me over the phone while our family dog, Barkley, jangled about in the background, unable to catch the mischevious squirrels outside due to the restriction of the glass windows.

Sappy moment aside, this M.A.S (yes, we are going to switch to acronyms now) has been a fun concept to think about this week as I have been blessed by having great moments of great encouragement (via postcard, email, typed) from friends I respect greatly. You know it was one of those, “what you think I am great?!? WELL, I think you are great, in fact, I think you are greater, the bestest, and the fact you think I am great is so humbling”.

After the dramatic lovefest was over, I began to ponder the ways, means and conversations that allowed me to be at this stage at my life. This place where fun adventure aside, many of my friendships have grown to places of great admiration and intimacy, beyond what I could have dreamed for my life. I had a couple of enounters and dinner meetings later that week, that challenged me and equipped me with questions that have allowed me and will continue to allow me to grow deeper in relationships with the people who surround me.

  1. What are 3 memories of “success”, talent, appreciated skill that     you have before the age of 20?
  2. What are five words you would use to describe yourself?
  3. What are five words you think I would use to describe you?

These questions are just a start, but a good one, that allow people to  share with you warm moments in their life, that no people might have known.

“I say now you’re the sweetest one

I say, no you’re the sweetest one

She claims that I’m a natural wit

He says it’s just the opposite

The only fighting that we do is

Just who loves who more than who

And we go on like that from night til dawn

My baby and me

Oh, we belong to a Mutual Admiration Society

Now I do not exaggerate

I think she’s nothing short of great

I say that kind of flattery

Will get you any place with me

The way we carry on it tends

To just embarass all our friends

And that is how we’ll still be years from now

My baby and me

We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society

My baby and me

We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society

My baby and me”

My Gaelic Prince Charmings

“Yull see ah poob”, says a barely distinguishable voice over a bad cell phone connection.

“Then yull go ah kilometer and yull see ah noother poob”.  Starting to get frazzled do to lack of understanding, I do my best to seek clarification. I begin to think to myself,

“What he is saying seems vaguely like English, but I am still not sure”….

The voice on the other end repeats the previous statements.

“Okay, yull see ah poob, then yull go a coople of kilometers and yull see ah noother poob. Nex to thaat is a poob ahnd then nex to thaat is m’house”.

That experience with Aeonghus was just the beginning of a very entertaining adventure in Gaelic speaking northeastern Ireland. In speed version: we couchsurfed with a kind young Irish lad whose father had been a Gaelic playwright and was famous in the area we were visiting. We spent a couple of hours at the “poob” next door with what appeared to be the Irish version of “Grumpy Old Men” meets “want to meet and marry me a young wife”. A triad of ripe gentleman at the bar regaled me with a mix of stories about “Errol Flynn and is 14 inches of uncontrollable flesh” (for reference Errol Flynn was a 1950’s movie star) and gaelic poetry. All of this was much to Aeoghus’s amusement who eventually saved Ivy and I from the hands of the three Gaelic Casanova’s.

I was reminded of this story this week after reading an article in the New York Times about a project a college in New York is doing to document and chronicle the voice of the many dying languages of the world. The sad thing about Gaelic is it is one of those languages, spoken by just a few small parts of both Ireland and Scotland.

I guess after reading it I just consider myself lucky as it as a blessing to know that not too many girls can say they have been hit on in Gaelic and met the son of a famous Gaelic playwright.  This girl can.