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Our Living World is Dying

Stacey Worman, 2006-2007 Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellow

 

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Date: Februray 8th, 2007

To: Undisclosed recipients

Re: Making the Trip....

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Global warming seems to be the environmental issue attracting the most buzz and attention these days and I've intentionally avoided discussing the topic or entering the debate in any of my mass emails home. But many of you have expressed to me your interest in it all...and furthermore, my take on it all...and I've been putting off responding to it at all, as I myself am often overwhelmed and confused by it all too. For me, for this...it remains the elephant in the kitchen...

And right now, instead of tackling the 'crisis' head on, this email will only touch upon one of the consequences of our warming climate which we have already begun witnessing around the world the increase in the intensity and frequency of violent storms. As cited from Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' website, "The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years." (http://www.climatecrisis.net/ )

Now I'm slightly ashamed to admit this, but I never made it down to the gulf coast to see the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I do not have a good excuse for myself either. I was living in Nashville when it struck. In the weeks that followed, the Vanderbilt community organized and sponsored trips to shuttle down hands that were willing to help in the relief efforts. And in the months that followed...after the Tulane students returned to their campus...a short and affordable plane ride would have taken me to a city where I could have been picked up at the airport by a newly-made-good-friend and where I would have had a couch to crash on for however long I wanted...could of, would of, should of...but didn't.

Like I said, I have no good excuse for myself...going would have been so easy. But between writing papers, studying for tests, and trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life post-college...and despite geographic proximity and personal ties to people living in the area...I decided to make donations instead of making the trip. And because of that...to this day...the devastation that happened on the gulf coast remains outside of my own realm of reality.

This past November, I was here in the Philippines when super-typhoon Reming (Durian) struck. I was away from television and technology at the time and sure, I heard brief chatter of some big storm amongst the locals...but oddly enough...it was only when I signed online a few days later and found concerned emails from those of you back home that I actually learned how severe the situation here was. When I started to read numerous emails from people who were 'hoping I was safe' and 'sending their thoughts, prayers, and love' to the people here...well...that was when I scratched my head and said, "Woah woah woah...so what exactly happened right under my nose?!" And that was also when I decided that...this time around...I really had no good excuse for myself...that this time, I needed to do better than simply give money to the problem...I needed to make the trip...to witness the power of nature...to see what shear and utter devastation looks like. This time around...I needed to allow it all to hit home in a much more profound way.

And upon returning to the Philippines , this was my first order of business. After an eleven-hour rickety bus ride down a sad excuse for a national highway...I found myself exhausted and awed on a perfectly clear morning, circling Mt. Mayon en route to my destination. Commentary from the man sitting next to me began as the sun rose behind the volcano...To me, everything in every direction looked completely destroyed. To him, it all looked a million times better.

Super-typhoon Reming might be 'yesterday's news' to the world...but it is still a very harsh reality in this corner of it. And so I'll quickly and concisely remind you all of what happened...

On November 30th a category 5 super-typhoon swept through the Bicol region of the Philippines (it was the fourth devastating typhoon the country had seen in the past four months)...And it triggered a massive landslide of lahar from the slopes of the 8,000 foot active volcano, Mt. Mayon. Over 1,400 people were killed. Of those who survived, nearly 2,000 were injured...many more were displaced as their homes were buried, flooded, or washed away...and even more are still without adequate water, food, shelter, and electricity.

I de-boarded the bus in the barangay (neighborhood) of San Isidro...crashed for a couple hours...ate lunch...changed cloths...and then started working with the international non-profit organization Hands On ( www.hodr.org ), which is dedicated to "timely disaster response and relief". This is their forth project to date (the three others were the Thailand Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the Indonesia Earthquake) and they make volunteering easy; just show up...they'll hand you a t-shirt and put you to work...you'll get three meals a day and a place to crash...and you can stay for one day or three months! As an organization, they recognize that there's a ton of work to be done after a natural disaster strikes...and their main goal is to get there and start helping...and furthermore...to get as many other sets of hands there by removing all those impediments from volunteering that prevent people interested in helping from actually helping! (What a neat concept!)

And so this U.S.-based non-profit has made the assembly of a group of international volunteers here in the Philippines possible. And here they will remain through the month of March (hint hint, bored at home?)...contributing their hands to the relief effort...tarping roofs, shoveling lahar, building boats, fixing schools, etc. And when they pack up and go home...despite all of their hard work and long hours...things obviously won't be back to 'normal' and in the grand scheme of things, they'll have only made a dent...but what they have done (are doing/will do) means the world to the individuals and families in the area who they were (are/will be) able to help...

When a disaster of this scale happens...it's hard to know where to begin. And I think that's probably why I didn't make the trip down to the coast one of my priorities last year...what could I have really done in such a case anyway?

It is great that this group exists because they make it so easy for anyone to take that first step...to simply make the trip...and then they support what happens from there. And it was cool to meet people who have made this disaster a priority...who have put their jobs, studies, and lives on hold to help. It is always interesting for me to talk to people who volunteer, as they all confess the same thing: they get more than they give! Some of the volunteers out in San Isidro even admitted that the money they spent on their airfare to the Philippines would have gone so far in the community...that it would have done so much...but in lieu of a donation, they 'selfishly' chose to make the trip instead...

And as my time with the group out in San Isidro passed...I started to realize that the work we were doing was of secondary importance to our presence in the community. Many of the locals had a hard time understanding why we..."with so much"...would actually choose to temporarily give up our lives to live, work, and laugh amongst them. They didn't understand it...but they were thankful for it...

Time in this country doesn't tick like it does back home and to Filipinos, whether things happen today...or tomorrow...or next week...or next month...ah well...it's all one-and-the-same anyway (a complication which often frustrates foreigners trying to accomplish anything here, including myself...explaining my own 'hold-up'!). And if you tried to judge them by their disposition...you'd never in million years guess that these people had suffered great losses...losses of loved one, limbs, livelihoods, and property...because they are still smiling...because they haven't lost the moment...and so they kick back and watch that Americana ferociously trying to shovel lahar or hammer a nail...because to them it is quite a funny site...and so they relax...watch...laugh...and enjoy it. And I'd see the humor in it all myself...and instead worrying about 'wasting time'...I'd take a moment to share the moment with them...and that's ironically...when I actually did something....

Even after this experience, I still haven't the faintest clue about super-typhoon Reming or natural disasters...but now I have a better one. The people who do have a clue...the people who lived through it themselves...are just thankful that other people are here, trying to understand what it was like. Yes hands are important and they are thankful for the help...but there's much more to it than just that. They are more thankful that people have made the trip...that they have chosen to look into their eyes...enter their homes...and hear their stories. And they need more people who are willing to share their reality...so that those people can turn around and tell the rest of the world for them...

And so...what does this has to do with anything?

Haha...I'm glad you asked....and as always... this is to be continued...

With love and mu-haha's...

Stace

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Learn More: www.climatecrisis.net (Click Here)

Get involved: www.hodr.org (Click Here)

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Janurary 23rd, 2007, Did You Hear the Good News?

Janurary 6th, 2007, I Found it on the Map....

December 17th, 2006, Catch as Catch Can, As Fast as You Can...

December 1st, 2006, My Dream Destination & an Indigenous Filipino Family...

November 8th, 2006, An Old Forest, A Feral Ship, and Discarded Paper...

November 3rd, 2006, It's all Fun and Games Until...

October 17th, 2006, Ends Justifying Means?...

October 4, 2006, Different Industries Down Under...

September 28, 2006, Close Together, Worlds Apart....

September 10, 2006, Final Thoughts, the Life/Work Dichotomy....

September 7, 2006, The Party Eventually Ends...

September 4, 2006, Under the Sea, with Scientific Spectacles...

September 3, 2006, Off the Ship...

August 8, 2006, Back on land, but not for long...

June 24, 2006, Our maiden voyage(s)...

June 19, 2006, Not another mass email...

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