Thursday, May 31, 2007

The American Giants

Soon after arriving in the Philippines I noticed that everyone was staring. I mean everyone! It's kind of a strange feeling. Anyway, I started wondering why they were all staring at us everywhere we went. Maybe they were surprised to see white people, maybe they thought we were crazy, maybe they thought we were cute, maybe they thought we weren't; I don't know. Yesterday I learned why. Dan, from the office, was sitting down at lunch with us and said, "We (I assume he meant the office, or perhaps the entire country) were wondering how you can eat so little and still be so big?" That's it! They are staring at the American giants. It's true, I am bigger (taller & fatter) than most men, women, and children here. Fun for me! As we road home on the train last night I looked around and realized it's true. The trains are really crowded and so we kind of have to push our way through the crowd to get off, well my roommate almost took out a woman just trying to get through. We couldn't stop laughing. It's hard being a giant.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Use your smiling muscles

I had another experience this weekend that reminded me why I am so grateful to me a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After much searching, a little anxiety, and a really long walk, I found a chapel to attend church. I walked in and instantly felt better. Life was good! I just had this overwhelming feeling of peace and gratitude. Feelings I know my Heavenly Father knew I needed.

I had brought a friend with me that doesn’t know much about my religion and so I was a little nervous when I realized that the meeting was not in English. I soon realized that there was so reason to worry; the spirit was very present in that room. The hymns were sung in English and without a piano to accompany us. It was a beautiful sound that I hope to not soon forget. The Stake President then stood and spoke of how important it is for each of us to be happy and to smile always. His words were simple, but great.

It is experiences like these that continue to remind me of the truth I know and feel. So, in the words of the Stake President, “I am going to use my smiling muscles and show the world I am members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”.


CFSI (the organization I’m working for) took all of us on a retreat this weekend to a small rural town about 1-2 hours outside of Manila. It’s up in the tropical mountains with fruit stands everywhere you look. The city overlooks a beautiful lake with a volcano in the center. The volcano is the smallest active volcano in the world.

We stayed in a convent “Villa of Santa Luisa”. The nuns provide accommodations for visiting parties. The rooms are dormitory style. The grounds are filled with beautiful tropical gardens. We were fed jack fruit, fried fish (whole fish) chips, chopped livers (from various animals) marinated and cooked in blood, chicken adobo (famous Filipino dish), and of course tons of rice.
We spent the weekend participating in team building/getting to know you activities. The people I work with are so amazing. Many of them spend hours commuting or only go home on the weekends in order to work this job. I never hear any of them complain about it either. They are always smiling and teasing each other, constantly! On Friday night we had a talent show (CFSI Idol). They sang or danced to traditional songs from the Philippines, others played the air guitar, while many of us just embarrassed ourselves. Us Americans showed them famous dance moves from the 90’s, like the running man, the shopping cart, the butterfly, the sprinkler, etc. We had a great time laughing at each other. I am so very excited to work with these people and to learn from their experiences.


I met the most fascinating woman the other day. She is a Muslim woman from Mindanao in the Philippines. There is much civil unrest in that part of the country at this time. Noraida works with people that have had to evacuate their homes due to bombings and fighting in their neighborhoods. She works for CFSI in providing relief services, as well as on community development projects that help thousands of people. She was nominated for the Voice of Courage Award by an organization in the U.S. (Go to under “news” and then “announcements”).

We met her upon her return to the Philippines from her visit to the U.S. She told us of her experience receiving this award and of being in America. She had such a sweet and endearing character. At the same time she is very intelligent and passionate about the work she does. I honestly could not get enough of her! She was so humble, loving, and perceptive of the world around her. I was amazed by the dangerous work she does in Mindanao and by the outreach she did while meeting with partners and potential donors in the U.S.
I hope to someday also be known for my courage, for my dedication to my religion, my compassion for my people, and my respect for others.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Barangays are similar to neighborhoods in the U.S. They are considered the lowest form of government in the Philippines. Each barangay has a captian elected to take care of their people and the situation of their community. Our organization works with four barangays in the community where our office resides and so we got a tour of these barangays the other day.

This experience was quite impactful and humbling. The homes are like huts stacked next to each other sharing walls and roofs. Many don't even have roofs or doors to protect them. Most homes are just one room and may have 14 people that live there. These homes often don't have running water or electricity. The streets are narrow, barely big enough for one car and filled with people bathing, sleeping and children playing. These families are so poor that often the children have to drop out of elementry school in order to try and find work to help support their families. Children often collect bottles, mothers will sell food on the streets while fathers try to earn money by giving rides to people on their bikes. Unfortunately, Pasay City (which is where we are located) is known for the sex and drug trafficking.

I could go on and on about the poor conditions these people experience while living in a huge city. As I walked through these barangays I was shocked into remembrance of the suffering that exists. I am so grateful for the many things and many opportunities I have been given. This experience has empowered me to:
- give thanks more often
- to be compassionate to all people in all circumstances
- and to spend my life working to improve the lives of others.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

10 Things I've learned in the Philippines already

1. Magandang Umaga means "good morning" in Tagalog.

2. Forget the diseases, you're probably more likely to get sikc from the smells of the market and the fumes of the cars on the streets.

3. Filipinos are extremely friendly. Everyone says hello and smiles at you. Children will come up, hold your hand, and ask your name. A common greeting we get is "Hey Joe", it comes from the times when American troops were in the Philippines during the war (G.I. Joe). They call all Americans it still.

4. You CAN eat fried chicken with a spoon. In fact you can eat everything with a spoon, because they do!

5. Jeepneys are common transportation in the Philippines. They are everywhere you look!

6. It's ok and common even to soak through your clothes with sweat before you even leave the house in the morning ( and several other times throughout the day).

7. The Philippines has 7, 107 islands.

8. Karaoke is huge here! It's the staple of Manila nightlife. Speaking of Manila nightlife, it's cheaper to buy beer here than soda or water.

9. If you ask where the restroom or bathrooms are, most people don't know what you are talking about. Restrooms are called CR's for Comfort Rooms. How appropriate! Oh, and putting toilet paper in the toilet is a big no, no.

10. Filipinos eat so much! They eat at least 5 meals a day........... and I promise!

First Day

After 24 hours of flying we finally arrived. We were welcomed by the extreme heat of Manila and the large cockroaches and geckos in our apartment. Our apartment is just a few minutes from Manila Bay. Along the boardwalk there are lots of huts set up as restaurants and they have bands playing in the evenings. We sat and watched the sunset and the locals.

We also went to Rizal Park. Jose Rizal was a doctor in the Philippines that helped rally the people during the time of spanish control. He was executed by the spanish for his radical thoughts in this very park. This park is gorgeous and huge. There are different chinese and japanese gardens throughout.

The Philippines

I decided it still wasn't time to grow up and so instead of getting a real job upon graduation I have ventured to the Philippines for the summer. I was given the opportunity to work for a non-profit organization in Manila for a few months and so I took it. I arrived just a few days ago and will be here until the beginning of August.

I am working for an organization called Community and Family Services International (CFSI). CFSI provides a variety of services to several countries including peace work, community organizing, community development, and refugee support. I will be working on helping the organization create a 3-5 year strategic plan and several proposals for the Park Avenue Initiative which serves the children and families in the community we work in.

I wanted to be able to share my experiences with everyone and so I feel this blog will be the best way. So I hope you enjoy joining me on my many adventures.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I am finally done with school! I graduated a few weeks ago from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. with my Masters in Social Work. I loved my time there and learned many valuable skills that will help me become a great social worker and a better person. Thanks to all of you that helped me along the way. My parents came out for the happy occasion and we had a great time touring the city.