Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the Ground with Jim Cook: Images and Observations from the Philippines

Part Three

My next day in the Philippines included an early departure from Legaspi. The destination was Manila once again, this time to visit the two Children International agencies there.

I was met at the airport by the Manila staff, headed up by Cynthia Tiotuyco. Our brief greeting was punctuated by Cynthia introducing me to one of the staff members who would be taking pictures. Her name is Mabel, and she is the daughter of Alberto Garcia, a world-renowned photographer I met on my first trip to the Philippines! He is a good friend of the organization and has worked with us many times over the years.

Alberto is without a doubt the finest photographer I’ve ever met. And I’ve met some good ones. His amazing shot of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo (yet another volcano!) has been featured in both National Geographic’s 100 Best Pictures and Time Magazine—Great Images of the 20th Century.

I was informed that Alberto would be joining us to shoot some photos, along with his daughter. What a joy it was to watch the two of them work together!

We wasted no time getting into the thick of things by paying a visit to a family that some of Children International’s writers had documented on their last visit. The family was the Garcia family (no relation to Alberto and Mabel), and the article that appeared in our sponsorship magazine Journeys described their life with the Bagbag cemetery as their home.

I had read the article, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. It’s hard to describe conditions in which the most prominent element of the “home” is the crypts—complete with headstones—that form the floor, bed, kitchen, furniture, etc.

I visited with the three generations of Garcias present and had the pleasant assignment of informing them that two Children International contributors, Ron Neal and Steve Krumholz, had joined to provide enough funds to purchase a home—a real home—for the family. This news was greeted with emotions that ran the gamut from smiles to tears…at the same time. I’m not sure who was happiest among the group…likely it was a tie for ultimate bliss of a dream come true for all!

Talk about Real Help and Real Hope. The future just changed for the Garcias!

For my next visit I followed the staff across the cemetery, picking our way over and around burial vaults. That’s a first for me. On one vault was a bone. About eight to ten inches long. Pretty much bleached by the sun. I looked at it. I looked up at the local person leading me. She nodded…yes, it was a human bone. Like I said, this was a first for me. A couple of ‘em.

After that most unforgettable visit, we traveled on to a new community center, recently completed thanks to generous contributions from our donors. It is truly a magnificently functional beacon in the community!

I also once again met my 15-year-old sponsored child, Ranie, who seems to grow substantially every time I see him. He had done a really nice drawing for me that pictured my family from an earlier photo I’d sent to him. (Sponsored children and families LOVE receiving pictures from their sponsors…I urge sponsors to do it—it is so easy and means so very much to the families!)

We left the new center and traveled through the byzantine (and extremely confusing) streets of Manila to another clinic. There I met the grandmother of Leopoldo, a sponsored child who has a very serious condition called bradycardia. His condition was discovered by a Children International doctor, Dr. Jun Santiago, during his regular medical checkup. It causes a slow heartbeat that leads to other problems and can be fatal if not addressed.

Addressed it was. In fact, on that day, Leopoldo was in the hospital preparing for surgery the next day.

Grandmother was quite emotional in expressing her appreciation for Children International donors who made the surgery possible. She presented me with a card Leopoldo had written. It said, in part: “Thank you for having a big and good heart that makes my heart strong and giving me a chance to live a long life. Maraming salamat po! [Thank You!]”

I’m eager and a bit anxious to learn how the surgery goes for Leopoldo.

After that emotional visit, it was time for me to head back to the hotel. What an amazing day it had been! Each person or family I had met underscored the essence of sponsorship—how our close connection to the children and their families in the communities, over time, enables our staff to identify needs: some basic, others, like a heart operation, not so basic.

And then, thanks to a whole lot of people—sponsors and other generous contributors—who want to make a real difference in someone’s life, we are able to…well…make a real difference in someone’s life!


My last day found me at our other sponsorship agency in Metro Manila…named our Quezon City agency.

Lei Orioste is the director there and, like Zaldy in Legaspi, Lei was already working for us when I made my maiden voyage to the Philippines back in ’86. We share a lot of memories.

I toured around the office and ended up in the accounting area where a “fellow” accountant (long ago and far away I worked as a CPA in an auditing firm) looks after things in an exceptional manner. Her name is Bolet—that’s her Filipino nickname for Violeta—and I was involved in her hiring back in 1991, and I think it was the morning of the day that Mount Pinatubo erupted. It does seem that much of my history in the Philippines has been defined by volcanoes!

We talked of that day, which featured a volcanic eruption that affected sunsets around the world for months. The cloud of volcanic dust and ash over Manila made it eerily dark as night in the middle of the afternoon, and I experienced an earthquake that scared the heck out of this Kansas boy.

Lei then announced that we were heading over to “The Betty Lou,” which is the name of the new community center named in memory of Betty Lou Daul, the late wife of Ron Daul, whose MOST generous contribution built the beautiful center that celebrates her life.

Once we arrived, I participated in handing out certificates for school supplies. With these certificates, each sponsored child is able to go to a large bookstore chain located throughout Manila and select exactly what he or she needs. The children love being able to actually go to a store and buy what they want and need.

Then it was time for lunch at the center with some parents and sponsored children. It was great. The children performed some very energetic singing and dancing numbers, and no one performs like Filipinos! Surely karaoke was invented here.

We had so much fun that the mothers of the children leapt up on the stage and performed their own lively dance—what fun!

But the crowning glory to that great lunch was when a sponsored child who might have been six years old recited from memory a poem her mother had written two days before. There were a couple of amazing things happening there…first the poem, which was inspiring and moving…secondly, that this young child could have memorized it in two days boggles my mind.

Here’s just a small part of that poem that describes this mother’s feelings after her child was enrolled in sponsorship:
Thank you, Lord for these people you sent into our life. That we may better see Your goodness and love For the poor and underserved, for the needy and ignorant Our dreams and wishes, You finally grant.
That mom then directed her words to me and said that I was a blessing from God. I’m not. To most—including me for sure—that is painfully obvious. What I am to that woman was the representative of all the selfless, caring sponsors who “finally grant” the “dreams and wishes” of people who are living in oppressive poverty.

But I didn’t tell that woman that I wasn’t the or even a blessing, much as I felt like doing so. Sometimes I think people probably need to have their own blessing, and if that woman needed me to be it, so be it. And more power to her.

The staff then took me to visit a housing area where we have built 62 homes for people who lost theirs in a fire a few years ago. The homes are quite nice and the people most appreciative. Once again I was taken with what must be an irrepressible, instinctive characteristic in the woman of the house to include plants and colorful flowers in and outside her home. I have seen it over and over in my travels.

I was very happy with the homes we had built. And, we actually helped create a community for this group of people. It was quite apparent how much camaraderie there was among the people there, as shown by the young men playing basketball on the “court” (a goal with the street as the court), who were obviously enjoying themselves in their new neighborhood. Incidentally, when this housing effort was dedicated, representatives from the U.S. Embassy attended…support we always appreciate!

During this visit, it was great to see old friends and associates and meet new, enthusiastic ones. It reminded me that this organization is really all about people—people who make it possible for so many to help so many!

It also served to renew my energy for Children International’s mission. Watching the dedication and commitment of the staff, who daily do heroic things for the children, always inspires and motivates me!

I also want to take a moment to thank our Communication Coordinators, who expended Herculean effort in recording my every move so I would have photos to share with you. So thanks to Arlene DeVera in Manila, CJ Tarroja in Quezon City, Juvy Bornilla in Tabaco and Tony Lorcha in Legaspi (I might add that Tony is a former sponsored child!). You guys were great.

My time here made me extraordinarily thankful for the thousands of sponsors who, every month, make a leap of faith by sending a contribution for a child halfway around the world they likely have never met and likely never will. A contribution they trust will be put to good use and make a real difference in the life of their sponsored child. Once again, I saw that leap of faith translated into action that is, in fact, making a real difference and providing hope where it didn’t exist before!

Thanks for tagging along with me on my journey. I’m out and I’m heading home.

For more photos of Jim's visit to the Philppines, check out his photo album and listen as Jim talks about his trip.


Anonymous said...

Love reading about these trips and the followup stories.

Anonymous said...

me too, more from jim plse!!!!