LernEinsatz: Philippinen 2018

One Pulse. One Journey. A common Endeavour. A common Yearning. A Reaching Out. One People. One Humanity. One World.

When you have experienced something so new, so intense and so sincere ... you realize how hard it is to position yourself in front of the blank paper, with a pen in your hand and with your mind full of memories and ideas that rush without an apparent order. You have a lot to say but you do not know if you will find the right words to express it, so that others understand it; so that you, reader, understand it. I want to explain and perhaps consider with you what this experience has offered to me but it is difficult even now that  I am back because I don´t fully understand on what level my perspective has changed. Therefore, I will start from the beginning and then, step by step, I will understand. I will fill in the gaps, assimilating ideas, strengthening memories and thus getting my own sense.  

It would be useless to deny that we are what we live, that we move forward step by step and that everything is a stage of our learning, as it would be counterproductive to deny that this dynamic is part of our life cycle. But still, we should differentiate between those changes that happen slowly, in our ´day to day´ and routines, which we do not perceive until the day we realize that we are no longer how we used to be. And on the other hand, those that come wrapped in a halo of intensity, no matter if it is good or bad and I do not know exactly why, but they have an impact on us. They come into you in another way and you cannot help the feeling that something is changing. For me, "Kapintig" and the Philippines define the second type. Fast and fleeting, intense and surprising, inspiring and saddening; but above all, revealing.

It is true that each trip can reveal you something new about a place and our ideas about it become more and more accurate. Before unveiling it, its existence was not completely strange to us, but nevertheless, we were totally blind. And blind I chose to go to the Philippines. An idea, an opportunity, and an illusion made me end up quite far from what I truly know as home. Dreaming and imagining, as well as believing that there is something else are the greatest engine we have as human beings. Therefore, I can only say that I do not regret having heard the engine and having launched out towards the unknown. I flew over the Asian continent to end up in the Philippines and I am happy because I did it as part of an intercultural program, which allowed me to grasp the reasons why this country is so different to mine. And finally, it also makes me happy the fact that I have been part of a group of people with similar expectations but with very different personalities and ways of being; since, if I have to use a word to define it, that would be "enriching".

Enriching ourselves through differences and creating heterogeneous units is possible. An example of this is the interesting contrast between the Austrian and Filipino culture. Personally I have learned a lot from both cultures and I think we all have. Not only the discovery of a country is what we take with us; but I am convinced that all of us have discovered something new about ourselves and our homes. We have tested our ability to adapt to areas and places that were not familiar to us. We have dealt with people and personalities that differ from our usual social groups; and we also have experienced what it means to deal with new ideas and realities.

That is why "Kapintig" represents exactly what they explained to us at the beginning:

"You are a frog in a well; but do not worry, you just need time, experiences, people and Kapintig and you will be able to leave that well, to see the light shining in the sky and to appreciate the landscapes which seemed darker before"

We all are and will be toads locked in our own wells, in our own spider webs, as Max Weber said:senses woven by ourselves and in which we are trapped and enormously conditioned, fervently believing that they are all the reality". However, one can always try to climb, and that is what we have done. Thanks to each experience, we climbed a bit more and we did not do it alone, but with the help of many Filipinos and their communities.

The Marinduque Experience

After our first days in a pastoral centre located in Quezon City, we went to Marinduque and there we had the first great immersion. During nine days we lived on the island and the experience was divided into two parts. Every part prepared by an organism: MACEC - an environmental organization, and BEC - an ecclesiastical community.

During the first days we were surrounded by young people and we could appreciate how everyone was enormously involved in the projects of the organization. All of them accompanied us during the activities and we lived with host families. Every activity was connected to the DKA, since one of the objectives was to show us how the money sent from Austria had been used. From all the common activities carried out by the people in Marinduque, we participated in the "Mangrove planting", "Sand bagging" and "fish drying". We had the privilege of living two wonderful and peculiar nights: a big bonfire by the sea, full of songs and good vibes; and a cultural night, which was quite representative of their traditions and showed me how little effort the Filipinos need to make, in order to be happy and satisfied with the small things they have and to share all this happiness with us. But regarding once more the DKA contributions, I would like to mention the "house building" projects. We visited a house that had been built for a family with two children after a typhoon destroyed their "nipahat" (typical house made of bamboo). And when I mention this kind of visits, two very emotional moments come to my mind. In one of the financed houses, the group performed the common ritual of the "Sternsingen" and it was a very endearing moment. As well as it was when, visiting another house, the owner started crying, but not out of sadness, as one could think her house was not enough for her and her five children, but out of gratitude and joy because her family did not run any kind of danger. Both were moments that made me realize how our small contribution is a great opportunity in third world countries.

Briefly, MACEC kept my eyes wide open, as well as my mind and my heart. My eyes could not stop admiring the tropical beauty that surrounded us and which was so bizarre. My mind? Those were days in which many conversations arose and all of them seemed interesting to me. I was able to understand firsthand how much the components of the group were involved in protecting the environment and their homes, and most of our conversations had a personal connotation. So I felt grateful to be part of an intercultural program that broke down barriers and allowed me to ask questions and get answers. And finally my heart. I have to say that I took back with me more than just beautiful memories, because even without speaking the same language, without coming from the same place, and without sharing same concerns or aspirations as the Filipino people, I managed to forget about myself. I forgot my problems, I forgot my goals momentarily and I was able to feel through another skin, to feel empathy and to understand their problems. Definitely I felt part of their community. Although briefly, although it might not have happened without  the project ... the ephemeral sense of belonging was real.

Then came the BEC experience, which was a bit more relaxed, since it consisted of living with a host family and being part of the community's activities. The Austrian team was divided into three small groups and we went to different municipalities, but the objective was the same. In the "barangay" or town where I was, we practiced "fish catching" and "coconut climbing"; we hiked to "Luzon Datum", and we experienced "the Putong" (typical welcome ceremony for foreigners), "a serenade", and of course another beautiful cultural night. Although many of our activities were already organized, much of our free time was focused on cooking and collaborating in the daily life of the family that welcomed us.

In this sense, I appreciated how good it is to know each other, to be part of a community that sticks together to go ahead, even if it's small and struggles. The BEC community has associates throughout the island and communities working on different projects, but all of them are based on the firm idea that the community advances through solidarity and effort. For example, a group of women showed us how they prepared ginger tea, packaged it and sold it in order to make profits, which could be loaned with no interest to any member who needed it. A totally altruistic effort motivated by the illusion of nobody being left behind. We were also able to understand the big role that religion plays in their lives and I personally could understand why. For them it entails hope and empowerment, and apparently they feel that the church is close to their problems. Religion may not offer them economic or political solutions and they are also conditioned by it in many aspects, but it cannot be denied that it unites them and this cohesion seems to be the key of their optimism.

If you travel to such a different country, a third-world country, and you just see with your eyes... you will not be able to learn as much as if you open your mind and you try to leave apart all the visual contrast. It may be difficult because of the different hygiene standards and so different perceptions of what is normal and what is not. And If you just focus on this, you will feel pity and you will probably wish that they have what you have. But... sincerely, I do believe that there is another way of looking at it and realizing that what you wish and need is not what they are dreaming of. Will they be happier if they lived in our places?

We may tend to think that if they came here, they would immediately want to stay and everything would seem an improvement for them. But probably our solitary routines and our deep-rooted individualism would not enchant them. I think that just like I cannot say that I could stay in the Philippines, this "first world" might not be everything they need.

We all would be able to live in any kind of "chaos" if we were used to it. And once far away from it, we would also miss it.

Lifelines oriented in different directions but tangents in multiple points
lines which have been crossing for long time thanks to the "Kapintig", thanks to the DKA
lines joined by people and which are constantly being redirected due to our actions.

The Urban Experience

The urban experience was also divided into two. The first activities we did were at the pastoral centre in Quezon City, where we spent four days. Quickly enumerating what we did, I would like to highlight the orientation and the welcome party. In the latter, we learnt the famous expression "Pumipintig, Buhay na buhay". At the beginning, it was too difficult for us to memorize this quote but at the end of the experience, we replied really fast when someone asked us in Tagalog how we were. They always cared about our needs and they always tried to make us feel comfortable.

The first part in Manila was very relaxed but I would say that it was a necessary introduction, through which we got an overview of the program and the country. They explained to us a lot of things that we did not know about the Philippines and they taught us a bit of Tagalog. We had a "Contrast Tour" around the city and we did some traditional tourism. Obviously almost everything we saw surprised us, but luckily we were accompanied by some locals, who explained to us why there were so many chickens in the streets, how the payment system worked in the famous "Jeepnys" and of course about the different names and tastes of the food we saw in the streets. It was quite interesting to be part of the dynamics of a city, which is so different to ours.  And spite of the noise, the dirt, the traffic and other problems, about which we no longer need to care about in Europe, we appreciated how hospitable the Filipinos are. Sometimes we could not help feeling sorry or observing certain scenes with a cramped heart... but the image conveyed by the Filipinos was that of feeling quite comfortable . The city tour left us exhausted and the day after was a relaxed one. We stayed the whole day in the Pastoral Centre and we discovered another important part of our experience: "The processing". After each important activity, we had to gather all together to reflect about what we lived  with the managers of the program. Both helped us a lot because they always had an answer for us; and those were not necessarily closed answers, but only keys so that we were able to find out by ourselves and create our own opinions.

After Marinduque, came the second part that consisted of living with other host families in "Valenzuela City", a poor and fairly industrialized area of ​​Manila where we would know the AKKMA ​​organization, focused on the empowerment of women through educational workshops or workshops that taught them to prepare certain recipes, oils for massages, etc ... so that they could sell them. They also operate health centres for pregnant women and a "day care centre" for the youngest children. The experience was brief but together with the visit to ECPAT (an association that helps children and teenagers who have suffered sexual abuse) and KARITON (organization focused on the collection and reuse of waste), it was more than enriching and gave me a lot to think about. I also have to admit that the experience was harder because the conditions in which we had to live were also hard, and communication with children and adults in the area was more complicated due to the language. I feel that I have many things still left to understand and that in a certain way their problems had to be more serious than we could appreciate. Even so, the smiles and gestures full of kindness never lacked.

Forgetting about ourselves for a while. Forgetting about the dirt, about the noise and about how far we were from home. It was about getting involved and being able to learn from inside.

Learning that our problems are not as serious as we believe, that our misfortunes should not prevent us from smiling. We had the opportunity of putting our feet back on the ground. Realizing that everything we took for granted, everything we did not appreciate because we always had it ... has more value than we thought.

The Cordillera Experience

This last immersion took place at the end of the month in a small place called Liglig, where we got to know a group of indigenous people from the Philippine Cordillera. To reach the "site" inside the "Barangay", we had to walk about two hours between pure vegetation. Without serious incidents we arrived safely at our destination. On our arrival I was surprised by the houses, as they were made purely of wood, but they were big and they were very well built. Later I discovered that all the members of the village usually build together and little by little they created this peculiar but pleasant space that welcomed us for four days. As we got involved in their activities and talked with them, we realized that there were subtle differences compared to the Filipino culture that we had known until then. For them, the field or their land is everything, they are emotionally bound to it and they believe that their ancestors continue guiding them and bringing them luck. For that reason, they appreciate and maintain their way of life. Their ancestors and their descendants are their past and their future and they are all connected by the place where they live. They do not transmit their culture and their stories through writings, but rather people and oral transmission mark the dynamics and the resilience of their culture.

Regarding the activities that allowed us to know a little bit more about this small part of the country: we participated in the "rice planting", "coffee pounding", we attended a "bamboo workshop", we had a couple of meals in community and other with our host families, we attended mass, we sang, we danced and they also organized a "solidarity night" where we experienced the courtship dance and learned to play the Gong. In this experience everything was quieter and we did not have such a tight schedule. We experience the calm of living without calendars, clocks or schedules. The calm of feeling ourselves semi-lost in the middle of the mountain, of subjecting our activities to the whims of the rain or simply enjoying doing nothing, lying on hard boards and listening to our companion Isabella playing the guitar and singing "Halleluya"

I can only say that time there seemed to pass by slower. Maybe because nobody was running around looking at the watch. Maybe because nobody was going anywhere out there, or maybe because the activities did not have a fully stipulated beginning and end. Then you realize that time, as we know it, is a human adjustment to get the most productivity out of a day... out of life?

Right now, few people could live without schedules, without well-defined routines, without deadlines; in few words, without pressure. And it is a pressure that we do not perceive as such, just as Filipinos do not become overwhelmed by the smoke of pollution or the residual smell they have to face. We can all survive within our own "chaos", but sometimes you have to get out of this in order to realize where and how you have been living. As I said before, for me it has been a change in more than just one way, but one of them is related to our accelerated lives. I think I have to relearn to live slower in my routine. Also tiny daily things and even unforeseen events ... can be enjoyed. It has helped me to realize that I should not reserve all my happiness for the final objectives, but it is possible that every day I try a small ration.

But as in each trip, the pathway ends. You leave behind people, landscapes, routines and your tiny trace; but you also take a lot with you. Everything learned comes home with you and even if you do not know how it will transform you, you know that it will rebound to something good.