I cannot believe that this is my last week here! Oh my goodness. It’s really been a challenge to my perception of how time has passed, because it feels like I’ve been here forever, but I can remember the events of several weeks ago as if they happened yesterday. I have several things to do before I leave (and many more blog posts I’ve been brainstorming in my notebook that I need to publish!) but for now I’ll give an account of what I’ve been doing recently.
Last week Kelsey and I facilitated a Student Leadership Training for the first and second year student leaders. The hierarchy of St. Scho is interesting. As far as Student Affairs go, the Deans and faculty of the Student Affairs Office are obviously on top. Under them is the Student Council, and then the Batch Reps (one for each class year), and then the Council of Representatives, which include the course reps for all the batches. For example, each major has a representative for their year, like a 1st year MassComm rep, 1st year Accountancy rep, and so on. There is also a Council of Student Leaders who are leaders and the executive officers of student organizations. But Kelsey and I got to give a leadership training workshop to the underclassmen course reps in the Council of Representatives, which was actually really fun. Kelsey and I have both been a part of various leadership things at IWU (such as participating in the First Year Leadership Institute during our freshman year and becoming members of the National Society of Leadership and Success in our sophomore year) so we were able to draw on some of the resources we had been given as participants in these programs. Among them were fun activities designed to teach lessons about leadership (like trust and cooperation) – we put together a cup stacking activity (using only strings and a rubber band) and a blind obstacle course for the girls.
This past Saturday, Ms. Mae, our advisor and the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, took Kelsey and I to her home in Las Pinas City to see the 220 year old Bamboo Organ – the only one in the world, and yes it’s exactly what it sounds like – an organ made entirely out of bamboo. There was even a wedding going on in the church when we got there, so we were able to observe some Filipino wedding rituals from the balcony and hear the organ being played.
We also got to go to the opening night of Cinemalaya, an annual independent Film Festival for Filipino and Southeast Asian films. Opening night was free, so a ton of people were there. Kelsey and I really felt like a part of the local community going to the opening night of this thing with everyone else. It was help at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which is a gorgeous place, and we were wowed by the experience. I can definitely say that we were not expecting a full orchestra and a musical/dance performance in an extravagant world-class theatre when we were invited along to see a movie. But I’m not complaining!
The opening movie was titled “Taklub,” which means “Trap.” (All the Filipino movies have English subtitles, for which we were glad). It was an artistic portrayal of the struggles that people in Tacloban (which is in the Visayas, the central island chain south of here) are still dealing with in the aftermath of the superstorm that happened more than a year ago. Typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Typhoon Haiyan) hit in November of 2013, and was one of the worst storms in recorded history. It killed more than 6,300 in the Philippines.
The title refers to the fact that people are still trapped there, in Tacloban and elsewhere, while for a year nothing has been done. While talking to a MassComm student from St. Scho after the movie, we were told that many people think that because this isn’t in the news anymore that everything is fine – but it’s not. Most disaster relief focuses on the emergency response phase and then disappears when the world loses interest. For communities in Tacloban that are still in shambles – consisting of a now quasi-permanent “tent city” made up of tarps and lean-tos fashioned out of corrugated steel sheets, little has been done in the way of sustainable relief. The government can only do so much, especially as only 7% of Filipinos are eligible to pay taxes (according to Thomas Graham, author of The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga). These families have already experiences so much loss, but living in such vulnerable, unprotected areas keeps them at risk – dangers include landslides, flash floods, tropical storms, and tsunamis, as well as malnourishment, illness, and disease.
I was especially affected by one scene in the movie where a mother who has lost 3 of her 4 children goes to take advantage of the free DNA testing that is being offered in a government building so as to try to match her with some of the bodies that were too decomposed to be identifiable. When she’s told that they could not find a match, she goes into a rage before breaking down into sobs: “You mean to tell me that out of the hundreds of people in that mass grave, my kids aren’t there? I’ve been lighting candles there for a year and they’re not there?!” This goes to show that the survivors of Yolanda are still experiencing loss – this mother can’t get closure, that father’s wife and five children perished in a fire caused by a kerosene lamp in the tent they had been living in, etc.
Although this isn’t a movie I would have wanted to go see otherwise, I’m really glad I got to learn more about the situation in the south, and the horrible tragedy that this country is still trying to recover from and cope with.