Ponderings in the Philippines

I was in the Philippines last week. Even as I write that sentence out, it seems surreal that a mere week ago, I was in that paradisiacal environment, volunteering with and learning about the Philippino culture and meeting the warm, welcoming people who reside there.

And though a week later, my tan is fading quickly and many of the warm fuzzies generated from my week long excursion with JDC Entwine are no longer at the forefront of my mind, I wanted to take the time to put down a few things I thought about while traveling:

1. The terms of happiness are not universal. I spent my week in the Philippines traveling with a diverse group of people. We hailed from all over the globe from all different backgrounds. United by a common mission to volunteer and learn, we traveled half way across the world to do just this. While abroad, we met people from drastically different backgrounds than ours who struggled with very different daily trials and tribulations than many of us are ever likely to face. In our reflective, post volunteer session discussions, the theme of education arose over and over again--many of the people we met would only ever reach a fourth grade level of education and there was a lot of discussion about whether this contributed to their overall happiness. It was hard not to project that our criteria for happiness must be universally applicable and yet, in our time talking to them, I witnessed an overall happy, content, satisfied, group of people. Educated or not, they didn't seem to be wanting in that particular facet of their lives,

2. Don't take walls for granted. Many of the Philippino people we met live in huts. Huts without indoor plumbing, electricity or walls. These huts are destructible and we heard tales of people residing in island fisher villages whose homes were literally torn apart during Typhoon Yolanda. When we asked if they had rebuilt sturdier homes post typhoon, their response was unanimously that they didn't have the finances to build elevated homes. And so, they continue living in homes comprised of metal roofs and wooden slats with nary a wall in sight, with no shield from nature, no sense of privacy and no real shelter. While on the trip, I found myself describing--and complaining about--my crappy New York apartment to some trip mates. Taking a step back, I reflected that walls, and everything that they contain--and keep out--should not be taken for granted.

3. There's beauty in simplicity. The week before I left for this trip, work was absolute madness. Working until 11 pm each night, I was going out of my mind with exhaustion. I love my job, but I was having an inordinate number of thoughts along the lines of 'why am I killing myself to make one more ad'? When you're running a million miles a minute all the time, it's easy to lose perspective. So when I arrived in the Philippines and met these incredible people whose lives are so much...simpler, it gave me a dose of much needed perspective. When faced with people who have so little and seem OK with it, it really made me appreciate how much beauty can be found in slowing down every once in a while.

4. Listening is hard when you can't hear. After a late night run one evening, I jumped in the pool, came up for air, and announced 'I can't hear'. When jumping on one foot resolved nothing, I attempted to treat my ear with everything from swimmers ear, to capfuls of rubbing alcohol, to ear candling, to a visit to a local doctor. All to no avail, I resigned myself to not being able to hear 50% of what was said on the trip and made a decision to deal with it when I returned home. Let me tell you, the poignancy of working with local disabled Philippinos while suffering from hearing impairment, was not lost on me. When I finally visited an ENT in New York, had the problem resolved and an onslaught of sound flowed once more into my ears, I was nothing short of ecstatic. It's easy to forget how much you rely on something until it's gone.

5. There is a lot of good in the world. I've met a lot of tremendous people in my lifetime. I also live in NYC, work in the cutthroat businesses that is advertising and have met a number of...not so nice people. It's easy to write people off and make blanket statements that 'people suck'. And sometimes they do. But when I spent a week abroad with 20 tremendous people who were willing to give their time, love and money to an incredible cause, when I met with local Philippino organizations to see what they are doing to help one another improve their lots in life and heard the stories of local people who didn't have much to their name but gave of their time anyway--wow. What a beautiful reminder that there is so so much good in the world.

I feel truly blessed to have been able to be a part of the JDC Entwine program. Hearing about the work that the Joint is involved with, seeing how they work tirelessly to ease the burden of people around the world through donations, aid, education and endless amounts of love and dedication, was a truly life changing experience. I only hope that though my jet lag slowly goes away and my tan fades, my commitment to this cause will persist. And maybe, I'll be more cognizant of slowing down every now and again and giving back just a little bit more.