#BangonPhilipinas: Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief Part One

Just live. Stay strong.

Four small words; one very powerful message.

These words are, hands down, part of the most profound moment of this entire trip. As we were returning to our base after day one of distributing food to people in the remote barangays, I was holding onto the back of the truck when I saw those words spelled out on the bank of the river canal in Ormoc.

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Yes, there is a family living here…

Just live. Stay strong.

After everything you own and every way you earn has been stripped from you, it’s natural to feel a bit dejected and hopeless. But the people in the Philippines, despite having not a peso to their names, are doing just the opposite: They’re coming together in their communities and responding to one of the worst natural disasters of their lifetimes with grace, dignity, resiliency, and hope.

Where some might cry, they smile. Where some might feel desperate enough to loot/steal, they wait patiently because they believe in the aid workers volunteering on their behalf. Where some might break down, they grow stronger.

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Look at those smiles!

#Bangon Philipinas

It’s a hallmark of the Philippine people: A sunny disposition no matter how dark the clouds that surround them may be.

Bangon Philipinas, translated means, “Stand up, Philippines.” And that’s exactly what I’ve seen virtually every person do while here. In the face of sadness, madness, destruction, and devastation, they stand. With smiles on their faces.

A Community Bound Together

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. There have been tears and fears and every bit of negative emotion that a human being can process.

The difference is, the common thread that binds everyone here together is a willingness to work together to turn circumstances around. They don’t have to work to be positive because it’s their natural tendency to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles they are faced with.

Bayanihan. It’s a Philippine word for unity, and it couldn’t be more appropriate to describe what’s happening in the wake of these terrible tragedies. Instead of “I,” it’s “We.” And it’s a powerful, beautiful thing to witness.

It’s been two days since I arrived here in the Philippines, but I feel as if I’ve been here for at least a month. When every hour counts for the people you’re surrounded by, you tend to maximize your productivity and efficiency.

Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief

Today, we distributed food bags to over 1,800 families in the remote areas of the island. What started as a daunting, tiring task of hoisting 50+ pound bags into a dump truck ended in smiles, cheers, and hugs from an incredibly grateful group of people.

As we drove around to the various barangays, I was struck by the absolute destruction of people’s homes. The incredible thing is the speed at which these people have adapted and responded to the typhoon’s damage. It’s only been three weeks and yet they’re already well on their way to creating shelters for themselves as they work through the long-term.

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Sort of puts your worries into perspective, eh?

Disaster Relief in a Disaster Zone

After being surrounded by striking natural beauty during my trip around the world this summer, it was hard to see the destruction. Where beautiful, lush landscape once stood, there is nothing but scorched, broken trees and uprooted plants.

Amazingly, the people are living amidst this. In the heart of the disaster zone, we saw thousands of people doing their best to live their lives despite the conditions surrounding them. In many of my photos, you can see the blue clouds and remaining green, but you also see piles of sheet metal roofing, fallen trees, and trash. And every now and then, if you look closely, you’ll see the smiling face of a child peering out from an indistinguishable window in a pile of rubble.

When it came time to unload the bags of food in the various locations, our group was prepared. We’d been briefed by our team leader about what to do if the situation escalated in terms of people being impatient or desperate, so we were ready for pretty much anything.

Miles of Smiles

Not surprisingly, the entire briefing turned out to be somewhat unnecessary because the entire process went off without a hitch. The people, those who have been literally starving for weeks and who rely on the generous aid of strangers from around the globe, were patient, grateful, and….happy.

There was no pushing, no line cutting, no yelling, and not a single time when any of us felt as if things could go South. However, there were plenty of orderly, patient people who happily stood in long lines to wait for the small bag of meager means we were passing out. In addition to waiting happily, they went further by putting their elders and pregnant women and injured/sick to the front of the line.

As I passed out each bag of food, I was overwhelmed by the positive response. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t say thank you or smile or hug one of us. There we were passing each person a bag of rice—something so insignificant in our Western world of abundance—yet this was a monumental day in the people’s week because those small bags were a new lifeline until the larger deliveries came through in a few more days. With each bag of rice I passed out, it sunk in further that I was distributing more hope than grain.

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Orderly lines filled with people…and smiles….

A Rock-Star Send-off

After we were through with the bag distribution in each community, we’d load up in our trucks and set off for the next location. As we drove away, some of the children would laugh and chase behind us while waving and smiling. Groups of adults and children alike would cheer and scream, “Thank you!” and give us smiles that would light up the darkest of rooms.

We were rock stars for a day and I couldn’t think of a better way to earn that moniker.

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Sharing some very special high-fives

Stayed tuned for more recaps (not all will be so lengthy…haha!)

I’m Headed to Assist with Philippines Disaster Relief Efforts!

AllHands

A poignant reminder that this disaster impacts everyone–taken in the exact area where I’m headed to…

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a post challenging readers to step outside their comfort zones when it comes to volunteering your time and money.

I hoped to inspire you to critically examine the areas in your life where you can make changes in order to fell richer with the time and money you already have. A bit of a blessing inventory, taking stock of what you do have (rather than harping about what you don’t) can have a profound effect on your overall quality of life as well as your ability to positively influence the lives of the people around you.

In that post, I also mentioned how I’d submitted an application to aid in Philippines disaster relief efforts.

Assisting with Philippines Disaster Relief Efforts

I’m elated/over the moon/beyond excited to say that I’m officially headed there! In fact, I’ll be on a plane to Cebu before the holiday weekend is even over.

If you ask me, it’s a hell of a way to spend a turkey day!

While I’m not 100% certain of all of the specifics (it’s going to truly be an adventure), I know that I’m responsible for getting over there and navigating myself to the group’s location (I’m working with the non-profit All Hands). Once there, I’ll meet everyone and get right to work.

Dirty Work for an Amazing Cause

And work it will be. We’re tasked with deconstructing damaged homes, salvaging what’s still useful, and re-building new homes for people who have pretty much lost everything.

We’ll work in the heat, the humidity; the rain and the mud. It’s safe to say that whatever I take with me will be destroyed and I will have mud under my nails and in my ears for weeks to come. I couldn’t be more.freaking.excited.

It’s always been a dream of mine to assist in international disaster relief efforts and as someone without any sort of medical or specialized training, my options have been somewhat limited to join forces with the wonderful organizations that are on the front lines of disasters around the world.

This all changes the moment I board that plane.

Building Hope

More than new homes, we’re building hope.

A large part of the culture is rooted in faith, so the existing efforts have been focused on re-building or setting up temporary places for people to pray. Now, the new wave of us coming in will be able to lend an even more personal touch as we help everyone from individual families to entire communities once again have a place to call home.

A roof over their head. A roof over your head–sounds so simple, right? If you can, imagine that being stripped away from you. Imagine having nothing but whatever shirt was on your back as you fled to safety. Talk about demoralizing–especially when you return “home” to find nothing but a muddy pile of rubble.

So we’re going to make a difference. Nail by nail, board by board, we’re building hope for people who need it most. We’re showing that it’s possible to make a difference and to find the positives in life no matter the circumstances you’re faced with.

Building hope indeed. :)

Paying it Forward

While I can’t fathom living their reality, I hope to pay it forward in every way possible while I’m there. I know that I’ll be gaining far more than what I’m able to give in terms of how this experience will change my life.

Being on the forefront; being at the site of destruction–and being in the thick of it. I can’t see how something like this wouldn’t have an impact, and I’m already looking forward to sharing the experience with all of you!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

How a Trip Around the World Changed My Views on Life and Money

TheHappyHomeownerBali A few months ago, I made a decision that has effectively changed my life.

An avid traveler with an insatiable desire to see the world, I decided that the best way to celebrate the changes I’ve made in my personal life (and to pull myself out of the writers block-ridden funk I was sliding into) was to make one of my biggest dreams become a reality: I decided to embark on a trip around the world.

Trip Preparations

After selling my condo and making a pretty decent profit in the process, I finally had the financial means to set off on this epic adventure. And with now being a full-time freelancer, I had the schedule freedom to jet off into the sunset without worry about vacation time, etc. With these logistical pieces in place, it seemed like the stars had aligned and there was no better time to move forward with the plan I’d dreamed about for so long.

In terms of planning, there really wasn’t much that went into it because I’d always had a running list of countries and places I wanted to visit. I simply sat down one night, pulled up a map of the world, and began searching for the best one-way flights to get me to where I wanted to go. After about a week of searching and planning, I had my route mapped out and my flights booked. I decided to leave the accommodations unbooked because I wanted the freedom to go wherever the wind and mood took me when I arrived at a given destination.

Life Lessons in the Strangest of Places

While I’ll recap more of the trip in future posts (there are A LOT of photos to share!), this post is dedicated to more of the reflections and lessons I picked up along the way. As I sit here at home typing this, it’s pretty exciting to realize that I did it–I worked my tail off to get to this point, and I grew even stronger as a person as I threw caution to the wind and set off on my journey without a single look back. Hands down, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and it has changed me in ways that I’m still learning about.

Perhaps the biggest, most immediate changes have been my views on life as a whole. I’ll break it down further as this post goes on, but I found strength and inspiration in the strangest of places as I traveled around. From witnessing pure happiness on the face of a man who was walking barefoot down a dirt road in Bali with a giant pig in tow to the passion of the rioters I met along the way in Istanbul, each new experience shed insight into the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to live.

People Over Things

In the past, I fell prey to a materialistic sense of self and living. Even now, I still find myself challenged by the behaviors and preferences of some of the people I know here in Boston. But after returning from my trip, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am moving towards being a much less materialistic person. I’ve realized that the ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ mentality that I see in so many people here has virtually no appeal to me.

Yes, I still drive my BMW but that it because I absolutely love cars and driving. If you saw me, you’d see the girl with no makeup on, no purse (I put things in my pockets), and jeans and sneakers before you’d ever see someone upholding the status facade of having such a car.

Additionally, the “See and Be Seen” crowd does nothing for me–I’d much rather cook a meal at home with my friends than spend $100+ at the newest, “hottest” restaurant no matter how much of a ‘foodie’ I might think I am, and I don’t need to buy my friends rounds and rounds of drinks to prove my friendship. Going out on a Friday night still happens, but it doesn’t come with a $200+ tab with it because I place much more value on the act of being with friends–it’s the experiences I want, not the expensive accoutrement.

Being Happy with What You Have and Who You Are

This applies to not only the things I have–it’s more about the idea of what I do for work, how I fill my free time, how I live my life on a daily basis, and my sense of self. Gone are the days of being a doormat for other people, comparing myself to others, and evading insecurities by spending. I find myself much more confident and directed now.

I know who I am and what I want, and I’m now living my life with eyes wide open as I ‘go for it’ in every sense of the phrase. I’m building a life that I’m proud of–one that is balanced and healthy and whole. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’ve challenged myself to not only recognize what I’ve done wrong in the past, but to push myself to grow and change for the future. This realized strength, security, and esteem in myself is the catalyst for a lifelong happiness of just. being. me. and it’s all been further solidified by my experiences throughout this trip.

Witnessing True Happiness

When I was in Fiji, I was fortunate to be able to visit one of the villages of the local people. While I was struck by the level of poverty at which these people live, I was more intrigued by how they seemed to be genuinely happy.

For instance, take the woman who was cutting reeds on the beach. She looked to be at least 70 years old, and she was working with such intensity that I couldn’t fathom how she operates like that on a daily basis. When I later found out that she’s been doing that same kind of work for over 45 years, I was awestruck.

The creature comforts we have here in the states simply don’t exist for Fijian villagers. Everything they have, they make themselves from the land they live on. Even with these logistical challenges, the biggest difference is that they do it without sadness, bitterness, or shame–they live their life with authenticity, awareness, and helpfulness not because they have to, but because they want to. They are a wonderfully welcoming, proud group of people and this interaction alone left such an incredible mark on me.

Money Isn’t Everything

The central theme of my trip was to explore the areas I’ve dreamed about visiting, but I also wanted to soak in as much of the culture and people as I could. As I traveled from place to place (13 countries and 30,000+ miles), I began to realize one very simple idea that I’ve known for a while but hadn’t fully formed until I took this trip: Money isn’t everything. In fact, money can be the root of unhappiness and destruction if it isn’t managed correctly and understood completely.

The man with the pig that I referenced above walked along the street with the biggest smile on his face; laughing and waving hello to those he was passing. This was in sharp contrast to the female tourist I later saw who was loudly complaining about having to walk around while she was surrounded by the natural beauty of Bali (with one heck of an expensive camera around her neck!). These two encounters sort of summed up what I’ve always known: Money can’t buy happiness.

As I recently wrote in an article for another website I work for, “While money is a priority and a main source of stress on many levels, it doesn’t dictate these peoples’ sense of self, confidence, or priorities in their lives.” The difference between the man with the pig and the woman with the camera was that he had far more genuine appreciation for life itself. He wasn’t bogged down by possessions and expectations and the quest for more. He simply enjoyed his walk down the road with his fuzzy farm friend in tow. And really, which of these two people would you rather be? The happy man or the disenchanted woman?

Keeping the Emphasis on Life

As I continue to process my experiences on this trip, the main takeaway for me is that life shouldn’t be all about the money. Yes, I need to eat and have a place to sleep, but I don’t need to have the latest and greatest of everything. And I certainly don’t need to fuel my life through the constant quest for more money or keeping appearances with materialistic, superficial people.

What we need to do is to stop, take a look around, and be thankful for the non-monetary blessings in our lives. When you strip away the money, the fancy cars, and the nice clothes, what do you have? If there isn’t substance below the surface, are you truly living a happy life as a happy person? I think my new friends in Bali are on to something—walking barefoot down a dirt road isn’t all that bad when you have a true smile that radiates sunshine and happiness firmly affixed to your face. :)
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Greetings from Chiang Mai!

As I type this, I’m sitting on the balcony of a coffee shop overlooking Rachadamnoen Road as a rain storm rolls in, listening to music and taking in the sights & sounds of the hustle & bustle below me. Suffice to say I’m feeling quite relaxed!

I mentioned in my post I typed while in Bali that in the past 2.5 weeks I’ve been in Fiji, Bali, New Zealand and Singapore. Now I’m in Chiang Mai, and I head back to Bangkok tomorrow. Even after such a short time, I feel as if I could write forever about what I’m seeing, hearing, and experiencing. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me–although I feel like it’s already fueling future travel dreams!

Here are some of the best highlights from my travels thus far:

The Happy Homeowner Chiang Mai International Lantern Festival

Chiang Mai International Lantern Festival

The Happy Homeowner Chiang Mai International Lantern Festival 2

View from dinner in the Bali jungle

View from dinner in the Bali jungle

The Happy Homeowner En Route to Singapore

En route to Singapore

Merlion Park in Singapore

Merlion Park in Singapore

Sunset in Fiji

Sunset in Fiji

The Happy Homeowner Beachfront Villa in Fiji

View from my beachfront villa in Fiji

 

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