Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Survived to Serve

"If not us, then who? 
If not me and you
Right now! It's time for us to do something.
If not now, then when? Will we see an end
To all this pain? 
It's not enough to do nothing, 
It's time for us to do something."
- Matthew West, 'Do Something'

The April 25 earthquake signalled skies falling for the nation of Nepal. But a people is gathering strength and shaking the dust and rubble off themselves; determined to follow one cause: to raise their beloved land up from the ashes. 

That cause is also mine. After all, I survived for a reason. I could've been in those places that had collapsed during the earthquake - in fact, I visited them frequently! But I'm alive today, and now I can't just sit around, waiting for everything to go back to normal. No - I survived so that I can change the nation of Nepal for the better.

The best way I'm taking in order for me to make that change, is joining my church in initialising relief operations to many parts of Kathmandu and nearby locations.

(Photos courtesy of Mags Yap)
We began immediately, on the day right after the earthquake, and my family opened our house as the centre for relief operations. Given, work was slow for the first few days, due to difficulties in finding transportation and any open stores to buy goods from, and that our house had no electricity and water. 

It was also discouraging to hear stories of the nationwide devastation, of our friends who stayed outside in mistrust of their houses, even seeing our whole neighbourhood in darkness, and especially hearing about the rumours about another big earthquake coming, which had absolutely no validation at all, but a lot of people believed.

Yet, despite all the difficulties, we endured. And in the next days after that, the electricity returned, stores reopened, and more volunteers arrived to help! 

In the course of our first week, I joined our Volunteer Care Department, which had me helping in the kitchen and doing errands around the house all day.

Even if we were the back-stage crew of the relief operations, my team gave our best efforts to feed and clean up the house for everyone. We did our jobs with our 100%, because we were assured that the part we played was just as important as any other part, and that we're all in this together.

(Photo courtesy of Mags Yap)
Keen to let me experience how we were directly making a difference, my dad grafted me in with the Ground Team the next week, in which the volunteers travel to, meet, and give relief goods to affected communities.

My first experience was in visiting tent communities in a municipality called Sanagaun. The first sight that met me as I got off our cab, was a group of smiling children, taking shelter from the sweltering mid-morning sun inside a parked tuk-tuk. I curiously watched as they followed us as we made way to the edge of their tent community. 

I was then given the task to hand out candy to them, and it only seemed natural to make friends, even if my Nepali was shameful > o <

Well, recalling the stories of people I met while being in the field is the most important thing I can take away from them, as:

"The story of the Nepal Earthquake is not a story about rubble. It’s the story about perseverance, about people helping one another, about smiling in the face of disaster, about the youth mobilizing through social media to organize and moving as one.”

 — Dr. Fahim Rahim

After talking to the kids, I wandered around the mass of buzzing activity, and found myself making friends with two new volunteers. Their names were Shreya and Gita, and were already friends through being in the same nursing class. They took me over to another girl by the sidelines of the distribution. She was the same age as I am, but she'd lost her house to the earthquake. We included her in our conversation, and walked out to the neighbouring, beautiful wheat fields at the same time. 

Even if our conversations weren't as impacting as the other volunteers had by speaking lasting and powerful encouragements, they taught me how just being there means a lot to someone who needs it.

Next, we visited another tent community in the same municipality. There, I met a father and his 7 year-old daughter. Her older sister, who was also the same age as I am, died in saving her during the earthquake. Theirs was a devastating story, and I couldn't help but let my heart grieve for them, but also recognise her sister as a selfless hero. Later, when they'd finished talking about how they could help her, as she needed medicine and check-ups for her broken arm, my dad asked me to pray for her. 

Since most of the people in the tent didn't understand English very well, I wondered if my prayer mattered to them. My doubts were assuaged when later, Saurabh dai, another volunteer, told me that even if they didn't understand my words, they knew that it was from my heart, and were really touched by it. Which next brings us to his story… 

Saurabh dai is a young dance teacher who really loves kids. Like, every time he goes out with the Ground Team, all the children of the places we visit flock over to him. There's just that joy and child-like wonder in his heart - that's irresistibly fun to take part of - which he shares not only to the kids, but to everyone around him!

After hearing about his life story, unique views on life, and how he's really found his passion and calling, I decided that he is also a person different from the crowd, and who's bent on making a difference. Keeping that in mind while seeing him help out with us is inspiring, and makes me think that I'm in the company of heroes.
As a friend of mine said after hearing about him, "We need more Saurabhs in the world!" 

I also met Rubita, the 16 year-old sister of one of our church members, whom my Dad was excited to introduce me to, and was excited to see me as well! 

Their family lost their whole house, but Dad encouraged her by saying, "Look at your house, it is like your SLC [the exam they have to pass so they can advance to their pre-college courses]. You have to pass this test. You cannot give up; if you have to retake, then so be it, but I guess you will be in the distinction category. The fact that you are still alive, God is giving you hope and He is not done with you -- you will have a great future!" 

Despite going through disaster, in meeting her I could really see that she's a determined and aspiring person, who has an amazing potential and future. 

Other than the stories of those friends which influenced my life, I can't leave out the overwhelming support from people all over the world. Prayers, encouragements, and provisional support poured in like waterfalls from churches, relatives, good friends, family friends, old friends we forgot existed, acquaintances, celebrities, politicians, and especially my barkada back in Manila.

As Christian folk band Rend Collective expressed in a call to prayer for Nepal, "We are all one family." 

Another thing worth mentioning is that our efforts were featured in a report by Jiggy Manicad, from GMA-7, one of the TV stations with widest coverages in the Philippines. It lifted the hearts of my countrymen to know that we were helping out over here, and spurred us on to keep doing what we're doing.

(Photo courtesy of Tita Normi Herrera!)
We also met Atom Araullo. woooooo xD
(Photo courtesy of TJ Borras.)
And our gratitude to everyone supporting us cannot be measured. Really, thank you to everyone who's letting us know that we are not alone in this, for holding us up with the hope that we will rise, we will come alive - together.

Now, I believe that God allowed this disaster not to pull Nepal down, nor to fill its streets with terror and hopelessness, but so that He can revive, deliver, and free this nation, and give her peace, prosperity, hope, and a future unparalleled to any of her former glories. He will do this because Nepal is a nation He so dearly loves, and Nepal belongs not to any disaster, not to any hopelessness, not to any depravity, but she belongs only to Him.

Today, I stand with that hope, and I know that God is changing Nepal through each and every one of us who know what we are:

"You are not victims – you are survivors, you are heroes, and you will rebuild the country!" 
- Louino Robillard, in a message from Haiti to Nepal

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