“We learn from failure, not from success.”

November 3, 2013

These are journals that I kept while abroad and I have chosen to simply cut and paste them here.  So, you are getting the REAL deal – no editing!  Keeping that in mind, please understand that posting my journal for everyone to see definitely puts me in a vulnerable position.  I have also decided to block those that I met in the Philippines from these blogs, as I feel that my honesty and observations could be misconstrued or misunderstood by some of my new friends and I would never want to hurt them or make them feel inadequate or betrayed in any way. I just give my personal observations of what I see and experience, so I hope and pray that this remains hidden to them, but if one happens to sneak in, I hope they know me well enough to understand my love for them, my appreciation for this amazing experience, and my deep fondness for this incredible country.

If the above quote is true, I am learning sooooo much!  🙂 Where oh where to begin?  I have around 2 weeks left and I simply cannot believe it.  I feel like I am finally getting into a really comfortable place here.  My relationships with both the girls and the women of WESADEF have really deepened.  Just last week, my boss, (Ma’am Emma) and I sat talking after lunch for nearly 3 hours.  She had incredible stories about herphilippines2 033 work in her early 20s right out of college.  She was working for an NGO that delivered medical supplies to the most remote areas of Samar, deep inside the jungle.  There were, at the time, massive outbreaks of malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid.  She and the other workers would hike for 18 hour stretches, with backpacks full of medicine and supplies, sometimes travailing rivers neck-deep and in the rainy season, flooding as high as their waists.  She even told me a wild story about getting kidnapped (with 4 other volunteers, 3 female and 1 male) by military insurgents that held them captive for 5 days and took away all of their identification.  She was just a young girl and petrified.  And while some may be shocked that this quiet, shy, introspective Filipina could have had such wild adventures and experiences, I was not too surprised to discover what a complete BADASS she is.  Ma’am Emma has a presence.  She is indeed, reserved and reflective, but chooses her words carefully and has a quiet determination about her.  I loved hearing her stories and got the impression that she does not often talk about herself, and also does not often break out these rowdy stories for just anyone.


Philippines8 056The other women and I are getting closer, also.  Ate Wang has taken on a big sister/protector kind of role with me.  Always checking in on how I am feeling…quick to bring me medicinal herbs and potions that she think will quiet my ever-churning stomach issues.  Even Ate Janet and Ate Terry, two women that have interacted with me the least, have been very friendly and fun-loving these last few weeks.  It saddens me to leave just when I feel like I am making real and lasting connections.

SAM_1101The girls and I are growing closer by the day.  I’ve taken to going to the shelter every single night and spending the majority of my weekend with them.  I just adore them.  We have continued our yoga practice and I think I have sufficiently guilted Melissa into continuing yoga with the girls after I leave.  😛  They enjoy it so much and I believe there is merit in yoga for healing purposes.  Last weekend, I taught them the Philippines 1 Billion Rising dance, set to Isang Bilyong Babaeng Babangon, in Tagalog, of course.  They LOVED it!  We must have danced for over 5 hours that day, because they made me do it over and over and over again.  The song is great because it’s all about rising up together, as strong females, and no longer allowing for abuse.  Next week I am teaching them the American/English version of 1 Billion.  It’s so funny that I came to the Philippines, expecting to do more singing and guitar-playing than dancing, but the exact opposite has happened.  I only wish (for their sake)SAM_1111 that I were a better dancer!  Ha!  They decided that they want to perform both the hula dance and the 1 Billion Rising dance at a school function this weekend.  They are so excited that they can hardly stand it.  Some of them are really beautiful, natural dancers…I wish Calbayog had more options for girls that would like to pursue dance.  Because they are performing this weekend, we have practiced every night this week.  Every night they come pounding on my windows… “Ate Katie!!!!  Ate Katie!!!  Practice na!”  We have so much fun.  I am so gonna miss those monkeys.

One night this week, after practicing, I decided to have them “free dance” for a while.  This is when some of the music therapy seems to take hold, as every time we do a “free dance” session, something happens.  This time, one girl that I have taken a particular liking to, sat down in the middle of the floor.  She was staring off into the distance, not speaking.  At first, I just watched her and the other girls interact.  Some girls were trying to cheer her up by making funny faces or dancing around her.  Some stroked her hair or her arm.  Some of the older girls teased her a little.  I have noticed that Filipinos in general (and please take my “generalities” with a grain of salt, as I am by no means an expert and these are just some observances I have encountered in my short stay) are not very comfortable with “negative” emotions.  They do not easily express sadness or anger.  I could see that the girls were immediately uncomfortable with the girl’s reaction.  When one of the other girls started making fun of her by calling her the name of the little girl that was admitted into the psych ward (this is the little one that has suffered from hallucinations and psychosis that I have written about before), I immediately stepped in to shut down the teasing.  I said (in what I am sure was particularly horrific Waray) “It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to feel what you feel.  There will be no teasing and no more making fun of her or anyone else for feeling their feelings.”  I sat down next to the little girl and put my arm around her.  She immediately began sobbing…really sobbing, with deep, heaving breaths.  We sat that way for a long time until she calmed.  I get so frustrated with the language barrier sometimes, as I so wanted to talk to her or say something to comfort her.  But all we could do was sit together, which of course, sometimes is enough.

The next day I talked to the shelter social worker and suggested she check in on the girl.  She did and the little girl confessed that she has had nightmares every night and has not been eating.  She is going through the process of filing affidavits for a court case pending against her rapist (her uncle) and I think re-living all of the trauma has been very difficult for her.  It makes my heart so heavy to think about it.

pi 017On Sunday the social worker conducted a group therapy session, which I sat in on.  I was so happy to see some kind of therapy happening…in my opinion, there is just not enough of it.  The session was with about 5 girls who are close to the same age.  It went fairly well…the social worker used a workbook she received at a training she attended last year.  The session seemed very stiff to me, however.  The girls did not get any kind of break and the session lasted over 3 hours, which seemed too long and intense for children.  Even I was getting very restless.  I wrote down some observances, comments, suggestions, and then the social worker and I talked through them afterward.  She seemed so grateful for some help. She is a very natural social worker, very patient and kind and the girls really seem to respond to her.  But shepi 015 admittedly feels like she needs some guidance.  It was difficult because I felt like she was turning to me for the ultimate guidance.  I told her that I just couldn’t provide the help that she needed, that I’m still in school, and that this is honestly my first time working directly with children, especially young children.  I told her that working with a Filipino social worker would be best and that I would ask Ma’am Betty Jane (My Practicum Instructor) for some suggestions on someone that could help or even monitor the social workers in therapy for a while.  I did give her my honest feedback, however, and she seemed grateful for even that.

Onward…Monday was a very busy day with sign-language practice in the morning at City Hall, meeting with ma’am Emma and the social workers (to approve our changes in paperwork), and then attending a dinner held by the Civil Societies Council of Calbayog.  Ma’am Emma wanted to take me.  It was quite fancy with a formal dinner, held at the convention center here in Calbayog (which I didn’t even know existed).  There was quite a show of parading around the white girl, which I’ve grown pretty used to.  I met the mayor and the assistant mayor, and then they started thePhilippines8 018 “program”.  Another mildly amusing observance is that I have noticed that Filipinos LOOOOVE ceremony.  They love speeches and they spend a lot of time acknowledging  people over and over.  At this particular dinner, they had twelve, YES, T-W-E-L-V-E speakers and every time one took their turn giving a speech, they had to acknowledge the 6 “important” people sitting up front and we all had to clap after each name, each time.  Meanwhile, THIS girl had skipped lunch and was DYING to each!  Haha!  Even Ma’am Emma turned to me and said, “This really annoys me about Filipinos.”  Hahahaha!  After the program, we finally devoured our food and then the dancing began.Philippines8 028 The Karacha, a traditional Filipino dance started.  If you don’t know, the music is sort of whimsical and the man chases the woman around a blanket in the middle of the floor.  Then people come up as they dance and place money on the blanket.  I ran to the restroom during the 1st karacha dance, and when I returned, 3 Filipinas grabbed me and dragged me (quite literally, I might add) to the middle of the floor and said, “You dance Karacha!  Go!”  It might as well have been, “Dance monkey, dance!”  It was hilarious.  I stood there for a minute, deciding if I should make a break for it,karacha then I just decided to dance.  I had NO IDEA what the hell I was doing, or how to properly do the Karacha, so I just started twirling over and over like a 4 year old in a kid’s pageant.  Well, of course they roared with laughter and all took my picture and clapped loudly and karacha5supportively.  I gotta say, Filipinos are a damn fun lot.  😛  An embarrassing, but memorable and hilarious moment.

Tuesday I got to go to another school visit with my Ate.  The last time I went, they were terribly shy and hardly spoke to me (it was my first week here).  This time…Philippines8 062WHOA.  The kids came running up to me, touching my hair, taking my picture with phones, posing with me, asking tons of questions as fast as they possibly could.  It was so funny!  The girls from the shelter were soooo excited to see us and I think that they were very proud that they were the source of all of this attention. (The children pictured here are NOT part of the shelter, as I cannot post their pictures online because of confidentiality). They were Philippines8 070very authoritative with their schoolmates and very protective over me.  It was fun and we found out that the girls in high school are doing really well.  Good grades, good conduct, good social interaction.  That’s always nice to hear.  I felt like a proud parent.

On a side note, it was super hot and humid that day.  I was sweating PROFUSELY.  I seriously came back to the center and rang out my dress before putting it into my dirty clothes pile.  When we were at the school, I could feel sweat pouring down my face, stomach and back and I had huge sweat stains all down the front ofPhilippines8 067 my dress.  I looked at my Ate, who was wearing jeans and a polo-type shirt, and she was barely perspiring.  I guess my body has just not acclimated to the heat yet.  When I am dancing with the girls, they absolutely marvel at how much I sweat.  I read somewhere long ago that the more in shape you are, the harder you sweat.  I would love to think that was the reason.  😛

On Wednesday I had the domestic violence training for CSWD that I mentioned in my last journal.  I struggled a bit on how to prepare for this, as I knew both victims and their batterers would be present.  I decided to focus the training around the basics of DV (which was a requirement for my section), and on the value of equality and how the lack of equality contributes to domestic violence.  I tried to draw the link between how viewing someone as lesser than, can lead to dehumanization, which can lead to an easier justification for violence.  I tried to keep it simple and my PI seemed to really like it.  I was afraid it was too much, or tooPicture1 liberal, but she assured me that it wasn’t.  I wanted to make clear that when I speak of equality, it doesn’t mean that men have to do what women do and women have to do what men do…it just means that both sexes’ work is equally valid and important.  I was nervous about this section of the training but it went over very well.  Some of the women in the room even clapped when I talked about respecting the work that women do as important and valid.  This is of course a struggle for me, as I am a feminist through and through.  The conservative outlook and religious leaning in this country make it hard for me sometimes, but I try my best not to judge and just work with what I can, which of course involves respecting their values as much as I can.  It is difficult sometimes, however, to manage that inner voice that screams, “But…but but but that’s not FAIR!!!!”  😛


Well, it is now time to rest.  I worked all weekend and Saturday night I fell very, very ill again.  I have no idea what is happening to me in this country!  It’s really beginning to upset me.  I have had incredibly high fevers these last few nights.  I finally went to the doctor today, which was an experience…trying to explain to a doctor how I am feeling in Waray is not easy.  And there’s just not a pretty way to mime diarrhea or vomiting, hahaha!  I am waiting on the results.  So with that, I will leave you and try to keep you posted on the dramatic health front.  🙂  Salamat po for stopping by!  Mwah!


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