Manila, Philippines - Days 1 - 3

Jonah and Michelle here (Jonah typing) - finishing our third full day in Manila, currently in the back seat of a rather bumpy and, um, charming taxi ride through the constant traffic of “Jeepneys”, busses, scooters and moto-taxis. We’re on our way home from the second day of a two-day workshop for 35 wonderful participants titled “Enabling Resilience and Recovery among Yolanda Survivors” held by the Psychological Association of the Philippines at Rizal Technological University. Many of the group traveled from as far as six hours away by car and one even flew here to be a part of the experience. It was all rather incredible ---

But I’m getting ahead of myself...

Day 1 - Began with a visit to the World Health Organization’s cluster meeting to which we arrived rather late, due to traffic, but were relieved to learn that starting even later was not unusual, especially in Manila. In attendance were roughly 40 people from a variety of well-known relief organizations, primarily, the WHO and UNICEF. We learned a great deal, but most notably, that there is a serious shortage of specialized psychological infrastructure. We were quickly invited by Dr. Benny Vicente, the head of the National Center for Mental Health, to meet with his team - an opportunity that we are currently in the process of planning.

We also learned that there’s a rather serious Measles outbreak and significant problems in some flooded areas with Dengue. Not my favorite part.

We returned to the hotel later in the afternoon and after a trip around the mall to purchase and set up cell phones, we returned to the hotel to plan out our workshop. Around 8pm, as we settled upon our plan for the day, we received a phone call from Joy, our host. She called to confirm details about the upcoming two-day workshop we were to lead at the University. That was the first time we had heard it was one two-day workshop, not two one-day workshops. Surprise!

We had also just begun to revise the PLAYshop guidebook, which we realized was a much bigger job than just a quick overview. So we settled in for a long, jet lagged night of planning and, an hour later, were overwhelmed with sleepiness yet somehow confident that our preparations would suffice and we gave in to trusting ourselves, our training, and our ability to collaborate. By 4am the next morning, we were both wide-awake working on the document again and, after a big breakfast at 6, we were in the cab to the University to get going.

Day 2 - The workshop was set to begin at 8:30am. Due to the distance many were traveling, only half the participants were there at the start, most of the rest arrived by 9:30 - our first opportunity to pivot in our planning and change our own agenda around.

Michelle planned to give an intro, similar to Dr. Hackett’s from the Connecticut event, followed by a PLAYshop; what ended up happening was actually awesome. We were led, at the start, by one of our hosts, Joy, in a thanksgiving prayer and welcoming speech and because we didn’t want to start the PLAYshop without everyone present, we pivoted a bit and got to know the room.

What happened in the following hours is hard to summarize in words but I would say that it was one of the most lively, powerful, rich, exhilarating, awesome, invigorating, humbling, awe-inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. I remember a moment when we were doing an exercise of “Being-With” in which participants were asked to mirror each other’s movements, one leading and the other, following, then switch roles, then attempt to have neither one lead or follow. I turned on some music, Bobby McFerrin’s “Bang-Zoom!” and let them start to move together and the room became a bunch of 6-year-olds, goofing around, dancing, being utterly silly and free and just super-cute. In fact, Michelle was one of them as she had partnered with someone as there was and odd number. It was a moment when the room came together in such a was as to say, “This is a safe space, a place where you can move, laugh, cry, be silly, dance...”

What the group created together was just amazing. Great questions, great feedback. By the time we got home that night, we were spent.

Day 3 - We finished *as if!* the guidebook as we flew out of the hotel for the second day of the workshop and arrived to find a very different vibe than the first day. Everyone was laughing, talking, being together in a really sweet way. We asked them what was present in the room and we got back words like, “TOGETHERNESS, TRUST, AUTHENTIC SELF, SUPPORT...” The feeling of community was palpable.

We dove right into some sound and movement exercises and they were so lively it was as if they were a bunch of professional improvisers! Very exciting.

In the second half of the day, we dared ourselves to try something a bit risky: to challenge the group to lead their own PLAYshop. We went for it - something we’ve never done before - and it was, at first, very intense.

One of the challenges for us in this work is to tolerate ambiguity, discomfort, and not knowing. We basically said, you have the guidebook, you have the skills, you actually have all the resources you need within the group to facilitate a PLAYshop; go for it, we’re invisible.

Then we sat there silently at the front of the room for almost 5 minutes, which seemed almost endless. They looked at their workbooks, read through the instructions, did a very reasonable amount of fidgeting around in discomfort and looked around wondering what would happen. Michelle and I kept breathing, trusting, hoping, and then, when I thought I would just about die from the awkwardness I had created, they stood up, got into a circle, and someone wonderful stepped into the middle.

They had told us it is a cultural normality to look for a leader and to want to know who and how to follow - and we had responded, earlier that day by drawing out the idea that sometimes we’ll lead, sometimes we’ll follow, and sometimes we’ll collaborate as leaders of a PLAYshop. We had offered some exercises to draw out the concept and then we had essentially thrust them into exactly the situation with which they had declared the most discomfort... and they were brilliant.

The improvised PLAYshop was not without discomfort or awkwardness. Far from it! But it was so incredible to witness them jumping in, developing their own styles, trying things they’d seen and things they’d thought of themselves. It was a small taste of what it might be like to not be the only one leading these things and it was great.

We finished the day with a little feedback and some hilarious photo sessions and after some sweet closing time with almost every individual, we headed back to the hotel for our first drink since arriving here.

Working with Michelle is simply awesome. We have a great rapport, a smooth way of sharing the spotlight, and a transparent process that I think makes for a great learning environment. The participants pointed out that it was nice to have, in their words, “Someone who looks familiar and someone who looks different.” I’ll let you, dear reader, guess who was who.

We think that their being comfortable enough to point that out was testament to the comfort level we’d built by modeling a tolerance for ambiguity, a space for different viewpoints, and a mutual respect and enjoyment of what each of us brings to the work.

Also, I feel safe trying new things, taking risks, and really going for it, knowing Michelle has my back. Michelle’s talking with her mom on the phone right now, as they are in the same time zone for the first time in a long while and taking full advantage of that convenience; but I’m sure she has lots of nice things to say about me too.

We’ll include some fun photos soon. And we’ll write more as the adventure continues.

Bye for now!

Jonah & Michelle