Today, Michelle, Rony and I went out into a subdivision of Tacloban, a coastal community called Palo. It reminded me of Sri Lanka in its range of destruction. The surge of water wrecked everything along the sea and we drove through it all on a tricycle - the Filipino version of a tuk-tuk or small bicycle taxi. The feelings we experienced as we passed entire villages of ruined rubble barely resembling anything that could be homes are unnamable. Pictures could never do it justice.
Rikki, a volunteer from the town met us at the place we’d agreed, a well roofed, open air church with a basketball court in the rear that would have been perfect for a PLAYshop. We learned then that the priest said he would only allow “God’s work” to happen in that space and, although he had never met us and was not available to weigh in on it in person, we elected not to risk offending or disrupting the delicate balance that volunteers often work to establish in these kinds of situations. Although it was clear that the person we were asking, the captain of the area, was clearly taking a necessary political position, it was still a little disappointing.
We did find a perfect empty space just up the road at the basketball court and were able to “make a joyful noise” (Psalm 98:4 KJV) there instead. The group was about thirty-five 6-10 year olds and they were beyond hilarious and adorable. By the end of the PLAYshop, we were standing in a circle singing, and breathing, and then we were “done” but nobody moved. They just looked at Michelle and me as if to say, “What’s next? What else?” They wanted to keep playing!
Some of the girls found their way into a group with Michelle playing. Later, Michelle went with some of the more withdrawn girls to be certain they were OK – they showed her their classroom. Meanwhile, the boys attacked Jonah with another million high fives. I think I have gotten more high fives in the past few days than in the past five years. Which is awesome.
The kids led us into their schoolhouse and taught us games in circles
which we played and sang for another hour or so and we ended up back outside playing tag, and pretending a lot of different, hilarious things. Apparently, I was pregnant with triplets and when I gave birth, my babies, “Nacho, Pizza, and Chili,” were paraded around the basketball court, the pride of the group.
Rony observed the PLAYshop, taking notes and identifying some kids who needed a little more attention. He sat still, like a big, safe animal and small children gravitated towards him, climbed under his arms and clung to his legs. He stayed there for a long time, just being a safe place for them to giggle around and take a rest from the playing. Rony also had in depth discussions with some of the volunteers about some of the other things going on around the area - he had visited with the Israeli Relief group last month, recognized some of what we’d driven through, and knew some of the people still working there.
On our way home, we discussed some of the challenges we face for the future - whether we can return and how often, and how best to build capacity on the ground to offer ongoing support and enable longer-term evaluation. We only know this for sure: the kids we met today didn’t want to sit around and talk about their problems. They wanted to play.
We’ll return tomorrow to do just that.
For now, Rony heads to Ormoc and Cebu to teach at the University as planned but Michelle and I will stay here as we’ve received numerous invitations from local organizations to visit their groups and we’ll reunite with Rony to run a workshop all together in Manila in a few days.
On behalf of all the people we’ve met, the students, psychologists, teachers, volunteers we’ve worked with and especially the children with whom we’ve had the privilege of playing, we thank you all, dear readers, for your all the support in all the forms you’ve given.
Until next time,
Michelle, Jonah & Rony