We interrupt this program for an All Hands announcement.

Hello everyone! The second of my two articles has been published on the All Hands website. My first article talked about the Worker Savings Program, which allows local workers to save money towards a life goal. This second article, Family First, tells the story of how Borrick Longgany used his savings to build a home for his family.

Borrick and his baby

My All Hands experience was incredible – I still think about on a regular basis. Both the quality of the leadership and the integration between local workers and volunteers are superb. But it is the work that they do salvaging and rebuilding communities – in Haiti, Japan, the Philippines, and also now in New York – that makes All Hands an organization well worth supporting.

All Saints’ Day

I recently spent an amazing night at a cemetery.

On November 1, my best friend here – an All Hands mason named Richmond – invited me and my fellow volunteers Kamila and Zsofia to celebrate All Saints’ Day with him at his mother’s gravesite.

Richmond and I at his mother’s gravesite.

Richmond picked us up at the All Hands home base, and we hopped on a jeepney for a stop-and-start ride through the holiday traffic. Disembarking at a narrow, dirt alleyway, we followed a slender line of people down the crooked path between backyards. One large yard held a massive pen for fighting cocks. The brightly-plumed roosters stood placidly atop sandwich boards, unaware that they were destined for the ring, and likely death. Passing the pen, makeshift stalls selling slender tapers appeared on either side of the path. Families would melt the base of these candles onto the graves of their ancestors, and burn the tops to honor their relatives’ memory.

We popped off the narrow, dirt path onto this busy pedestrian lane.

We arrived in the cemetery as the sky turned purple. In America, cemeteries are places for quiet reflection. The atmosphere at CDO’s cemetery was one of a giant family gathering, with celebrants hailing relatives amidst chatting and laughter. The roads through the cemetery were closed to cars, and in their place, brightly-lit food stalls, selling everything from cornmeal pancakes to barbecue, lined the streets. We milled among the good-natured pedestrians, slowly wandering our way toward Richmond’s mother’s grave.

Candles light the way through the cemetery’s quiet dusk.

Turning off the main avenue, the crowd thinned as food stands gave way to headstones. Climbing an unlit stone staircase to the left, we stumbled over rocks and roots while approaching the family grave. This corner of the cemetery was quiet and dim, with conversations distant, and candles lighting the graves.

Richmond’s voice broke the hush. “My nephew is here,” he said. Sitting on a giant marble tombstone – at least ten feet long and higher than my waist – were Richmond’s nephew Niño, his wife Chrystel and their baby. This massive tomb neighbored that of Julie Ruiz, Richmond’s mother. Her grave was small, square and set into a wall with many similar stones. One by one, Richmond, Kamila, Zsofia and I each lit a taper and placed it at Julie’s grave. Then, turning to the tombstone that would become our picnic blanket, we introduced ourselves to Richmond’s extended family.

Resting in peace.

Cuddling their two-year old baby Yasmine, Chrystel and Niño shared their story. In simple but excellent English, Chrystel explained they had lost their eldest daughter to Typhoon Sendong. Their nine-year old had been visiting Niño’s sister when the flooding began. Together, the girls were trapped in a first-story room, unable to escape the rising river.

Chrystel was heartsick that, in the dark and crowded cemetery, she couldn’t find her daughter’s grave. It was hidden among the many the city had erected memorializing Sendong victims. Looking both resigned and hopeful, Chrystel said “I hope to return tomorrow to look some more. Maybe I will find it then.”

Chrystel, Nino and a sleepy Yasmine

Conversation moved to lighter topics, as the six of us chatted about our lives and families. A food run produced battered, deep fried hard-boiled eggs with hot sauce, deep fried fish nuggets, and many puso – portions of cooked rice wrapped in cubes of woven bamboo leaf.

The food gone and the baby sleeping, talk turned philosophical. “If you could do anything in the world,” I asked Richmond, “what would it be?” He studied me for a moment before saying, “I would travel to visit all my friends of the international volunteers. Oregon, Slovenia, Canada…” I nodded, feeling unfairly blessed to be able to travel and to meet people like him. “If I could do anything in the world right now,” I replied, returning his gaze, “it would be exactly this.”

Our evening drew to a gentle close as I found myself drifting off atop the cool gravestone. Sliding from the marble and following my friends through the dark, we made our way out of the cemetery, through the quiet streets, to home.


Presenting… A totally random assortment of photos! (To make up for the fact that I haven’t posted in FOREVER.)


Time and Travel

Some folks have been asking me, “You’re leaving in mid-September, volunteering for two months, and then coming home at the end of April. How, exactly, does that work?”

Well, let me tell you.

As noted above, I leave in less than a month and fly to Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. I will be volunteering through All Hands, rebuilding homes for typhoon victims, until mid-November. Making the most of my 90 day visa, I hope to travel the Philippines for another month.

In order to enter the Philippines, you must prove that you also plan to leave the Philippines, so I needed a plane ticket out. I had hoped to fly to New Zealand, but using frequent flier miles twelve days before Christmas was a pipe dream. Instead, I fly to Malaysia and will be making my way – somehow – from Kuala Lumpur to Christchurch to visit my best childhood friend.

My Manila flight is round-trip – the return is scheduled for April 27 and I plan to be on it. (I once left for three months in Costa Rica and came home a year later, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

In my travels, I’ve always been happiest without too many plans. I’ve been known to pack my backpack in the morning, go to the bus station and hop the first bus to anywhere. Pretty unusual for the Portland gal who is known to schedule her life to the minute. Surprisingly, I love the freedom of not scheduling, of not being sure what I’m going to do the next day, and sometimes not even knowing what the next day is – while traveling, I once lost a bet about what day of the week it was. Not kidding.

That seems unlikely to happen this time, what with all the electronics I plan to bring, but hopefully I will still be able to find the freedom that can come only with the gift of unplanned time – something we schedule-crazy-Americans too rarely have.


What on Earth is Amy Doing?

View Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, Philippines in a larger map

Hello everyone! As you may have heard, I recently applied for and was accepted to participate in an incredible international volunteer opportunity. On September 18, I will leave Portland for two months of service work – rebuilding houses for typhoon victims – in the town of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines. I will be volunteering with All Hands, a highly rated disaster relief nonprofit. Although All Hands does not require their volunteers to cover their own in-country costs, I have chosen to cover the cost of my service. By doing so, All Hands can engage more volunteers – and thereby help more people.

I have personally covered the $700 cost of my first month of volunteering. I am hoping that my family, friends and those who care about the global community will, together, match this amount and cover the cost of my second month on the project.

       Please support my service with All Hands.

Here is some background on All Hands and why volunteering with them is so important to me:

On December 16, 2011 the island of Mindanao was hit by Typhoon Washi. Heavy rains caused destructive flash flooding which killed over 1,200 people and left hundreds more still missing. Nearly 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. All Hands responded with Project Cagayan de Oro. Since January 2012, together with locals, volunteers have been helping homeowners to remove debris and mud from within their homes, and build new homes on higher ground, so that families can move back in from tent shelters or evacuation centers. Donations provide volunteers – including me – with food, lodging, tools and building materials.

When I found out about All Hands I knew I had to join them because it allows me to do one of the things I most believe in – international travel – and one of the things I want to do more – engage in tikkun olam, the Jewish value of repairing the world.

Please consider donating any amount by following this link or by sending a check made out to All Hands with my name in the memo line to: Project CDO – All Hands Volunteers, PO Box 546, Carlisle, MA 01741.  Feel free to email me from the “Contact Me” page with any questions.

I look forward to working in the Philippines, and with your help, being able to give the new friends I make a place to call home again.