Sunday, March 30, 2008

Housebuilding in the Phillipines

Late last night I returned from my LASA (Love All, Serve All) trip to the Phillipines. I went with 3 other TCIS staff and 16 high school students during our spring break to Manilla to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. It was an incredible experience and one that leaves me changed.

I'll be honest-- going into this trip, I was not expecting a huge transformation. In high school I went on 3 housebuilding trips to Mexico with Amour Ministries. In college, I went on one housebuilding trip to SC with Habitat. Going into this experience, I hoped to be challenged and serve others, but was not expecting to be completely shocked or personally affected. In a self-righteous way, I felt like I had seen it all before. While I knew I was going to help others and hopefully watch my students be transformed, I did not realize how much I personally was going to be affected. However, I was dead wrong. God presented me people and situations that opened my eyes to hardships in this world in need of voices. He challenged my calloused heart to really see those people who are suffering and remember them always.

Our team helped build houses in Caloocan City, located in the greater Metro Manilla area. Greater Metro Manilla Habitat for Humanity is an impressive organization and is presently building over 3000 homes for families in need. Our work site was the location of Caloocan City's Phase 2. In Phase 1, about 100 families recieved homes. As part of phase 2, we contributed to about 10 homes out of the 100 or so houses that will be completed on the same lot. For a whole week, our team of 20 dug trenches, twisted wire frames, carried cement, transfered piles of rocks and gravel, moved cement blocks, painted, cleared garbage, and helped lay bricks. The majority of the week I encouraged my kids and worked as hard as I could to set an example. I had some interesting conversations with my students and with some of the home partners who were working at the site. I watched walls grow and helped accomplish a lot physically on the site. Emotionally, though, I just went with the flow most of the week and was not very impacted. I was completely caught off guard by the emotional impact of the last few days.

On Wednesday, we went to play with kids at a center for children escaping human trafficking or bad street situations. I was completely unprepared to process what human trafficking in the Phillipines really meant. For those of you who don't know, there are hundreds (or thousands, depending on the account) of children being sold in the Phillipines every year to be modern-day slaves. These children are either forced to do sexual acts or forced to become child laborers. At my school, we have an organization called Amnesty that tries to raise awareness for such causes. Through our school's campaigns, I had been fairly aware of human trafficking problems. Every time I saw an awareness clip at an assembly, I felt sorry for the trafficked kids and wished I could do sometime more. But that is where my actions stopped. I did little to make a change and rapidly forgot about those in need. However, once I stared into the faces of children who likely faced horrors that I can barely imagine, the statistics took on new meaning. I can't consider the number of children subjected to these crimes without tears welling up in my eyes. I can't picture the eyes of some of the kids I saw without feeling the urge to shout out.

I spoke with one of the social workers for awhile. The worker told me her story-- she has done many different jobs related to human rights issues and has worked with people undergoing many different types of hardships (ranging from homelessness, to drug addictions, to extreme poverty). Yet she found that the people who struggled the most were child trafficking victims. Even after these children physically escape their abusers, the emotional baggage of their circumstances and expereinces "takes years or even lifetimes to get over," she said. As I watched my students play with the kids and mingled myself with some of the children and teenagers who were at the center, I was reminded how fortunate I have been. I also felt a great responsibility that comes with a life of privelege. I need to do something. At the very least, I need to spread awareness. Check out the sites below on human trafficking. They are specific to the Phillipines but this is a problem that extends far beyong the borders of the Phillipines.

Some info on human trafficking in the Phillipines:

Our last day in the Phillipines, we had a free day. We travelled to a city of hot springs to swim and relax. On the way back, I rode next to our Habitat case leader, Mia. We were able to discuss many things related to life in the Phillipines, the needs, and the realities of present Manilla. She pointed to the side of the highway we drove along. There was a railroad track. On either side of the railroad track squaters had constructed rickity dwellings three stories high. These plywood and rubble "houses" were only inches from the tracks. I watched children climb the sides to get in through windows (the only ways to get between some of the "rooms"). I saw dejected men gathered around a fire. I watched a woman string dingy clothes out a window. These squater areas continued for several miles. There must have been over a thousand people living in that little stretch. Mia told me that there is no where for them to go. The government doesn't dare try to move them because people are so desperate that they would kill people before they would give up their land. I watched the squater's dwellings pass as we drove closer to the city. Then a huge wall blocked my view of the dwellings. Mia turned back to me, "The city put up walls when tourists started coming so they wouldn't have to see the poverty." That comment really resounded in me. There were so many things I hadn't noticed during the days before. After dinner that night we took a van home and I spent the entire time searching the passing streets for signs of poverty and pain. I didn't have to look far. Under every bridge and overpass were makeshift homes. Children rapped on windows begging for money. The park was overridden with homeless people and men slept on seesaws. We passed neon light "motels" with no windows, undoubtedly filled with trafficked children and men paying to do dark things with them. I stared into the eyes of a 10ish year old begging boy on the street who I knew I couldn't help without perpetuating the cycle. When he realized I would not give him any money, his outstretched hands lowered and he laughed. At his young age he was already so used to rejection. He broke my heart. On that car ride home, I felt like I started to understand what God sees. It was the most painful hour of the trip, but the most important one for me too. Because I saw. I loved. And I prayed. And I wanted to make a difference.

I do not know yet what it is that I need to change in my daily life to carry over my lessons. I don't know how to best help people or how my talents and resources can be best used. But this trip touched me in a way that I was not expecting. I hurt deeply for the suffering that we turn away from every day. I feel the need to start looking intentionally-- like I did that last night--- and am guessing that I will start to see people all around me in need of love or advocates.

I can't believe I go back to school tomorrow. I want more processing time!

If you want to see a few of my pics, follow the links below to two albums I set up on facebook:

Our work site:

A few of the kids from our work site:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's in a weekend?

I am getting used to my life being incredibly random. This weekend was no exception.

Prepared for the worst:
As the soccer team drove to one of our away games Friday, I noticed that we had been sitting at the same light for 5 minutes as it continued to switch from red to green. It seemed strange to me but I thought nothing of it. After a few minutes, the bus driver spoke to one of the girls to explain and she quickly translated the situation for us mighukins: Korea holds regular nation-wide security drills (in case North Korea ever attacks and SK needs to shut down traffic for military vehicles). To practice for this, all over the country sirens sounded and radio/TV announcements indicated a 15-minute stand-still. Every car and pedestrian in South Korea paused at the intersections to wait for the drill to expire. At the intersection I was at, a few military people came out into the streets to ensure that traffic was stopped, but there was no need. People were very compliant and waited patiently until a second round of sirens indicated that it was ok to drive again. The whole thing felt very surreal. I was struck that people were prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to be ready for situations. However the drill also reminded me that I am still quite close to North Korea and its instability. I learned on Friday that all the major highways in the southern part of the Rebublic of South Korea can be transformed in minutes into airplane runways if need be. It is both comforting and unnerving to know how prepared the place I live in is for military conflict.

Both the soccer games my girls played this weekend were on American bases. We spent all day Friday and Sat on base. I even slept on base-- in the high school gym! Yes! Nothing like sleeping on the floor with 24 high school girls :) Anyhow, the base felt just like America: there were people who were not Korean (in fact almost every face was white or black). I heard English everywhere I went (the only Korean I heard was from my girls). There were stopsigns and western vending machines. After our game on Friday we ate at a Chili's on base and I got to have fajitas and a refillable fountain diet coke (refillable! and not a coke zero!). We could find Cheetos, poptarts, and western Chinese food. I got change in US dollars (which felt like play money). It was a very very odd feeling after being in Korea for over 8 months to be surrounded primarily by Americans and western things. Home is going to be quite an adjustment.

Korean St. Paddy's day
Right after our last game I met Sarah and her coworkers at a St. Patrick's day celebration in downtown Seoul. That was an experience too--- it was the most white people I had seen in one place in Korea (besides the bases and Itaewon). They had live music and all these booths set up. Everyone was in green and drinking in the streets. There was a short parade with several bands, a green dragon, two floats (a shamrock and a Guinness bottle), the Irish embassador and his wife, a bunch of Korean teens dressed like Anime figures, about 50 motorcycles and men trying to look tough, some guys dancing in traditional Korean clothes, a bunch of foreigner organizations with banners, the local football club, a man on stilts and a girl in a Guinness dress, and some US military men. It was incredibly random and I laughed a lot. All over there were also Koreans wearing shirts indicating that they were Irish, white guys dressed like leprichans, and serious Korean riot policemen making sure that the Irish and fake-Irish did not cause too much of a rucous. Oh, Korea. You and your randomness. Nice try being Irish.

In Seoul there is a performance called Nanta that is basically a funny version of "Stomp" set in a kitchen. The "cooks" perform a mostly non-verbal comedy show where they create rhythms as they chop lettuce, throw food, bang brooms, and fling plates. I went on Sat night with 12 of my coworkers and friends. Nanta was much funnier than I expected it to be and was a unique experience. I'm very glad I went. In the end, we joined the throngs of people waiting for autographs and got our programs signed. It was aparently a "rare opportunity to meet the cast"... but a sign indicating where the cast would be signing autographs after the show looked strangely permanent and suggested to me that our oppotunity was not exactly "rare." Oh, well. Still fun.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

8 months

On Sat, after my girls played a great soccer game, I went with about 8 Daejeon singles I knew on a hike up a mountain on the south side of town. It was a beautiful clear day, perfect for a group outdoor adventure. We met up with some members of the Daejeon Photography Club and together noticed the eerie angles of a deserted amusement park, the steep inclines studded with bald winter trees, and the strange wonders of giant manmade birdhouses (probably 200+ bird capacity). As we reached the summit, a striking view of Daejeon was revealed to me. I was struck by how large the city was that sprawled below and how much of it remains undiscovered. I was also suprised at the revelation that hit me: THIS IS MY HOME and it has been for 8 months on Tuesday! 8 months! It seems like I just moved here. It seems like my adventure just began. And yet the school year is only a few months from ending...

Time truly flies.

One angle of Daejeon

The mountains south of the city

Me by the summit view:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kicking off to a good start

About three weeks ago I started assistant coaching the high school girls varsity soccer team here at TCIS. I am coaching with a couple from my school, Tiece and Ted, who are dorm parents to some of our middle schoolers. Tiece is head coach and has been for the last 4 years. It has been a lot of fun to work with her and the girls. While I no longer have any free time at all, my hours are filled with 22 sweet girls who desire to get better at a sport I love. We practice together every M, T, Th and tend to have games W, Fri, Sat. Many of our games we take buses all over south Korea to play other International and Department of Defense schools. We only have a few returning players, so this is definitely a rebuilding year. But there is a lot of potential in our girls and they pulled off a big victory in our first game on Sat. We played KIS and our girls won 9-0. In general, I am really excited to get to know all these girls in a role outside of "teacher" and also to be outside and running around at least 5 days a week.

Here are a few pics from our first game coutesy of Ted:
The whole team (yes, I know that I blend in with the students... if only I were taller)

Tiece and I pretending that we just scored for the camera before the game (we didn't have to pretend later... but this picture still makes me laugh)

I'm sure there are many more pictures to come. Ted takes about 75 pictures per game :)