In my recent trip to the Philippines, before Typhoon Haiyan hit on Nov. 8 and after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Bohol on Oct. 15, I learned a lot about the country and its people. Sandwiched in between those two terrible natural disasters was a weeklong trip I took to my husband’s maternal family’s home country. Originally I had wanted to blog all about my great adventures there and showcase all the beautiful photos I accumulated on my DSLR. But after the massive typhoon hit, it just didn’t feel right. While tens of thousands of people mourn over the departed and figure out how to obtain the most basic of human needs like food and water, it just seems plain callous to talk about vacations. Maybe I’ll show those vacation photos some day and boast about my travels, but not this time. Not now.
Instead, I want to focus on why I know this country will bounce back. While in the Philippines, I met with some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met in my life. There is a resolve within the Filipino blood that I’ve rarely seen. Based off the massive level of destruction, it won’t be easy to bounce back. It will be more than difficult; it will take super-human will to get back on track. But from what my own eyes have shown me, it will happen. The Filipinos will get there. Here’s why:
1. The Filipinos are hard workers. And they don’t mind getting dirty.
My best friend, a Filipina-American, just bought a house in Orlando. I asked her if she or her family will be mowing the lawn or if she’ll hire a lawn maintenance crew. She laughed. “Filipinos don’t hire people to do a job that they can do,” she said.
Filipinos get dirty, do hard, laborious work, and they don’t mind it. They don’t mind changing the oil in their cars or lugging heavy furniture or anything else that requires elbow grease. I remember going over to my best friend’s family’s house as a teenager and would constantly see her father doing his normal home improvements. He built their home’s extension with this own hands. He fixes every one of their family members’ cars when something goes awry. That’s just who he is. And he’s not the only Filipino out there doing that.
While in the Philippines, we went on a water tour via a bangka boat. The ship’s captain was our navigator, tour guide, boat repairman (we broke down a couple of times), among several other job descriptions. Why have someone else do his jobs when he can do them perfectly well himself?
I saw regular Filipino men and women being as resourceful as a human being could be. Old World War II jeepney vehicles were restored not by automakers, but by the Filipinos themselves. If their jeepney broke down, the driver would fix it. If they needed a new engine part, they’d personally get it or manufacture it.
2. They are resilient folks.
The Philippines has been conquered and colonized by several countries, the Spanish, Japanese and Americans being the most notable. They’ve been prisoners within their homeland. The Spanish were in the Philippines for nearly three centuries. Even within their own country there were stone walls spanning three miles built to keep foreigners out and the Spanish protected. Intramuros, literally meaning “within in the walls” in Latin, was a walled city within Manila that has since opened up.
Walking inside Intramuros and the adjacent Fort Santiago, jail cells and torture chambers are still in full view. Hundreds of Filipinos were tortured there, in their own country, by the Japanese during WWII. I learned this was also where the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, spent his final days as a prisoner before his execution in 1896 by firing squad due to his revolutionary ideas.
Despite their oppression, the Philippines quickly rose as one of the world’s emerging markets. Its GDP has risen consistently since 1999, and Goldman Sachs even estimated that by the year 2050, the Philippines will be the 14th largest economy in the world. How great is that?! And how much determination and resolve does that show about the Filipino people?
3. They look out for each other.
I met in-laws and girlfriends of in-laws for the first time a few weeks ago in the Philippines. And it was like we had known each other for decades. They doted on me, fed me too much, offered me gifts and made me feel right at home in their home.
Filipinos are a tight-knit group of people who constantly look out for one another. My best friend’s 90-some-year-old grandmother recently fell and needed to be looked after temporarily in a nursing home. And there’s barely an hour that goes by when one or more family member isn’t by her side, keeping her company.
In the Philippine culture, there’s no abandoning each other. I’m not even sure “abandon” is a word in their dictionary. Even as the country pieces itself together after this terrible storm, its people will undoubtedly band together to rise above this terrible tragedy. Why? Because that’s who they are.
To help with relief efforts, please consider making a donation here. An estimated 25 million people are in desperate need of food and water, and if you have the ability to help, I encourage you to do so.