This week has been a true eye opener for me. My husband and I and our photographer friend, Paolo Ruiz, had the wonderful privilege of working closely with OXFAM Philippines and OXFAM Global this week. When we signed up as volunteers, we really didn’t know what we would be able to contribute. I had zero experience with on-the-ground volunteer work, we weren’t doctors, nurses, or aid workers, we were just three able bodied people who just wanted to help. They took us in and welcomed us openly. We stood witness to the work of OXFAM volunteers in both Manila and Cebu and I would love to take this time to honor these silent heroes.
Were they stressed? YES. Tired? YES. Lacking in sleep and showers? YES. But were they angry, bitter, resentful? No, No, NO. They didn’t have all the answers but that did not stop them from researching, planning, prepping for plan A, plan B, until plan Z. Every corner of the conference room was covered in manila paper etched with sketches, maps, to do lists, names, numbers, and other figures. The responsibilities were clearly distributed and carefully implemented. Suggestions and proposals were reviewed over and over again, the heads thoroughly studying every little detail but still with a great sense of urgency.
They stood strong with their non-negotiables, planting their principles firmly on the ground in every decision they made. But at the same time, they also dealt with external factors with a healthy amount of flexibility. They understood that not all things turn out as planned (especially in emergency cases like this) and one must be quick to act on these hurdles and hitches without veering away from your objectives. Flights get cancelled, deliveries come in late, communication lines get interrupted, roads rerouted, permits get rejected, and not to mention all the red flags and security risks—they were faced with a lot of stressful issues and roadblocks but they continued to push harder, determined to find concrete solutions.
Each and every person was busy working on their respective tasks however it didn’t feel like they were working like heartless robots. They exchanged stories with one another about their difficult (but also triumphant) missions in the past: in Haiti, in Africa, in Myanmar, etc. They smiled, they looked at the person in the face to say a proper “HELLO, How are you doing today? Feel free to get some coffee over there”. They acknowledged each other’s presence with warmth and genuine appreciation. But at the same time, their productivity level never waned. They didn’t waste their time in idle chit chat or gossip, they kept their focus and kept things moving.
Each person’s role was valued and the chain of command worked very efficiently. I don’t really know how else to explain it but I feel that when you trust the system, when you believe in the work that you do and respect the people you’re working with, then it will show in your input and output. And of course, it all boils down to having a genuine HEART TO SERVE. It was their selflessness that caused them to heed this very special life calling and it takes an even bigger amount of selflessness to actually stick to the program and commit to this kind of advocacy.
As you say your prayers at night for the survivors of Yolanda, please also say a prayer for the real life warriors out there—the relief workers and volunteers who are actually on the ground. May the good Lord bless you and your families. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.