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The Tenacity of Hope and Goodwill

(Reflections on the Re-Ignite Trip to Alang-Alang Leyte)

[Date Created: August 19, 2014]

by Mark Lawrence Cruz



Alang, Alang LEYTE – Last July 24-25, a group of 14 decided to celebrate Ignatian month
off-campus and out in the frontiers of mission


The Ateneo de Manila community dedicates the month of July to activities and gestures that celebrate the spirituality of St. Ignatius. This new tradition opened many paths and opportunities for students, faculty, professionals, staff, alumni and parents to grow in familiarity with Ignatian spirituality. Consistent to Ignatius’ admonition to meet people where they are, this year’s menu of activities included something for everyone: introductory sessions (both formal and informal), recollection sessions, nature walks, talks and seminars, Eucharistic celebrations, and mission trips.

Last July 24-25, a group of 14 decided to celebrate Ignatian month off-campus and out in the frontiers of mission. The trip was horribly short and rushed but it did not lack for depth and intensity. There are as many stories as they were persons in the team (and I look forward to hearing each one of them). This short reflection is my fair share to the group’s collective story.

I went home from this trip much enriched by two gifts: a community of kindred spirits and the tenacity of hope and goodwill.


A Community of Kindred Spirits

First, the gift of being with a community of kindred spirits. Up until 2:30 a.m. of departure day, I knew only but one person in the group—the rest were but names on a list. As I did the roll call, it immediately became clear to me that our group was made up of a variety of characters that that included people born across 5 decades (our youngest teammate was Ali, 11 years old), that came from all the school units (from Grade School all the way to the Professional schools) and that almost all the sectors of the university were represented (we had a student, a number of faculty members, professionals, administrators, and a parent). But as the trip progressed the things that made us different (age, gender, affiliation, marital status) steadily gave way to what we shared in common: the willingness and excitement to go to the frontiers of mission.


The small and informal conversations revealed that all of us personally wanted and had to sign up for this trip (some even had to apply and get approved!). There was a common desire to venture off-campus and see first-hand what’s really out there in the Yolanda-affected areas.  This common desire drew us to each other.

  


Manning the kitchen operations for the in-school feeding program in Alang-Alang, Leyte


And as this short 2-day trip progressed we came to discover that each of us carried even deeper desires that propelled us to travel all the way to Leyte. For a good number of us, it was the desire to re-live a previous life of field work that has become scarce due to teaching or administrative work. 

  

For some, it was the moment of boldness to defy busy schedules or feelings of un-readiness and finally take first step to go out on mission. Still for others, it was part of an on-going search for something more. It was great to be in the midst of a people animated and propelled by desire. It was a community on mission (a microcosm of the university out in Leyte) ready to give of themselves but also equally open to being formed and molded by the experience. 


The excitement of seeing a very young Atenean join his first out of town trip with the school is matched by the depth of humility of witnessing seasoned faculty to be carrying out whatever menial task is assigned to them. In so many ways, this trip was an experience of authentic and genuine community: vastly different persons responding to a common call and living up a shared identity.



The Tenacity of Hope and Goodwill

Second, the gift of tenacity of hope and goodwill. Most of the work that we had to do revolved around the feeding program which ACED is currently exporting to Gawad Kalinga. This landmark initiative brings to fore the unique role of the university to discover and prototype working models and teaching other groups how to carry them out.

The centerpiece of the program is the kitchen where nutritious lunch for 1,600 kids were being prepared daily by a team of kitchen staff and volunteers. Each of us were assigned one task or another in the kitchen: peeling and chopping vegetables, cooking, packing of lunchboxes, distribution to the classrooms, and washing of utensils.  All this was unfolding in the campus of Alang-Alang 1 Central School where much of Yolanda’s destruction was still very much evident. They once had 40 classrooms and now only 17 remain. The debris was stockpiled in an enclosed area beside the kitchen where stood a mountain of slabs of old wood were, rusting steel beams, glass-less window frames, all sort of broken benches and shelves, and drenched books and files. It was easy to be depressed and be driven to despair to see first how Yolanda had stripped to bare bones whatever stood in her path. This was a common scene that the group saw as we shuttled from Tacloban to Alang-Alang (a 30 kilometer trip) for 2 days.

But against this backdrop there was a flurry of events and persons in the foreground that somehow told a different story. Every so often vehicles and personnel of NGO’s and various international agencies would be seen doing their field work. Inside the make-shifts classrooms of tents were teachers doing double- or triple-shifts. And, in Alang-Alang Central School, there were children everywhere who were seemingly unaffected by the obvious state of destruction that surrounded them. Set against the mountain of debris was a stream of smiling faces and crisp laughter of the children. And inside the kitchen the group interacted with the parent-volunteers who all told stories of survival and their defiance to be totally struck down by Yolanda.

Somehow, even while their houses and classrooms are in shambles their sense of hope is whole. Each one of us got an opportunity to talk to the children and to their parents throughout his 2-day trip and this story of hope was the constant refrain we heard. Witnessing first-hand how a devastated people is propelled by a stubborn hope and belief that things would get better leaves one amazed and humbled at the same time. Each of us were pushed to ask: “Where does this hope come from?” Or in a personal note, “Am I capable of the same hope?!”

   

The sense of hope of the people of Leyte cannot but embolden those who see it first-hand. Here again the classic moment of goodness rising above destruction scatters a luminous glow across a backdrop of despair. One can easily despair with all that has been destroyed but one can also choose to hope and build back better by the precious few that has remained. Our small of group of 14 Ateneans on mission went home carrying this challenge brought about by this interacting with a people of hope and joy. 


In a few days, the Ignatian festival draws to a close. But for each of us joined this trip, something new is just beginning to unfold. Somehow in going off-campus and out to the frontiers of mission we were brought back to the heart of our identity and spirituality where we again finds ourselves asking “What more can I do to be God’s light in the world?” In going out to give of ourselves, we came back being enriched knowing that for certain we are but being prepared for an even greater outpouring of service—an outpouring that can outmatch and outdo whatever the Yolandas of history may bring upon our people.

ADMG.


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