Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Learning from a Veteran


More than one year has passed since I arrived to the Philippines, and already I have met many exceptional people. But  today especially I had a wonderful experience full of humble and wise words as I spent time with my dear friend Ma'am Tabique – a true veteran of the field.

At first she came across like a tough person, but once she started talking you could feel the warmth in her words.  You see, Ma'am Tabique is a retired Red Cross Chapter Administrator, who dedicated more than 34 years to build the Red Cross in her province. A truly strong, wise, determined and very clever women.

Little details are the ones that make the difference, and she really cares about those details… It’s been a long time that I didn't feel so comfortable and engaged in a field visit.

These are just some of those moments that made the difference today, details I won’t forget in a hurry...

  • The power of a real conversation – we just sat down under the wooden house, with Marian a Red Cross beneficiary along with her eight kids. They just started talking in the most humble and normal way without the classic impersonal and sometimes boring set of questions. Although I don’t speak the local language, Ma'am Tabique engaged me in the conversation translating and giving me context but also translating for the family.  We talked about family planning, flowers, future plans for the kids, the cost of crabs in the market, the huge difference than a toilet makes for the family. I can’t believe we talked about so many different topics, relaxed, enjoying like as if we were old friends.  

  • Observing in detail while walking and engaging people along the way. A 1 kilometre walk took us one hour because each few meters, we stopped to admire the Philippine medicinal plants and talk with the people about it. I learned more today about natural medicine in the Philippines than I ever had before since arriving here….how many incidents of stomach pain I could have alleviated if only I knew the plants in my garden so good for that.  We also learned about water availability, the impact of the dry season, the impact of Haiyan and so many other things.

  • No hurry, wait and see. At  5:30 p.m  I was already getting anxious to go back to town. But, a testament to Ma'am Tabique’s fortitude, instead we sat down in the veranda of the Tagbanua house (One of the oldest ethnic group in Philippines).  We just engaged in a simple conversation. When I pointed out a little bag that was hanging containing few little things, suddenly the lady took them and decided to cook one of the most wonderful batch of cashew nuts I've ever tried.  Fresh nuts, burned in the tribe’s traditional way. It was a wonderful experience, just to see them burning the shells to get the nuts that were inside.  My lesson of the day, be calm, listen and enjoy.

  • Get the real picture, the power of the years. I learnt today so many things I wish I could have learned one year ago. So much history of this province, understanding of the reason why so many things work as they are now.  Political tensions, families in power,  land reform, etc. Only veterans can tell you all these kind of things with so much passion.
Sometimes we forget the real meaning of our work and get caught up by the day to day programmatic issues of our organizations, but simple experiences like the one today make us remember how amazing it is what we do and how lucky we are to have the chance to learn so many things from different cultures and exceptional people. 

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