Philippines - Preparing for the Trip

This is entry #2.
Link to entry #1.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.

March 30, 2013 - Preparing for the Trip

One of my assignments at church is to speak regularly in sacrament meeting (our worship service).  As I was preparing my talk (sermon) this month, I had a simple experience that again showed me how the Lord is in the details of my life.  My assigned topic was exercising faith in the Atonement, and I was reviewing the Church's new Come Follow Me curriculum as part of my preparation.  The new curriculum is full of varied content, including conference talks and multimedia.  I found (was directed to?) a short video clip about a Filipina young woman, about 14 years old, and her family.

In synopsis, they were down to their last 40 pesos ($1) and needed to buy food for the following day, as well as diapers for the baby, and still have jeep fare to get to church on Sunday.  In that part of the world, many families live day to day and can only afford to buy the necessities for the next 24hours or so.  There was no way they'd stretch it.  The story unfolded with the YW pressing forward in faith, trusting that The Lord would provide for her and her family.  She purchased the things she needed, and then, when she thought she had no more to spend, she found P100 more in her pocket, which was enough for them get the things they needed.  This story couldn't have spoken more personally to me.   At the end of the clip,  the mom shares, "God is mindful of his children.  It's so humbling to know that a great Heavenly Father cares for simple, ordinary people like us."  He does.  I know it.  I've seen it.

Serendipity was perhaps the best word for me to use as I considered how my family might be the answer to some family's needs in that same part of the world, just as that mom exclaimed above.  That He could/would use me/us to be His hands, half-way around the world--to perhaps tell some struggling soul that He knows of their pleas--has on more than one occasion in the last month moved me to tears.  This isn't some hodge podge of coincidences, melded together into a feel-good story.  It's truly the arm of the Lord baring forth for us to see.


When I decided to setup this trip, I immediately considered two things.  First, I knew that I wanted the kids to have the most immersive experience possible.  This meant that I'd need to plan opportunities to consume all forms of transportation, food, etc.  Arrogant American tourists we would not be.  Second, I knew that a key part of our trip would be to include some meaningful service.  At the time I had no idea how that effort would blossom.

About 6 weeks before our trip, I reached out to Normita's bishop, Emil Lazatin, to explain that we were coming, my role with the De Ocera family, and that we wanted to help out the poor of his ward in some meaningful way.  Bishop Lazatin, whom I did not yet know at the time, got back to me with an enthusiastic note sharing their needs.  He needed help to fund a malnutrition program for children in his ward, tuition assistance for kids who couldn't afford to attend school, and even potentially help with an electric wheelchair for a sister in his ward who has Cerebral Palsy.  Now I had my purpose.  I put together a note to send to friends, family, and coworkers, explaining our efforts and asking if they would like to assist me.

Even now as I write this, I am moved almost to tears as I consider the outpouring of support we received.  Over the course of a month, we raised well over $2500, with over 30 people contributing!  This was not a full-force fundraising campaign; it was simply reaching out within my circle.  It was amazing.  My goal was to raise $1500.  One coworker sent $300, a friend gave $500, and I received sizable checks from many family members too.  I even received a widow's mite from two different families' children, who donated personally to us.  Truly the funds we raised are sacred.

A friend at work then told me about his former CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, Carvel Whiting, who served in a LDS mission presidency in the Philippines, and who established a foundation to help with school tuition for young people in the country.  It seemed a good fit, and I've been feeling that I need to commit to a longer-term involvement with giving back, so I sent a note to him at his BELIEVE foundation.

The BELIEVE International foundation was established to help primarily high-school-age kids in the Philippines who are gifted intellectually but who don't have the needed funds to attend school.  In the Philippines it costs about $110 annually to attend school.  It's a great match up since I was seeking to do something similar.  They ask people to sponsor specific youth and then provide backgrounds and pictures, along with a secure communication channel.  They are presently helping over 180 students around the country, clustered in various provinces (primarily where they know and trust leaders to help administer the program).  Students are asked to check in monthly with an administrator, and they are also asked to commit to following Seven Habits principles to help teach them values that will hopefully help break the cycle of corruption that has gripped the country so tightly.  If students adhere to the rules of the program, BELIEVE will fund their tuition through high school and even into college.  There is not presently a program established in Pampanga.  Yet!

After we were introduced to each other, it became obvious to me that Carvel had done tons of work on learning how best to help the Filipino people.  BELIEVE is setup as an official charity and thus qualifies for employer matching.  He shared with me his approach to "feed a man a fish" vs "teach a man to fish" and we determined that I could stick to my original pledge to help Bishop Lazatin, and then use the matched funds for BELIEVE to do longer-term good.  It's a win-win.  I'll have a chance to do something long term, and via a channel that will help to ensure our efforts are properly used.  Our trip is the perfect time to try to setup the framework.  So a couple weeks ago I sent $2200 to Carvel.  He has since forwarded the money into the Philippines, and we'll have enough leftover to seed the Pampanga region as BELIEVE's newest long-term partner for about 15-20 students.

So in the end, we will have raised nearly $5k to help these people.  In no way do I share these numbers as bragging; I'm simply amazed at the outpouring of help we received for our efforts.  In chatting recently with Normita, I saw that the need for help (which has always been present) is no smaller than it was 20 years ago.  Five thousand dollars will go a very long way to make a meaningful difference in Pampanga.  I'm sure I don't even know yet exactly how meaningful.

One of the things I've experienced in sharing our preparation and motivations for this trip with my friends is how interested they've all been.  It's been more than a passing "hope you have fun" type interest, too.  We've tapped into something meaningful and visceral, and people are eager to learn and to help. I know for a fact that our experiences in this trip are being directed as a way to touch lives not only across the world, but also right here at home.

Next: Entry #3


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