Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Jaime Martín Grau, Hardworking Volunteer from Spain

Jaime Martín Grau
Age: 24

From: Barcelona, Spain
Currently going to a university in Denmark where he is majoring in Architecture/Engineering and Law

I met Jaime in a coffee shop where he would hang out in between his volunteer work. I found him to be warm and affable. Very engaging not just in conversation but also with life. It was inspiring to see a young man be very committed with helping people he’s never met and are not familiar with. All these were palpable throughout the interview.

LL: How did you start off with volunteering?
JMG: I did volunteer work at home with the homeless, the elderly and people without families but that was when I was very young, then I wanted to do something else.  At University, I became a member of an architect NGO made up of students but we were not able to do a lot and we didn’t have tools;  I also wanted to do volunteer that had to do with my home in Spain and I wanted to help in the poor countries. In Barcelona, I was working in a “Comidor Socíal” a kitchen not necessarily for homeless people but also for people who were down and out; you could see that some of those people just fell on hard times, they were embarrassed to be there.  Also with my grandmother, she had Alzheimer’s disease, she was in a home for old people, we got involved easily, me and my sisters, it came naturally for us. We took our grandmother home to live with us and we when we saw that there were other elderly people in the care home who didn’t have families that could take care of them the way we did our grandma, we helped in the old people’s home. 

LL: What made you decide to volunteer in our place?
JMG: In April, during the earthquake in Nepal, I wanted to go there but I couldn’t  because there were already a lot of volunteers helping, so  I asked my university  some time off to do volunteer work, but after internet research I couldn’t find an outfit with which to volunteer. I needed to go somewhere, so I went to visit Cuba for the break that I had, I also visited Central America. I researched about Latin and South America but I couldn’t find any for which to volunteer, I didn’t know where to go.   I did more research in the internet, then I remembered Yolanda (Haiyan), the typhoon in the Philippines, the faces of the people, it came to my mind and I found "All Hands” (NGO) and I saw that they were doing the rebuilding phase;  All Hands has been here for 2 years already and there were projects for  building  houses, many volunteer outfits were here only for the emergency phase, but All Hands has been here for the rebuilding.  I also wanted to continue with the human experience.  I was disillusioned in a way with plainly doing architecture because I didn’t just want to work in an office.

LL: How would your field of work connect with doing good in the world?
JMG: I really believe that architecture will improve the people’s living condition. These points are connected, people need to live in a place that is healthy for them, they have to be careful with that and they need to live in a place that is comfortable  and they should have dignity with their home; it has to have proper conditions that they can live as a human, not as an animal. When I saw this in Tacloban, it was a match for me, it had the need for rebuilding as well as an element of humanity.

LL: How was your volunteer work for Samar and Leyte? How did you find the people?
JMG: I think people are doing good. In my goodbye speech for All Hands when my time to volunteer was up. The biggest thanks that I have is for the people I’ve met. There is really something about this word “resilience” here in the Philippines. People have been through so much but they carry on, they continue.  During the 2nd anniversary, there was this candle lighting, I saw people who were sad but I also saw people who were positive, they gave candles for the dead. I saw this old lady, who wanted to talk to me, she was happy. I asked her why she was happy? She said "the bad things are gone now, the city is even looking better, there were many people who helped and it was good." I think the people are positive and want to move on. This is also connected with my own life personally. One of the mottos of All Hands is "rebuilding lives", not just homes. It made me admire the positivity of the people, they are thankful with what we do for them. Sometimes people don’t understand that being a volunteer, one does not earn while volunteering. But they are thankful.

LL: Has your experience here given you more desire to volunteer?
JMG: Of course, because volunteering makes you learn many things. How to work with the city, with different people, different cultures. I have seen nature destroy but I also have seen how people can rebuild. And I learned many things. I will volunteer again.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, there are political and religious upheavals between countries, there’s terrorism and the natural disasters which we cannot control. Do you feel there is hope for the future of our planet?
JMG: Thanks to the social media and the internet there is more information within the people, so that the population are more able to criticize their own governments, they are able to say “ you don’t represent us” to the leaders of their country. The panorama right now for the world is bad but there will be pressure from all over the world. Syria for example, the government was using the lack of education of people; they should be more proactive though, especially the rich countries. They should be more involved. In connection with this when the time comes, I want to help rebuild Syria, just because the conflict is manmade, doesn’t mean we should not help. When I am talking about hope I am not being unrealistic, don’t just say "everything is sh—" ; you need to face the truth and do something about it. I have been lucky with travel, I have been in 55 countries in my 24 years. I have seen many things, poverty, disasters, dictators, I don’t trust the media on how they influence us. The best education is to see it with our own eyes. Example Iran, it was surprising , we have a bad perception about Iran but in terms of the people, they are the most amazing people you will ever meet - The Persian people. How cynical we are, but when you travel you are able to understand. I really have hope in young people because they are saying a lot now. Social media helps them to express that. It’s still far in terms of connection but with the leadership, it’s about the power struggle, the youth is now saying to their governments “You don’t represent me, this is not the government/country that we want.”

LL: Are you an activist or an advocate?:
JMG: Advocate. I am not militaristic.

LL: Given an opportunity to resolve one disaster or conflict going on in the world right now,  which one would you take a gander at?
JMG: I would show the reality of the the guns, I would show them that the people who are behind guns are people, like co-workers. I would build more schools instead of guns.

LL: Do you still find time for your personal life after all the travels and volunteering?
JMG: Yes, yes i do.

LL: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
JMG: I am also studying law, I don’t want to be a lawyer for the sake of being one, but it (law) is important for everything. I am interested in human rights, people’s lives, if I make good with engineering and architecture then I also want to help improve people’s human rights, to improve dignity.  In university, I had this paper about helping the slums in India, in terms of architectural and things that will improve lives.

Jaime did volunteer work in Leyte and Samar for 3 months, he helped build and rebuild homes in Leyte and helped rebuild  schools in Hernani, Samar. After his work in the Philippines, he will take a break and go back to the university to finish his studies in Denmark.

From all of us, thank you Jaime.

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