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Monday, November 30, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Carolina Rodoli, Aid Worker and Consultant



Carolina Rodoli, 36 
Originally from the Dominican Republic, also lived in New York Position held prior to coming to Leyte: Aid Worker in Haiti/Consultant for other projects

One of the times I spoke with Carolina about ST Haiyan/Yolanda I remember her distinctly stating, “When we saw the pictures in the news, we had to do something, we had to come.” This she said with sincerity and this touched me in such a viscerally. A lot of good can be said when you meet someone whose openness is palpable from the outset and it's an added bonus when that person also turns out to be selfless and full of purpose . Carolina fits that bill perfectly and so much more.

LL: Carolina, Can you describe where you come from? 

CR: I come from an island in the Caribbean known as Hispaniola. This island is in fact shared by two countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I was born on the Dominican side but can’t help calling the whole island my home, since I’ve lived in Haiti and have a lot of love for that country as well. We are jovial, outspoken people. We love our music, our cuisine, our Caribbean identity. When I was younger I had the opportunity to do sophomore year of high school in New York and an exchange program in Arizona during college. Those were very new scenarios for me, where I had to rely on my confidence and the kindness of people to be able to navigate completely different systems from those in the Dominican Republic. Fortunately there were always communities of Latinos or Caribbean friends I could reach out to. I think they made the transition a lot easier. Eventually I felt ready to let go of that safety net and now I find it quite exciting to throw myself in a completely different culture.

LL: What’s your impression of Tacloban? 

CR: I’m an islander too so a lot of things are very familiar to me. Like the weather and the proximity of the ocean; the chaotic streets and friendly attitude of the people; the fiestas and family-oriented culture. Perhaps the first difference I noticed was that in our island people are generally more blunt, whereas here, they are more careful to voice things out. What I didn’t expect was for Taclobanons to be so warm and thoughtful. That was a really nice surprise. And resilient too, I don’t think I have met people this resilient before. Really. I arrived here in Nov 2014, right before the first anniversary of Yolanda, and it’s remarkable how the city has coped with the aftermath of the typhoon. It’s both powerful and empowering to witness that. 

LL: What pivotal moment made you choose to become a volunteer/aid worker? 
CR: I did my undergraduate studies in Communications, so I was first a journalist. While working on a story about the challenges of an immigrant family in the Dominican Republic, I realized I had become very attached to this issue. I started doing volunteer work on the side for projects advocating and bringing services to these communities. Cut to present tense, and after a master’s in Project Management and some studies/work in Development and Human Rights, I am now an aid worker. It was a shift in my career path but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

LL: Why did you choose to be a volunteer and aid worker in our place? 

CR: Well my husband came here first. He is with CRS (Catholic Relief Services) as a Shelter & Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Specialist. I came to accompany him and decided to try consultancy in the mean time. Sometimes remunerated, sometimes pro bono, it didn’t matter much to me because I just wanted to be useful however I could. This year I have done strategy development, grant writing, project assessment, and through these experiences I have met truly amazing people doing meaningful work: from NGO’s such as Street Light dealing with child protection, to volunteered-based initiatives like All Hands that builds homes, schools and public space projects in the barangays. Their contribution might be small compared to larger scale projects but their work is definitely significant to the people they are reaching out to. Doing consultancy work like developing communication strategies requires for you to know the people in the community in order for the project to be effective in implementation.

LL: How do you go about with this one? 

CR: Although there are Best Practices in different fields that are used as references internationally, I always try to work with the local people too. As an outsider I cannot impose my views upon them. It is important that as aid workers we internalize that whatever has worked on one project in another country, will not necessarily work here.

LL: Have your experiences here affected or changed you as a person? And do you think that your experience here will be useful for you in the future? 

CR: Because of the nature of the work, I have been exposed to several communities facing challenging situations. I can honestly say though that I have been inspired by the Taclobanons, who face adversity with faith and sense of humor. People here are fighters! Like Pacqiuao, they go on fighting. It may sound like the biggest cliché but it’s true.

LL: Are you an activist or an advocate?  

CR: I am more of an activist, since my work has been just as intentional but more action-oriented and less vocal than the typical advocate. Everyone with a sense of right who sees injustice and does something to change it is really an activist, in the most fundamental sense of the word.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, the political and religious wars between countries, there’s terrorism and the natural disasters which we cannot control. Do you really feel there is hope for the future of our planet? 

CR: Sometimes I worry about the future of humanity. Nature can and will go on, with or without us. But I also feel that losing hope is the basis for failure. History has taught us what we are capable of achieving so I prefer to have confidence in our resilience, in our resourcefulness, in our ability to use science for the collective good, and above all I am confident of our capacity to mobilize for change. We are bombarded with bad news every day and it might make us believe human nature is generally hostile, but there is so much positive that goes unnoticed.

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? 

CR: There is a lot going on in the current time, but I think education is a very powerful tool I would always support. Especially because I feel it is the lack of it what’s causing most of these conflicts or preventing us to manage them appropriately. This generation is overexposed to information but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we know more. If every kid in every corner of the world had access to quality education, I think there would be hope for the next generation. I am not talking about formal education alone, but something more comprehensive, something that really stimulates all aspects of our humanity (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and ethical). The things I want to happen are more abstract and more about change in behavior.

LL: Can you still find time for your personal life given your very busy life as an aid worker of an NGO in the field? 

CR: Yes, I’d say so. At the moment my schedule goes from very busy days to periods of no work. It has not always been the case so I am enjoying it while I can. 

LL: What’s next for you? 
CR: We are in the process of figuring that out.

LL: I have 7 one-word-answer questions I want to ask you, you must choose one answer between the 2 choices and you are not allowed to explain why. Shall we have a go at it? CR: Alright.. 

Moon or Sun? Sun
Monochrome or Colored? Colored
Flats or Heels : Flats
Paris or Tuscany? Paris
Beach or Shopping? Beach!
Coffee or Tea: Tea
Eagle or Dolphin: Dolphin 

Bonus: Star Trek or Star Wars: Star Trek

As Carolina walks out of the café, I am also inspired by her presence in our island town because we are all recipients of her benevolence. Her cheerfulness is infectious and everyone she comes in touch with is blessed for it.

Carolina, from all of us: Thank you. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Amy Marshall, Field Coordinator, All Hands



Amy Marshall
45 years old
Originally from: California, also lived in Washington State, Michigan, Switzerland and Hong Kong
Position held prior to coming to Leyte: Worked as a program director for a treatment center and a teacher for teenagers; taught Math and Science, History and English

No nonsense + Big heart + latté lover = Awesome Amy Marshall

LL: Amy, can you describe where you come from?
AM: I come from California, in Sonoma which is north of SanFransisco, it's wine country with vineyards and good food. I am a connoisseur of food, the biggest wine makers there are Kendall Jackson and Korbel the champagne.
There’s a rivalry between Napa (Valley) and Sonoma, there’s a bumper sticker that says,  “Napa makes auto parts and Sonoma makes wine.” I also love Truckee, Ca, my parents have a cabin there, at the north of Tahoe.

LL: What’s your impression of Tacloban?
AM: I was amazed by how warm and welcoming this culture is. I was shocked when I arrived here at first with the tent city.  I didn’t understand the gravity of Yolanda before coming over, just seeing the people 6 months after the disaster and still living in tents, that impacted me. I was in Bohol since Febuary 2013, I remember being struck by the street signs that said “need food.” When I got here, it was worse. We were doing deconstruction in Bohol but then I saw in Anibong some people were living inside the ships, rebuilding their homes among the debris. They did warn us that we could find bodies when we began rebuilding (the community).

LL: What pivotal moment made you choose to become a volunteer/aid worker?
AM: Growing up in Hong Kong, I would travel to different places.  I remember seeing poverty being a child, so I wanted to help people that needed help. With volunteering, the biggest fear for me was the “unknown,” but once I took the first step, I went for it, I had a 2-month vacation from work and I was going to be here as a volunteer for 6 weeks, but during the 4th week I sent my resignation from my work and decided to stay longer. I had volunteered for 11 months and I am now an aid worker, a field coordinator with All Hands.

LL: Why did you choose to volunteer in our place? 

AM: I had been following All Hands for 5 years already. When the news about Typhoon Haiyan came, I saw on television, I sent an application to All Hands and they gave me preference whether to volunteer in Bohol or Leyte so I went to Bohol, the project was finished by June 30th and they asked us of we would come to Leyte, so I came along with 15 other volunteers.

LL: Has your experiences here affected or changed you as a person? And do you think that your experience here will be useful for you in the future? 

AM: Yes, I often wonder how I will adjust back because I have been living here for 20 months now. I have only bought a shirt and a pair of shorts, this shorts I am wearing is a hand me down. I’ve become very appreciative, when I went back to the US last July, I saw the material things that everyone has and I thought it wasn't necessary. One thing I find, along with all the people I volunteer with - we are humbled by the people here who are resilient, positive, have a smile and they mean it. It’s sweet, it makes me appreciative of things, it’s inspiring to me. And when people at home says to me. “Oh what you are doing is selfless," I feel they don’t understand; it feels like I am not doing a lot really.
A couple of things I do for the new volunteers who did not see this place when it was bad here is  I orient them on how it was and show them how resilient this community is.
Sometimes we go to the communities; for example one time we played "Duck Duck Goose” with kids, the mothers who were watching join in too and after this round of game, one mother said “For a minute I forgot about Yolanda.”

LL: Are you an activist or an advocate?  

AM: I think I would say I am an advocate.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, the political and religious wars 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?  

AM: I know that there are so many horrific things that are happening (in the world) and that’s why I decided to stay here so that I can help. With what little I can do I hope there is a ripple effect of good that comes out of it and I hope it will become bigger.
 

LL: Of course, we must never underestimate the power of one. In connection with this, given an opportunity to resolve one disaster or conflict going on in the world right now,  which one would you take a gander at? 
AM: Before working with All Hands I was monitoring the water problem of the world closely, 1 billion people are affected by the lack of good water. Women and children are affected, some kids who are not able to go to school because they have to walk for 4 hours to fetch water and it’s not even drinkable water at that. This organization called Charity Water (set up by Scott Harrison), I saw him speak, he's set up where your donation goes directly to digging for wells, there’s transparency in the reports and he mentioned that not a lot of people donate to this cause.

LL: Apart from volunteer work or being an aid worker, what’s the next best thing that makes you eloquent or effusive with words?  

AM: My 7 nieces and nephews, spending time with them, whether playing with them at the beach, camping, just spending time time with w/ them.

LL: What’s next for you Amy? 

AM: I actually will take a break, I am going home for Christmas, you know, my mom turned 75 in July of this year, I surprised her by going there, not letting them know I was going. Now it’s my father’s birthday, I think when I am there I’ll know a little bit more about whether we will extend our work here, I know we have a project in Nepal, and another one in Malawi, but I don’t know if that project will still be there. I love living in a community, I would love to travel the Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, I visited Thailand last year.

LL: I have 7 one-word-answer questions I want to ask you, you must choose one answer between the choices and you are not allowed to explain why. Shall we have a go at it?

AM: Okay.
Moon or Sun?   Sun
Monochrome or Colored?  Colored
Flats or Heels?  Flats
London, New York or Paris?   Paris
Beach or Shopping?    Beach
Coffee or Tea?   Coffee
Eagle or Dolphin?   Dolphin
Bonus Q: Star Trek or Star Wars?   Star Wars

As I conclude my interview with Amy, I am amazed by her, she is indefatigable. She’s been here for 20 months now and has remained committed the whole time. I mention to her that many people would have already up and left and relinquished the duties. But despite the challenges of not having a comfortable bed to sleep at night,  a decent shower, proper laundry, the food she's been used to, she’s still here and is determined to see all these through. Amy takes it all in stride. How is it that for everything that she’s done, she still remains humbled. Perhaps this is what the real thing is made of. 

Amy, we are very honored for all you’ve done. From all of us: thank you.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Marinel Valentini, Aid Worker, All Hands


Marinel Valentini, 28
From: Milan, Italy
Status prior to volunteering: Social Media Officer for a website service in London, UK

This lady I spoke with has an exuberant spirit wherein her humanity, sense of hope and beauty spills over. She has been in our town for over a year now touching people’s lives via volunteer work and giving of herself tirelessly. She is Marinel Valentini, A staff member for the non-governmental organization “All Hands” which has helped in rebuilding  homes and lives for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan as well as the Earthquake victims in Bohol.

LL: Marinel, can you describe where you come from ?

MV: I came from a large city in Italy, I've always lived in a city, always been a city girl, not used to open spaces or nature. I was fortunate enough to be an exchange student in Illinois for 8 months, Highland Il., so I saw what it’s like living in the middle of nowhere.
I went to the Goldsmith University of London to do my master’s in producing musical theatre. After having been there I needed to explore the world. Then I came here to the Philippines.

LL: What does a musical theatre producer do?
 
MV: The producer is responsible for the behind the scenes for a musical, logistics, coming up with the set, auditioning the cast, etc.

LL: What’s your impression of Tacloban?
 
MV: Tacloban was at first shocking but soon enough I felt at ease, I felt I could go around on my own and people were nice. Right now at base there is a large group it feels like it’s a hostel.

LL: What pivotal moment made you choose to become a volunteer?
 
MV: always wanted to become a volunteer because I always wanted to do good. My family always donated to Greenpeace and things like that, after living in London I needed to travel the world and volunteering was a good avenue for it.

LL: Why did you choose to be a volunteer worker in our place?

MV: I  knew I wanted to volunteer in the Philippines because of my Mom’s heritage (she’s a Filipina), there were two projects with All Hands in Bohol from the earthquake and the victims of Haiyan in Tacloban and I wanted to help the Philippines in general not just exclusively for typhoon Haiyan.

LL: Has your experiences here affected you or changed you as a person? And do you think that your experience here will be useful for you in the future?

MV: Yes it has changed me profoundly, I cannot even express it in words, it’s changed my perspective in looking at life, I see the communities where I have worked as an example. The Taclobanons has gone through so much but still they smile. My experience here will be useful for the future, on a personal level, yes for sure. And it made me appreciate the things I have. I am thankful, grateful for my life in general because of my experiences here. 

LL: Are you an activist or an advocate?

MV: I am more of an advocate, I am not good with being militant.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, there are political and religious wars between countries, there’s terrorism and the natural disasters which we cannot control. Do you really feel there is hope for the future of our planet?

MV: There is always hope even if there’s evil, we have to hold on to hope because how can we live without it. There are some things that are good. I like being in Tacloban because it’s like I am in a bubble, I am protected here from the bad things of the world.

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?

MV: The Syrian refugee crises because it’s current, I will advocate for more tolerance. The borders are strict. I feel like blocking/closing the borders are not helping them.

LL: Can you still find time for your personal life given your very busy life as a staff worker of an NGO in the field?

MV: Our communal living limits for personal time because I am surrounded by lots of people. So in my alone time I run in the mornings. I go to this coffee shop (Rustic Coffee). In London I couldn’t to things on my own.

LL: What’s next for you?


MV: I hope to stay with All Hands for a while, volunteer for sure, I need to get a job eventually, hopefully in the NGO industry. Help on the side. But I definitely need to travel.

LL: I have 7-one-word-answer questions I want to ask you, you must choose one answer between the 2 choices and you are not allowed to explain why. Shall we have a go at it?

MV: Sure!
Moon or Sun?   Moon
Monochrome or Colored?  Colored
Flats or Heels?    Flats
Paris or Tuscany?   Paris
Beach or Shopping?   Beach
Coffee or Tea?   Tea
Eagle or Dolphin?  Eagle!

Marinel will continue with All Hands’ remaining  projects here in the Leyte and Samar and plans to go to Nepal also through All Hands for her next venture. 
Marinel, from all of us: Thank you!