The Philippines: Feeling right at Home

 

Have you ever been to a place far away where you automatically felt right at home?  I just recently returned from a two week company vacation and I can tell you it was like I just came back from a visit to one of my aunts and uncles down the street.

It’s hard to imagine that a place over 7,000 miles away has the ability of making one feel like they’re home.  But, I’m here to tell you such a place exists and that place is called the Philippines.  Right when I stepped off the plane, I could feel not only the warmth of the tropical Sun but the endearing warmth found on the faces of what I call my long lost brothers and sisters.

Hospitable to say the least, it was an instant connection to humble people, throwing a smile and immediately offering assistance to get my baggage or transportation.  Of course, many of the offers were coming from people working at the airport or working for tips, but it’s a moot point because it was the way in which they offered the assistance; genuine and natural for wanting to help.

A country that to many 2nd gen Fil-Ams is so foreign and is defined in a negative light, through the stories of crab mentality, corruption in government, poverty and lack of opportunity resulting in large part to decades of brain drain that explains the Filipino diaspora.       

Although there are so many accomplishments of Filipinos worldwide and within the Philippines to be proud of, it seemed growing up, we always focused on the negatives, due in large part from what we heard about from the many elders who shared their stories (in their defense, probably because of their own experiences which lead them to leave in the first place).

I have seen an upswing of Pinoy pride among 2nd gen Fil-Ams in recent years but I question the reasons behind it; is it solely because of Manny Pacquiao, Apl.de.ap, Bruno Mars, Jessica Sanchez, to name a few?  Or, are we seeing and starting to experience the real beauty behind being Filipino?  Is our opinion of the Philippines starting to change?

To summarize our recent company trip and what was experienced in a few words, I would say the Philippines is a warm, cleaner, prideful, beautiful, loving and growing place; all pointing in the right direction.

I must emphasize it’s not the same Philippines.   More importantly, it’s definitely not the Philippines I remember hearing about while I was growing up…it’s actually a great place to be in.

Many changes, many and most of which are for the better.  You can see it with your own eyes; the traffic is still there, but the roads appear to be in better shape than some parts of Southern California.  Some of the streets I used to remember seeing full of garbage is being cleaned up – fines are strictly enforced for littering and catching on to many parts of the country; the mood is good about the current president who is leading by example by having zero tolerance for corruption; a great percentage of the people despite their impoverished state, is an example of what being thankful is all about, giving thanks for what they have instead of focusing on what they don’t have.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got a long way to go, but the “Motherland” is headed in the right direction and it truly makes me proud to know I am a witness to all of these great changes.

One of these great changes is Gawad Kalinga www.gk1world.com and the many people behind such a humble but formidable organization who has tasked themselves for eradicating poverty in the Philippines by 2024.  Its founder, Tony Meloto, has been a catalyst for driving politics, the people and country forward, helping to reshape the way Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad view themselves and a country once thought of as being one of the weakest in Asia to now experiencing positive economic growth that is to be contended with instead of being passed up.

From the beaches and resorts of Cebu, caves and underground river of Palawan - one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world, to some of the nicest spots of High Street in Bonifacio Global City, high end condos within the Central Business District of Makati, the trendy shops at Greenbelt, the suburbs of Alabang and to the last leg of our trip in Angat, Bulacan, to visit Enchanted Farms, the brainchild of Gawad Kalinga’s founder, one cannot believe what is happening and what has happened in the Philippines.   

A major transformation has occurred and the light is starting to shine upon the Motherland and its people. 

A talk over breakfast to share his vision of how to sustain a community for the poor through the cooperation of social entrepreneurs for social benefit, Tony Meloto’s excitement for the future of the Philippines is contagious and is the reason for my wanting to share my experiences with you. 

Absolutely amazing was our trip that no write up can truly express all the deep emotions that was brought out and stirred up within such a short time. 

From one that was born and raised here in the U.S., I want to encourage all of my fellow 2nd gen Fil-Ams to take the time and experience what the Philippines is all about.  It’s not only a great destination for a vacation with so many places to visit, having over 7,000 islands to choose from, it’s a great place to reconnect with, learn about our roots and why there is so much to be proud of being Filipino. 

Gone are the days of the Philippines not being a place to visit, a place we cannot connect with, a place that our parents and many relatives moved away from.  It is a place to visit, revisit and definitely go back to, having met several Fil-Ams who have started their own businesses, bringing their talents and ideas to re-enrich a country severely affected by many decades of exodus. 

It’s a place that you instantly connect with, whether it’s that airport worker who first greets you, kids in a Gawad Kalinga village whom you’ve never met before calling you Kuya or Ate and innocently asking you to play jump rope with them, or the taxi driver asking you how life in the States is, not understanding that you are no different from him because he’s your brother on the other side of the world.

I left a couple of weeks ago thinking I was going on vacation not knowing that my actual destination was “HOME.”  That’s what I got out of the Philippines and that’s what I want each and every one of you to experience firsthand.

 

By: Mia Morales McLeod