During my stay in the Philippines I was blessed to be welcomed by the community of dear friend. It was during a festival to honour one of the saints and it was a weekend to celebrate life and the living of it.
Out in the provinces in the small towns these celebrations are a community affair. Families open their doors to strangers and everybody visits from house to house. There is music, singing, dancing, a strong sense of fellowship and everywhere there is food.
Being an outsider I was asked if I would be willing to walk through the town and speak with some of the locals both about my work as an author and as a film maker. In every house it was expected that I partake in the food being offered by the host family, needless to say after the fourth house I was more than stuffed. I am a small woman and do not usually eat much so for me the task was daunting yet I was so warmed by their generosity and willingness to welcome me that I simply could not get the smile off my face.
The last house I visited belonged to an elderly gentleman to whom the town’s people refereed to simply as Lolo (grandfather in tagalog) although I am not even sure how many of them were actually related to this remarkable gentleman. Well into his 90’s and not able to speak any English my visit with him left me with both a sense of peace and a strong sense of responsibility for what I was doing.
He asked me through a translator why I was there and I explained a little about my work. Seeing perhaps more in my eyes than I expected him to see and perhaps wizened by his years he told me his concerns for his country.
He explained that many of the youth, disillusioned by the poverty and a lack of governmental assistance had left their homeland in search of a brighter future. I replied that I understood but I could see he wanted something from me so I had my translator ask him what it was I could do for him.
He told me that I had to make him a promise; that upon my return to Canada when I felt the time was right that I give to the Filipino people a message from him, a respected elder from a small village.
Today I am keeping that promise.
He asked me to call his people home, with tears in his eyes he told me to remind them of their homeland. He said that through my writing I could help them remember the true heart of the Filipino Nation.
He asked me to talk about family, to write about faith; and above all to encourage them to remember that united they are strong. He said “someday they will remember, they will come back to this land and care for both it and its people; someday our Nation will be whole”.
I believe that that day has come, that someday is no longer in the future, and that someday is now...
I know, I am an outsider to the Filipino people but I went there with an open mind because I yearned to understand the secret behind the smile that never fades from your faces. I do understand now, more than ever that the smile comes from knowing that no matter where you go you are and always will be connected by your faith and by family.
Project STRENGTH – my novels, all that I do was inspired by that faith and my passion for my work is driven by that same connection.
Our world is ever changing and though there are still many problems we have yet to overcome I know that when we work together we can create a better world for our children.
So tonight I am asking you not to forget, neither your land, your people, nor the fact that we are all of us responsible for each other and that all children across the globe deserve the right to our protection so they in the future will have the freedom to live their dreams.
As a side note - he really was very wise knowing that his was the last house I had to visit, and knowing i had already been to many others he simply offered me a few slices of watermelon which in retrospect was the sweetest most generous thing he could have done...