College is ephemeral, a reality I’ve accepted for so long but felt for the first time this semester. I had all the time in the world my freshman and sophomore years. I could enjoy myself without having to worry so much about what lay ahead with my friends by my side. Now as a junior, I’m feeling the pressure of graduation and the impending heartbreak of separation from my friends who remind me that time never really is on our side.
When I’m feeling sad to a degree that talking about it even with someone I trust won’t help, I listen to a playlist of songs my Dad would sing on the karaoke. It’s soothing.
When I was younger, he would bust out the mic and belt out a collection of oldies as I lay sprawled on the couch in our living room. This would happen at the start of the weekend, when he didn’t have to go to work. I cherished those moments because Dad worked two jobs to keep my family afloat so I would never see him during the week–only the weekends. I looked forward to Fridays because that means he would still be home when my Mom, sister, brother, and I would return from a day of school. Nothing much has changed; Dad still holds two jobs.
I never had the courage to pick up the mic myself, so I’d watch my father and listen to his voice. Maybe this was his way of de-stressing, his way of relaxing after a long week at work. I don’t know–I never asked him.
I miss my Dad, but until then, I’ll listen to his favorite tunes that pull my heart back to where I want to be at this very moment: home.
I wrote this essay as a response to the prompt above. It was for an application to be part of the audience for TEDxBU, the first time a TED talk has come to Boston University, probably ever. I’m not actually sure. Regardless, I breathed so much of my passion and love for the Philippines in this piece, and I’m proud of it. So naturally, I had to share.
The plane bounced securely as its wheels reunited with asphalt after hours among the clouds. It gets noticeably hotter when I lift the shade of my window. Outside, the interplay of atmosphere and sun creates a mirage of water under the unforgiving Manila heat.
Welcome to the Philippines. It is July 2013. I am still quite reeling from my first year of college, and am here on vacation to visit extended family that I have not seen since my last trip six years ago in 2007. Out of the airport, I board a bus with my parents and my two younger siblings for our home province, Ilocos Sur. It will be a 10-hour commute back to the place I was born, where I spent the first three years of my life before relocating to the island of Guam in the perennial search for better opportunity.
I can’t help but feel like I am retracing my steps as the hours go by in this bus. Looking outside my window, watching everyday moments of provincial and city life: street children selling flowers at the feet of churches; families huddled, napping on flattened sheets of cardboard on sidewalks; farmers laboring in rice terraces in the unrelenting heat. Scenes of poverty and hardship remind me of the struggles my parents and many others had to overcome to provide a better future not just for themselves but also for those they love. This would be a recurring thought in my two-week stay in my home country: that I am a member of an illustrious demographic–those fortunate enough to have left for a more promising fate. We are the lucky ones.
My trip to the Philippines was nothing short of transformative. It inspired me to major in International Relations, focusing on development in Asia.
The following November, arguably the strongest storm in recorded history struck the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan displaced and injured millions of survivors and left thousands dead in its wake. As images of the storm and its aftermath began to populate my newsfeed, I automatically compared them to my memories from the summer before. Destroyed wooden huts that used to be homes, uprooted plantations, and the dead replaced the serene landscape and resilient folk that made me proud of who I am and where I come from.
In response to the disaster, BU’s Filipino Student Association–of which I was on the executive board–planned a benefit concert to aid the typhoon-stricken areas of the Philippines to stimulate the recovery and rebuilding efforts. Coincidentally enough, the concert was aptly entitled, “Siklab ng Pagasa” or “Sparks of Hope.” While the event raised roughly over a thousand dollars in donations, considerably shadowed by the millions of dollars that were then pouring into the country, the club knew that it would cause a difference regardless.
A spark, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire, alight in ashes, or produced by striking together two hard surfaces such as stone or metal.” Generally, “spark” is often synonymous with “inspiration.” Depending on each person, inspiration can come easily or scarcely. But one thing remains true: inspiration is fleeting. Like sparks, bouts of inspiration disappear relatively quickly once they appear. Just as a mirage cannot materialize without both sun and atmosphere, sparks are just one half of the equation to creating a flame and enacting change–you will need resources to sustain the fire: tinder, dry grass, wood, oxygen.
My spark materialized when my two worlds collided: the story of my past and the resources of my present. I know that I can make a change in my home community and want to dedicate part of my life to eradicating poverty and improving health and education in the Philippines. I yearn for the day when all children are in school, not in the streets selling flowers or collecting plastic bottles for recycling in order to earn a few pesos to survive for another day. I know that this will likely never happen in my lifetime, but I hope that those who carry the torch share the flame and allow their sparks to flicker into the minds of the next generation. It would be a mistake to assume that sparks are all we need–we need foundation, we need the promise of resources to ensure that each spark is a lucky one–that it does not vanish into thin air and burns with its own unique flame and radiates its warmth to the world.