How can I write in full what Expedition Agape Malaysia 2014's expedition to the Philippines was like? Especially since I'm supposed to be hard at work finishing up a report on the lecture that I missed to be handed in at 1p.m. ;).
So much happened that was just incredible. Let's start with the fundraising. I still remember how desperately frustrated I got with the slow fundraising. And at the same time, how very inspired I was by new volunteers who took up the challenge and ownership of fundraising the most. Finally, two weeks before the deadline with still over RM30,000 to raise, I gave my monthly tithe and told God, "God, You said to test You in this. I'm testing You. Here's my tithe; give us the RM30,000 that we need to take the youths to the Philippines." God is so faithful... The money fell like a waterfall into our account filling up what we need with time enough for us to remit the money to Manila and to withdraw it for our own expenses. More money came in the last two weeks before we left for Manila then we had fundraised in the two months prior to that.
And my learning on leadership. I learnt that not all people are meant to be leaders, in the traditional sense of leadership. They are meant to be the leaders in the area that they are called to lead. They may lead in servanthood, they may lead in kindness, they may lead in technical ability, they may lead in administrative ability, but not all are called to stand in front and organize. That is a particular form of leadership. And it is frustrating to put those who are not called to do that in that position because it is like forcing a squirrel to swim! It is also frustrating for those who need to take up the slack on behalf of the 'leader', because those who are supposed to be the leaders 'run away' as they are uncomfortable in that position!
This year's EA was so topsy-turvy; I often felt that God must be purposely turning everything upside down just so He could stand and laugh at my desperate scrabbling to get things arranged in 'my way' and 'my order'! I finally gave up in frustration on the last day on the immigration procedures because I was just so darn tired! We had run all over KL trying to get this document and that document done and it seemed never enough. I was sick and tired of the jolts that I would get every time I checked the list of 'documents required' and could not find a particular document in my stack on that list. Finally I briefed the other volunteers on how to take care of the youths in case of immigration issues and some of us needing to go back home and just waited to see. And... Everything went totally smoothly. The immigration officer who looked stern at first even chit-chatted with us about how she would like to visit Malaysia someday!
I felt deep gratitude for love poured out to overflowing to the youths. The staff at Metro were so patient and friendly and affectionate that if it was possible for the youths to be spoiled by love, they would have been! How they soaked it up; to the point that there were tears when it was time to go home and many wails about how they missed this person and that person amongst Metro staff. There is healing in love.
I was also deeply thankful for an amazing volunteer Team this year. They were a full-on volunteer Team, and knowing how much work they had outside the Expedition, I was just so touched by the time they took to give to the youths and do all they can for them to have a change.
Total surprise to see a youth, sitting completely alone at the airport restaurant during lunch before our return flight. The youth was looking to the left and to the right to the tables on each side filled with laughing youths and volunteers - like a little island sitting alone. I have literally never seen that before in my life anywhere. It made me sad to see how this youth compensated by looking for attention from the opposite sex as the answer.
Resignation when I heard about how one youth had punched a sibling until blood spattered on the bedroom floor the last night before we go back. Without fail, something tends to happen the last night! But this also made me think in wry amusement, that the youths never let us forget, in our joy at their growth, where they came from and that there is still more healing to be done in the deep wounds inside.
Joy, joy, joy at seeing the youths grow and grow, especially those that we have seen from year to year. One volunteer said to me, "X has a special connection to you." I thought back to when X came in; tough as jute rope... And how X had blossomed and bloomed to be just who X is... Just oneself.
Tiredness leading to tears at reasoned and sensible criticism that was also just 'a little too much' on the second last day. Both last year and this year, for some strange reason, people must give their critical analysis of the Expedition on the second last day! ;) I appreciate it, but not when I'm so tired that I can't listen with objectivity! It makes me smile though to hear one part that sounded like criticism, but to us who have been in EA for three years, was joyous feedback as we realised anew how far the youths had come. New volunteers fail to see that because they only see in a snapshot... To us, it is a video reel of growth.
Heavy sadness when I visited little J's house. It was cement blocks barely covered with a holey roof and holes in the walls standing on a floor of wet garbage. The door and their bed was just plywood. Two people could not stretch out their arms in the entire house. Her house was one of many in a dark alley filled with many of these shelters. I was glad to get out, even if the street was in a dangerous area of Manila. At least there was sunshine instead of the heavy cloying dankness. Her little sister who is turning three is the size of a baby.
I remember looking at all the beautiful children who came to us from that area and wondering, "Will you end up living your whole life in this area; one of the most dangerous slums in Manila?" One of the women there was so drunk she kissed and hugged two of our boys and then came back for more kisses before a Metro staff pulled our youths away. Another woman tried to lie to us and grab the food we were giving out to the kids. I wondered how many of the little kids would reach home safely with their precious bags of food, and how many would be held up by older bullies who would grab them before they could reach home. And I wondered, how many kids are there all over the world just like these?
I kept my anger under check as one of my youths chatted on the van as we travelled from place to place, "Hey Gillian, you know in that Home ah... This happened and that happened..." This youth gave voice to the physical abuses that I knew were happening at a certain shelter home that I had volunteered in, and which I knew the agencies caring for shelter homes were well aware of, but which they did nothing about.
Just little snapshots of our trip... I'll write more after I finish my work! Arrghhh!!!!