1 May 2013
It all started with 12 Emirati girls boarding an 8-hour flight, a delay on the way to the domestic airport forced us into a night in Manila, before the sun rose we were soaring above the clouds again and as the sun cast its light on the island of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, Team Zayed stepped foot on Philipino soil for the first time. That was the mark of the beginning of our trip with Habitat for Humanity Philippines.
Two years ago a typhoon terrorized the people of Cagayan de Oro, wiping out homes and people as it raged across the land leaving thousands of people dead and thousands of others misplaced and without homes. The Philipino government was able to stabilize the situation since then and now post relief planning lay in action. Team Zayed was welcomed as the sixth batch of volunteers to work with Habitat for Humanity Philippines in building residential units for the victims of the Sendong typhoon.
First day on the site our construction boots were black and clean, that lasted for about 5 minutes as we were knee deep in a pile of dung shoveling into it to fill up countless bags and dumping it into a unit to mix it with sand and create a leveled floor. The brutal shock that struck us was indescribable; the overpowering smell, the intense physical labor, and most of all the reality of the crisis.
There were children who donned on their parents’ oversized worn down clothes running barefoot around the site, their laughter sounded like it was on a loop and they’d often come over wanting to help us out. There were construction workers who were 18 years young forced by life to take on such a job instead of enrolling in college. When my fingers blistered up from the shoveling I’d often take a break and observe 3 year old Carlito playing with the shovel and 18 year old Marc working and my mind wandered back to people back home whom I know, handing over ipads to their toddlers to play with, and how easy it is for 18 year old boys back at home to enroll in universities and colleges. I was both sad and thankful.
Team Zayed soldiered through the blistering heat mixing cement, making building blocks, filling up and lifting hundreds of bags of sand, and layering bricks. On the last day we visited the community that was victimized by Sendong, their happiness and joy that triumphed over their misfortunes was one of the most inspiring things that I have seen.
We first boarded the plane as 12 strangers but returned back home as sisters bound by an unforgettable and life changing experience.
Moza Al Matrooshi, one of our selected interns who will be joining the National Pavilion’s team during the Venice biennale, shares with us her inspiring piece on her time in the Philippines volunteering for Habitat For Humanity.