By Annie Le // Sundown United – Dallas HQ
When Jael first asked me to participate in Sundown United, I was flattered that someone could think I would make a difference somehow.
My second thought was that I can’t write about my trips and share the photos of the places and people that I met, learned from, and grew to love. Some of them unknowingly helped to form the person that I am today— and that’s too personal to share with the internet public.
But Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan happened. And suddenly, the rest of the world is ready to look and listen… and help. If I can write to you about a few of the people that I met and the things I saw that changed my life, then maybe it’s worth the “privacy breach” if it means you might give back to them.
I can tell you how much I love the sights, the smell, the food, and the Filipinos for their kindness, hospitality, genuineness, and the way they dance and sing in public with no shame in having fun. But you won’t understand unless I tell you why: I spent one month on a small surfing island called Siargao, the place I would consider my home in the Philippines. One of the first few days that I arrived, I walked by a small shop/restaurant called “Mama Laida’s” and saw three long tables back-to-back feeding about 15 kids.
And I thought, man that’s a huge family (Philippines is majority Catholic). And as the days and weeks went on, I befriended each of those 15 kids, only to realize that they weren’t siblings, cousins, or even distant relatives. But, Mama Laidawas feeding the homeless/neglected kids of the island village alongside her own kids, staying true to her title as Mama… Mama of Catangnan (village, ‘barangay’).
Before my friend Diana and I had arrived to Siargao, we spent two weeks on an island called Camiguin, where we stayed in a treehouse-turned-hostel. It was one of the loudest hostels I have ever stayed in—not a wink of sleep past 7AM happened there. You would wake to the sounds of children yelling, singing, dancing, playing drums.
The peace only came on mornings of arts and crafts day. Mama Rosa, a community-focused hippie and NYU-educated alum was a transplanted local of several years, who was hosting an all-summer, all-day arts/crafts/theatre/dance/music camp for the kids. And for the parents: a daycare to keep their kids off the street and learning. And for the backpackers (like the M.D. from Britain): a place to hold workshops to teach the parents about adults and kids nutrition, all things health-related, finance, parenting, etc. And for the college students from Mindanao: an opportunity to teach, gain experience in an internship, travel 8+ hours away from home for the first time, and escape the infamous dangers of their hometown’s rebel terrorist groups. Mama Rosa was creating a safe haven for the kids, a learning institution, and an appreciation for arts and education for this island (Population 70,000).
There are more Mama Laidas and Mama Rosas. And there are even more in need like the three young teen boys in Cebu City. I first noticed them (12-15 years old) on my way to grab an early breakfast at 7-11, scared that they were walking the streets looking for a victim (like me) to purse-snatch from. And on my way back to the hostel from 7-11, I saw that they had only been looking for a place to sleep—they found a spot in front of a closed shop, literally lay their dirt and grime-smeared faces on the concrete, and fell asleep side by side with the sun coming up over the city. They would only sleep for an hour or two before the shop opened and they were relocated to a different side walk.
My point in telling these stories isn’t to evoke sympathy for a far-off land that you may or may not feel a personal connection with, but to help readers realize that these struggles and these “mamas” exist in every community of every part of the world. And it is our empathy and action that can help shape communities to have more heroes and fewer struggles. Halfway around the world, relief efforts are still ongoing to typhoon victims who have lost their family, friends, and are short on food. And they are thankful to those who help.
Thank you so much who have helped and for your kindness with the mission trip (and also in having faith and trust in me). I spent two months in the Philippines and got a very good idea of the type of people and culture they are. They’re the most humble, kind, helpful and thankful people I’ve ever met. And they will truly appreciate your relief efforts. I’ll be sending you photos when I get back, so you can see the impact that your donation made. If you like to contribute anything before Monday Dec, 2nd, you can email me at (firstname.lastname@example.org) for donations and answers to your questions to help the relief effort.