Hanna Fernando-Pacua (PHILIPPINES) temporarily leaves her comfort zone to travel, serve, and perform around the world in five months. She hopes to share with you this very meaningful experience.

Up with People provides students with an extraordinary semester of traveling the world. As a student your perspectives on the world will never be the same. UWP is for that certain student who's looking for an intense, hands-on, involved global educational experience. The program addresses the very real need for young adults and leaders who have global perspectives, intercultural understanding, knowledge of worldwide social issues, leadership skills and a dedication to community service. For more information, visit www.upwithpeople.org.

HANNA's SATTELITE SITE and GALLERY (+ photos, videos, calendar) http://www.bananaspinuwp.multiply.com/

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The End of My Journey















As wonderful as it was - and there are still a lot of stuff that I want to go back to, and write about, and share with you... I believe it is now time for me to move on!


It is very hard to sum up what I have learned from UWP. When faced with the question, “How was it?” we alumni would probably share knowing glances with understanding settling happily deep in our hearts. Trying to explain the experience to non-alumni would be very, very difficult – with the risk also of sounding so weird.

I could probably come up with a whole compilation of stuff I learned, ranging from leadership concepts, stages of group development, facilitation and communication techniques to immigration policies – and even a whole slew of games that can be played by people from six to sixty. But I will spare you from that overwhelming sensation and share with you the seemingly small, but valuable lessons that I learned from my UWP experience.

As one of our songs in the Show goes, “One to One, We Change the World” – when we help, let’s not dwell on how many people --- but think more about how we can help them well. Let’s not think about saving the world (this can get overwhelming) but let’s think about helping one person at a time, or taking up one cause at a time and totally being committed to it without flying away from reality. Don’t limit yourself to seeing only a few ways on how people can help others – some blessed people may have the money, the power, and the fame to give away, but you might have the passion, the time, the heart and the talent to share to make a difference in people’s lives.

Open your eyes to your surroundings. You never know when your help can be valuable. Or when what’s happening can be valuable to you. Always remember that even one chance encounter can impact your life (or theirs!). Watch the news. Read the papers. Care and be aware.

The hardest person to ever try to please is your self. We may set outrageous standards for ourselves based on comparison to other people. Let’s make our own (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goals and reach for it. Make each task your own.

Accept compliments, treasure and nurture them – and use them well. Believe in yourself enough to have self-confidence … but not too much that you make others lose theirs. Be open to feedback and be thankful for honesty – because criticism can be the best advice that people who really care can give you.

Celebrate differences. The world would be boring without it. You might also be surprised how similar two different people can be – no matter where they are from or what their status in life is. And, always remember that what is “common sense” to you may not be the same kind of “common sense” to others.

Think positive. Do not be scared of the world. Bad stuff are probably only 5% of everything that is happening. Good stuff don’t make the news because they are, well, normal. People and the World are essentially good; they just need to be constantly reminded about it.

It’s never too late to get yourself out of a mess. It’s never too late for you to pursue your passion.

Take pictures. Journal. Remember people’s names. Live in the now but do not lose sight of the past and plan (not worry) for the future.

Communicate. It may be hard sometimes but it would be harder not to.

Dance :-) believe me it doesn't matter if you do it well or not. Just dance and feel its power!

Love and Respect are the two essential values that everyone should possess to achieve world peace.

These were the lessons I learned and will value for the rest of my life. The UWP experience is a very personal experience, and what I have written here may not be the case for my other cast-members. As with any other experience, you live it, you make it your own, and you learn what you choose to learn.

Up with People was an amazing experience, and I will never stop raving on and on about how it made lot of my dreams come true. I traveled the world, went whitewater rafting, danced and sang on stage, did a whole lot of service, made a presentation in front of an international audience, saw Anne Frank’s House for real, been on TV – and a lot more. But it is about time that I plant myself firmly on Philippine soil and start living again.

This blogging adventure, like the actual journey – was never without bumps. I had trouble updating for many reasons, lack of time, lack of will, lack of internet access (but certainly not lack of interesting things! The events chronicled here are not even in the vicinity of EVERYTHING that happened!). If I ever offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry but please trust me when I say that I just write from the heart and nothing is ever intentional.

This blog will stay online as long as the World Wide Web permits it to be here (may I share also that I think the Internet is the best modern world invention there is!) – and will hopefully serve as a reference for me to look back to when I start to forget about the good things in life, and when I need to be reminded about the lessons I learned.

Perhaps up until the time that I will be able to compile and edit this and maybe publish a book :grin: Now, that is a dream that is worth pursuing. I will keep you posted AND feel free to keep in touch!


I will continue to arrange trip photos in my www.bananaspinuwp.multiply.com account.

Long overdue twist blogging resumes at www.bananaspin.blogspot.com

Feedback most welcome, email me at hanna.fernando@gmail.com

Monday, 14 January 2008

The Best Kind of Folks


Up, Up with People!
You meet them wherever you go
Up, Up with People!
They’re the best kind of folks you’ll know!
I
f more people were for people,
People everywhere
There’d be a lot less people to worry about
And a lot more people who care!

We “Uppies” traveled the world to make an impact in the lives of others, but I believe that all the people I met along the way made a bigger impact in my life than I did on theirs.

My host families

Laurie and Bill Zempel from Denver, Colorado – their adorable Bichon, Max (stay cool!) , our host friend Gina and our host little sister Monay (I wonder how your writing is doing?) . Lesley from Arizona was my roommate. I remember the Red Rocks trip and watching Talladega Nights on a lazy Saturday evening.

Bruce and Kathy Garrett from their house-on-the-golf-course in Tucson, Arizona. May the Javelinas not stomp around and ruin your garden, and please keep Bruce away from Prickly Pear cacti (make sure to have Nair Hair Remover at hand because it can dissolve cacti thorns!). But if we can’t help but eat Prickly Pear, we can always wash it down with a White Chocolate Mocha from the drive-in Starbucks. I also miss Mexican Sopapillas and Bruce’s beef jerky! I did not have a roommate in Tucson, but we went to the Desert Sky Museum with my high school best friend Em.

Tim Trent and Daisy Flores from Globe, Arizona. I will never forget Carolin (Germany, my roommate!) and Mine’s bunk beds and our nice hot tub under the stars (with a frog in it!)

Bill and Patricia Turner from Sierra Vista, Arizona. I loved your West Point stories and I would never forget our Kartchner Caverns trip. Thanks a lot for introducing me to Emily and giving me my first taste of real Turkey. Gigi from Canada was my roommate.

I LOVED Terri and Ed Devine’s beach-themed home in San Diego, California. I wasn’t able to meet Ed at all, but I had fun with Terri and Niki (from the US, my roommate!) during that week. Terri was a UWP alumna! I remember our beach picnic trips, healthy salad and pasta dinners (but with sinful desserts! Mmm Ben and Jerry’s Turtle Ice Cream) and the Coronado island adventure! (Terri, awesome sack lunch for the bus, by the way! Thanks!!)

I shared Bob and Elaine Mattes’ home with 3 other roommates – Niki (again!), Tyrell, Gabe (all from the US!). I remember the ENORMOUS train collection from our room to the backyard. I still haven’t tried the lemon cookie recipe that you gave me.. I miss our steak and salad dinners!

Dick and Donna Finney lived about 30 minutes away from Winston, Oregon in a town called Roseberg. I stayed in their gorgeous home with Christine Paluf, Laurel, Amanda (USA) and Carolin (again! From Germany) – it was cool meeting their daughter and their granddaughter when we drove to another gorgeous home in the woods. I remember hot fudge sundaes !!!

(WRITING ALL THESE MAKE ME REALIZE THE REASONS WHY I GAINED SO
MUCH WEIGHT DURING THE TRIP! Sigh…)

Duane and Jacquee Hagans in Eureka California lived right across my favorite American store of all time – Michael’s Arts and Crafts! We drew lots and Sarah (USA) got the room with the moons and stars and Kellys (Venezuela) and I shared a mattress with Momma Cat. I still remember the chocolate rice krispies treats that Jacquee made! Plus that barbecue dinner we had with Josh and his host dad.

Pat diGiacomo from Coos Bay, Oregon certainly made mine and Suzanne’s (Netherlands) breakfast mornings enjoyable! The trip to the botanical gardens were simply breathtaking!

Barbara and Tom Cave in their squeaky old-fashioned home in Portland, Oregon. Thanks for taking us on a walking tour AND kudos for managing SIX Uppies! I was with Cassidy, Megan, Matt (USA) and Maria (Sweden), Lucas (Belgium). I only stayed with them for two nights, tho – because…

Family friends Tito Eric, Tita Vivian and Noelle Tadeo adopted me! They lived in Vancouver, WA, a 20 minute drive to Portland. We never did have time to go around but I was able to go shopping for make-up with Tito Eric (!), visit Noelle’s school, see Tita Vivian’s awesome bag creations and have dinner with other Pinoy friends.

Still groggy from a 30 hour bus ride from Portland to Las Vegas – I was greeted by my Uncle slash Host Dad Enrico Guamen. I saw Las Vegas as a big break as I stayed with my mom’s brother and was again visited by Tita Girlie and Tito Conrad (they visited me in Corcoran too!) Ah and I saw the ABBA Musical Mamma Mia with Elke from Belgium, courtesy of my Tita Girlie!

Valerio, Nadia and Michaela Bellani from Milano, Italy made my first encounter with the language barrier fun and interesting! Thank you so much for the coffee and pasta and gelato lessons! I JUST LOVE Italian Food! I did not have an Uppie roommate but Michaela was my host sister, and it was great to meet her Italian friends and seeing the Duomo at night! Grazie and until we meet again!

Klemens and Brunhilde Schmidt! My German host family who were simply the BEST and a big support while I was doing Advance Work ! Birte (my roommate, the CRC) had a great great time! The memories of staying in Prenzlau is so overwhelming but I especially remember losing my bike keys (and Klemens and Brunhilde are so forgiving…) and I wonder if it is still there at the Rathaus? Pretty Prenzlau, Beautiful Berlin , Rostock and Potsdam.

Everyday was fun day with Theo, Fiona, Lonneke, Femke and Dion Van Lochem in Dronten, the Netherlands. I think I got over my fear of dogs (or dog! Oh no I forgot his name!!! SKIPPER! Yes, I think was Skipper)!!!! and bicycles in Dronten. It was a great Halloween celebration with the girls ! The Raclette was unforgettable, as well as the nifty coffee maker. Joke (my roommate, from Belgium) and I loved riding the tandem bikes around the park!

Charlotte Colot from Leuven, Belgium, my 18-year old host mom. She introduced me to flat air mattresses, Belgian waffles and fries, Belgian chocolate and Belgian cherry beer. Charlotte slept at a friend’s house and let me and Sophie (from China) use her small room. It was fun though! She was also a UWP Alumna from Cast A 2007.


The UWP Staff

Whom I listed all under Cast B 2007 because staff or student, we are all cast B !

Cast B 2007 - 19 countries. 1 voice (or what I'd like to call the Big Brother House on the Road)

United States – Adam, Amanda, Andrea, Blaine, Cassidy, Gina (I love you I hope you make it for the Bayani build!), Grant, Jennie, Jeremiah, Jeremy (I hope you find a nice Filipina girl), Jessica (all the colors of the heart!), Josh, Katie (let’s name an ice cream flavor “ina-chukuwa, kijiji-kizima” ) , Laurel, amazing dancer Lesley, ounce girl Megan, Niki (Aloha!), Sarah, Tiffnie (go Asian food stores!), Tyrell (Tee-relll) , Vanessa (missing your laugh and our demon children) , Lauren, Mallory (hunt me down, okie?), Matthew, hyper Patrick, Laura, Jared, Scott, Ellen, Christine Paluf, Gabe, Kristina, Samantha

The Netherlands – Aimee (how’s shopping so far?) , Suze (I love you!)

Romania – Alecs (no baby yet … will keep you posted “ninang”)

Belgium – Benjamine, Lucas, Joke, Elke (marriage life is tough but it still rocks!)

Germany – sporty girl and ounce girl Carolin, stunning Stefan, Lysan (thank you so much for your pep talks), Marita (did you finally get a job?) and our Cast Manager Papa Jorn

Austria – Christine Profanter (I love you! I wonder what you are doing now…)

Mexico – Clara, Doctor Hector

Sweden – Maria, Johanna, Linn, Peppe, and my favorite rockstar Johan

Taiwan – Chien Fu (Jeff)

Venezuela – world leader Kellys

Macedonia – Mayor Ljuan

Panama – Luis Felipe (I miss you and your questions), lucky girl Whitney (you know what I mean!)

Denmark – Rasmus (big Filipino hug!)

Japan – the amazing adventures of Yuri (the video intern) and Sayuri (the education intern)

China – Sophie

Canada – Gigi, Raine

Brazil – Rafa-Rafa-Rafa!

Uganda – Ate Jules , you were my soul sister all throughout the trip. Thanks so much for
the laughs, the gossip, and the comfort that your presence offered me!

Special Mentions

Rafa, Alecs, Jules, Suze, Lysan, Johan, Mallory, Yuri, Christine, Luis Felipe, Elke, Marita, Rasmus à a special connection to all of you during the trip. I miss you all and I really look forward to seeing them again soon..

The Philippine Advance Team

Paul, Margaux, Luis, Yamil and Skoogle – thanks for braving Manila and preparing it for the cast. And of course Ana for braving the Cast while they are in Manila J and for at last giving me Pinoy companionship in the cast

Zest-O Corporation – 1 drink

Especially to Joseph Consul for eating Balut infront of everyone and was always there --- with an endless supply of Zesto, One Green Tea and Orchard Fresh (I love the dalandan and calamansi ones!) drinks.

The Department of Tourism, RC-Cola, ECOP, The Philippine Military Academy (special mention to Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Tony Romero who made our PMA visit possible)


The Filipinos all over the World
(yes, even the ones right here at home) - meeting you made me look at our country and our people in a totally different light.

A billion thanks to all who supported me since the very beginning. I know I have been thanking you guys endlessly throughout the blog but there is no such thing as too much when it comes to appreciation (Remember that!!!) .

My mom and dad who raised me so well and have given me everything I ever wanted or needed – endless gratitude to you and I love you so much. My husband Sam who was such a good sport and continues to believe in me and my abilities, I love you!

My friends from Ayala Foundation and the FAFI group (you know who you are) who totally had confidence in me and knew that I can make it.. and also provided the much provided long distance emotional support – Nyla, Maui, Jops, Ave, Candice, Aque, Kakay, JJ, Aileen, Kiel, Chiara, Tito, Sarah, MY

My on-line “rallyists” who I may not know that well personally but still were there to give their virtual support – Alex, Geelay, Lee I , Maan, Kristene – plus the people who read my blog, especially those who left messages and comments … (you certainly kept me on my toes updating this!)

Of course, my sponsors who helped me financially as well as spiritually! Reynold from Hawaii, MAD and AGV from AFI, Ms Nicolas-Lewis, Ms Zobel (and Ms Pazing!) and Tita Rene from the Philippine Airlines. ENDLESS GRATITUDE from the bottom of my heart.

Prayer also made me strong throughout this adventure – again I thank God for making me so strong and brave ! And also for making my circle of good people wider!



PS. I also encourage you to please visit Matthew Erley's blog at http://matthewerley.blogspot.com/2008/01/last-farewell.html

thanks



Sunday, 13 January 2008

Up With People - The Rose Parade

While on the road, we were informed that UWP was chosen to do the opening of the world famous Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. It was something big for UWP!

The Parade was on New Year's Day. Obviously, I'm not part of that anymore since I chose to stay in the Philippines for the holidays already (a lot of my castmates also went straight home, but some of them went back to the US just for the Rose Bowl!) ! Ah, but they looked so beautiful! I am so proud of them!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Overweight in Brussels

Yes, I gained 12 pounds during the trip, but this is not about that. I would have called this entry “Mga Bagong Bayani” but the thought of being overweight amused me.

I would have included this story in my Pinoy blog entry but this deserved its own space.

I went home to the Philippines a couple of nights earlier ahead of the cast. I missed our biggest show in Europe (I heard more than 2,000 people watched, including VIP sponsors and it was also the first one that had cocktail tables and champagne) and our best guest performer (Sandrine, who was like the “Belgian Idol”) and had to ride the train from Leuven to Brussels with all my luggage.

The best part about it was that I can have 2 pieces of luggage at 20 kilos each because it was an international flight. Normally, if I was traveling with the whole group, I was allowed only ONE piece of checked in luggage, then the other slot would be for UWP equipment. Since I was alone, and the equipment was still in use, I had the go signal to use my luggage allowance. It was stress free packing!

So I made it through the train ride and dragged my suitcase and backpack and shoulder bag to the check-in counter. I was so happy because it was still 2 hours till boarding and I can still have a leisurely time walking to my departure gate. Only to find out that I had to pay 600 Euro for an extra 23 kilos – my blood ran cold.

Turns out that the flight from Brussels to Frankfurt will be on a small plane and couldn’t accommodate more than 20 kilos per passenger! It doesn’t matter how many bags, as long as they add up to 20 kilos. I told her that I will be on the connecting flight from Frankfurt – ChinaManila and that I should have the international luggage allowance. No, she’s sorry. Brussels-Frankfurt is 20 kilos. Cross-continent flights, 40 kilos. I wished UWP ended its tour in Frankfurt!

I only had 15 Euro left in my pocket, and I was not about to use my credit card to pay for extra luggage. Lufthansa even had a weight limit for ONE carry on (not two pieces, like most American flights) and my laptop just about made the limit, so it was impossible for me to unload some suitcase stuff to my carry on.

In the middle of the Brussels airport, I opened my suitcase and surveyed its contents. With a heavy heart, I filled a plastic bag with some of my clothes, my toiletries, scarves, some books and magazines that I accumulated. All these went to the lost and found bin at the airport.

One hour until boarding time, I was back in line for the check in counter – they weighed my suitcase and this time I was 450 Euro overweight. I noticed a group of Pinoys at the end of the line and acknowledged them with a brief smile – but I did not have enough sanity to think about my Pinoy-quest game. Sigh. I really wanted to cry – I did not have 450 Euro, but then I could not bear the thought of leaving my valuables behind. In my suitcase taking up space and weight are sentimental stuff and some pasalubong I collected along the way and I really did not want to part with them. 5 months of travel can get really heavy.

30 minutes until boarding time, I was beside the check-in counter. The long lines were gone because check-in was about to close. Again, I had a small plastic bag already filled with valuables that I was about to throw away, I was holding on to it tightly. I was silently praying, I don’t know for what – for divine intervention, for a smart decision.

Then suddenly,

Kabayan, ano ang problema?

A group of Filipinos, the same ones at the end of the line, were obviously very late for check in. The attendant at the counter was hurriedly processing their papers and was about to close. She was talking to the Pinoy’s Flemish boss.

I explained my predicament to the 3 seafarers (seamen) and they were surprised with the luggage allowance. It turns out that seafaring companies have agreements with airlines about UNLIMITED baggage allowances since their employees travel for at least 9 months. Before I knew it, their Flemish boss was asking me if I wanted to check in my luggage with them.

The lady at the check-in counter told us that once we do that, it will be all our responsibility already, but I can see that she was also happy for me! I was ecstatic and couldn’t stop thanking everyone! It was less than 20 minutes until our boarding time and we said goodbye to the Flemish boss and practically ran to our gate. We made it! And I made 3 new friends in the queerest of circumstances.

The flight was amazingly quick and once we were in Frankfurt, we were joined by a lot more Pinoys on the flight to Manila. There were a lot of greetings of “Kabayan! Saan ka sa atin?” and I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. When the plane touched down in Manila, the passengers cheered. Most of them were seafarers who are excited to be spending Christmas at home.

What happened to me in Brussels was really a miraculous thing – I prayed for intervention and God gave me my heroes in the form of 3 seamen who were almost late for the flight. What if they were on time? Nobody would have saved me!

A million thanks ! Kina Mr. Hilario Caspe, Mr. Boy Villanueva at sa kanilang isa pang kaibigan. Alam kong masayang masaya po kayo at nakapiling ninyo ang inyong pamilya nitong nakaraang Pasko at Bagong Taon. Nawa'y maging masaya ang inyong 2008!

The Global Pinoys

Two weeks into the program, I was sick of speaking English all the time and was hungering for my native language. I was missing the Pinoy warmth, the Pinoy family and the Pinoy sense of humor. I know Pinoys were everywhere and I just had to find some.

In this blog entry, “Halo-Halo in Denver – I wrote about Pastor Carlos Bulalayao, Jr and the Crosswind Community Church and how they gave me my much needed Pinoy culture. We ate Halo-Halo, watched The Filipino Channel, had family bonding time and I had the chance to relax and listen to the Eraserheads in one of their friends’ cars.

In my Filipino blog entry, “Pinoys Around the World” – I was obviously so homesick and showcased here my small encounters with my “kind” But looking back, I think I missed a lot of stories!

In Sierra Vista and in Coos Bay, Oregon - I received some pocket money from very generous Pinoys who I just met. In both instances, these people also traveled the world with a youth group and knew how fun it was to be able to have ice cream on travel stops.

There was 14-year old MJ Magtanong from San Diego, California who proudly wore a “Filipino Pride” shirt. He was Stefan’s (from Germany) host brother. He grew up in the USA and has visited the Philippines (Subic) only once but had no qualms to say that it was the best place ever! We hung out a bit after the show (I remember we had Pepsi from the vending machine) and he uploaded a couple of hip hop songs AND Boom-Tarat-Tarat to my phone. Ah, and he can dance it, too!

I also remember this blog entry from Winston, Oregon where I encountered a Pinoy family falling in line in the food distribution CI I was in.

Of course, I also wouldn’t forget friends and friends of family who sacrificed some of their time to see me (and even host me!). My high school best friend Romilee who’s now in Tucson, my good friend Tiffany who drove alone for two hours to see me in Corcoran, California, my Tita Miriam and Tito Conrad who saw the show in Corocoran AND Las Vegas, my Tito Bobot and Tita Maria who hosted me in Las Vegas and my fun stay with Tito Eric, Tita Vivian, Noelle and Lola in Portland.

In Milan, Italy, one of my castmates had a Pinay helper in their house, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk to her. But I met a Filipina OFW on the subway and had a quick chat. My host dad’s boss’ wife (ang haba ah!) was also a Filipina and we talked on the phone. In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a busload of Pinoys on tour got off right in front of where I was standing and to my delight, one of them gave me a big smile and asked, “Pilipina ka?” to which I enthusiastically answered, “Opo!” They must have been weirded out because my UWP friends all laughed and hugged me after that. Because, they too, were amazed at the number of Pinoys I met on the road.

Probably the most touching encounter I had with a Filipino came during one of our Internal days in Portland. I had just finished my Education internship and suddenly had a “less stressful” schedule than usual. With some idle time in my hands, and a pretty slow day (we were watching “An Inconvenient Truth”), it was the worst homesick-est feeling I had during the whole trip.

Thinking about home and my family, I went for a bathroom break and found out that half the stalls were closed because it was being cleaned. An old man was mopping the floors quietly. I studied him closely, he was the kindly, grandfather type with tanned skin and gray hair. I sneaked a glance at his name tag and sure enough, he was Filipino! I was just overcome with emotion and homesickness that I just blurted out,

“Hi Manong, Magandang Umaga po!”

His head snapped up and he stared at me and asked carefully, “Pilipina ka?”

With tears in my eyes, I answered, “Opo, Pilipino po ako!” – and without thinking, I hugged the lolo who was cleaning the bathroom. Soon he had tears in his eyes, too. Two of his daughters married Americans and convinced him and his wife to live with them in the USA. He badly wanted to go home to the Philippines where all his other kids and grandchildren were.

“Gusto ko nang umuwi. Ang hirap dito, may trabaho ka nga pero mahirap at malugkot pa din. Buti sa atin, kahit minsan walang pera, pero masaya tayo! Dito, kayod ka ng kayod, wala naman makuha. Pero mahirap naman basta-basta umuwi kasi mahal ang pamasahe”

It’s funny how easily we forget that some people really don’t have a choice when they go abroad, and that they don’t have complete control of their time and resources because of extreme need. Just like what I felt when I met the family at the food pantry in Winston.

We were performing a mini-show at the Oude Market Square in Leuven, Belgium – the stage was shaky, and it was freezing but the crowd was so happy that it felt really good. A girl in front of the crowd caught my eye, and like everyone, she was also into the performance. I soon learned that she was Malou, a Filipina! She was studying Theology at the University and was eager to introduce me to her friends.

That same evening I joined them for their Wednesday novena. It was the smallest Catholic mass I have ever attended! There were ten of us all in all, including two priests who both celebrated our small mass. We just gathered around a small table with a cross and some Bibles. I read the First Reading.

In my conversation with Malou, she told me that she was looking forward to the time that our media would start highlighting Pinoy achievers overseas and stop dwelling on mail order brides and abused domestic helpers. Apparently, the Leuven community has had its shares of Pinoy students and scholars.

“Na sana Makita naman nila na hindi lang mukha ng Pinoy ang mail order bride at domestic helper. May iba’t ibang mukha din ang Pinoy sa ibang bansa. Madaming estudyante, pari, doctor – na nag e-excel sa kani-kanilang fields”

Filipinos in Abroad already form a world and a culture of their own. It is a world with its own language, hierarchy, beliefs and values. Their experiences are so rich and very different from each other – that it is hard to generalize or stereotype them into one mold.

However, as Pinoys spread out all over the world, I hope they never forget their roots, be not ashamed to be Pinoy, and to always do what is right wherever they may be. This will be a perfect reason for us to celebrate our Filipino brothers and sisters around the world.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Flashback Belgium: Meeting Butchok

Our family in the Philippines is a licensed foster family. For those of you who do not understand this – it’s like being host family to kids who do not have a family until the time that there is a permanent home available to them. By permanent home, this means an adoptive family or when his biological (real birth parents or maybe relatives) family decides to get him or her.

There are many reasons why a child becomes “homeless” – this can be abandonment intentionally or maybe abandonment by death (orphaned), sickness, prison, etc.. There are also abused kids and kids who are “foundlings” (saddest case where they find kids with absolutely no history) These kids are usually put in orphanages or what we can call “institutional care” – think houses with 20 or more kids with some social workers looking after them.

Foster family care is an alternative way of taking care of these kids. It is temporary care in a real family setting where they have a mom a dad and in some cases, siblings and pets and toys and books they can call their own. But then this is temporary and is very different from adoption. Like I said before foster care is a prelude to adoption (getting the child accustomed to family life while his or her papers are being processed) or a temporary staying place while the real parents are getting their acts together (like deciding whether to keep the baby or not, or while looking for a job, or while recovering from an illness..)

This is my mom and dad’s advocacy. They hope to see more families stepping up to the challenge to become volunteer foster families. Our family takes care of one child at a time and they have stayed with us for as short as 3 weeks to 4 years! I guess me having 15 foster brothers and sisters in a period of about 12 years compensates for our lack of family members.

We once took care of a cute little boy named Michael Gabriel or MG or in my term of endearment for him, “Butchok”. I forgot for how long he stayed with us – but he was a darling little boy who was adopted by a couple from Belgium when he was only about a year old in 2005. I was very thankful for the rare chance for me to see him again when UWP was in Belgium!

My mom wasted no time getting in touch with MG’s adoptive parents when we found out that I was going to Belgium. The De Turcks (Koen and Marie Therese) were equally thrilled to meet me there. Their first adopted son, Paolo (5 years old) is also a Filipino and was really getting curious about the Philippines – and MG was growing up to be an active little 3 year old.

So I took a one-day leave from UWP (yes, this is allowed – we can apply for a “leave” as long as it is two weeks in advance and all info about our whereabouts are supplied to the staff) and got picked up by the de Turcks. They lived about an hour away (oh but it took them over 2 hours to get to Leuven because of extremely heavy traffic, yes, even in Europe!)

MG, (or Michael as they called him) was shy at first but gradually turned into a sweet little boy and naturally did not remember me nor speak any English. I was “Hanna from the the Fillipenen” (I don’t even know if I spelled that right) and that “Paolo and Michael are from the Fillepenen too!”

We drove back to their hometown and went to Michael’s pre-school. The teacher introduced me to the “all-white” / Caucasian class and through body language and some translation I understood that she was saying that I was a Filipino like Michael. She motioned to my black hair, my dark colored eyes and my tanned skin and how me and Michael were similar. I can see the pride in Michael’s eyes as he showed of his “ate” and the kids’ curiosity as they proceeded to ask their teacher (in rapid Flemish, which is what they call their language – not Belgian!) questions about why their eyes are different from ours. It was such a pretty sight.

We then picked up Paolo from his school, where the two boys hugged and were so happy to see each other. Obviously Paolo and Michael were “famous” in their schools and everybody just scrambled all over Michael to say hello and touch him and squeeze him. Paolo’s love for his brother was very evident as he announced, “My brother’s here, my brother’s here!”

At the de Turck’s house, the grandmother was there as she was also very eager to meet me. We could not talk much because of the language barrier but Marie Therese and Koen helped with the translation. It was also very evident that they loved their two Pinoy kids to bits. They showed me a lot of pictures, and even showed me how they kept the boys’ clothes and their old feeding bottles from the Philippines.

I was amazed at how they spoke so highly of the Philippines and the Filipino people, and how they would love to spend more time here. Koen even told me that if his boys someday would like to go live in the Philippines and look for their parents, he and Marie Therese would gladly accompany them and live here. They told me that there was a different kind of warmth in our personalities that makes a person feel good. They particularly loved Cebu and have made fishermen friends there when they came 2 years ago to pick up Michael. The family is really saving up now so they can come visit the country by 2009.

It was definitely a visit to remember! In the afternoon, a couple more adopted Filipino kids went to the house for spaghetti and to meet “Hanna from the Fillipenen” – It was a surprise because I saw another one of our foster kids ! Corazon (her name is now Celine and she was also adopted by a Belgian couple.)

Contrary to its Philippine image of “kawawa naman” (what a pity / what a sad case) – adopted children are very special children and very loved children. They are so lucky to have these people go to great lengths just to call them their own.

For more information about foster care / adoption and how your family can get involved, leave a comment or email me at hanna.fernando@gmail.com.


Thursday, 3 January 2008

Studio 23 - "Amazing Pinay" (!!?!!) - EDITED

Aside from the psychological pressure of being home with the cast, I also had to put my best foot forward for media events. For a person who is totally honest that her secret dream is to be a celebrity , I was a nervous wreck during our first press conference at the Tektite Tower in Ortigas as the PR team of Zesto (our main sponsor) introduced me over and over as the "First Filipina Uppie"

I was a good spokesperson during my UPLB years. I don't know why - probably due to higher standards of the "real world" , my confidence just faded away when I was already working.I guess that's a different story altogether and something that I should totally overcome.

Going back, it really took a lot of courage from me to do these media stuff (pwede, pasulatin nyo na lang ako and wala ng interview?) . I had a press briefing from Paul Whitaker and Luis Petzhold (our Asia team) and had a brief pep talk with my cast manager Joern Gutowski and a big hug from castmate Lysan (thanks so much Lysan!)


It also helped a lot that the Studio 23/ ABS-CBN crew was a fun crew And the best part was when the camera followed Jules and I from Ortigas , to the cab, to the apartment in San Lorenzo.



Property of News Central, Studio 23.

It was funny because they featured this back to back with Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez' participation in the Amazing Race Asia. The title of the feature? "Amazing Pinay" :oP

Also thanks to Ann (the reporter, I LOVE HER JOB) UWP had good exposure on Studio 23 :-) Watch out for other features in the next updates. Ah, if you want straight news and extraordinary feel good news, watch News Central!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

When the World Visited the Philippine Military Academy

Sorry for the repetitive versions of explaining what UWP is. This was submitted somewhere for publication so there was a need to explain... I tried editing it out but there were snippets of information that I'd like included! I also inserted some personal insights.

Last December 6-9, 2007, colorful dots appeared among the sea of dress grays during noon and evening mess at the Philippine Military Academy as 70 students representing 19 countries across 5 continents dined and participated in various activities with the Cadets. I have always found life in the PMA very intriguing and it was such an honor getting a glimpse of it even for just a short while.

Based in Denver, Colorado in the USA, Up with People is an extraordinary global education and leadership training program which takes young people from different cultures and backgrounds on a life-changing journey around the world. Along the road, we experience different cultures and different ways of life as we undergo extensive training in servant-leadership, global issues, cultural diversity, and the performing arts. Starting with a month-long orientation period in Denver, last July 2007 - we continued on to tour around the United States (Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon and Nevada) and Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium) before reaching Manila last November 13th. In each city or country we visited, we partnered with local organizations and did volunteer work, learned about local culture through living with host families and regional learning, and performed an inspiring musical variety show. Making it a point to visit one developing country in each semester, this was the first time that the program visited the Philippines since the 1960’s which made the Manila and Baguio City stops very meaningful for the program and for the participants

While in Manila, Cast B 2007 (as our batch is called) had a very busy schedule taking in the Philippine history and culture. Our corporate sponsor Zesto Corporation, in association with RC Cola – with full support from the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation made sure that the group had an enriching experience. The Manila leg of our tour was culminated by two major shows full of international songs and dances last December 1 and 2 at the Meralco Theater.

Aside from tours around Manila and the Show, the Cast also spent most of our time volunteering for several Philippine non-profit groups such as Gawad Kalinga, Habitat for Humanity, Virlanie Foundation, Kaibigan Ermita Outreach Foundation Inc., Philippine Association for Citizens with Developmental and Learning Disabilities Inc., Ortigas Foundation Inc., Assumption School, KYTHE Foundation, ERDA Tech Foundation, Makabata School Foundation Inc., and the Rotary Clubs in Valenzuela.

Being the only Filipina in the Cast (and possibly the first Filipino to travel with the Up with People program) made me very proud of the good things happening in our country through these organizations. Yes, the UWP visit was in perfect timing with the bombing at Glorietta 2, the bombing at the Congress and the Manila Peninsula stand-off – but all these were overshadowed by the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino. Some of my co-delegates also said that it is in our country that they felt the sense of community the most. That’s the Pinoy concept, “Bayanihan” at work, I guess!

It was again an unexpected warm welcome for us at the Philippine Military Academy (even if most of them thought that we were students from U.P!) . Here we enjoyed a great (and very wet) soccer game and very interesting indoor activities at the Longayban Hall. It was surprising to enjoy a very child-like game of “Bear, Fish and Mosquito” with the future officers of the AFP! And we were very impressed with the opinions that you shared with us during the game “Take a Stand.”

While playing "Take a Stand" Something that made an impact on me was when we asked "Are you ready to go to war for your country?" My natural reaction was to assume that all cadets will stand on the "Yes" side. I was surprised when a lone cadet stood on the "No" side. Of course his fellow cadets jeered him on for an explanation, to which he shyly answered = that he was here to defend his country but that he strongly believes that problems cannot be solved by war. His response made me think of a General in Mindanao that I met a few years back -- he told me that soldiers are peacemakers and not warlords. War is not the only solution (with this I pray for lasting peace in the country!) In that same game, I also remember saying "No" to "Do you think your country should be lax about immigrants from another country". My take on this is we Filipinos and the Philippines must concentrate on building our own identities and getting our acts together before inviting everyone to live here. I feel like most Pinoys feel inferior to foreigners and in the process actually become foreign in our own country.

Lunches and dinners were made more interesting as we experienced your everyday way of eating and were treated to a special cultural presentation and a Cadet Uniform Fashion show. Oh, and we would also never forget the proper alignment of utensils, the “third viand”, the symbols for sauces and the “bone plate” and the occasional “social graces” notes that reminded us all on how to eat a banana!

The whole cast also enjoyed the synchronized twists and turns of the PMA Saturday parade and the refreshing Silent Drill performance at the Burnham Park for the Baguio City Centennial Celebration Kickoff. And to make our PMA immersion more complete, we teamed up with some cadets and did the obstacle course. A few hours and a number of sore muscles later (but happy! I fell on my butt HARD while doing one of the obstacles and it was PAINFUL... I was wondering if my spine was still aligned even after 2 days) , Home Team # 2 won the relay with a time of 5 minutes and 4 seconds to brag about.

Saying goodbye to PMA on the very last day was like saying goodbye to a host family!

Up with People’s Cast B would like to thank the Cadet Corps Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lt. Candelaria, Col. Perfecto and Gen. Maligalig for welcoming us so warmly and sharing with us four days of your very busy lives. We certainly learned a lot and we greatly appreciate it! What better way to end our 6-month tour but with an interaction with other promising young leaders that was so different from us?

The laid-back and flexible lifestyle of the UWP program was such a contrast against the rigid training environment of the Academy. And that is what Up with People is all about – looking beyond the differences to spread the message of peace and understanding. Because deep inside each person – be it a UWP student or a PMA cadet, is the goal of making the world a better place to live in.

Being a leader requires a lot of guts and commitment. I guess this is the similarity between Up with People and the PMA.

Spending time in the PMA and doing what they did (sort of) was a very cool experience for me. I saw (sort of, maybe not even near the vicinity of pero pwede na din..) what my husband and a lot of my friends went through everyday while in the Academy. As I skipped one obstacle after another in the O-course (I admit that I can be a scared girly-girl most of the time!) my friend Alex (a first class cadet at the PMA) told me that I had to do it so I'd know what they go through. I told him that they do not need to make me go through the course to gain my respect - they have already gained my respect a long, long time ago :-)

By the way, my Home Team #7, Semiah Jr. finished 3rd place in the obstacle course. 5 minutes and 13 seconds.

and here's another treat for you ...