Elsa’s Blog and Photos

ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF JULY 8, 2015

“A Long Overdue Recap”  click here

As I sit in my apartment today, diving in to a Filipino meal I made from scratch and bought fresh from the market, finishing up a blog post for the GoAbroad Foundation blog, all I can thank about is this same day 6 years ago.

6 years ago I was settling in to my very first Filipino homestay. I was recovering from a long day, which included a tour of my new home, Tacloban City, by my host brother Tin-Tin and a visit to my placement, SOS Children’s Village. I was recovering in many ways, culture shock, heat exhaustion, the time change. My life felt like a dream. I was already contemplating leaving and it had been less than 48 hours since I arrived. My heart was aching for something familiar and my mind was overwhelmed with all the new sights and sounds

The Center as of April 2015

The Center as of April 2015

.

6 year ago my life had only began to be impacted by the Philippines, by Volunteer for the Visayans, by the Macasil Family, by the Filipino children. I had no idea what was ahead of me in the next 3 months, let alone the next 3 years, or 6 for that matter.

In the last 6 years, I have…

  • Volunteered for 2 weeks at the SOS Children Village and 9 months (officially) at the government run orphanage in Palo
  • Supplied 17 bikes to school children to ride to school
  • Helped 6 children have new smiles (through dental care)
  • Secured funding and helped construct almost 10 homes
  • Helped a family get electricity and rebuild their home
  • Interned with VFV for 4 months
  • Built a community center (and rebuilt it a second time)
  • Served as communications coordinator for VFV for 14 months
  • Distributed hundreds of sacks of relief goods
  • Helped secure sponsors for around 45 children
  • Served thousands of healthy meals to hundreds of Filipino children

I list these accomplishments not to boast about them, but instead to illustrate the true power of volunteering abroad. What began as an innocent 3 month adventure to escape a summer job has become so much more

Snacking as usual

Snacking as usual

. The Philippines has become my life.

If it weren’t for volunteering with VFV, I wouldn’t have met Troy Peden, the founder of VFV, who also started a for-profit company (GoAbroad.com) in Tacloban and offered me a full time job so I could finally stay in the Philippines fulltime. I wouldn’t be the director of the GoAbroad Foundation, which allows me to continue fundraising for VFV and help support projects and organizations in other parts of the world too. I wouldn’t know all the amazing Filipino people who make my daily life extraordinary, the VFV Staff, my coworkers, my local friends, and my incredible boyfriend.

Most importantly, if I had never volunteered with VFV, I would never know the village of Cangumbang existed. A community that has solely surpassed any other impact that the Philippines has had on my life. Though the news reporters coined me “the girl who saved the village” it is without a doubt that the village of Cangumbang saved me. Saved me from living a life that the world would define as normal. Saved me from being too scared to do what I know is right, what God has called me to do, and what people need me to do.

Whether you are a close friend reading this, a cousin, an uncle or aunt, sister or brother, my parents, my boyfriend, a VFV staff member or sponsored child, my coworker at GoAbroad, a VFV alumni volunteer, my high school or college classmate, or a stranger

Fresh Coat of Paint

Fresh Coat of Paint

.

Whether you want my advice or not, my advice to you is this:

Take a leap of faith. Don’t let what the world expects from you stop you from doing what you know you will love doing with all your heart. If you feel compelled to do something, do it.

Things have a way of working themselves out, and all the challenges life throws at you end up being worth it in the end. Don’t let the possible failures stop you from pursuing something special, something that only you are capable of accomplishing.

Support those around you who are contemplating taking a leap of faith or doing something out of the ordinary, because without you, they may never have the courage to do what they love.

Taking a leap of faith doesn’t have to mean volunteering in the Philippines, it may mean something much more simple in your daily life that you have been scared to do or a changed you haven’t had the confidence to make

Growing up so fast!

Growing up so fast!

.

As I reflect on the last 6 years, I must first thank my incredible parents. siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without the example they set for me, the lessons they have taught me, and the support they have provided to me, I never would have made it this far or accomplished so much.

Secondly, I must thank VFV, the founders, board members, staff, communities, homestays, especially the Macasil Family, and the children. You have all impacted my life in indescrible ways. Lastly, if you are reading this now it means that you have taken time over the last 6 years to join me in my journey, and for that I am forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Elsa


 ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF MAY 5, 2015

“6 Years Ago” click here

As I sit in my apartment today, diving in to a Filipino meal I made from scratch and bought fresh from the market, finishing up a blog post for the GoAbroad Foundation blog, all I can thank about is this same day 6 years ago.

6 years ago I was settling in to my very first Filipino homestay. I was recovering from a long day, which included a tour of my new home, Tacloban City, by my host brother Tin-Tin and a visit to my placement, SOS Children’s Village. I was recovering in many ways, culture shock, heat exhaustion, the time change. My life felt like a dream. I was already contemplating leaving and it had been less than 48 hours since I arrived. My heart was aching for something familiar and my mind was overwhelmed with all the new sights and sounds

The Center as of April 2015
The Center as of April 2015

.

6 year ago my life had only began to be impacted by the Philippines, by Volunteer for the Visayans, by the Macasil Family, by the Filipino children. I had no idea what was ahead of me in the next 3 months, let alone the next 3 years, or 6 for that matter.

In the last 6 years, I have…

  • Volunteered for 2 weeks at the SOS Children Village and 9 months (officially) at the government run orphanage in Palo
  • Supplied 17 bikes to school children to ride to school
  • Helped 6 children have new smiles (through dental care)
  • Secured funding and helped construct almost 10 homes
  • Helped a family get electricity and rebuild their home
  • Interned with VFV for 4 months
  • Built a community center (and rebuilt it a second time)
  • Served as communications coordinator for VFV for 14 months
  • Distributed hundreds of sacks of relief goods
  • Helped secure sponsors for around 45 children
  • Served thousands of healthy meals to hundreds of Filipino children

I list these accomplishments not to boast about them, but instead to illustrate the true power of volunteering abroad. What began as an innocent 3 month adventure to escape a summer job has become so much more

Snacking as usual
Snacking as usual

. The Philippines has become my life.

If it weren’t for volunteering with VFV, I wouldn’t have met Troy Peden, the founder of VFV, who also started a for-profit company (GoAbroad.com) in Tacloban and offered me a full time job so I could finally stay in the Philippines fulltime. I wouldn’t be the director of the GoAbroad Foundation, which allows me to continue fundraising for VFV and help support projects and organizations in other parts of the world too. I wouldn’t know all the amazing Filipino people who make my daily life extraordinary, the VFV Staff, my coworkers, my local friends, and my incredible boyfriend.

Most importantly, if I had never volunteered with VFV, I would never know the village of Cangumbang existed. A community that has solely surpassed any other impact that the Philippines has had on my life. Though the news reporters coined me “the girl who saved the village” it is without a doubt that the village of Cangumbang saved me. Saved me from living a life that the world would define as normal. Saved me from being too scared to do what I know is right, what God has called me to do, and what people need me to do.

Whether you are a close friend reading this, a cousin, an uncle or aunt, sister or brother, my parents, my boyfriend, a VFV staff member or sponsored child, my coworker at GoAbroad, a VFV alumni volunteer, my high school or college classmate, or a stranger

Fresh Coat of Paint
Fresh Coat of Paint

.

Whether you want my advice or not, my advice to you is this:

Take a leap of faith. Don’t let what the world expects from you stop you from doing what you know you will love doing with all your heart. If you feel compelled to do something, do it.

Things have a way of working themselves out, and all the challenges life throws at you end up being worth it in the end. Don’t let the possible failures stop you from pursuing something special, something that only you are capable of accomplishing.

Support those around you who are contemplating taking a leap of faith or doing something out of the ordinary, because without you, they may never have the courage to do what they love.

Taking a leap of faith doesn’t have to mean volunteering in the Philippines, it may mean something much more simple in your daily life that you have been scared to do or a changed you haven’t had the confidence to make

Growing up so fast!
Growing up so fast!

.

As I reflect on the last 6 years, I must first thank my incredible parents. siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without the example they set for me, the lessons they have taught me, and the support they have provided to me, I never would have made it this far or accomplished so much.

Secondly, I must thank VFV, the founders, board members, staff, communities, homestays, especially the Macasil Family, and the children. You have all impacted my life in indescrible ways. Lastly, if you are reading this now it means that you have taken time over the last 6 years to join me in my journey, and for that I am forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Elsa


ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF APRIL 14, 2015

“A Whirlwind” click here

Life has been a whirlwind the past month, hence the reason I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write a blog. After the kids finished school at the end of March, Holy Week was upon us, and in the Philippines it is celebrated with vacations and family time, a great kick start to the summer. The sun has been endlessly shining and with it the children’s energy has grown. Although I have to admit I find myself worn down by the sun at times, however mid afternoon naps do pair well.

The center has been “under construction” again, as we finally have the opportunity to paint the interior of the center and finish up the kitchen cabinets thanks to Holy Angels fundraising efforts and a generous donation from Colleen Yunker (who happens to be my third grade teacher)

Intermission Number
Intermission Number

.

We have enjoyed the regular weekends of coloring, movies, snacks, and feedings. The installation of electricity has also added music to the center most weekends, and watching the children joyfully dance around the center is priceless.

This past week we were lucky enough to have some special visitors at the center, Pati and Tom Miers and their daughter Jenny, as well as Jonathan, who I live with and work with here in the Philippines. We played games for the first day and the second day the kids out together a dance competition. After the votes were in we made pots full of food as usual and the kids even did some Zumba.

This weekend we will continue the games, I will be teaching the kids some jump rope techniques from my days at Wenzel Elementary school, as if they need to be kept active over the summe break ;) I am also hoping to paint a twister board on the platform beneath the center, as well as a four square box and hopscotch over the next few weeks! It is so exciting to be able to add the “fun stuff” to the center!

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to know more about the children, the center, or how you can get involved (remotely or with us in person). I am always happy to share more!

Thanks for all your support!

Elsa


ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF MARCH 9, 2015

“Home Sweet Home” click here

Below is an excerpt:

With every weekend comes a new addition, and as the saw dust settles the center is becomes home sweet home more and more.

We now have plenty of storage cabinets, a ceiling, and finally electricity!

The feeding was easier this weekend as we now have a proper kitchen where it is easier to keep the little ones out of, to keep them safe and the chefs sane ;)

The kids are better able to read the books in our new built in book shelves and the supplies are stored away safely too.

The Kitchen!
The Kitchen!

We even have a movie day in the works now that we have electricity for a projector!

When I was visiting this Saturday, celebrating the baptism of Nanay Elay’s granddaughter (who happens to be a new god-daughter for me), the children danced about in the center to music blaring through the center’s new speakers. Their joy was effortless and innocent as always. Then some of the new VFV volunteers arrived to see the center for the first time, check out the community garden, and drop off some tables from the center in Tacloban. As Maila explained the history of the center and mentioned my name, I was filled with love as I looked at all the children’s smiling faces. I can never express my gratitude to every individual who has donated to make the center what it is today.

This month I am focused on boosting educational support for the VFV sponsored children, as the school year comes to a close and the new one will begin in June, some of the kids are still in need of educational support. Check out my blog on the GoAbroad Foundation website for more info.

Elsa


ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF FEBRUARY 24, 2015

“An Energetic Buzz” click here

Hi Everyone,

February has flown by! It seems the buzz of summer is upon us, with school children anxiously awaiting the end of the school year next month and families anticipating holy week vacations. The heat is slowly creeping in day by day, but the nights remain cool and breezy.

In Cangumbang, the kids are more energetic than ever. Despite the center being partially under construction (AGAIN?!), it hasn’t stopped them one bit. The ceiling is now complete and the cabinet work began on Sunday. Though it is beyond loud in the center and the saw dust is impossible to keep at bay at this point, the kids have enjoyed their own carpentry work, attempting to make shoes, benches, and houses out of the carpenter’s scraps. It is quite entertaining watching them develop their creations

Enjoying his feeding as usual
Enjoying his feeding as usual

.

We have had two straight weekends of overflowing feedings on Sunday. Two weeks ago it was Ginat-an, a sweet porridge dish made of root crops and coconut milk, and we had literally made three pots full by nightfall, and this weekend we made bicol, a special treat thanks to my boyfriend’s mother who visited the center this weekend.

Everyone seems to be happy and healthy all around, which continues to warm my heart, and the kids are growing up so fast it seems!

Last week we were able to purchase chairs for the chapel in Cangumbang that is near to the center. Thankfully Caritas and Catholic Relief Services built the chapel from the ground up, so it was the finishing touch.

If you’d like to know more about what I am doing in the Philippines or how you can get involved, feel free to check out the GoAbroad Foundation website. I am the director of the organization, which is a U.S. registered nonprofit, and I maintain the blog and social media accounts to raise awareness about needs in the Philippines.

Hope you are all staying warm!

Elsa


ELSA’s BLOG ENTRY OF JANUARY 22, 2015

“Children in Need” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“I decided to take the time to write today to express a need that goes beyond fulfilling an immidate lack of resources or supplies. Right now there are 2 children in Cangumbang and 3 children in Tacloban who are in need of sponsorship in order to not only pursue their education but only provide them with greater stability in both nutrition and healthcare.

They may go to school without eating breakfast, because they must use the funds their parents would usually purchase food with to pay for their transportation to school. Or they may skip lunch, because it costs too much money to buy lunch or to go home for lunch. And some children may be forced to miss multiple meals because their families simply can’t afford the additional food daily.

Waiting for Feeding Time

Now yes, there are hundreds of children who face these issues EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But, the thing is, I know these children

Caring & Responsible
Caring & Responsible

 

. I have met most of their families. I saw their homes destroyed and rebuilt. I have seen them grow and fight through struggles unimaginable to most of us. And I see how much they deserve support. I have witnessed their strength and dedication, and faith in God’s plan for them.”


ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF DECEMBER 29, 2014

“Merry Christmas and a Flooded New Year” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“Hi Everyone,

Thanks to our trusty supporters, Hope for Haiyan, a student group based in Kentucky, all of the Cangumbang Community enjoyed a Christmas party on December 29th. Filled with games and Karaoke, and of course food, VFV Sponsorship Coordinator Maila put on a great party for all the mothers and children. I will let the photos speak for themselves ;)

Also thanks to Hope for Haiyan, Maila was able to purchase groceries for almost all the families in Cangumbang without sponsored children (who receive groceries monthly). The grocery pack contained all the ingredients for the families to make spaghetti for their holiday celebrations!

Unfortunately, the afternoon after the party it started to rain due to Tropical Storm Seniang, which brought unprecedented rainfall to the region.

Mothers enjoying the food
Mothers enjoying the food

By 2 am on December 30th, the village was nearing complete submersion. Through frantic messages from Maila at the center, where almost all the community was evacuated, I learned that the electricity was still on and some families were trapped in their homes fearing the danger of entering the water. After calling the Vice Mayor from the U.S., despite it being in the wee hours of the morning, he reassured me they were aware of the situation. And following a conversation with my friend who works for the department of energy, the electricity was finally shut down.

Although rescue teams attempted to prepare early in the morning, due to the rising water and flooding in the town proper of Palo, they were not able to make it to Cangumbang until the sun began to rise. By then the community had done what they could to rescue those in immediate danger, facing a strong current and almost no visibiilty. The rescue teams helped the remaining individuals get to the community center, although in the proper of Cangumbang one elderly man drowned due to the rushing waters and a limited ability to swim.”


ELSA’S BLOG ENTRY OF JANUARY 19, 2015

“A Year for Growth” click here

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Elsa’s One Year Anniversary Blog Entry of November 9, 2014

“One Year Anniversary” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“What have I learned from surviving the biggest storm recorded in the history of the world? (I still get goosebumps whenever I hear that)

Life is precious. Material things are insignificant. Moments are everything.

One moment of your life can truly change the course of your future, spend each moment with passion and love.

Though November 8th, 2013 and the weeks after were the most challenging times of my life, I know that I can never go back and I am grateful to have learned all that I have over the past year.

Lantern release
Lantern release

Though it was difficult to hold on to hope when communication was down and I had no idea if I would ever be “found”, those moments of uncertainty have only left me more determined in my current life each day.

I am human and there are days where my emotions get the best of me, but still I have no doubt that any challenge I am confronted with can be overcome, because I have seen thousands of individuals and families continue to overcome challenges that seem insurmountable with no help from anyone.

Throughout the month of November, I will continue remembering typhoon Yolanda through the GoAbroad Foundation Blog Series: http://www.goabroad.org/30-days-of-typhoon-yolanda
I encourage each of you to follow me through 30 days.

To every single person who has supported relief and recovery through financial, emotional or pray support, I don’t have enough words to explain how grateful I am for you. You have been an incredible help to survivors.”

Elsa


Elsa’s Blog Entry of October 28, 2014

“Lots of Changes” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“Hi Everyone,

The past few weeks I have been shocked as I arrive at the center, there have been so many beautiful updates I have been waiting for, for so long. First the platfrom underneath the center was completed, instantly providing the kids with a safe place to play, and they took full advantage of it immediately. Even when the final portion was drying, they began using the other side to practice their dances for a community event. 

Second the window grills were completed, finally making the center more safe for the children. 

Next the second floor was tiled, so we can more easily keep the center clean finally!

Tiled Floor and Window Grills
Tiled Floor and Window Grills

 And then a new door was installed, though the original doors survived the typhoon, they were still on their last leg and not exactly keeping the center secure.

Lastly, the stairs were tiled and the railing was repaired, again helping us keep the center cleaner and making it more safe for the children.”


Elsa’s Blog Entry of October 8, 2014

“The Realizations of 11 Months” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“Though we may often take these for granted, these are all such incredibly important parts of our daily lives. Without having these stripped away from us, we may not have the opportunity to recognize the power of each in our lives. Imagine life without just one, and life seems incomplete. Value each one daily, and life blossoms before your eyes.

Smiles all around

PANCIT
PANCIT


During the past few weekends as I pull away from the center in Cangumbang, I find myself in an utter state of peace….

The platform beneath the center is in its final stages and the window grills have been installed, thanks to the Kulczyk Foundation, based in Poland. We are incredibly lucky to have had so many individuals, families, and communities from all over the world reach out to us and support us. By the end of the month the center should be tiled and the cabinetry will be started. I never thought these days would come, and now that they have I am overwhelmed with thanks yet again.”

Elsa


Elsa’s Blog Entry of September 27, 2014 

“Hunger is Real” click here

 Below is an excerpt:

“While situating the gas tank in the center, a few of the kids told me that Jon-Jon and his siblings in fact had no rice. And when I asked May Joy if it was true, she nodded.

As we descended the stairs I went to grab my wallet, but was stopped by Nanay Elay. She started explaining that the kids mother had left on Monday and the kids hadn’t had much food or gone to school yet. Iasked Josey Rose if their mother left any money or food, and the answer was no.

At first these situations would infuriate me, but I’ve come to realize that a great deal of people do not purposefully leave their children to fend for themselves. But instead they are forced to do it out of necessity.

I have to believe that even the slightest feeling to mother these kids that I have, is only a minuscule amount compared to the love of their own mother. I have to believe that she is doing everything she can to provide for them, and sometimes it just simply isn’t enough.”


Elsa’s Blog Entry of September 19, 2014

“Sharing the Ups and Downs” click here

 

Below is an excerpt:

“I realize each weekend more and more how much we have been through, and by me I mean the Community of Cangumbang and me. Through the lowest of lows when not a single person had a home, including myself, to the chills down our spines when the wind blows and the rain pours, to the giggles over silly movies, to the excitement of another birthday come and gone.

Cangumbang   :)

The kids say it more and more, and more and more I feel like it. I have some how become a mother of 100 kids, a sister to a handful of mothers, a daughter to my host family, and a grand-daughter to my ever faithful and reliable Nanay Elay. The sense of community I feel here is so different from the one in the U.S. No better no worse, just so muchmore surprising.

I wish some day my biological family in the U.S., my friends, and so many others could meet my family here, it would be a truly special moment for all of us. Some day…”


Elsa’s Blog Entry of September 6, 2014

“An Exciting Time” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“Nearly 10 months after the typhoon and reconstruction efforts in all respects are continuing to move forward in Cangumbang. The center is functioning smoothly and the kids are happy and energetic as always. The chapel on the proper of the village is under construction thanks to some international organizations and VFV is working with local officials to try to ensure the school is taken care of, since it still remains roofless and unusable, and also the chapel that is nearby the center.

Our weekend feedings are now being held thanks to generous donations and fundraising efforts by Hope for Haiyan, a student group in the U.S. devoted to making a difference.”


Elsa’s Blog Entry of August 20, 2014

“Back in The Swing of Things” click here

Below is an excerpt:

“On Monday we had our company’s annual Volunteer Day. We traveled 40 minutes south of Tacloban to the town of Tanauan to hold an event for children and parents who are still residing in what has been termed a “tent city”.


Unfortunately, even 9 months after Typhoon Haiyan there are still families living in these so called tent cities in a handful of areas throughout the island. Hopefully the government will pull through with permanent relocation sites, which are now mandatory for the families in the tent cities who used to live within 40 meters of the coastline.

As I played with the children and watched them interact, I couldn’t help but imagine the incredible challenges they have faced in their lifetime, not to mention those they have faced both before the typhoon and those that are yet to come.

International Aid is beginning to pull out as organizations are running out of funding, or not seeing that the funding allotted to the national government has been distributed properly, but so many survivors are still in need of assistance. It is an overwhelming problem to face and quite devastating to think of the long term consequences Typhoon Haiyan will have on millions of people not only in the Philippines, but on the entire world.

Please continue to keep the survivors in your thoughts and prayers.”

 

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