Rachel, our amazing Peace Corps Volunteer, has graciously shared some of her blog entries for our website…we hope you enjoy the first in this mini-series about My Refuge House through Rachel’s eyes….

Filipino resilience never fails to amaze me; I am continuously astounded by it in various ways. Resilience is an incredible aspect of Filipino culture, as I have mentioned before, because they face hardships of all kinds, such as: typhoons, volcanoes, earthquakes, fires, flooding, poverty, and so forth. Resilience is built into their way of life and they bounce back from difficult and horrible life circumstances constantly.

One way I see resilience practiced everyday is through the girls I work with at My Refuge House. In case you are new to blog posts written about my work through Peace Corps, I volunteer at My Refuge House which is a shelter for girls who have rescued from abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. Several years ago I worked at a residential center for a short time in the U.S. The experience was difficult for me and I had no desire to work in such a setting again. When I was assigned to My Refuge House with Peace Corps I was excited to be working with this population of girls but nervous to be in a residential placement again. However, the difference I have discovered between the two shelters/homes has been a blessing on many levels.The shelter where I previously worked tended to be chaotic and full of emotional and physical altercations. It drained me on a wholistic level and I would have nightmares about stories the girls would tell me or about a fight that had broken out at the shelter. I ended up studying macro social work after this experience because I realized clinical/counselling was not for me.

I have now been at My Refuge House (MRH) for almost nine months and though I still love  and practice macro social work, my opinions about residential shelters have completely changed. I love going to work at MRH for it gives me joy and purpose. The staff I work with and the girls I work for are amazing and have given me a new perspective on shelter life (and so many other things). This new experience has made me question what the difference is between these two residential centers. Is it programmatic or cultural? I think maybe it is a little of both and comes back to the resilient nature of Filipinos and possibly an entitled nature of Americans. I realize these are very broad statements that could never encompass everyone, and I am not saying Filipinos are good while Americans are bad. I am saying culture plays a part in our ability to be resilient and bounce back after difficult circumstances, and that this can be seen in life at a shelter.

A few aspects of Filipino culture I personally think enable them to be more resilient are their uninhibited creative personalities, solid sense of community, and love of laughter. They love to sing, dance, and exhibit a plethora of talents at any moment, whether it is for a small circle of friends or a church performance. The girls I work with are wonderfully talented and are always learning new musical instruments or practicing a new art/craft project. Even the shyest/quietest of girls loves to show off what she has been learning or doing well. There is always encouragement to perform and they ask everyone they meet if they can sing, dance, or play an instrument.

Next, Filipinos have an inspiring sense of community. They understand the beautiful nature of just being present with others even when doing separate tasks or activities. They have healthy dependence on those around them, sharing and helping whenever needed (I witnessed three staff split a snack-size Snickers candy bar the other week, which was humorous, but shows the underlying nature of selflessness. I mean, who splits a snack-size candy bar?).  They draw strength from each other and see everyone as part of their community in some way. For example, Cebuano speakers use the words “ate” and “inday” to refer to their older sister and younger sister, but these terms are also used for all women depending on if they are older or younger than you. I would call my older sister “ate” but also use the word with a waitress at a restaurant. Everyone is interconnected and it is amazing to witness and be a part of during my stay here.

Filipinos also love to laugh, joke around, and have a really good time. They are generally jovial people with light hearts who enjoy talking with others (“chica-chica”), asking personal questions (which can take foreigners off guard), and investing in the lives of those around them. Their laughter is contagious and I think I have become a healthier person by being around them. If a 13 year-old girl can come into the shelter after yeeears of sexual abuse by several different perpetrators and still be able to laugh, sing, dance, and chat with everyone – then what is keeping me from such joy and happiness on a daily basis? It has given me an enriched perspective of where my joy comes from and is ultimately shaping me into a more resilient human.

Filipinos are pretty cool people. I am honored to share life with them and am constantly learning from them.