By Carol Cory, president of the Rotary Club of Chicago Far North, Illinois, USA
Gathered by the river in Iligan City, Philippines, my team of three Rotarians and four volunteers watched as 3,000 candles floated in the air, one in commemoration of each of the men, women and children who died as a result of the December flash flooding caused by a typhoon.
Earlier in the day, we had toured the devastation, and heard heart-wrenching stories of loss. We carried basic school supplies, clothing, and food to those in need, and took part in an ecumenical prayer service involving a bishop, a Muslim imam, and a local religious leader.
A young mother shared her pain at the loss of her children, but in her grief expressed hope for a better future. It was the most poignant example of the way the community has been coming together following the tragedy, and the work being done by the Bayanihan Foundation, which we were there to support.
Our team was on a two-week trip organized by the Rotary clubs of Chicago Far North and Iligan, Philippines, in support of the Bayanihan Foundation, an organization founded by a Rotarian “to enable Filipinos to improve their lives in empowering and sustaining ways.” Dale Asis, a native Filipino living in Chicago, had the opportunity to return to his homeland during a fellowship in 2007. Witnessing the poverty, plight, and tension between Muslims and Christians, he was determined to do anything he could to help.
Our trip to these breath-taking islands was a marvelous example of the ability of Rotarians to work together, and with other non-governmental organizations, to help promote peace and bring about change.
In the province of Cebu, we took part in an event organized by local fishermen to seek a solution to the destruction of their precious mangrove trees by developers. The tree-planting ceremony included a meal of fine fish, tasty fruits, and energetic music, followed by a day of enjoying the spectacular beaches.
Another afternoon, we took part in a meeting of four Iligan Rotary clubs focusing on peace, led by a member of our team who is trained in conflict transformation and a Rotarian with a peace education background. The Filipinos shared how destructive the conflict between Muslims and Christians had been on their island, and came up with provocative ideas for change. Several people noted the importance of teaching young people to be tolerant of other religions, and to break the cycle of prejudice that gets passed down from parent to child. A future event was planned to have an inter-faith couple share the lessons they had learned in understanding and appreciating each other’s backgrounds.
During our trip, we saw how the whole community, Muslim and Christian, had come together to deal with life after the typhoon. We left encouraged that this spirit of unification could be built upon, and that with Rotarians taking the lead as the prime movers, the community could take great strides toward building peace.