I came across this piece that I wrote after my first visit to the Philippines as part of a Rotary Group Study Exhange (GSE). It was published in “The Vision” – The official Governor’s Monthly Letter Rotary International District 3820 (Philippines) in August 2009
When you sign up for a GSE, it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure. Exciting and unimaginable experiences lie ahead but, arriving in the Philippines after 36 hours of non-stop travelling and barely four hours sleep, I just wanted to be in bed. Instead, I found myself inside a Filipino prison being presented with a plastic tree covered in red and silver glitter. I’ve never even been in an English prison, and with four weeks of travel ahead and a bag already full, what on earth was I going to do with a glittery tree?
On closer inspection, the tree turned out to be carved from a plastic drinks bottle. The branches ingeniously formed, I can only guess, by melting and moulding the plastic. Whoever made this tree had some skill. And the red and silver made it look kind of Christmassy; it would make a unique Christmas decoration. Something to bring out once a year, perhaps with sweets in the bowl formed from the base of the bottle. The glittery tree was a gift that I wanted to take back to England, but how could I keep it safe? It was fragile and might not cope with the battering of travel. Step forward the San Pedro Rotarians who kindly looked after it whilst I was in the Philippines. Then, for the journey home? Baggage handlers are not known for their delicate touch! I found the ideal solution: stuffing clean underwear into the canopy of the tree to give it the protection it needed.
Back in England, I was proud of my tree. It had survived and reminded me of the colour and vibrancy of the Philippines. The tree sat for a while on the mantelpiece, until my husband subtly suggested that, perhaps, I should find a suitable box to keep it in. A plastic tree covered in red and silver glitter, I have to admit, didn’t really fit in with the decor of our home. Maybe it was destined to be a tree just for Christmas.
Following a GSE, team members tour their local Rotary clubs giving presentations. I hoped our presentation would give people a taste of our experiences of the Philippines and, more importantly, an appreciation of the dedication to Service Above Self that we witnessed among the Filipino Rotarians. I took my glittery tree to our first presentation.
At the end of the presentation, when I tentatively asked everyone to donate £1 to buy flip-flops (slippers) for Filipino children, the tree became the star of the show. As it was passed around, people marvelled at its construction and its origin. As they did so, they all dropped a £1 coin, sometimes more, into the bowl of tree. Now, my glittery tree accompanies me to all our presentations. As well as the trail of glitter I leave behind me, I hope I also leave a little bit of Filipino sparkle in the minds of the Rotarians of District 1270 (Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire, UK).
This note was added at the end:
Rachel has been asking everyone who attends the GSE Teams’ presentations to donate £1 to go towards buying slippers or other needed gifts for Filipino children. Four presentations have been given so far (three to Rotary clubs and one to Rachel’s work colleagues) and £171.00 has been raised for the Rotary Club of West Bay. A further £100.00 has also been pledged by Rachel’s sponsoring club [the Rotary Club of Lindum, Lincoln], making a total of about P20,000. More presentations are planned. Rachel and the rest of the GSE Team hope to raise further funds and support at District 1270’s Discon (District Conference) in late September. – Editor
But at the same time as the District Conference in late September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana (aka Ondoy) was pounding the Philippines.