Looking for Food: A Reflection from the Philippines

Gregg Garner and Ty Mathews are currently on the island of Leyte in the Philippines--the island that was most severely hit by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) six months ago. From the time they set foot in the arrivals terminal at the airport it was evident that the destruction and suffering is far from over for so many in the Philippines. The following reflection is from Gregg Garner after being approached for food from a mother of ten. 

This is Angelita Sanchez. She is a farmer. She has 10 children. She comes from the more rural part of the country that was affected by the Super Typhoon.

For anyone who travels, it is rather common to be begged for food. Sometimes the person requesting is genuinely in need. Other times you could be the subject of a con. It's hard to tell.

When Angelita approached me for food, I entered into a process where I tried to determine whether or not she would be the recipient of my limited funds. After all, in a place like this, we couldn't possibly feed everyone who asked.

I told her in exchange for a meal she would have to tell me her story. She agreed and my friends and I ordered her a plate of food and prepared the table. She yelled, "Anak!" An eight year old boy popped up from behind a car and she got up from her chair, kissed him, and told him she found food.

At this, we bought another plate for her to eat with her son and I learned her story. She was in the city for the last couple of days looking for food. Food aid had been cut off recently and the crops she harvested had not been enough for her family. All her coconut trees were destroyed and she says it will be about seven years before they could produce again.

She thought she could come to the city and find some help; some work, or some food from an NGO (relief organization) to feed her family.

...

Five hours later I'm in a coffee shop with wifi (one of the only in the city) and I'm surrounded by NGO workers, sipping their lattes and surfing through Facebook.

A tattooed, jewelried and frappacinoed NGO foreign lady says, "Can you believe they thought they could just serve me cold fries?"

An obese, iPad/iPhone carrying, mango shake Pilipino NGO lady responds, "I'm sorry. These people really don't know what they are doing."

TatLady: "He just stared at me and I was like 'Eww, do you expect me to eat these?' "

ObesePinay: "I hope you just got them to throw them away and get you new ones."

TatLady: "Well, by that time I wasn't even hungry anymore. By the way, do you ever just do something for yourself?"

They got up to leave.: "Of course! When I get home to Cebu and away from all this."

(I'm crying now and everyone is looking at me...)

I'm sorry Angelita that while you were searching for food to feed your children, our NGO workers were sipping lattes, complaining about their food and longing for a vacation. I'm sorry that I'm no better than them in that I judged you and think that for some reason I have the power to determine who gets to eat and who doesn't.

I'm sorry God that we are too self-absorbed, selfish and desensitized to even allow ourselves to be impacted beyond the attention span of our societal ADD that makes us move on to the next event, vacation, or cause before we even do everything we can, with the urgency of hunger, to see people have their needs met. Forgive us when we think we get to determine the flow of food and aid and wrongly judge amidst the activity.

How inconvenient it is to have to be begged for food... I'm such an ass.

Written by Gregg Garner