Overcoming the Language Gap

In 2008, our team of aspiring development workers sat with a man who has spent decades battling the sex tourism industry in the Philippines.  For nearly 40 years he has operated an organization that helps restore dignity and livelihood to exploited women and children.  I was anxious to hear stories of his struggle for justice.  Instead, he offered our team a rather sobering reminder.  Without learning to speak Tagalog (the primary language of the Philippines) we would not be able to overcome the cultural gap with those whom we intend to serve, especially among impoverished communities.

This summer has provided many in our movement an opportunity to replace Tagalog textbooks with the voices of Tagalog-speaking friends.  There is no better classroom than sitting on the steps of a corner store or spending a night in the mountains where communication only happens in Tagalog.  These environments, accompanied with Tagalog tutorials our families are attending, improve our understanding everyday.

The rewards of acquiring a second language are much like that of physical exercise – slow, subtle and present only after months of hard work and discipline.  The rewards, however, are long-standing as we become increasingly adept to communicate with those whom we desire to educate and empower.

The weight of the responsibility to learn Tagalog bears down on us everyday.  It affects both the depth of our relationships and the extent to which we can more fully understand the communities of need with whom we work.  As with the other responsibilities we must carry out, we are thankful to face this task not alone, but as a team unified to work alongside our Filipino friends.

Extending the Family

By Michelle Madron

In my time here in Olongapo I have been privileged to work alongside Cora Fernandez, a local midwife who serves the poor.  Our relationship began while assisting a birthing mother and has developed further through the many birth experiences she has allowed me to participate in.

I have learned much more from Cora than techniques on assisting women in labor.  We have shared meals together and worked through many conversations despite the language barrier. Over the past two months, she has made herself vulnerable, sharing with me about her life and the lives of those around her.  I have grown to respect her willingness to do whatever necessary to find practical ways to improve the lives of those in her community.

This past week our families spent time together in their home.  During this time, she shared more about her life and the hardships she has endured.  Her vulnerability allowed me to understand the obstacles she faces as a midwife of 20 years.  “This is the life of the midwife,” she says as she shared story after story of sacrifice and struggle.

After sharing about her life, a picture of genuine friendship began to emerge.  Rachel and I to taught her how to bake cookies, Cora brought out some Ube (a Filipino dessert) and we shared our snacks as the children played together in the living room.  This day was memorable for us all and helped to connect us to the people alongside which we serve.