Friday, June 30, 2006

a wonderful vegetable compost garden harvest

there is this deep peace in tending a garden, and great fulfillment in watching it bear fruit--well, vegetables in my case. i am not known to have a green thumb. i successfully grew a cactus plant and some chili in manila. but i'd like to think i am a staunch practitioner of composting food scraps--burying them back into the earth to enrich the soil, and to save much needed landfill space.

here in my spacious backyard, syrel and i have sprouted tomatoes, zucchini, squash, oregano, thyme, big, fat spinach leaves (as big as dinner plates!)--organic, i must proudly add as nothing came close to those plants except love and care and a lot of kitchen scraps; and delightful, as i must declare our blessings.

and not only has the earth sprouted these delights, but in abundance--it is so amazing! i have had to give away some giant spinach and some giant zucchini to friends who can't believe i used no fertilizer nor pesticides. well, the spinach did have some holes in them, thanks to the ever-tenacious slugs. we have learned a couple of tricks to detract them like putting coffee grinds or a bowl of beer around the plants.

and the taste and texture of this fruit of the land? sweet and tender, unlike anything i have bought from the hi-tech grocery stores here. when you eat your tomatoes as you pick them, i don't think you will ever buy them in a store again. my friend noel and i, have raved about growing his salad greens and some herbs in his city pocket garden. it's just great to eat the fruits of your labor!

mother earth gave me not only an extraordinary harvest but also led me into a circle of organic gardeners. i met julie haas-wajdowicz and marisa neelon who lead a monthly meeting for similar souls, looking to revere the soil by respecting it. marisa runs a community organic garden. she grows the sweetest red onions. julie does worm composting workshops that are gaining popularity. feed the worms food scraps and their poop makes for excellent organic fertilizer, free and non-chemical.

and then i came across terracycle--producers of liquid worm castings as organic fertilizer, bottled in recycled soda-pop plastic bottles, packed in discarded/misprinted boxes, founded by 23-year old princeton drop out and eco-capitalist tom szacky, based in new jersey, expecting $2.5 million in sales this year. inspired by a box of worms, these students had a dream: a company could be financially successful while being ecologically and socially responsible.

how wonderful that the consciousness towards the environment and economics is evolving. i join terracycle in their dream when renewable goals are shared by all enterprises, all working to "Grow a Better World."

check them out at terracycle

Saturday, June 24, 2006

global volunteers

I read an interesting article about travel volunteers. Many people travel to unwind. some people, like Rev. Sharon Brostrom, prefer to serve. Showing off her pictures taken while she volunteered in an orphanage in India, she was already planning her next trip to Romania "to take care of babies."

Brostrom plans her trips through a very special kind of travel agency -- Global Volunteers. In the past five years, she has visited orphanages in developing countries such as India, built houses in Ecuador and worked on a tree farm in Australia. She has stayed in Poland and most recently taught English in Crete.

Many other volunteers attest that volunteering is a more in-depth way of getting to know the host country, its culture and people. Learn first-hand about your host community's culture and history while serving as a valuable resource to children and adults. At the same time, you wage peace and gain new perspectives of the world in one, two or three weeks.

Founded by Michele and Bud Philbrook in 1979, as they were in search of a more balanced honeymoon in the context of world events. The couple realized how limited the opportunities for church and volunteer groups were. Later, they were given permission to visit and live in a small and poor village in Conacaste, Guatemala--where they outlined the village's needs for basic amenities like clean water, better dwellings, electricity, and mentor their sparse industries like bread-making and basket-weaving.

Using their background in Foreign Relations and Journalism, the couple soon composed and won grants and volunteer services to help Conacaste become more self-sufficient.

Today, Global Volunteers exists to enable local people to enlist others' support and practical skills to visualize and achieve their community hopes and dreams. As a non-governmental organization (NGO) in special consultative status with the United Nations, Global Volunteers mobilizes some 150 service-learning teams year-around to work in 20 countries on six continents, and is the internationally recognized leader in this field of work.

You can sign up as a travel volunteer in any of these areas: (Oh, yeah, you will have to foot your ticket cost).

1. Child Care-- You can care for physically- and mentally-disabled children, some who have been abandoned, and "at-risk" teens. Often no special skills are required, as volunteers are needed to listen to, play, read, exercise and share time with the children.

2. Teaching English--You don't have to know the language of the host country. Often teaching is done through simple conversation along with a local teacher in school classrooms or at intensive summer camps where lessons take place in a variety of non-traditional settings.

3. Health Care-- Health care professionals of various specialties, particularly those with public health backgrounds, are needed at small village clinics. The working conditions may not be what you are used to - the equipment is quite basic and the amount and variety of medicines are really limited. So if you are a doctor, dentist, or nurse, bring your enthusiasm to serve, and your own equipment.

4. Labor Projects--Assist with building, repairing and painting facilities such as community centers, classrooms, librairies, medical clinics, and houses. You can also help clear park land, plant community gardens, dig wells, construct clean water systems, install playground equipment and more. No specific construction skills are needed.

Volunteer Marilyn Lutzker has this to say about her China stint, teaching English: "Not knowing Chinese is not an obstacle to exploring and enjoying Xian. Global Volunteers provides a fail-safe Chinese-English list of key words and major sites. Body language, pointing, smiling, and the patience and good humor of the Chinese people take care of the rest. Trying to buy a pair of pants in a department store, when "mas grande" didn't work I pointed to my more-than-ample hips; the clerk laughed and found a larger size. In a noodle shop without an English menu, I pointed to items being eaten by other patrons. Shaking the empty thermos told the hotel staff we needed more hot water; the motion which finally communicated more toilet paper need not be repeated.

Each of my teaching experiences was distinct and each was rewarding. But the lessons I learned in one country - about myself, about teaching, about interacting with students, about being part of a team - helped me in the other countries. Similarities outnumber differences. The host teachers --so happy to have you-are appreciative, warm and supportive, team members constantly help and praise each other, and the students love you."

Check them out at Global Vounteers

Friday, June 23, 2006

when life gives you lemons

a TV show not so long ago continues to inspire me. "the new heroes" aired in PBS last year featuring 14 people from around the world, the social enterpreneurs--that developed their businesses around solutions and resources to the very needy communities they were in.

albina ruiz found a way to address the inefficient garbage collection in peru. there was even a marketplace that had no garbage collection at all. unhealthy garbage festered. she gave the people in that community livelihood by empowering them to collect garbage more efficiently and environmentally safer than the government. now, the people prefer ruiz's services than peru's.

maria teresa leal founded a sewing coop for the very poor women in brazil to work from home and take care of their kids at the same time--recycling scraps of cloth into fashionable quilted fabric with knit and crochet (my favorite hobby!) accessories for designer fashion, now exported to europe.

muhammed yunus set up his grameen bank amidst the slums of bangladesh, providing micro-business with loans without collateral to the poorest women. grameen bank has been acknowledged as the single most important development in third world countries in 100 years.

i hope you can check out the site and meet the other 11 of my new heroes, not of wars or weapons, but of creative ideas and determination to change the world. maybe they will inspire you towards something greater, too! everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put into her heart. and aristotle said that "where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation."

so when life gives us garbage, we must segregate it. when life gives us cloth scraps, we should make a quilt.

how shall we change our world today?

click on the new heroes

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Considering the harm others do to you
As created by your former deeds, do not anger.
Act such that further suffering will not be created
And your own faults will disappear.

-Nagarjuna, "Precious Garland"

From "365 Buddha: Daily Meditations," edited by Jeff Schmidt. Reprinted by arrangement with Tarcher/Putnam, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

can you fix it?

my daughter was playing with Leggo toys. she carefully built something piece by piece. when she finished she was so excited, she ran to show me her new masterpiece. but she lifted the toy up too fast and some parts of it came off and shattered to the floor.

she looked very worried. "can you fix it?" she asked.

i was busy, on a deadline. but then i went to her and we picked up the pieces, one by one. we put them together and restored her toy. she was smiling now, with a confidence that was infectious.

and then i realized, that my purpose may not be grand. rather, it can be the simplest thing--to help, to heal, to teach, to nurture--to make it a better place for someone else--and i must not miss even the smallest opportunities to make it so.

Friday, June 16, 2006

baby girl X

when i first saw her, she was on TV. she was abandoned and fighting for her life. encased in a glass incubator, she was thin gray, with at least half a dozen needles and monitors stuck into her dry and old skin.

i rushed to PGH and brought the antibiotics the public-service program said she needed, along with disposable diapers, a knitted cap, a soft toy, fuzzy blankets, and a stampita of the divine mercy. i peered into the most complicated incubator in the room, and there she lay, even more premature and smaller than i thought, weighing 950 grams, less than 1 kilo of porkchops.

baby girl X--it said on the incubator. and for some reason, she looked like my grandmother, mama maying, we used to call her, which was a baby's way of saying maring, a nickname for maria.

many people ask me when i decided to adopt my daughter. although i may have not known it yet, it was probably at that moment when i was astonished that baby girl X looked so much like my mama maying. for signs like these may seem coincidental to you but incredibly meaningful to me.

baby girl X did fight for her life, hard. through infections and roller-coaster sepsis levels and immature lungs, she made it out of the ICU into a regular ward (where cats and roaches settled underneath her basinette at night). i would visit her at night when my other kids were asleep, and my friend would tempt me to put baby girl X into a gym bag and whisk her away, so as not to go through the DSWD system. we weathered the bureaucracy and legal requirements of the welfare department and secured her adoption papers in time for our US immigrant petition. her legal and beloved name is selena.

selena is my light, my awesome reminder that God is good. everyone in the hospital said i could not adopt her. but obstacle after obstacle disappeared in the process. she has taught me the walking-on-clouds euphoria, that i have walked out of the county hospital with my feet seemingly 4 inches off the ground--you get only when you are in alignment to the Will of God at His precise time.

maybe i was poised by age, but adopting selena has defined my life in a way that continues to push the boundaries of who i am, what i can do, endure, achieve. we have endured uncertainty, rude questions, the gasps of people who think we have too many children. but as dr. wayne dyer said, "when you are inspired towards a greater purpose, all of your thoughts break thier bonds." there wasn't anything i wouldn't and couldn't do to adopt her. i miss this kind of clarity.

and so i start here, with an abandoned baby girl, with no name--for she brought with her an inspiration so strong, i would have been far less without it.

starfish poem