Once upon a time, I worked as a volunteer in Guyana, helping groups of disability rights advocates campaign for their issues—for awareness, for change. As you might imagine, this kind of campaign is often a hard battle fought all the way uphill in a developing country like Guyana (or like the Philippines, for that matter). One particularly hard day, I was sweating and shaking my head at the sheer amount of fighting we still had to put in, wondering if any of our work was ever going to bear fruit. One of the young people I was working with put an arm around my shoulder, and said, in the local patois, “Oh, Kristine. Dutty by dutty, we buil’ dam.”
Which meant: Bit of dirt by tiny bit of dirt, we can build a mighty dam.
Which also meant: Together we can do this.
Fast forward to this year, half a globe away from South America, and I’m now working with another kind of advocacy entirely—GRID, which, we’ve promised ourselves, will never be the kind of travel magazine that only shows pretty places, but instead is a passionate advocate for all the beauty and all the struggle that goes into being Filipino. And everywhere we go, we find that this saying is still true.
It’s not always fun in the Philippines, you see. This month also sees us remembering the heartbreak that was Typhoon Yolanda a year ago. Outside of that, there are always disasters, both natural and man-made, lurking around every corner, everything from political corruption to environmental degradation. Yolanda was a howler that got the entire world’s attention, but every day there are scores of quieter tragedies that we somehow survive.
That “somehow” is, well, it’s all of us. Our new section, Three Takes (p. 28), puts the spotlight on the aftermath of Yolanda, through the lens of three photographers who show us the faces of the survivors and the relief workers. There’s a lot of pain in their work, but read between the lines on the faces here, and you’ll also see a lot of determination.
The “somehow” is people like James Deakin, who put his pen and his media following to good use for Yolanda and for causes (“Why I Stopped Giving Money to Charity,” on p. 44). It’s people like Carlito Pizarras, or Bobby Chan, or Oyog Todi, who have devoted their lives to fighting for our natural and cultural heritage (“Defenders of the Land,” p. 90). It’s scientists like Dr. Angel Alcala, who devoted decades of his life to the creation of marine protected areas within our waters. (“Turning the Tide,” p. 98)
This is not heroism—it isn’t about glory, and it isn’t always about the country. Sometimes it’s just doing what’s right, and simply doing what one can. Even if the work amounts to bringing a handful of dirt to the dam, they did it. Sometimes showing up is half the battle won.
Editor at Large