I’ve been in the Philippines now for four months. I’ve taught children and adults, I’ve played with babies, witnessed baptisms, marriages, and funerals. And I’ve written back home, pages and pages worth of adventures. My parents collect everything I write up into a journal of my adventures, with as many pictures as they can harvest from my own blog accounts and facebook, and from those of people who interact with me and tag me.
A few months ago, my father sent me a reflective e-mail based somewhat on the poem I wrote. He said that people back in my home church were asking what I did as a YASCer, and what other YASC participants were doing. He always starts off by giving the basic summary: YASC is a form of mission work, like an Episcopal Church based Peace Corps. Then he’d go in to some details of what some of us are doing, our work in teaching, health care, peace work, farming, or social development. Often at that point there are questions about why the church should send us. It would be a lot more cost-efficient for the Episcopal church to just establish grants with the local churches around the world and hire someone from the area to do the job we’re doing.
And if the work were all there was to it, we could just do that. If all I am here for is to teach CE classes at the high school, then paying a small sum to give the current CE trainers a bit more background in the subject would be a lot more cost-efficient. If the Lay institute really needed a course on science and religion, it could have asked one of the science teachers at the college to pair up with a local priest. Logistically speaking, I’m not exactly necessary.
But then the question arises, how would that build a connection between the Episcopal Church in the US and the Philippine Episcopal Church? A small sum of money given once a year? That creates no real tie or investment between communities. But a person? A person who stays long enough to get to know people? Who joins her fellow teachers in witnessing the high school principal’s wedding, who can laugh at pranks in the teacher’s lounge and get dragged over at the employee Christmas party to sing the last few words of a song she’s not heard in years?
YASC isn’t about the jobs we do, so much as it is about the reasons we do those jobs. As it is about the connections we make in the course of those jobs. I’m here to teach, but more I’m here to talk about my knitting and teach a few interested seventh-graders the start. To play and blow bubbles for little kids, who decide that my hair is golden and like Rapunzel’s. I’m here to see a bunch of different churches, and to begin to understand the community at my local church.
And when I’m back home, I won’t take back only the practical experience of teaching courses and writing exams. I’ll take back the memory of cooking and eating together with some of my fellow teachers. I’ll take back the memory of a bunch of women I had just barely met dropping all of their plans to take me to a hot spring together. I’ll take back learning to dance Igorot style. I’ll take back singing folk songs and old country songs for hours with new acquaintances. I’ll take back the memory of a December and January that will be green and lush and blooming.
And I’ll take back that the Tagalog word for armpit is killi-killi, because one of my seventh graders taught me that in a list of supposedly helpful words.