At a loving distance

Aivy Rose Villarba
Jul 21 · 5 min read

Pamalandong ni Ibyang: Entry #2

Pamalandong is the Cebuano word for reflection. Landong means shade. The word brings an image of a farmer sitting under a tree after a day of hard work.

FUN AFTERNOON. Xavier Learning Community volunteer teachers and staff spend time to relax at Choui Fong Tea Plantation at Mae Chan, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo by Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ

It has been two months since we left Xavier Learning Community (XLC), Chiang Rai, Thailand. If there’s one more thing I could add up to my list of realizations that would be one could never fully prepare his or her self from leaving home to go home. If someone would ask me what it feels like to be torn between two ‘homes’ before my volunteer journey, I think the question itself would be quite confusing.

However, now I understand what it feels like. Imagine going through a very bad break up and the cause of separation is not falling out of love. You continue to love even at a distance — 1926 miles to be exact.

Farewell

Laughters echoed, and tears flooded the Paul Miki Hall as we had our farewell party on 30 April 2019. The students rendered touching and humorous presentations, which left us crying and laughing at the same time.

We, the volunteers also expressed our eternal gratitude to the community who showered us with so much love and affection. It took so much strength to speak words of gratitude while holding back a bucket full of tears.

The people I met during my volunteer journey are no longer strangers, but friends and family. They served as my inspiration to keep going especially during the trying times. They are all loving individuals and I felt home with them.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Wherever you have friends, that’s your country and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” For a year, Thailand has been my country and XLC, my home.

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes; for those who love with heart and soul there is no separation. — Rumi.

CHIANG RAI, THAILAND. XLC Freshmen students surprised the audience as they rendered a dance presentation, wearing masks with the faces of the four Filipino volunteers, Jane, John, Aivy, and Fr. Erwin.

Joy of being in a community

It is in XLC that I was able to see the most beautiful sunsets, embrace the presence of warm and kind-hearted people, enjoy the picturesque, serene landscapes while listening to the calming silence. I cherish all of the experiences I had, but one thing I miss the most is the community life.

It is through my Cardoner journey that I realized, part of our ‘being’ is to be with others; we need to be a part of a community. We open, we bloom because of other people. Now I understand better the Ubuntu philosophy. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity.” The philosophy teaches that a person is a person through other persons.

It is the joy of being and living in a community that has sustained me for a year. No amount of money can ever pay the joy that I experienced being and journeying with my students, my co-volunteers, and the Jesuits in XLC.


Love

In our Philosophy classes at the Ateneo de Davao University, we tried to study and understand love. There were different ideas discussed, but most of the concepts remained at the cognitive level. If there’s one thing I learned being a teacher for a year that would be cognition combined with the affect and behaviour could lead to life changing learnings and realizations.

It was knowledge then, but now I understand. I am still in awe and wonder at the power of love.

I never knew love was so powerful that it could fuel a person to stay up late at night to prepare for classes, sleep for a few hours, drag oneself out of the bed at 4:00 AM to prepare activity worksheets.

I never knew love was so powerful that it could drive a person to spend her weekend researching for engaging activities to implement in class, checking papers, writing the total quiz scores with a cute smiley at the top of the page, and taking note of individual feedback to be given to the students the following week.

I never knew love was so powerful that it could bring you to wonder why the people are so kind to you to the point you sob with happy tears.

I never knew love was so powerful that it could break your tear ducts open because your student made a hand woven traditional Karen shirt for you.

I never knew love was so powerful that you would end up in another country (literally) just because you stood up and followed when you heard the word “Come.”

I never knew love was so powerful that you’ll end up having an instant birthday party with a mountain of bread as cake, blowing fire cracker like candles, and being shoved at the door because you are not allowed to enter as they are still preparing the surprise.

I never knew love was so powerful that you will receive unlimited hugs and hear “Thank you. I love you, Teacher” several times a day.

It is love that had pushed me to keep going even if the odds are not in my favor. It is through this transformative experience that I understood what Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ meant when he said:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

As Samuel Rocha (2014) pointed out, “Love alone is necessary and sufficient for all things. Everything else is secondary. Be in love. Dwell in it, and you will surely be primed for whatever comes in your way.”

We may be separated by a loving distance now, but nothing changes. Home is still with the people I love and adore, may it be in Thailand or the Philippines.

Here’s to the people you call home, to friendship, to family, and to love. Let go and let God. Cheers!

This is the recap video of the first batch of Filipino volunteers deployed at Xavier Learning Community in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Music: Ride Home by Ben & Ben. Compiled and Edited by Aivy Rose Villarba.

Go beyond your little world and find the grandeur of God’s world. — Rumi.

Thank you. Liked Ibyang’s Pamalandong? Read her first entry here.

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