I am home

Aivy Rose Villarba
Nov 3, 2018 · 6 min read

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.


I still vividly remember the day of our deployment. I woke up at 4:00AM and I haven’t still decided what luggage I should use. I am switching from one bag to another because I am afraid I will have to pay for the excess baggage. There I was, unconsciously acting out my nervousness and excitement.

My mother went with me to the airport. She hugged me tight before I went inside. There are a million things that I am thankful for my parents, but I really appreciate that after years of saying “NO” they finally let me go.

Excerpt: On Children by Kahlil Gibran

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Before the plane descended to Bangkok, my tear ducts forced itself to crack open. I am overwhelmed with my emotions. It has finally dawned on me that there is no turning back.

When we arrived in Chiang Rai, a beautiful lady named Pimon picked us up. She said it will take 45-minutes before we reach Xavier Learning Community (XLC). The drive from Chiang Rai Airport to XLC was like a roller coaster ride for me. Pimon was driving at 120 kilometres per hour and turns to intersections at 80 kilometres per hour. I was never used to riding a car as fast as this one. The speed limit in downtown Davao City, where I came from, is just 30 kilometres per hour.

Ivy Jane Torregosa and Aivy Villarba, Cardoner Volunteers assigned in Chiang Rai, Thailand arrived in Mae Fah Luang- Chiang Rai International airport last 21 May 2018. Photo by Karl Anthony Ebol.

When we arrived at XLC, Fr. Tom Michel, SJ welcomed us. Some students also introduced themselves. After a few minutes of multiple self-introductions, I went to my room and my mind started to go blank and looped in zero.

Zero is the number often set aside because people think it does not give any value. However, I think it is a good symbol to represent the start of my volunteer journey in Chiang Rai, Thailand. As John Locke would say, tabula rasa or blank slate.

It is in zero that we go neutral. We try to set aside the preconceived constructs and concepts of what is acceptable, of what is right and wrong. We try to zero in and focus on others’ way of doing things. My favourite Japanese anime character, Shinichi Kudo (from Detective Conan) emphasised that zero is where everything starts. Nothing would ever be born if we did not start from there and nothing would be ever achieved.

Cardoner Volunteer Program

We were sent by the Cardoner Volunteer Program of the Ateneo de Davao University, a Jesuit university in the Southern part of the Philippines. We were assigned to be volunteer English teachers at Xavier Learning Community (XLC) in Mae Chan, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The Philippines may be considered as an archipelago of hundreds of languages. Aside from Filipino, our national language, and the local dialects, most of us know how to speak in English. However, I have this certain degree of doubt, “Will I ever survive teaching a foreign language?”

My professors and mentors would always say that teaching is not a job, it is a vocation. I had a hard time grasping the concept before, but now I feel the binders were removed. I fully understand what they meant.

Teaching is not just a transmission of information or giving lectures inside the four corners of the room. Much more of the teaching happens outside the classroom.

During rice planting, one my students asked, “Teacher, what is the difference between are and do?” While we were planting rice, we talked about parts of speech, grammar and structure. We also ended up conversing about their hopes, dreams, frustrations, and struggles. These conversations taught me how to connect with them more. After all, one of the things that makes teaching more effective is establishing trust and good rapport with the students.

The experience of teaching has been a long winding road. It has been the source of my joy and sorrow. Kahlil Gibran was right when he said:

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

The difficulties aside, I am hopeful that my students will become learned individuals who know what are the things that count.

Self care and self introspection

It is a common Filipino tradition to have a despedida party when someone is leaving. My former boss and officemates organized one for me. All of my friends and some acquaintances at work were there. After the party, one of my closest workmates hugged me goodbye and told me with his utmost sincerity, “Take care of yourself.” He keeps repeating it in his messages even if I am already in Chiang Rai.

I did not understand why he keeps reminding me to do so, but after five months, the eureka moment struck me. I should always remember to put my well being as a top priority. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Excerpt from Love by Leo Buscaglia

Perfect love is rare indeed. It is to be wondered if any man has ever achieved it. This does not mean that it may not be possible, nor a goal devoutly to be strived for. It is one of the greatest challenges, for love and the self are one and the discovery of either is the realisation of both.

Some people would tell us that we are just tourists in Northern Thailand, but little did they know volunteer work is not easy. It tested my patience, sharpened my skills to adapt to the cultural differences, and worked out my muscle of letting go.

There were times that I felt so frustrated over a thing I could not put a finger on. It will haunt me for a day or a week if I don’t go through self introspection. Feeling down and feeling frustrated is okay. It is through these times that I get to know myself better. It is a part of my journey in self discovery.

It was also very helpful to revisit some techniques in Intrapersonal Communication. It is important to listen to the inner stirrings of the mind and the heart. So one tip to all volunteers all over the world, take time to have a daily conversation with yourself, get in touch with your feelings so you will not end up as a walking bag of emotional mush.

Loving in a distance

Filipinos are known to have close family ties. Some still live with their families even if they are already married. There are several family compounds in villages where extended families live together. Leaving the family would be unimaginable to some because for them, loneliness and the longing might slowly kill them.

I do miss my family. I already missed a few family gatherings, but what I realised is that now that I am away, the more that I am able to talk deeply with my parents and my siblings. I was too busy at work before that every time I went I home, I just ate and went straight to bed. Now I get to ask them how their day went through a personal message in different social media handles.

As what Martin Heidegger pointed out, all distances in time and space are shrinking because of technology. Above all, I think we need to put Heidegger’s point into reflection. We need to realise that all distances brings no nearness, for nearness does not consist in a small amount of distance. I may be away from Davao City, but I know in my heart, I am home.

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