11 August 2008

Two Franks & Philippine Philanthropy


“You've gotta accent-u-ate the positive, eli-mi-nate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-between.You gotta spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum. Have faith or pandemonium's liable to walk upon the scene."
-Frank Sinatra
During my first trip to Asia in 1996, I ventured to the Philippines. Though I didn’t have the twenty years needed to visit each of the nation’s islands (one per day x 7,000 days), I did get to island-hop throughout the country and was blown away by the natural beauty and the warm hospitality of the Filipino people.

The entire month was like a catalogue of congeniality. While on a ferry to Mindoro, my global cohort Laz and I were graced with the presence of two lovely young college students that were heading home to the provinces to attend a cousin’s special one-year birthday party; the family rolled out the red carpet and welcomed us two Americanos like long-lost cousins. Those familiar with Filippino birthday parties can attest to the incredible array of foodstuffs on hand and being the foreign guest, I was literally stuffed like a pig on a spit. The highlight (that didn’t involve female affection) was undoubtedly the drunk, toothless 80 year-old uncle that kept the party going all night long by singing his animated renditions of Whitney Houston, Neil Diamond, the Beatles and Stevie Wonder. I will never forget the toothless jukebox belting out Frank Sinatra as long as I live.

The following week, we were welcomed by a friend’s cousin in Ilo-Ilo that treated us like royalty and took us to see a rock cover band that sent us into a laughing attack when he mispronounced the classic song, belting out “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door!” (Roll over, Bob Dylan.) Even when things soured, the fun-times vibe continued. When our friendly American hotel proprietor Jerome was shot by the mayor’s bodyguard one sunny Tuesday morning, the big-shot police detectives that arrived from Cebu City spent more time admiring the beach, buying me San Miguel beers and talking about the Chicago Bulls than they did investigating.

I’ll never forget the display of amicability the Filippino people showered upon me. Then last month, while Marc Gold (my role model and the founder of 100 Friends) was visiting Chicago for fundraising activities, we wired a few hundred dollars to a Filippina woman that was left for broke when Marc found her destitute in an alley a few years back and decided to help. Today, Aubrey Namit (pictured in the attached photo holding the newspaper) is finishing nursing school and will soon be providing income for her entire family. Hours after we wired the money though, we heard the horrible news about Monsoon Frank , the calamitous storm that claimed hundreds of lives in the central Philippines.
As we checked for updates on the internet, we received an e-mail from Aubrey who described in graphic detail the destruction and loss of life. Coming on the heels of the 2005 tsunami and the recent typhoon that destroyed much of Burma, there was little international coverage of the storm, but footage and personal accounts prove that Frank unleashed quite a torrent of destruction. Much like Katrina, the storm stranded hundreds of people on their rooftops, praying someone would rescue them before the rising water engulfed them.

As this all unfolded, I received a $300 check from a donor (thank you Barbara and Barry!) and suddenly it all made sense. Marc Gold in town, coincidentally wiring money to the Philippines, at the exact moment that this monsoon hit and just when I received this donation… It was obvious Marc and I had to help, so we talked with Aubrey and since she is well-connected with her community, she agreed to put the $600 (Marc matched my contribution) towards purchasing the emergency materials (food, medicine and water) that her community needed. In this instance, neither Marc nor I could be there to dispense the money, but we were sure that this future nurse that credits Marc with saving her life would be an effective agent to distribute these funds to those most in need. Happily, nobody in Aubrey’s family lost their lives and thankfully, our money was able to provide immediate relief to those that suffered from this horrible disaster.

I can imagine Sinatra and the toothless jukebox looking down from Crooner’s Heaven, their hearts warmed by the serendipitous trail of goodwill that traveled from San Francisco to Chicago and all the way down to Ilo-Ilo. Wait, I think I can hear their duet:
I’ve got a song that I singI can make the rain go
Any time I move my finger
Lucky me, cant you see – I’m in love!