Paying it Forward by Miriam Bader

In a little-known piece of history, the president of the Philippines welcomed 1,305 Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe to his country in 1938. This extraordinary act of generosity led me to visit the Philippines in 2016 with the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). I too was welcomed. Smiles and ceremonies greeted me at every stop of this tropical archipelago. As did stories of giving. 

I came to learn about the JDC’s current work in the Philippines - about how they returned to this country in November 2013 after typhoon Haiyan struck. The work is a tribute to the generosity the Filipinos gave the Jewish refugees long ago, and which the JDC coordinated. They were one of the first organizations on the scene, bringing medical support, and expertise in disaster relief and recovery efforts. They are also one of the few organizations that remain in the Philippines, continuing to partner and rebuild two years after Haiyan's bitter wake. 

In the barangays of Ivisan, I met fisherfolk and farmers whose homes and livelihoods were struck by Haiyan. I heard stories of suffering and sickness, alongside tales of resilience. The stories of giving overflowed. It was not about simply recovering, but rather rebuilding stronger with a goal of decreasing vulnerability to nature’s whims. Diversifying livelihoods through the introduction of new tools, crops, and planning can help this largely agricultural society to weather more storms. 

One of my favorite programs to learn about involved the distribution of livestock through JDC’s partner in the region, the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR). Isaac Bekalo, the head of the organization explained that the animals came with the condition that the firstborn be gifted to another. The recipients would do the same, thereby continually regenerating kindness and sustainability throughout the village. Similar models exist for farmers who were gifted seeds. They would share their harvest and knowledge with others so that they too could grow their own plots and continue to disseminate more plants and technological know-how to their networks. 

This regenerative form of giving inspires. It makes me think about the multiplying power of our collective action to make the world better. This is perhaps the most remarkable story of all.

Written By

February 23, 2016 at 10:06 AM




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