On the night of February 28, 1985, a huge fire broke out in a slum in Manila, Philippines. No one was hurt, but more than 50,000 people lost their homes.
I am a yogic monk working for the international service organization AMURT. The center where I was living at that time was only one kilometer from the fire. Dadaji, another monk, watched the glowing horizon and said, “We should do social service.”
I thought for a moment before responding. “Altogether we have ten kilos of rice and a total of eight dollars—enough to feed our house for about two days. How can we do social service now?” With no regular source of funding, I was worried.
He simply replied, “Don’t argue. Just go with the flow.”
So, we spent five dollars to send our eight volunteers by bus to the all-night wholesale market to ask for vegetables donations for the fire victims. Dadaji and I walked to the site of the fire and spoke to a few people. Everyone was in shock. On the way home, we stopped to buy two cans of milk and fresh ginger with the remainder of our money.
I said, “We’re not going to feed many people with that.”
“Don’t argue,” Dadaji replied. “Just go with the flow.”
We heated a huge pot of ginger milk. At 2:00 in the morning, we carried it back to a Catholic convent beside the fire site, where the nuns let fire victims camp in their parking lot. Just as we started serving, a stranger tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t go— wait here.” I smiled and thought, I’m not going anywhere with all this milk.
As we emptied the pot, the stranger suddenly returned and said, “I was so inspired by what you two are doing that I bought $200 worth of bread. But I don’t know how to distribute this. Would you please do it for me?”
Two hours later, we returned to our center. The boys had just arrived with a huge collection of vegetables—twelve sacks full. We began cooking an immense pot of “lugao,” Filipino rice soup with vegetables. Then, at 6:00 a.m., as dawn was breaking, three volunteers carried the pot to the site of the fire, and we immediately began cooking a second pot.
Meanwhile I called everyone else we knew and asked for more donations. Before long, a car arrived with a fifty-kilo sack of rice. After that, another arrived with a case of beans, and on it went. Many volunteers happily cut vegetables. We served lugao continuously, from daybreak until late at night, for three days. On the fourth day, the government social services distributed uncooked foodstuffs to the victims. The residents had rebuilt their shacks, and our services were no longer necessary.
The Philippine’s largest national newspaper, the Bulletin Today, included front-page coverage of our story. Their journalists reported that AMURT had distributed milk and bread to 2,000 fire victims on the first night, and fed 20,000 people over the next three days. Thanks to Dadaji’s inspiring words, the multitudes were fed with ten kilos of rice, eight dollars, and an abundance of solidarity and grace.
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7 thoughts on “Solidarity and Grace”
Solidarity and Grace, with emphasis on Grace.
There is a quote I have hanging on my wall from a man who passed in 2015, Sir Nicholas Winton, “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong. Be prepared, everyday, to try and do some good.” Simple and profound.
I’m so stealing that. 🙂
Let me tonight look back across the span twixt dawn and dark, and to my conscience say – because of some good act to beast or man – “The world is better that I lived today.”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox
J. Michael Straczynski summed up one moral of this story in two words in his epic series “Babylon 5”. What two words? “Faith manages.”
I love this – both solidarity and grace. A very inspiring example to follow. Thanks for sharing.
Deep love & appreciation for this beautiful story of social service. Easy to see how much joy it brought to many people who were able and willing to make their own small contributions along the way that multiplied so easily, and met the needs of so many.