My mobile phone rang as I was preparing for bed. “That’s unusual”, I thought as I picked up the phone and glanced at the screen to see an unknown phone number.
The caller sounded tired, but very serious. “A major typhoon has just hit the Philippines and we would like you to document the extensive damage and cover our organization’s relief efforts.”
Fortunately, I was booked to be working in my office for the next two weeks, so instead of crawling into bed, I checked my camera bag, ensuring everything was in place, and put some batteries on charge. Then I grabbed my laptop and booked tickets to Manila, leaving the next morning.
My assignment was to create video stories of survivors, hearing their recollections of the violent storm, how they dealt with their loss in the aftermath, and the impact that aid workers and relief supplies have had in this time of great need.
I was given a 4wd Land Cruiser, a driver, a representative from the humanitarian organization, and a translator. Together we traversed the path of the killer storm, meeting people who had suffered greatly, arranging for vital water, food, and other supplies to be delivered, and then photographing the damage and their attempt to restore their way of life, finally interviewing them and shooting video for a complete story.
After dinner and a couple of cold San Miguels, I would edit and process my still images, edit together one or two short video stories, and then send them out to the United States office of the organization so they could release them to the media for getting the news out about the rebuilding efforts after the typhoon.
Finally, I’d grab a few hours of sleep before doing it all again the next day.
It was exhausting, but fulfilling, work. At one moment I’d be in tears seeing what someone had lived through and hearing stories of those who hadn’t survived the storm, and the next moment I’d be thrilled to know I was part of the effort to help rebuild these broken lives and homes.
Finally, after a week of this grueling schedule, I returned to Manila where I had booked myself a great hotel for some much-needed rest. Walking through the business section of the hotel later in the day, I saw a bunch of journalists leaving a meeting room. Intrigued, I wandered in.
A warm, smiling woman, carrying a clipboard, walked up to me and asked for my name. I handed her a card and explained why I was in the Philippines. I asked what was going on here, since I had seen all of the journalists.
She explained that she had just led a press briefing regarding some new tourist initiatives for travel to the tropical island of Boracay, which had not been hit by the typhoon.
I smiled and told her that my wife Kathy and I had lived in Manila several years earlier and had traveled extensively throughout the island nation… but, although we had heard many fantastic stories of the idyllic, laid-back lifestyle and postcard-worthy beaches of Boracay, we had never visited the remote island.
She returned my smile and said, “Would you like to go now?”
Upon hearing my almost-giddy reply, she quickly made arrangements on her cell phone, and, early the next morning, I was flying south, then boarding a boat and spending three days and two nights right on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world… all paid for by the Office of Tourism.
The only thing they asked of me in return was some still and video stock shots that they would use to promote the island.
When people ask me what I do for work, I tell them what I do, but quickly explain that it isn’t work. I often say that what I do sure beats working for a living! And this is the life that could be in your future, too. You don’t have to continue dreaming about living the dream, you can take the first step to making it happen.
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