I was in the Philippines on a disaster relief trip last year.
One thing that struck me was how eager the people were to go out of their way to make us feel welcome.
It initially made me feel very uncomfortable and uneasy. After all the whole purpose of us being out there was to help them, not the other way round. From cooking all our delicious meals, to carrying our backpacks, to compromising their living quarters to accommodate us - I felt remorse for any inconvenience or disruption I posed to them.
However, one incident made me see things in a different light.
We were in Malawing to distribute supplies and assist with the building of houses. Along with many others in the village, her house had been destroyed by the vicious typhoon. During a breather we were taking from the work, she approached us with a pouch slung on her hips.
She tried to gift us bracelets and necklaces made of rough thread and seashell shards. I declined, thinking that it would not be right for me to take away from the very people I came to help. As she very dejectedly left after my staunch refusals, an elderly local man who had been sitting some distance away came to me.
" Why did you turn her away? "
" People desire a sense of fulfillment, that they have a role to contribute for the betterment of their fellow men. "
" It would be a great sorrow that you deny her assurance that she still has a purpose, some good to give to this world. "
" The kindest thing you could have done, is to graciously say yes. "
He then left.
For some moments, I sat mulling over his words.
Then I stood up, put on my sandals, and started walking.
I didn't have far to go before I spotted her playing with some younger children. When she saw me, her face lit up and her eyes glowed with recognition.
I smiled, pointed to her pouch and said
" Can you show me again? "
For the goodness they do is not solely for you, but for themselves also.