By Allen Allnoch, ER Staff Writer
Tonya Williams’ father always hoped that his children would one day visit the Philippines. His own father was from Turburan in the Cebu province, and he wanted Tonya to experience “The Land of our People,” as he called it.
Santos Talaugon passed away in 2001, but his daughter has fulfilled his wish twice over, including a two-week ER internship in February. And she hopes to again make the long trip from her home in Santa Maria, California.
“My father was very proud of his heritage,” Tonya recalls. “As I grew up, I remember all the stories he would tell about how his dad grew up in the beautiful land of Cebu. There was never any talk of hardship, poverty or anything negative about his homeland.”
Two of Tonya’s friends, Terri Ramos and Ruth Arteaga, introduced her to ER. After hearing ER Asia’s Joshua Benavidez speak during a visit to California in 2014, she joined the Manila Christmas Team, with whom she helped host six Christmas celebrations and serve more than 800 people.
“One of the bonuses is that I went on my first ER trip with my best friend [Ramos], to a place that would capture my heart,” she says.
The trip impacted her so much, she knew she had to spend more time in the Philippines. Her recent visit was based around Makati, one of 16 cities that make up Metro Manila. There she served with a handful of ER programs, partners and friends, including the Manila Children’s Home, the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program, Youth Mobilization, IBIKE Ministries and There Is Hope.
Tonya’s work ranged from assisting with various children’s programs to teaching ladies at Golden Hands how to sew aprons.
“This trip was different than the Christmas parties,” she notes. “I was directly involved with the day-to-day operations of each partner, and was able to connect with the team members on a personal level. It was truly a blessing to see each leader’s passion and heart for their communities, and to show love to all they come in contact with.”
She also attended ER Asia staff meetings and came away more impressed than ever with Joshua Benavidez and his wife, Ann. “They are strong leaders with a passion to raise up strong team members,” she says. “The respect from their team members is impressive. All of the staff at Asia ER is excellent at what they do. They strive to be better and have a passion to [impact] as many people as they can.”
Tonya came home filled with fond memories, such as the last day of her stay, when she finished out her assignment with IBIKE Ministries.
“We were walking back to the office, blasting music and laughing and goofing off right in the middle of the day,” she says. “Then we finished the day with a home-cooked meal and all ate with our fingers. We had a great time, and although most of them did not understand a word I was saying, they all were so loving and welcoming to me, I felt like I was part of the family.”
Such memories and hospitality already have Tonya yearning for a return to “The Land of Our People.”
“I fell in love with the people, the land and the work,” she says. “Each time I go, I leave a little bit of my heart there. I have gained many friends and now have a connection that will last a lifetime. My father would be pleased.”
Does Tonya’s trip spark an interest in ER internships? If so, click here to learn how you can go and help make an impact in extreme circumstances.