Giving in Sincere Thankfulness

by Ginny Rezmierski

As I was beginning to learn about the Filipino culture and prepare for our mission work in the Philippines, I was taught three major values that I needed to understand about the culture. Hiya, Utang na loob, and pakiki sama.

"Hija" means the value of shame and shyness. Filipinos value shyness and not being bossy. The people want to avoid shame or bringing shame onto others. It is possible that valuing shyness grew out of the many years of being colonized and overpowered by other nations.

"Utang na loob" is the value of having the debt of gratitude. I learned about this value the hard way. Whenever I admired a flower, a hat, or anything owned by a Filipino, immediately that person wanted to give me that item. My desire to compliment them, seemed to turn into an obligation for them to give or match the gift. If a gift cannot be matched, shame is felt.

The value, "Pakiki sama," means wanting to be friends, never wanting to hurt or disappoint someone, - getting along. In the area of language, this often resulted in a person not responding directly about what they wanted or needed, but more indirectly so as not to threaten or hurt the other person.

I saw thse values at play in every trip we made to the Philippines, especially utang na loob and pakiki sama.

On my very first trip, working in the blazing sun, one lovely lady who lives in one of the villages where we worked, shyly came to me and offered me her straw hat. She spoke no English but made me know that her hat would be mine if I would accept it. Little by little, this lovely lady, Lolita, and I became friends. Taking her offering of the hat was an important step in that growing friendship.

As we were leaving to come back to the States after one trip, one of the men of the village with whom I had worked, traveled some distance to the airport and shyly presented me with a small gift. It was a carefully-cloth-wrapped bag of salt, gathered by him and his family as a token of their gratitude for our work. That was one of the most precious gifts I have ever had been given.

Over the years, I began taking small jars of homemade jams and jellies with me on my trips to the Philippines--small gifts to give my friends. I was very careful not to embarrass them but rather downplay my little tokens of love. At the home of one of my first friends, a very poor woman with whom I laid cinderblock on one of our trips, she welcomed me into her home with smiles and a shy hug. I tried to minimize my little gift of jam for her and her son, but immediately she wrapped up a purple yam from the bowl that was on her dinner table and presented it to me. Purple yams were all that she and her son were having for dinner that night. Utang na loob in action.

Gratitude, thankfulness, faith, and love were everywhere in the villages in Dumaguete. We were greeted with banners, warmth and friendliness that was sincere and authentic. Thankfulness for the little that they had was displayed in attitude and action. A picutre was painted on the entire wall of one of the homes in the village: "God is Good All of the Time."

I wish the three Filipino values we learned, hija, utang na loob, and pakioki sama, could be taught to every child and adult in the United States.