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'News from Roman' is a place where I write about events or experiences that are important to me for one or another reason. It is a space where family and friends can get themselves updated on my latest undertakings, and where occasional readers can learn about issues which are important to me.

Intramuros: wonders of Manila

St. Augustin Church in Intramuros of Manila, the Philippines

I had a very good and inspiring Sunday. This time around, while in the Philippines, I was luck and had a free weekend. I decided not to miss the opportunity, and decided to do some sightseeing of Manila.

After talking to my Filipino friends, I decided to spend a day in Intramuros, an old part of Manila. It was the best choice I could have made, as the place is special. The narrow streets of Intramuros are home to wonderful buildings - small and big; houses, churches, shops and administrative buildings; run-down and renovated; all extremely interesting and beautiful. I love old cities, and experiencing old Manila was a treat. If you ever have a chance to visit this huge city, do not miss an opportunity! I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have done!

Here, you can find some pictures that I took during the walk in Intramuros (also pictures from other parts of the country, which I visited during this trip).

Getting ready to fly

Bangkok from the air

I have done my check-in online, finished most of work that I needed to for this week… I am ready to fly. Tomorrow, I am travelling to Manila!

When in the Philippines, I will be visiting northern part of Luzon, which recently was hit by the typhoon and where we are supporting a humanitarian intervention to help the affected people recover.

I will also spend some days in Manila, where I am going to have a free weekend! I am already trying to work out some exciting plans for it. Then, next week, I will be busy with countless meetings in the capital. Together with my colleagues, we will be meeting with our partners and discussing plans for next year.

If all goes according to plans, I will be back to Bangkok, just before Christmas. I am certainly looking forward to my December trip!

Christmas and holiday greetings

A copy of a Christmas message to family and friends:

Dear Friends,
My December greetings may be coming a little early this year. I am travelling to the Philippines next week, and I will only get back home to Thailand, just before Christmas arrives, so it may be tight for me to write at that point.
Many of you are surely used to my somehow boring ‘end of the year’ messages. In many ways, I am very old fashioned (yes, some habits die hard), and as such, you will not be surprised to find this slightly too long message in your inbox, this time around as well! ☺
When I think of 2018, without hesitation, what comes to my mind is a word ‘
journey’. You know that I tend to travel extensively, but this year has been particularly rich in travels. I guess there are good and bad reasons for that. Some good ones involve visiting my family, and the people whom I love and care about, but then I have also travelled so much because of catastrophes and disasters, which I deal with professionally. Whatever triggered all this travelling, I genuinely enjoyed and cherished visiting countless number of villages, towns and cities across Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North America. Travelling exposes you to new situations, experiences, and people, and indeed I feel that 2018 has been particularly rich in lessons that has been provided to me. Now the time will show, whether I can be capable enough to take hints from all these learning? Here are some thoughts:
Missing people
As I grow older, and lead my glamorous life, I acutely start feeling that I miss people around me. So I terribly miss my Dad, who passed away a year ago; I miss Mum, whom I do not see frequently enough, as she is thousands of kilometres away from me; I miss Tahir, who made my existence in recent years to be so fulfilling, but now, as we finally managed to ‘set him free’ and make sure that he is safe in Canada, I feel an uncomfortable vacuum whenever I get home to empty walls; I miss my wonderful family, people that I love and my friends, who are always there somewhere, but they are often too far… I could go on, and on. Yet, missing people makes you realise that it happens because they are dear to you, because they care for you and you care for them. In turn, it is a nice sensation and realisation to have. So that I am thinking to myself that it is okay to expose yourself to missing people, as long as you find a way to treat yourself and keep the people that are important to you around you, either by visiting each other, or by keeping in touch with them.
Being overjoyed with Tahir being in a safe place
Yes, 2018 has brought a final resolution, to the challenge and the problem that many of us have worked so far to deal with – ensuring that Tahir is in a safe environment, and able to live his own dream, the way that is far less constrained compared to anywhere else in the world. He has been in Toronto for quite a few months now, and he is doing well in adapting to his new country, new society and new lifestyle. You will all remember how stress we had been for months and months before he set his foot on that plane taking him out of Bangkok to Toronto. Through the support and work of so many of you, we made it though, and although, as I mentioned previously, I miss having him around me here in Bangkok, I feel overjoyed and happy to observe his new phase of life in Toronto. There are so many of you, across the world, who have helped in making his freedom to be a reality. I will not be listing people here, but please be proud of yourselves to have given Tahir a chance, and please rest assured that we will never forget your amazing kindness and help. Thank you!
Visiting friends and being visited
Living in a place, like Thailand, makes it easier to meet people. Many of you have visited me in the country in 2018, which has been absolutely great. Then, I also travelled to visit family and friends within Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal, Belgium or Canada (among other places). I appreciated and cherished all these moments, and I just hope that I will be able to continue meeting you in various places in years to come.
My work continues to make me happy, but also to challenge me. Again my work exposed me to multiple travels around places in my vicinity such as towns around Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, but also to more distant ones, such as the Philippines, Tonga, Fiji, Australia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or Belgium. As you know, I love my work, and I believe in what I do and what many of the humanitarians try doing in their struggle to assist people coping with crises around them. The darker side of this is that you get exposed to learn about things, which, at times I wished I was not aware of. Working in the biggest refugee camp in the world (in Bangladesh); dealing with a seemingly hopeless situation of the refugees in urban areas across Southeast Asia; witnessing unbelievable destruction of lives, homes, livelihoods, ways of lives of thousands of victims of typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, floods, or droughts make you shiver at times. At least, these make me shiver, and it is not only because these things are allowed to happen (or just need to happen – in case of some natural calamities), but also because, theoretically at least, there are solutions at our hand to limit people’s misery. Laws and regulations could be implemented to deal with slavery, to protect refugees, to give them a chance to integrate to their new homes; politicians could be brought to justice for forcing people to flee in a first place; readily available solutions could be applied to limit consequences of some of the catastrophes, or avoid them altogether. We could and should be doing so much more, but we choose not to. National pride existing in all of our countries, lack of empathy of politicians and large businesses international regulations, borders, red tape, religious fundamentalism make me feel that all what we can do is applying patches to problems rather than changing the way we treat one  another… I admit, when you deal with these issues on daily basis, I sometimes get disheartened. But becoming disheartened, in a wired way, gives motivation too. After being upset, we try to reinvent ourselves, and this is when I try challenge myself to look at positives rather than negatives; or simply understand how my own drawbacks, biases, judgements, or lifestyle may be a part of the problem. I guess, it is pertinent to remind oneself that the change needs to happen within yourself, above all!
And finally… the beauty…
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted online a link to an absolutely
beautiful presentation of the national anthem of Finland. Mind you, the national anthems tend to scare me more often than not, as they frequently tend to underline superiority of some people over the others… but as I do not understand Finnish, I was not distracted by the lyrics and was able to appreciate an amazing musical performance. This very experience made me think of so many wonderful beautiful moments that I experienced in 2018… whether it was music, a walk in a park, a flower, an amazingly tasty meal, a sunset in Sukhothai’s ancient city, a night walk through cobbled stoned narrow streets of Obidos, crispy cold air in a snow submerged Mount Sniezka on Czech-Polish border, the new science museum in Warsaw, cramped and colourful Old Market in Dhaka, modern sky-scarpers of Singapore, a busker in Brussels, a flight over the beautiful island of Tongatapu, the beauty of Sydney Opera House, or charming wine yards of Ontario… All these help me appreciate that I am a part of this beautiful, even if troubled, world.
Thank you for all of these moments, and I am looking forward to more.
At last, I hope that you are going to have a wonderful December. If you celebrate it, have a wonderful and merry Christmas. If you don’t have a great holiday season! I wish you all a peaceful time with the people that you wish to be with!
Warmest regards,

A trip to the Philippines is just around the corner

A potable water supply system set up after a typhoon in Marawi in southern Philippines in December 2017

All arrangements are done and I am set to go to the Philippines next week. This time around, it will be a week in the country, during which, I will be paying a visit to post-flooding and post-typhoon humanitarian projects that we are co-financing. Looking forward to see how the affected communities are managing to recover from the disaster.

In the same time, I have already started looking at tickets to travel to Europe and Canada in February. The plan is that while in Europe, I will be visiting my Mum in Nowy Sacz, and then perhaps, we will also go for a short trio to Greece to visit a friend… Then when in Canada, I would be there to check on Tahir, and how he is settling in his new home.

Stay tuned, as more news will be here soon!

Glimpses on challenges of humanitarian workers

A view from by desk at home in Bangkok

It is a day off today in Thailand, and I am working from home. I am sitting at my desk, occasionally looking out at my window and admiring a nice view that I am lucky to have. As I do this, I am trying to get my head around what I need to do in coming weeks and months. The multitude of issues and challenge is substantial enough to make the task rather difficult.

I am now preparing for conversations with colleagues of diplomatic missions accredited to Thailand, so that we could work out a bit of a strategy on how we advance our support to UNHCR and authorities of the countries in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to provide adequate protection and minimum services to refugees in larger urban centres. Some of you, who know a bit of my work, know that it is a project that I have been following for a long time, and is very important to me both professionally and personally (more information and resources can be find under these links:
Refugees in Southeast Asia; Movie about the Refugees in Southeast Asian urban centres: 'Everybody has Hope and Dreams'). The situation of the asylum seekers and refugees in the region is still dire and requires much more attention from the host countries and the international community!

I am also getting ready for evaluating the humanitarian responses to the crises created by the earthquakes and the tsunami in Sulawesi and Lombok of Indonesia. Both of the catastrophes caused a huge humanitarian challenge to millions of people in the area, and to the agencies responsible for providing assistance to the affected populations. Although, the responses are still ongoing, we already have lots of materials providing us some 'food for thought' on what worked, and didn't work during these interventions. We, the humanitarians, need to challenge ourselves constantly on whether we do everything possible to save lives, or help people cope with the overwhelming tragedies. These processes are never comfortable, as one always finds things could have been done better, could have prevented more deaths, could have helped more people. Lots of humanitarian work is about being critical to oneself. Have we spent the resources in right sectors, with right organisations; have we invested enough in preparing to disasters; have we appreciated the complexities of the local context; have we kept a good balance between using local and external resources? If one is serious about doing a right thing, one also needs to accept that these questions will always bother you, and there will always be stuff that you could have arranged and implement in a better way. As I mentioned, it is often uneasy to realise that we have not done 'the best', but it is the nature of the job. We need to go through the processes, to be better prepared next time. Examples of the response in Sulawesi and Lombok should be painful, we, the humanitarians, could have and should have performed better.

Then, continuing the thought of response to disasters, the responses to actual crises depend on how well you are prepared in advance. The preparedness involves so many things... One looks at what is already in place (finances, logistics, equipment, availability of specialists, infrastructure (hospitals, roads, water networks, airports, etc.,), existing laws, and thousands of other things) and try identify the gaps keeping in mind what kind of calamities we may be facing. Of course, one also needs to remember issues such as culture, religion, international relations of the region/country in question just to name a few things. Finally, we look at out own organisations trying to realise what we can offer, what we are good at, what our weaknesses are... Once one have some understanding of all these complexities, we try to make decisions on what we all need to do to improve, to make better, so that we end up in contingencies that have a chance to work, when the disaster strikes. Again, it is never easy, one can never think of everything... We will still try doing a bit of it next week though! We are about to kick-start our work on our own organisational preparedness to disasters in the Pacific Region, the part of the world that is extremely vulnerable to typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions or droughts. Most of these threats are enhanced by the ongoing climatic changes. Winds, drought are indeed more severe and more frequent in this part of the world, thus making our work to be more challenging and less predictable.

And finally, I shouldn't forget to get ready for
the trip to the Philippines, where I am going to be helping my colleagues from our Manila office to plan our work for next year. Working in the Philippines involves lots of preparedness to natural disasters (volcanos, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, floods, etc.,) and to provision of services to victims of the conflict that has been active in the southern part of the country (Mindanao). It gets even more complicated when a natural disaster strikes in an area which is also home to flighting and conflict related displacement. Clearly, we will have lots of work ahead in preparing ourselves to what may be coming in 2019.

As all the work goes on, I will be informing you how things develop. Until that happens, wishing you a peaceful end of the week!

Refugees in Southeast Asia still mostly left without protection and basic rights to live in their new countries

I am really distressed and sad today. Some of my Pakistani friends and acquaintances, who are refugees in Thailand have been rounded up and thrown into prison recently. The only crime, which they have committed is 'seeking protection' from being persecuted for their religion in Pakistan. Sadly, even if they are officially recognised by UNHCR, as people, who need international protection, Thai authorities' policies do not grant them any privileges. On a contrary, in view of the law, they are considered as illegal migrants and, as such, are simply subjected to arrest in immigration detention centres (IDCs) for an indefinite period of time.

Some promises were made that the immigration laws of Thailand would be revised. However, so far, despite passing years, not much progress has materialised though. The tragedy is that no one has any idea on how to solve the problem. Refugees will not be sent to their countries of origin, as there is a risk that they would be harmed or killed in places, from where they fled (Thailand abides to non-refoulement policy). In the same time, they are not given any protection within the country. This creates a situation, where those, who are apprehended, are stuck in a legal limbo. It is not allowed to offer them services of any sort, and it is also illegal (rightly so) to deport them out Thailand. Bottom line is that the refugees and asylum seekers end up in detention centres (prisons) for a prolonged period of time (if not for ever). Perhaps slightly colloquially, there is no exaggeration by stating that people are left in prisons to rot, for no apparent and comprehensible reason. Tragically, we all know it, and no-one is able to do anything to prevent it, even if the solution is very simple (change the law)! Quite horrific, if you ask me.

On a personal and egoistic level, I am very happy that we have managed to get Tahir from this vicious circle, and that he is now safe in Canada. I would be getting sick from being worried of him now, were he to be in Bangkok at this point of time. However, even if he is safe, the awareness that many others are in this hopeless situation is very difficult to accept.

Clearly, together with some of my colleagues, we keep on talking to the authorities, trying to persuade for the law revision. Progress is very slow and things look grim though. Even grimmer, if you realise how bad the living conditions in the detention centres are.

The situation of the refugees is quite similar in most of the countries of Southeast Asia. Across the region, there are no laws protecting this group of people, and systematically very little is done to alter the reality.

As an immediate measure, I am trying to support some of the Pakistani refugees financially, so that they do not need to engage in risky survival coping strategies (meaning that they move out of their homes as little as possible), but I struggle supporting everyone. So in case, you would like to help out financially, please do get in touch with me, and I will suggest what could be done.

December in Thailand and the Philippines

Picasso Hotel of Manila, the Philippines

Last month of the year has already arrived. I guess, like for many other people, December, for me, is a month of reflections. As the end of the month is marked by Christmas, and more free time (usually), I tend to think of the passing year, and things that happened in my life.

It has certainly been a very exciting and unusual year for me. Extremely busy and full of surprises, some welcome, and some less so. I will certainly be writing down some of these experiences and thoughts down in coming weeks, and will share with you.

But this year, December will be rather busy for me. I have just returned from Indonesia, but already preparing for the trip to Manila, and then to the south of the Philippines to Mindanao. This time, the trip will be a little longer (10 days), which should give me enough time to visit our humanitarian projects, but also spend some free time with my colleagues from the office, and some of my friends that live in Manila.

Before I get to the Philippines, I am going to have some guests here in Bangkok! Next week, my dear Polish friend Kasia will come over for some days. She is one of my most favourite people in the planet, so you can imagine that I am very excited to have her here!

Staying with Bangkok... When I am back from Manila, it will be time to prepare for Christmas and New Year's Eve. While, there are still plans to be made for Christmas itself, my plans for the last day of the year are already sorted. All thank to my kind and wonderful colleague/friend from the office, who is taking me along with her family to celebrate at Bangkok's riverfront. I have not celebrated New Year's Even for ages, and therefore, quite keen to experience the occasion!

Refreshed version of the website

So I have decided to refresh my website a little bit. The older version was outdated, and to some extent, difficult to navigate, especially when used by tablets, or smartphones. I hope that you will enjoy this version, as it is hopefully, a bit better designed and also 'nicer' to look at.

As time passes, I will be adding new functions to the site. However, I hope that the site is already adequately functional now. Enjoy the browsing!