Here to help: Why Mitch Albom decided to visit PH
MANILA, Philippines – Best-selling author Mitch Albom is no stranger to death. Since penning the worldwide hit Tuesdays with Morrie, in which Albom shared his favorite professor’s journey to the end, Albom has been known to write about death, heaven, and themes that force his readers to confront their own mortality.
He’s no stranger to destruction, either. Three weeks after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Albom flew to the scene to help out. He’s been back every month since, operating an orphanage in Port-au-Prince and logging in around 40 trips as of press time.
This is why supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck a deep chord in Albom. The storm flattened many coastal towns in the Philippines’s Eastern Visayas region, killing 6,000 and affecting over 3,000,000 families. It finally convinced Albom—11 years since his first invitation to the Philippines—that now is the time to go.
“I’ve been asked to come to the Philippines—pretty much every year since 2003—and I always said no just because there wasn’t time or it was too far away.”
“After the typhoon hit, they asked me again, and I thought that maybe it’s a sign that I can use this popularity I have in the country for some good, instead of just for me, which didn’t seem to be enough of a reason to go,” Albom shares, stressing that Tacloban is “really the reason why I came this year.”
The author as philanthropist
Of course, book signing events are inevitable. Albom admits that he’s been getting “a lot fan mail and emails from Filipino readers” through the years. Finally, some of them will have the chance to meet him on February 22 (Manila) to 23 (Cebu), at events set up for his new book, The First Phone Call from Heaven.
While in Cebu, Albom will be turning over six boats to the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, named after his six books and to be given to beneficiaries in Northern Cebu.
According to Jay Jaboneta, co-founder of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, “The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation is grateful for Mitch Albom’s and National Bookstore’s commitment to helping our countrymen. By providing boats to affected fishermen, their children can continue to go to school.”
"His vision has allowed people from all ages to expand their understanding of the world and his ideas inspired readers to reach their potential in life,” adds Jaboneta, who shares that Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie was one of his “biggest inspirations to live a full life and pursue my dreams.”
After that, Albom will revisit a scene very similar to the ones he’s familiar with in Haiti, albeit in a country thousands of miles away.
“We’ve set things up so that I’m not just going [to Tacloban] and taking a look around.” Aside from turning over more boats purchased from the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation “to help people get around,” Albom and his entourage will be dedicating a library that will be rebuilt in the area.
The library, Albom points out, is just one of the libraries to be rebuilt—"to try to get life back to normal,” he shares, then adds, “As an author, to me ‘normal’ is sitting down and reading books.”
Several hundred copies of his own book titles will be distributed across the libraries.
Albom has also called for his fellow fellow American authors to the effort.
“Not only do I want to call attention to these efforts to rebuild these libraries… I’ve [also] called upon my fellow authors in America to donate 10 books apiece of their own books.”
In just one day, he got pledges from “a good 10 to 12” authors, including Stephen King (The Shining), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent), James McBride (The Good Lord Bird), and Ridley Pearson (The Kingdom Keepers series).
“I’m also going to go after (John) Grisham, James Patterson...I’m not going to stop until I get them to say yes. I’m pretty sure they will. So I want to be able to go there on Monday and say that… all of these American authors want to show their support for getting back to regular life, which for us is being able to go and take a book from the library.”
He has been sharing his progress on this important work via Twitter:
And John Grisham joins the list of authors donating their books to help rebuild typhoon-hit school libraries in Tacloban. Thank you!— Mitch Albom (@MitchAlbom) February 21, 2014
and more thanks to @StephenChbosky for donating his books as well. The list keeps growing! So grateful to all for their generosity— Mitch Albom (@MitchAlbom) February 21, 2014
Albom also hopes to establish a fund, in partnership with the Red Cross, “that people can [support] for this particular effort and help rebuild these libraries.”
“If I can do that little, little thing,” Albom emphasizes “little” as he speaks, “then I would feel that my trip to the Philippines has meant something more than publicizing myself or my books.”
“King of Hope”
In spite of his worldwide success, not everyone is a fan of Albom’s work. Critics have mocked his work, often about redemption and inspiration, by attaching the monicker, “The King of Hope,” but that hasn’t fazed the musician-turned-journalist-turned-New York Times-bestselling-author.
“I find it funny because I take that as a great compliment. That’s maybe the nicest thing you could call a creative force,” Albom admits.
“What more essential ingredient of the human recipe is there than hope? What are we going to see up there in Tacloban if not hope?”
“So if I am in any way affiliated with that, I’m proud,” he stresses.
To him, however, hope is more than just a feeling or a phase; it’s an active state of being, fueled by being able to use one’s life, skills, and influence to help others in need.
“I’ve seen death and destruction in the streets. I’ve seen dead bodies lying around; I’ve smelled them. I’ve seen people wiped out of their homes and bleeding on the street, in makeshift hospitals. It’s devastating. But after you’ve seen that a few times, you get away from the horror of it and get to focus on what needs to be done.” – Rappler.com