Table of Plenty

Maebh O’Callaghan, SERVE’s Global Citizenship Education and Volunteer Programme Co-ordinator shares first thoughts on arriving in Cebu, Philippines ahead of the arrival of the volunteers.

Maebh O'Callaghan SERVE Volunteer Programme 2024 Ireland to Philippines table of plenty
Maebh (1st from left) with Presentation Sisters in Cebu, Philippines

Diary entry: 7th July 2024

In the days leading up to the arrival of the volunteers (July 2024) in Cebu, Philippines, I have been staying with the wonderful Presentation Sisters.

Yesterday, we went together to their monthly food shop. They bought me some Philippino biscuits to try. When we unpacked the shopping, they placed the bags of biscuits on the table, alongside some confectionary gifts that they had received from the neighboring nuns and some pork crackling that they had been given by a member of the congregation that morning.  

When we gathered for dinner, they laughed and exclaimed: ‘The table of plenty!’ They sang a short hymn called ‘The Table of Plenty’ and we said a short prayer before sitting down. We ate spring rolls with spam and local mango.

The Sisters continuously referred to the ‘table of plenty’ a phrase which I also adopted.

Every piece of food that wasn’t eaten was packed away and saved for our following meal, as had been the case over the past few days. It was a profound and celebratory gratitude and respect for the food in front of us, something present throughout the meal. 

So often in the West, we practice shallow gratitude. We write it in personalised gratitude journals that cost €39.99; list off “three things I am grateful for” when an alarm goes off to remind us to stop and notice, or when we find ourselves complaining about something silly and insignificant. And that is where it ends.  

The average Irish person throws away 43kg of food a year, collectively around 220,000 tonnes… and that’s just in the bin.

How do you quantify the waste of a sandwich eaten in front of a laptop, so distracted by your work that you don’t even notice the taste?

How do you measure the waste of a coffee that was downed quickly because you forgot how much of an inconvenience it is to walk and sip and you just want it gone?

What does it mean to isolate your gratitude rather than to live through it?  

I feel as though over the past couple of days, I have come to realise that gratitude is not a string of affirmations but an intentional celebration of your table of plenty. A practice that is integrated into your day.

It is about noticing and truly appreciating the various experiences that make up your life.  

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