Overseas Pen Pals

The Filipino pen pals first writing their letters
The Filipino pen pals first writing their letters

“My kid likes to eat rice!” “Mine plays basketball!!” “Her birthday is tomorrow!!!”

These were just some of the joyous exclamations of American 3rd grade students as they opened letters written by an international Filipino pen pal. Others came to me with questions, “What is ‘ma-bu-hey’?” And soon all students were scrambling to their desks with paper and pens to write a reply.

American classroom
American classroom

Once I explained that “Mabuhay” pronounced, “mah-boo-high” is a greeting of welcome in Filipino language, several American students began their own letters with this Filipino word and even signed “ingat” or “take care” before their name to close the letter.

The American pen pals
The American pen pals

Soon the Filipino student participants will be opening these American replies that I carried in my suitcase on my flight back. I am expecting another flurry of excitement and questions when I deliver this set of letters.

Some of my favorite quotes from the letters are below:

  • “Hi Leo, My name is Leo too!”
  • “I think you will be a nice friend. Please write back.”
  • “We play that slipper game in America too, we call it dodgeball.” – After I showed a video clip of Filipino students throwing flip flops (which they call slippers) at each other in the school yard.
From a 3rd grade Filipino student
From a 3rd grade Filipino student

I also read two of the letters aloud in the White House for my presentation themed “Let Girls Learn.” Check out the video if you have not already seen it:

Journey to Pittsburgh

Cool, dry air, brightly colored fall leaves, traffic lights, pumpkins, berries, cars…were just some of the things which overwhelmed me in traveling back to Pittsburgh.

The city of Pittsburgh with its three intersecting rivers.
The city of Pittsburgh with its three intersecting rivers.

Crossing streets in the US were surprisingly difficult. On multiple occasions people pulled me back to the sidewalk. In the Philippines traffic flows like water, few rules and always constant, as you wander through it, it moves around you. In US cities you must walk on pedestrian crosswalks and wait for a walk signal. In my whirlwind two week trip I ventured into the road at the inappropriate time and location on several occasions but luckily no damage was done. There are also no traffic lights in the Province of Romblon. Even so I drove a car around Pittsburgh largely without mishap.

It is a bit colder in Pittsburgh than in the Philippines.
It is a bit colder in Pittsburgh than in the Philippines.

Despite the cold weather, I put on my wetsuit and went waterskiing in lake since Pennsylvania has no ocean. John was adjusted to the cold and did not need a winter jacket, hat or wetsuit.

Falling Water, an architectural wonder designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Falling Water, an architectural wonder designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The reds, oranges and yellows of autumn leaves were the most beautiful! I was lucky to visit while the weather wasn’t too cold. By November, Pittsburgh may receive some flurries of snow and beginning January, February and March snowstorms occasionally shut down school.

At the airport about to fly home - home as in the Philippines!
At the airport about to fly home – home as in the Philippines! It was a quick trip and I am already headed back.
From Pittsburgh to Detroit to Tokyo to Manila.
From Pittsburgh to Detroit to Tokyo to Manila, en route back to the Philippines.
Saying goodbye to fall colors and back to the heat of the tropics!
Saying goodbye to fall colors and back to the heat of the tropics!

A Week in Photos: Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. with the other blog winners.
Washington D.C. with the other blog winners.

Throughout the week we gave presentations, taught in classrooms, toured several buildings, served on Q & A panels and represented 7 different countries: Mozambique, Senegal, Zambia, Morocco, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and of course the Philippines.

Presenting at the White House
Presenting at the White House

Want to see my White House presentation?! Here is the link to my YouTube video: “Let Girls Learn Philippines.” The theme this week was “Let Girls Learn.” Hearing stories about the challenges women face particularly in countries like Mozambique and Ethiopia, I really came to appreciate the opportunities women have in the Philippines.


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Meeting the Peace Corps Director Carrie
Meeting the Peace Corps Director Carrie
My family came to see my presentation!
My family came to see my presentation.
A Zambia and Philippines combined culture table.
A Zambia and Philippines combined culture table.

Between congressional visits, visiting the Environmental Protection Agency, and touring National Geographic it is hard to pick a highlight from our busy week. I have now been to all 8 floors of the Peace Corps Headquarters which is full of colorful cubicles, candy and flags from all throughout the world. But the absolute best part of the week was teaching in Washington D.C. schools! Students could not believe that Filipinos eat balut or that coral is an animal. I even got to perform our OPAG employees day dance routine in one of the classrooms.

Crown-of-Thorns Removal in Action

From Sept 25 to October 1, 2015 a team of fishermen, municipal and provincial staff members, and your local Peace Corps Volunteer worked to remove over 250 Crown-of-Thorns (CoT) sea stars from a single reef in Barangay Canduyong, Odiongan, Romblon, Philippines. Here’s the video with English and Tagalog: Crown-of-Thorns Removal

Crown-of-Thorns seastar (Acanthaster planci) feeding on coral.
Crown-of-Thorns seastar (Acanthaster planci) with its numerous arms and venomous spines feeding on coral.
White dead coral skeleton remaining after CoT feed in contrast to the remaining live colored polyps. Over time algae will grow and cover this white skeleton.
White dead coral skeleton remaining after CoT feed, in contrast to the remaining live, brown colored coral polyps in the foreground. Over time algae will grow and cover this white skeleton.
Jerome snags a CoT with tongs.
Jerome snags a CoT with tongs.
It is important to remove CoT from the water immediately because if this animal becomes stressed it will release its eggs as a last ditch effort to reproduce.
It is important to remove CoT from the water immediately because if this animal becomes stressed it will release its eggs as a last ditch effort to reproduce.
Our removed CoT kept high and dry to avoid propagation if its gametes were to be released in the water.
Our removed CoT kept high and dry to avoid propagation if its gametes were to be released in the water.
Removed CoT were buried on land.
Removed CoT were buried on land.

Removing CoT was like working as an underwater superhero! The thrill of working hard to save coral reefs and kill venomous CoT. It was hard to stop once our bucket was full because you would see more and think, “Okay let me just get one more then I’ll go back.”

Now as I prepare to leave for Washington DC and the Blog It Home Winner’s Tour, my office will share the photos and videos of our extraction to educate other Barangays (towns) about the need and process of extraction. We plan to expand our efforts to tackle CoT outbreaks throughout Romblon province.