Tag Archives: Peace Corps

You Can Help Typhoon Victims: GOAT DISPERSAL PROJECT


Just days before Christmas 2015, Typhoon Nona struck Banton Island, Philippines leaving behind complete devastation. Coconut trees uprooted, houses in ruins, no power or water. In some communities only two houses were left standing in the wake of this storm. An estimated $3,053,600 USD of destruction was sustained including the demolition of agricultural crops and livestock essential for food and livelihoods.


I recently visited some of these communities now 2 months after Typhoon Nona and the damage is still omnipresent. Families are trying to rebuild, but it takes a coconut tree 10 years after planting to bear fruit, meaning that what was formerly these families’ primary source of income will not be viable again until 2026. These families are in need of a solution NOW!

Help me raise money to provide one goat to each family impacted by Typhoon Nona on these islands. SEE MY PROJECT


The primary aim of this project is to restore food security and a means of income to indigenous peoples of Romblon who sustained partial or complete damage from Typhoon Nona. The grant will fund the purchase of one goat per affected indigenous family in 3 barangays. Each family which receives a goat will be required to return one female goat after the first birthing allowing the program to expand to additional barangays and two other islands also affected by this typhoon.

In addition to receiving a goat, each family will receive one follow-up visit by an experienced goat farmer following the receipt of the goat to ensure health of the animal is maintained and answer any additional questions which arise from the family after an initial period of care.

This visit is also designed to assist and advise families on the nature of goat farming business so that each goat will be both a source of food and income. Contact information will be provided for a veterinarian should the families have a medical emergency for their goat. This veterinarian has offered to perform basic services free of charge for this program.

In the second round of goat dispersal, both the original goat farmer and one member of the original recipient group of IP families will advise the second round of recipients. By the third and future rounds of goat dispersal, all advising needs for new families will be conducted through the recipient family leaders. The municipal community has contributed to this project by completing a destruction assessment and identifying those families in need. Members of the National Commission on Indigenous People will act as the distribution and implementation labor force for this project.

It costs approximately $70 USD to purchase and deliver a goat to one family. Help us reach our goal! DONATE


Note: If you donate $70 or more please send an email to bycesj@g.cofc.edu and you can name your goat. I will send you an email back when the project is completed with a photo of your goat and its new family. Thanks!

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.


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.

I WON!!!!


Dear Sarah Jean,

Congratulations!  You have been selected as a winner in the 3nd annual Blog It Home contest.  You have been recognized by Peace Corps, your peers and people around the world as being an exceptional steward of the Third Goal.  From August 3-10, the competition reached more than 670,000 people on Facebook and more than 20,000 votes were cast.

Of the 400+ blog submissions we received from Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, we selected 8 winning blogs. We’re happy to report yours is one of them. 

We look forward to welcoming you and your fellow winners to Washington D.C. from October 4-10 for a special Peace Corps Top Bloggers Tour coordinated in your honor.  Over the course of the week, you will promote the Third Goal in a series of intercultural presentations to diverse audiences, have professional development opportunities and participate in general celebrations. 

In the coming days, we will send you a comprehensive email detailing logistics for your trip. We will also be issuing a press release to share the good news and highlight you and the other winners of this contest.   

Please stay tuned for more details.  We’re very excited to meet you in October! 

B.J. Whetstine
Peace Corps Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services 

Life is Epic!


Who has more spindle neurons: the dolphin or the human??

Cetaceans have a 3xs greater concentration of these brain cells than humans! Any guesses on the purpose of these valuable brain cells???

Spindle neurons are our social cells. They are the emotion processors of the brain and allow us to both feel love and know suffering. Dolphin songs and shrieks or the contagious nature of a human smile 🙂 Thanks to spindle neurons my blog can serve a purpose. And you can understand the story.


Here’s a video link to my Epic in the Philippines thus far. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGnYTM3tkX0

Life is epic! But it is also simple and whether you are American, Filipino, orca or humpback we share this planet so put those spindle neurons to use and find a cause you are passionate about. Did you know we receive greater happiness from giving than receiving?!

Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014
Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014

What is the Peace Corps?

“Our mission is to share knowledge and culture with people in other countries, and to bring their cultures back to the U.S. to share with Americans. Fundamentally, we work to build capacity of other peoples to foster sustainable peace.”                                                                                –Sarah Blazucki, Editor of the Peace Corps Time Magazine

Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture...
Sharing a bit of coke and mentos culture…
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.
Coco launching coke from a tower overlooking our island during a family activity event I coordinated.

I am a Peace Corps*. The official Peace Corps Office in Washington D.C. would call me a “Peace Corps Volunteer” or “PCV” for short. But here at my site in Odiongan, Romblon, Philippines, locals refer to me as their “Peace Corps.” My title is associated with characteristics of diligence, knowledge, and foreign appearance, though I have heard the title mistakenly applied to individuals of several different nationalities including, “She is their Australian Peace Corps” or “We had a Korean Peace Corps.” Others ask how they themselves can become a “Peace Corps.”

I do my best to explain that the official program is the United States Peace Corps and therefore you must be a U.S. citizen to be a “Peace Corps.” Other foreign governments, like Australia, offer different international volunteering programs distinct from the Peace Corps.

Possibly because the term “volunteer” is often omitted from my title, the idea that I have no salary and receive only a living allowance from the U.S. government to cover basic food, housing and transportation expenses is groundbreaking. My host family did not even realize until two weeks ago, when it came up at the dinner table.

My house is just down the block. Walking with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew.
Walking down the national road with fellow volunteers Loren and Drew. My house is just down the block.

Today is my one-year anniversary of becoming a “Peace Corps.” Last year, I was sitting in an airport wearing a bicycle helmet and strumming my ukulele, on my way to begin training, and today I am calmly listening to the sounds of typhoon rains outside my window while I prepare to lead training for the newest batch of Peace Corps Volunteers currently en route to the Philippines.

View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains
View from my front door this morning amidst typhoon rains

* “Corps” is properly pronounced like “core” but just as frequently I hear it improperly pronounced by Americans and Filipinos alike as “corpse.”

Just Another Day at Work

My job description is Coastal Resource Management, however a day at work could mean any number activities on land or in the water…

Diving in Ferrol, Romblon
SCUBA Diving in Ferrol, Romblon
Training coworkers to conduct seagrass assessments
Training coworkers to conduct seagrass assessments
Sea Turtle Embryonic Development for the visual learner
Teaching Sea Turtle Embryonic Development for the visual learner

Recently, I visited the turtle hatchery in Ferrol, Romblon to educate local staff members on sea turtle embryonic development to avoid future egg mortalities. This interactive lesson featured a banana peel, representing the egg yolk or food source for the developing turtle; a green baby turtle made from a plastic bag; water for the fluids contained inside the egg; and a wine glass to represent the turtle egg shell, which in reality is about the size of a ping pong ball with a soft leathery feel. I then proceeded to tape the green “embryo” to the top of the wine glass to demonstrate how the membrane surrounding the baby turtle fuses with the egg shell shortly after eggs are laid. This is why it is EXTREMELY important to transport nests immediately after they are laid if the nest needs to be moved and to take extra care not to rotate or shake eggs at all during transport. Current research recommends transport within the first 3 hours of oviposition and discourages any movement after 10 hours. If the connection of the vitelline membrane to the egg shell is broken the embryonic turtle may not be able to properly respire (turtles breath air) inside the egg and will likely die. After passing around my wine glass turtle egg, the hatchery staff will take extra care if moving eggs in the future!

*Source: Lutz, Musick, & Wyneken (2002) “The Biology of Sea Turtle Vol 2” page 201. And Limpus (1979).

Making nipa roof shingles for a new hut at our fish ponds
Making nipa roof shingles for a new hut at our fish ponds
Processing data from our mangrove assessments in my office cubicle
Processing data from our mangrove assessments in my office cubicle
Teaching about ecosystems or climate change in local high schools
Teaching about ecosystems or climate change in local high schools

This lesson for the advanced 7th grade science class featured a field trip to the Mountain, Lowland and Coastal Ecosystems. Students learned to collect field data by recording the substrate in their 1mX1m quadrate in each location. We then discussed how ecosystems are interconnected and how actions like deforestation in the mountains can lead to sedimentation damage at the coral reef.

Visiting the Coastal Ecosystem
Visiting the Coastal Ecosystem
Discussing all of our data in the classroom after the field trip
Discussing all of our data in the classroom after the field trip

My favorite part about teaching is knowing that each student will remember that lesson for the rest of their lives! Not necessarily that ecosystem comes from the word “oikos” meaning “home,” but that a crazy American took them on a hike through trees, shrubs, grasses and sand and it was fun! If that is all they remember at least those 7th graders can now recognize various ecosystems and will value these resources. And maybe, just maybe it will influence how they live and act in the future.

Mangroves – And Why I joined the Peace Corps!

Me & Clen in the mangrove forest (aka mangal)
Me & Clen in the mangrove forest (aka mangal)

Climbing through the branches of a dense mangrove forest, walking barefoot through swampy, anoxic mud, and balancing carefully on the web-like aerial roots of mangrove trees, while gathering field data is just one day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer!

The past two weeks my office began our 2015 series of mangrove assessments. Mangroves are trees able to live in fresh or salt water, typically found lining coastlines in tropical regions. They are extremely important because these trees are the defensive line for human communities when typhoons sweep through. They also provide a nursery habitat for fish, cycle nutrients, stabilize sediment, and serve as home and food for marine and terrestrial animals alike.

Unfortunately, humans are a mangrove’s number one threat. In the past, Filipinos removed entire forests to make way for shrimp ponds, while Americans chopped down their own mangroves to obtain unobstructed ocean views from their vacation home windows. Today, mangroves enjoy a fiercely protected status in both countries, however illegal cuttings for firewood, construction, or Christmas trees are still common here.

Why does a casual stroll through a dense mangrove forest require the dexterity of a yoga practictioner? Mangroves inhabit coastal sediments frequently lacking in oxygen. This oxygen is essential for cellular respiration, a process all living things use to break down food and convert it into energy. Therefore, the mangrove has developed a system of aerial roots allowing it to gather oxygen aboveground instead.

And so, I have spent my past week of work sizing up mangroves for their height and canopy cover with the help of my Filipino Mangrove Assessment Team. I trained the team in assessment methodologies, while they taught me how to identify tree species, and we all gathered data to inform proper future management of mangrove resources – this is why I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Check out this link to a new video featuring Clenessa Gabinete, a member of my Mangrove Team.


She is currently applying to Duke University’s Marine Conservation Summer Institute and hopes to one day obtain a Master’s degree. Wish her luck!! This would be her first opportunity to travel outside the Philippines too.

Typhoon Ruby


The Peace Corps has pre-established consolidation points, which volunteers are required to report to in the event of an emergency. Last Thursday, we were ordered to consolidate because Typhoon Ruby, known internationally as Typhoon Hagupit (meaning “the whip”), was heading towards the Philippines with considerable force. The past few days I have received constant text message updates about the storm with details such as…“Typhoon Ruby is making landfall early Sunday morning moving at 10 kph. By Monday morning she will be in the waters between Masbate and Romblon with wind speeds of 120kph.” This typhoon, which killed 21 people on the Filipino Island of Eastern Samar, was expected to slam straight into my province of Romblon around 10pm on Sunday.

Friday and Saturday were devoted to preparation for the disaster: trees and loose branches were chopped down. Items were moved off the floor and onto the bed in apprehension of flooding. Gates were closed, windows taped, furniture moved inside. Response vehicles were packed with drinking water and food rations. A boat was brought into town for rescuing stranded victims.

My group of 10 Peace Corps volunteers waited out the storm on the second floor of a hotel, located a few blocks from my home. Other locals were evacuated to cement churches, schools, and hospital buildings selected for their durability. And so began the waiting game…


The Philippines receives an average of about 20 typhoons (aka hurricane) each year, generally between June and November, however this storm, arriving late in the season, was expected to be a big one. When I went to bed on Sunday night, Ruby had already begun crashing through the Philippines and I was expecting her to wreck havoc on my home throughout the night. However when the morning arrived it was as if the storm had simply evaporated. We were extremely lucky and the typhoon took a sudden turn north and missed my province entirely. We received two days of wind and rain, but no substantial damage. Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers and well wishes. I am happy to be here and safe! Check out the news reports for other updates on the storm damage. I am still waiting to hear news from other volunteers as to how their sites faired.


Welcome to Odiongan, Romblon!

The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
The first site of our future home! With other volunteers Kendra (education), ME (Coastal Resource Management), Loren (education), Ata (CRM), Drew (CRM), and Kalen (education)
Biggest boat I've ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
Biggest boat I’ve ever ridden on for the ~6hr journey to Romblon. There were beds to sleep, a restaurant, and of course videoke aka karaoke.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.
My office and the huge welcome banner they had waiting for me, complete with my photo.

It has been a busy first week here in Odiongan, Romblon. I think that the entire community already knows who I am because they see me running every morning. Since arriving I have assisted in the care of an injured green sea turtle, visited local fish ponds, helped collect and transfer tilapia at a fish hatchery, met with the governor, the mayor, and various school officials, and even done zumba with the Odiongan police force. I have the fortune of 5 other Peace Corps volunteers from Batch 273 also placed on my island including Kendra who is a short walk away, Ata, Loren and Kalen, who are within an 1hr and 30mins run from my site (Loren’s host dad was extremely surprised when I actually did run this distance my second day at site and stopped by for a glass of water and a picture to prove I made it), and Drew, who is a few hours drive to the north. Because I work for the provincial government, I will be traveling extensively throughout the 17 municipalities over the next two years. This could not be a more ideal place to spend the next two years: wonderful host family, supportive office staff, numerous potential work projects, and gorgeous mountains and ocean!

First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
First snorkel experience with my Filipino friend Rolanie, a high school student
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)
Various species of butterflyfish and surgeonfish at a local marine protected area (MPA)

Supervisor’s Conference



Within Romblon, I will be living on the largest island, Tablas, in the municipality of Odiongan, which serves as the island’s commercial entry port. Odiongan is a 1st class municipality and home to 43,676 people. The name “Odiongan” comes from the local term for arrow, “odiong” because legend has it that the first inhabitants found an arrow stuck in a tree here upon arrival and thus named the site, “Inodiongan” meaning “struck by an arrow,” which was later shortened to “Odiongan” as it is known today. I will be living in the town proper only a short walk from my office.

I recently met one of my supervisors Ma’am Rita, who works as an aquaculturist for the Provincial Government. Currently, we are working together for training sessions, which will set the groundwork for a successful two years. We have 17 municipalities to manage and I will likely visit each of them, including the sites of other Peace Corps volunteers, with whom I may collaborate with for projects.

Romblon is famous for its “Blue Hole” dive inside an old volcano. Divers can descend the vertical chimney into a series of caves and explore corals, other invertebrates like shrimps and lobster as well as schools of fish which live throughout the site. Sharks, manta rays, stonefish and sea snakes have also been sighted passing through.

Here is a video I found of the dive! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqqZe4kbQ2Y

A short boat ride from my island of Tablas is Sibuyan Island, known as “The Galapagos of Asia” for its terrestrial diversity including 700 plant species and 131 species of birds. Furthermore, Mt. Guiting Guiting (2050m) and neighboring Mayo’s Peak (1530m) are already on my list of future adventures.

Tomorrow I swear in at the US Embassy as an official Peace Corps Volunteer!!! And then 4am departure for Romblon the next day!