Tag Archives: Philippines

Community Project

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Bottle benches
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153 plastic bottles 45,900 pieces of trash
The finished product
The finished product.

How do you reuse waste and also benefit the community? Before leaving Sabang, we helped to improve the community park including adding a tetherball, painting the swings and playground, and building two park benches. These benches contain a total of 153 plastic bottles stuffed with approximately 45,900 pieces of trash including newspaper, cardboard, plastic wrappers, magazines, shampoo wrappers, even a shoe. The bottles were collected by the community and trash was both donated from households and collected off of the beach. Local school children worked hard to stuff all of the bottles, while adult community members assisted with the building of the benches. Everyone enjoyed stamping their handprints on our finished product. Consider building a bottle bench in your own community!

Learning about reef fish on a bottle bench built by last year's batch of Peace Corps volunteers
Learning about reef fish on a bottle bench built by last year’s batch of Peace Corps volunteers

Happiness

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Research on happiness has demonstrated that when you see a baby animal neurons firing in your brain release those neurotransmitters which elevate mood. (Want to learn more?! Read The Happiness Project) Google your favorite baby animal right now and test this scientific theory! I bet a smile crept across your face. Here in the Philippines I am surrounded by baby animals…calves, goats, chicks, puppies, kittens, piglets and children. I typically encounter at least one of each listed and maybe more just during my hour long run every morning. Once I even had a piglet that ran along with me for a few paces. In comparison, finding a baby animal in the US is a rare occasion celebrated by flocks of strangers who want to pet your puppy. The exposure to baby animals here in the Philippines, undoubtedly elevates happiness levels of Filipinos.

However, mange-filled and bare-boned puppies are also frequent during my morning runs. With no routine spaying or neutering program here, feral dogs are a significant problem. They wander the streets and scrounge for scraps wherever they can find it. Many Filipino households do have dogs as pets, with care ranging from beloved household companion to life outside on a very short leash. Dogs are required to be kept on leashes, however in my experience this is not enforced and only occasionally followed. Female dogs are disliked because of the likelihood for puppies and the associated expense. In the Philippines if your dog bites someone else then you are required to pay for their rabies shots. Therefore if your female dog has puppies it suddenly becomes very difficult to care for these mouths and the chance of your dog biting a passerby increased dramatically. Rabies is one of the vaccinations I was required to receive as a Peace Corps volunteer. The task of spaying and neutering dogs is incredibly necessary, yet highly unlikely in the immediate future. And so each morning I see the mixed blessing of adorable puppies you just want to hold and others with pink-itchy skin with visible rib cages. As an American I challenge you to seek out a baby animal during your day today and recognize the extensive care we are able to provide for our animals.

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Supervisor’s Conference

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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!

Transportation

Check out the new video with my host family: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lehB1-9Rnc

My latest video, “Mag-Adventure Ako,” demonstrates the various modes of transportation here in the Philippines. Unique to the Philippines is the “jeepney.” After WWII, the American military left a number of jeeps here in the Philippines. Filipinos have customized these vehicles, extending and covering the bed, to create a vehicle similar to a Latin American bus with its own Filipino flair. Jeepney owners often compete for the flashiest vehicle, thus the outside of a jeepney is typically adorned with fluorescent artwork and multiple stainless steel hood ornaments. Passengers sit on long benches running the length of the vehicle and facing each other. Inside a jeepney, “there is always room for one more!” Passengers are frequently squished together and may even find a place on a small stool in the center aisle. Filipinos are always amused by the spectacle of some of our 6ft or taller volunteers who must crouch to fit inside these vehicles and often hit their heads on the ceiling bars. Nevertheless, Jeepneys are the primary mode of transportation between cities and towns. And momentarily I will be boarding a jeepney for the hour long ride back to my current host family’s house in Sabang from the huge mall in Olongapo where I am currently using Starbucks internet.

Permanent Site Assignment

 I just received my permanent site placement!!! I will be spending the next two years living in Romblon. This island province has a population of 283,930 and consists of 3 major islands. I will be living on Tablas, the largest island of the three, in the municipality of Odiongan, in close proximity to several other Peace Corps volunteers. Romblon’s islands are of volcanic origin and mountainous with lush vegetation. I have already heard word of beautiful white, sandy beaches. The economy is primarily agriculture with major copra and rice farming as well as coconut, corn, and fruit trees, along with abundant fishing. There are also numerous mineral resources, especially marble. Although there is an airport on my island, it is not currently functional. Therefore I will be taking an ~8 hour boat ride to get to my site.

My job assignment is with the Provincial Government (most other volunteers work at the municipal level). As a provincial employee, I will may have the opportunity to travel throughout the 17 municipalities and explore the other smaller islands. Romblon is known for being very pristine and I will be working to preserve this quality through the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Additionally, I will be involved in ecological profiling, reef assessment, research, and training for the provincial reef assessment team. My office specifically requested a volunteer who was dive certified. Additionally, my office is blessed with available funding, support and technical resources. Finally, there is much potential for marine thesis projects as I continue to earn my Master’s degree from the College of Charleston. I am so excited to be joining such an active office, where I can contribute my technical skills and easily collaborate with other Peace Corps volunteers.

More good news: Tagalog is the dominant language meaning that I can continue learning the same language I have been studying throughout training rather than transition to an alternative dialect. On September 18th I will travel to Romblon and I could not be more excited!! Still no word about the details of my host family but it is soon to come.

Welcome to my home…

Here is a link to the movie I made with the help of my host family for our tagalog language class.

Every morning (except on Sundays – my one free day) I have language class from 8am until 12pm. It is a class of 4 students with my amazing Filipino language instructor Eva. Tagalog is the most widely spoken language here in the Philippines, however there are ~170 different dialects depending on where in the country you are located. The Peace Corps facilitates intensive Tagalog language classes for all volunteers here in the Philippines during initial training. In September when I find out my permanent site, I will also receive a one week crash course in whatever dialect is prominent in my new location. Tagalog itself has a strong Spanish influence (the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 300+ years) and some adopted English words as well with a unique Filipino spelling. For example…

Nurse –> Nars

Airplane –> Eroplano

Cuarto (Spanish for bedroom) –> Kuwarto

Here is the script from the movie link. See if you can guess what I am saying…

Ito ang aming sala. Pakipatay po ang ilaw, Tita Rose. Salamat po. Pasok kayo sa kwarto ko. Malambot ang kama ko. Mahalaga bentilador ko kasi mainit dito Pilipinas. Dito ko inilalagay ang mga damit ko. Dito ang aming kusina. Dito kami nagluluto at ito ang gripo. Dito kami kumakain nang masarap na pagkain at umiinom tubig. Weniel, nasaan ang CR?

Intro to Philippine Culture

Our Peace Corps Batch 273 currently consists of 80 volunteers and we are all living at a training base together for these first two weeks. Below are photos from our cultural day, complete with a performance by a Dance Troupe, demonstrating various traditional festival dances. These performers were incredibly impressive and even managed to balance a glass cup of liquid on their foreheads for the entirety of one dance. I got an opportunity to try a few simple steps after the show. Cultural day also included opportunities to try some of the more exotic Filipino foods including chicken feet (grilled and served on a skewer) and balut (fertilized chicken eggs which depending on the stage of development may even include feathers and a beak). While balut has recently received greater attention due to the show Survivor and/or Fear Factor, this food is commonly fed to children as parents encourage them to grow strong. Balut is a good source of protein, but luckily mine did not contain feathers or a beak. Finally, we learned a version of the game tag traditional to Filipino childhood and some common superstitions including the idea that if you are ever lost, you must turn your clothes inside out to find your way (Filipinos and Americans share similar superstitions about opening umbrellas indoors).

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Departure!!!

My journey to the Philippines began at 4am on the 4th of July out of Pittsburgh, onward to  Minneapolis, overnight in Los Angeles (I was born here 24 years ago and this is my first time back), through the bustle of Tokyo, and finally landing in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, named after a species of mangrove (the Philippines have 40+ different mangrove species compared to the 3 found in Florida). 

The next 3 months of training promise to be intense with full days of language, culture, and coastal resource training and little free time. I will do my best to regularly post updates and share the knowledge I gain along the way. Many thanks to my Canadian friend Nikki Karn for this link to fun facts about the Philippines:http://www.travelingmyself.com/2013/04/25/34-interesting-facts-about-the-philippines/

Check out the photo of me in the airport, equipped with my ukulele (which I did play walking through the airport) and my bike helmet (which fit better on my head than in my suitcase).

SJ