“In America you break glass, in our country we break the sky.” -the wisest woman I’ve met in the Philippines.
I’d been hoping to visit an Aeta (pronounced eye-ta) community near our city in Morong, Bataan for a while. Aeta communities, scattered throughout mainly mountainous regions in Luzon, are composed of Filipinos of Australo-Melanesian ancestry (includes other groups such as the Aborigine in Australia and the Papuans and some Melanesians of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji). The walk to this beautiful community took our group over a river via a hanging bridge before taking us up a mountain overlooking lush farmland and dense forest. Some Aeta children performed a dance, portraying cultural aspects such as hunting and harvesting foods from the forest. A community member also gave us a tutorial in some forest survival skills, including making a fire with a just a machete and dry bamboo. The kids were all games, dances, and smiles.
Part of our task for Pre-Service Training is to carry out a Coastal Environmental Assessment of the Morong Municipality. A first step towards this assessment was to complete a Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment. Essentially, this is an inclusive process designed to engage the local wisdom of resource users. Each Trainee managed to track down a local fisherfolk or member of the Bantay Dagat (think police office of the ocean/protector of the communities’ fishery) for some one-on-one interviews, and then we worked together to organize a participatory meeting to discuss seasonal changes in fishing, community resources, and trends in fish catch over the last 20 years.
This meeting was put together with limited notice, but almost 30 community members participated and we ended up learning a lot about how local fisherfolk understand and use their resources. Probably the most valuable thing we harvested from the meeting was a better understanding for how to organize and facilitate meetings here in the Philippines (read: be adaptable, patient, provide merienda).
CRM folks also organized an environmental-themed youth camp. We organized stations and taught groups of 6th graders everything from pawikan (sea turtle) science, pollution issues, food chain concepts, fishery management, and the water cycle. Filipino kids are super curious, and they’re ready to dive, deep-end first, into any type of game or activity. The elementary school was overflowing with singing and excited shouting. It feels really special, for lack of a more interesting word, to get that many kids that excited about environmental protection. Note: when kids are encouraged to paint a pledge wall with their hands, they WILL playfully toss paint, and your dress shirt, jeans, and shoes WILL become collateral damage. Bahala na.
You’ve thought about permanent site placement since pressing submit on your online application all those months ago. You’ve been growing tired of always saying “I’ll be volunteering in the Philippines but I won’t know exactly where until…” Now, you’re moments from hearing your site. Your heart pounds beneath your ribs. Over 80 volunteers are being placed, location by location across the islands of the Philippines, to live and work for the next two years. The room erupts with the announcement of each placement. Each volunteer is handed a folder before placing a small picture of themselves on a posterboard map of the the entire country. It feels like a long wait, it’s hard to tell how many volunteers are still without assignment. There are only a few placements left to announce. You’re mouth is dry with anticipation, your throat sore from cheering for your friends. A small island in Region VIII, the Silangang Visayas, appears on the projector screen: Biliran. The announcer describes an island known for waterfalls, dramatic cliffsides, and impressive inland mountains that rapidly descend to white-sand beaches. You know this is you before your name is even called. Maybe it’s instinctual. Maybe it’s just a good bet because the placement map is looking pretty full. It doesn’t matter. You’re headed to Biliran.
Favorite new phrase (now I’m studying the language of Cebuano): Katuyoan namo ang pagtudlo sa mga bata bahin sa nahibaloan sa kalikipan ug pagpalig-on sa organisasyon sa komunidad (we dream of teaching children about environmental knowledge and strengthening community organizations).