First off… HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all you MAMAS out there! I have had many of you out there fill the ‘mother role’ for me growing up at one point or another… you have helped bring me to where I am today. To my Mama Sue… the magic that lies between mother and daughter seems to be revealed more and more each day… our hearts are connected in the most mysterious of ways. Much love….
Okay, sorry for my absence… haha to those of you who actually read this thing! Today is election day in the Philippines! Although my mountain home is generally peaceful during this time… the violence that erupts throughout the country during times of elections requires us to be on standstill at our sites. Sooooo I will take this opportunity to fill in the silence of these past two months! Get ready for a mouthful…
Where do I begin? Let’s rewind to a weekend in the middle of March… I was attending Begnas Festival, which is an annual tradition in my mountain village. The festival originated back in the day with the ancestors as a way to thank the gods (yes, before the wave of Christianity in the PI!) for a bountiful harvest. The day was celebrated with dancing, singing, sports games, market shopping, LOTS of eating! People began to tell me about a curse surrounding Begnas Festival these days… in which many people die during the celebration each year. The elders believe this happens because today’s people are not properly worshiping the gods. So I listened and took it as a silly belief…. until 4 deaths happened over that weekend… one of them being my supervisor (principal) at my small school… as he collapsed to his death in the middle of a volleyball game from a heart attack. I had just spent the entire morning with him wandering around the festival and supporting our students in their basketball match. As I went to meet my host family, he gave me a lingering hug goodbye (which seemed weird to me at the time… because we had never hugged before)… and about an hour later he had a heart attack. I was really shaken up during this time. My lola and lolo (grandma and grandpa) had died recently, one of my closest volunteer friends had decided to end her service and return to America, and then my supervisor dropped down dead. It was just an overwhelming amount of loss going on around me and I sort of lost my emotional stability for a little bit. I couldn’t shake off an eerie feeling that something else was going to happen. I felt even more overwhelmed when at the 5-day wake of my principal there was a photograph up that had been taken of me and him on his last day. Everyone was coming up to me saying, “I heard you were the one he spent his last day with.” As family poured in from all over the PI and overseas… I cringed upon hearing the shameless wails they let out upon walking into the living room to see his dead body laying in front of them. They buried him on top of a nearby mountain and the ceremony gave me some peace of mind. It was just a lot to take in and I couldn’t help but start to worry about something happening to one of my loved ones while being so far away from home. I am doing much better now… and I am sure stronger because of it… but my heart and head were sure aching.
It was around this time when I went to help a volunteer out at his site with an HIV/AIDS symposium for high school students. The school actually let us discuss birth control methods such as condoms and the pill…. which is HUGE for the Philippines. The Catholic dominance still outlaws both divorce and birth control methods….. crazy wazy…. so in most cases, the topic is too taboo to discuss. My favorite part… at the end of the whole symposium we showed a touching video about maintaining healthy human connections despite the many STDS and HIV/AIDS risks out there in this big bad world J … and each of us volunteers held up “Free Hugs” signs at the end of the video to close the program. The students were so excited they ran at us and rushed in to give us a flood of free hugs. Great moment!
The summer months in the Philippines are April and May… so March was also graduation time! Graduation was a hectic time at my school, getting tests/grades wrapped up, especially with the loss of our principal, but graduation went smoothly and I was happy to reach summer break! Now it was time for more work outside of the classroom J.
I have been working on writing a grant through Peace Corps for a computer literacy program I have dreamed up alongside the community members of my site. Basically… the school has a simple computer lab with 30 computers donated in 2005. Great, right?! WRONG. These computers have been, more or less, untouched over the past 5 years… sitting idly in the computer lab. Perfect example of wasted charity. People seem to think that sending money or materials overseas is going to solve all our problems… when, in reality, valuable resources and donations so often go unrealized. Sustainable development and charity demands that training, monitoring, and evaluation MUST go hand in hand with donations. Time to get off my soap box (where did that saying come from anyway?! Google time!)…
My grant is going to be requesting funds for the improvement of the computer lab, enhancement of the technology and livelihood curriculum, and computer literacy trainings I plan to hold. I will be creating the FIRST ICT resources that the school has ever seen to use in their, now non-existent, technology courses. And there will be two trainings… one for all of the teachers in the community to improve their own computer skills and learn how to effectively use technology in the classrooms. Just to give you an idea…. Some of the teachers are still using a typewriter to create all their tests, grade sheets, etc. The second training I will be focusing on unemployed professionals and out-of-school youth in my community with a focus on increasing their job skills! The school was also chosen to be a part of a program here in the PI which connects schools in isolated areas to Internet access at a reduced cost! Oh how I hope to see this project actually transpire.
The grant is called the Peace Corps Partnership Program. After being approved, it will be posted online to receive funding from any willing American donors. As a part of the application, I was required to list personal references that may be interested in donating… so many of you will be receiving the grant proposal in its entirety! The grant also requires a 25% community contribution to the project…. And drum roll, please……. I was able to secure a P59,000 fund toward my computer literacy project from the local mayor and councilmen!!!! I submitted my proposal and had a formal presentation in front of a panel of old, “important” Filipino men. After much resistance (this country is so very corrupt…. and many government officials don’t like to donate to anything but themselves in many cases)… I was able to get a few influential people on my side and succeeded! Huge sense of relief. As of now, I have officially finished my grant proposal, LOTS OF TEDIOUS WORK, which is being funneled through a Peace Corps panel to be approved soon! Then I will be calling on all you lovely peoples to throw in a dollar or two !!!
What have I done with my summer thus far?!… you may or may not be asking haha… well, I spent the first half of my summer doing teacher trainings! The first training was a project in which Peace Corps partners with USAID. Volunteers are not allowed to travel or work in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines with a large Muslim presence, due to security reasons as civil unrest continues to devastate the region. However, USAID has a project, TUDLO Mindanao, in which they fly up selected teachers each year for a training camp so that our efforts as volunteers can still reach those who are in the most dire need of it. This year had the largest number of participants, with 350 teachers flown up from conflict-afflicted areas of Mindanao. I was extremely grateful to be chosen as one of around 13 volunteers to help plan and facilitate the camp. The ten days that followed were out of this world. Most of these people had never seen white people before… so it was like paparazzi 24/7… never felt more like a celebrity in my life. Every day was a LONG day of teaching and evaluations with some bonding time at night (teaching yoga!). So very exhausting… but the results were so worth it! I received really great feedback on all my classes (my theme centered on teaching the participants how to bring more authentic learning into their classrooms with little to no resources). The hard work was more than paid off at the end of the training when we had a huge cultural night… in which the participants performed their traditional dances (in beautiful indigenous wear) for us around a bonfire. The lady volunteers got to learn one of these dances, a welcome dance performed at weddings and other ceremonies, and the women dressed us up to perform for the closing ceremony! After the bonfire… the volunteers played them a silly music video we had put together over the course of the week (into the wee hours of the night!)… and then, to top it all off, a spontaneous dance party broke out where the volunteers and participants danced wildly about with each other! The beauty of the moment brought tears to my eyes. During our goodbyes, the participants showered each of us with gifts they had brought for us from their home in Mindanao… beautiful native fabrics, necklaces, skirts, robes, headdresses, etc. They told us to keep these things as a remembrance of their thanks to us. Lord almighty… I was so touched. Some women who had not brought gifts… were taking things off their back to give to us in gratitude for the experience. Whewwwwww… it was one of those moments that make your heart jump for joy. The generosity and genuine respect they showed to us was unmatchable.
As dance slowly works its way into my life in the most unexpected ways… I get reminded of how things that are meant to be (hobbies, people, etc.) always find a way to work themselves back into your life. It is really neat for me to explore the beauty and power of dance far out of the “competitive dance world” I was consumed by for so many years. Seeing the power it has in connecting people from all over the world… just as music does… has really touched a certain part of my heart! I see that my passion for dance is not GONE or something that has been WASTED in my life… which I have often felt… but is mysteriously ever present in my life and even showing up in the work I am doing here in the Philippines. Oopsie… that was a rant and a half. To wrap it up, TUDLO Mindanao was a beautiful experience… I got to know some other volunteers on a deeper level and we really bonded over sharing such a brilliant memory! The late nights of planning and stress made the celebration that much more beautiful! Halfway through our camp… we heard news of bombings in Mindanao. The strength that the participants exhibited in finishing the camp out while there was pure chaos happening back at home was something I will never forget. Omg… and one of the women was sharing how floods were so rampant in her hometown that they had created a village that floated on water all year round…. Imagine boating from your floating house to floating school???? Crazy. Ok rant = done. Sorry!
After the TUDLO training… I headed up to a volunteer’s site just north of me in mountain province to facilitate another week-long training. It went really great! My focus in this training was creating a comfortable and positive learning environment in the classrooms. Affirmations are a VERY foreign idea, especially here in the mountains, but the topic proved to be one of the highlights of many participants! We had another cultural night, which I LOVED, because it was with my mountain peeps… and I already knew the dances to the gongs and drums!!! Made some neat connections with some powerful people in Manila… one of them a media center supporting funding for the project, which documented most of the classes on videotape… a little nervewracking… but hey, I gave em a show!!!
SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I am now back at site… catching up on sleep! Did not realize how exhausted my body was from non-stop work and travel. A few moments to breathe here in my mountain home before I go back down south to meet my POPS for our vacation to the lovely island of Bohol!!!!!! I can not wait… it still does not seem real that a person from home is going to enter my new world here in the Philippines! Scuba diving, beaches, hiking, & lovely chats with the Daddio… here I come! I am excited to put on the “tourist” hat for a moment and slip away, from work that I LOVE I might add haha, to get some old fashioned tropical paradise R&R. After I bid my vacation and papa a tearful farewell… I fly straight to help another volunteer with a teacher training on a southern island. This will be my final summer hoorah before the school year begins again in June. Looking forward to settling back down with my mountain people!!!
Well that is it! The only other earth-shattering news I have to share with you is that I AM TURNING 23 YEARS OLD! Gosh oh golly, another years worth of experience and wisdom. J.
Hope I did not bore you with the whereabouts and latest happenings of my life!
Let us say a little prayer that the violence of election time remains contained… and that the newly elected government officials bring the Philippines toward some much needed change… and not a step deeper into corruption and stagnation.