Hello Friends, Family, Strangers, Lovers!
I am reaching out to everyone I know and taking advantage of this crazy social network to ask for your help in supporting a Peace Corps project of mine! This project was created out of the expressed need and desire from my community….
I am living in a remote mountain village in the Philippines, Guinzadan, for my 2 year service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am working within the educational system at the community’s high school and in overall community development. My village remains extremely rich in its native Igorot culture, while trying to keep up with the greater developing world so as to maintain a fighting chance for the success of its younger generations.
It is shocking to live in an isolated village with very simple living conditions, yet find a school equipped with a computer lab. Unfortunately, the valuable computer resources are not being realized due to poor condition, improper upkeep, and complete lack of training. My project revolves around improving the computer literacy of my community to help them meet the demands of the current age of technology. The major components of the project involve improving the lab facilities and equipment to create a workable computer lab, developing resources and courses for an effective technology component to be integrated into the high school’s curriculum, and holding computer literacy trainings for teachers/staff, government employees, unemployed professionals, and out-of-school youth in the community.
I have developed overwhelming support, monetary and non-monetary, from within the Guinzadan community to make this project sustainable. The entire vision for the project, improving the professional skills of individuals and competitiveness of the community as a whole, is one shared by the entire community. I am guiding the project from start to finish as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but essentially, the project will be completed by the Guinzadan community and the growth & benefits will continue long after the “project’s end” due to its sustainable nature and community initiation & ownership.
“Go to the people: live with them, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, build with what they have. But of the best of leaders, when the job is done, the task accomplished, the people will say: We have done it ourselves.” -LaoTzu
How Can You Help?!
To support my project I have written a grant proposal through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. They have accepted my proposal and posted my project online for potential donors to review and, hopefully, DONATE! The entire project is on standby until I can obtain the requested total funds.
Remember…. $1.00 is worth almost 50 pesos here…. So SERIOUSLY…. Every dollar counts! I know many of you may not be rolling in dough…. But every little bit will really help me out. And if you know anyone who is rolling in dough that might want to throw out some good karma into the world…. let them know about my Peace Corps project!
It is simple!
Click on this link…..
And DONATE! (Whatever amount your beautiful heart is able and willing to contribute!)
Here is a link to a SLIDESHOW I put together of the Guinzadan community and proposed project….. Sorry, no fancy video, I have limited technology and Internet in these mountains! Just download off of this file sharing site and VIEW. The download may take a bit of time because of the enormous file size BUT I put some heart & soul into it soooooooo go eat your merienda (snack) while its downloading and come back to pics of my new home sweet home J!
*You will also find files for the project proposal in full detail with budget attachment if you so wish to look over. Tedious grant writing, but gives you more info.
Thanks to all of you… even if you can not donate!
PS- I promise to come back from offline hibernation as soon as I see some philanthropic moves on your part haha joke lang! That reminds me… funny story: While in Manila… met these creepy old white men (pretty standard)… but when they introduced themselves and asked why I was here (not trying to exploit the PI poverty and desperation of women by frequenting GRO bars all day and night being an unfathomable idea in these fools’ heads)… the exact words that came out of one of the guy’s mouths when I told them I was a Peace Corps Volunteer was, “Well hell, we are meeting a real life humanitarian. Right before our eyes. I didn’t know they really existed.” Sometimes all you can do is chuckle. And that is precisely what I did.
Romping around the PI with the POPS à Return to site in a 24-hour neck brace called the MIAMI J.
Ohhhhhhh the SUSPENSE. Unbearable, eh?!?!
“We can work until we drop. We can work excessively. If what we do is not connected to love, however, our work is useless.” May 10, 2010
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.
Skydive, check. Bungee jump, check. What to do next?! March 11, 2010
March 7th, 2010
In-between trainings this past February I had a free Valentines Day weekend so I decided to, what the hell, get scuba certified in the good ol’ Philippines! Sort of embarrassing to say, but I have always had a slight fear of underwater sea creatures. If I swim out really far and get in my head, I start to picture my legs dangling underwater as perfect bait for the lochness monster haha!! So anyway… I decided that scuba diving was an epic adventure I could undertake that might help me with my little fear as I face the dangerous fishies underwater :). Plus… the Philippines has some of the best scuba diving in the world… I mean, how could you not?!
Anyway… I did my PADI open water certification in a jam-packed three days. I knew it would be challenging, but this was definitely an experience unlike any other. Taking those first few breaths underwater is so unnatural… just goes against basic human instincts, you know? You have to train your body to take continuous long, deep breaths. It is very relaxing, but after underwater for awhile you get this, what I can best describe as, a slight “dizzy, tingling” feeling. Going through all the emergency procedures, flooding the mask, running out of air in the tank and breathing with another diver, taking all the equipment on and off underwater, and on and on was actually kind of nerve-wracking. Scuba diving requires a certain amount of mind control. Once you start to panic, it is crucial to be able to calm down your mind and get back to a place where you are thinking clearly. When it comes down to it, if you panic deep down underwater and can not calm yourself…. Well, you’re DONZO! As we got deeper and deeper in our training sessions, I started to see just how important going through all the emergency procedures really was! The reality is… we are still humans even when scuba diving… and do not have the luxury of gills :)
After watching videos, taking quizzes, and doing all of our shallow water training, our dive instructor (stellar man!) took us out to two famous dive sites in the area to practice! The first was called twin peaks… it had awesome coral and the most amazing schools of fish everywhere. It was our first boat dive and I was so pumped to fall into the water backwards like I the divers in the movies hahaha, such a nerd I know! You should have seen me in my wet suit, flippers, and goggles…. Oh wow. My only hesitation was that I was dropping into a sea of jellyfish. If you have ever seen Finding Nemo, the scene where they frantically swim through all those jellyfish getting brutally stung left and right, haha yah, that flashed into my head. But my instructor seemed to take no notice soooo I decided to follow lead! That first real diving experience was magnificent. I was surprised to find myself not the least bit scared. It all seems far less intimidating when you are “one of the fish” rather than an imposter floating around on the surface! I originally thought it would feel a lot like swimming, but it is almost like you are floating and flying at the same time. Everything feels so darn graceful under there. I swam right into a huge school of fish and felt a huge adrenaline rush. Our instructor brought down his camera and took pictures and videos of us “amateurs” learning the ropes of the underwater world… did I mention he was stellar?! Of course, I got a little cocky and did a back flip for the camera…. Almost crashing into the ocean floor haha!
One of the sweetest parts for me was learning how to control your body’s buoyancy. Although you can inflate/deflate your life vest when needed, it is encouraged to use your breath to control where you are in the water. Gliding through the water, if you find yourself getting too close to the coral at the bottom you take a big inhale and after a few seconds delay… your whole body rises… then if you are getting too high and want to take a look at something you can empty your lungs and your body floats down. It is hard to explain… but it really makes you feel in touch with your body and quite magical I might add!
The second dive site was called the cathedral. Some king, a long time ago, dropped this mini stone castle and cross into the water for his daughter, the princess… or something along those lines! It was pretty cool to check them out just chilling at the bottom of the sea.
I am officially scuba certified and ready for more, more, more. My next step in further conquering my fear is diving with the famous whale sharks here in the PI. I handled the fish, but I think I need to master my mind control skills before I embark on this adventure!!!
It is really fascinating to explore a world so foreign to us land folk! The mystery of the ocean is so very intriguing and I feel honored to be a part of the ongoing exploration.
I want to come back in my next life as a mermaid. I will try my damndest to make the transition during this one!
Andddddddd four posts later….. I am officially loopy. So before I completely lose you guys, farewell for now!
MArch 7th, 2010
There is a time a place when ability-based grouping of students is highly appropriate and effective. Here is a perfect example of when it is NOT:
Each year level at my secondary school is divided into three different sections. You have the “star” section. The “mediocre” section. And the “unruly” section. They are not officially given these titles, but it is understood by every teacher which section falls under which one of these categories. Once their ability is prematurely decided, they remain in the corresponding section for the remaining 4 years.
Ability-based grouping, when done effectively, can be a very splendid thing. It allows those who naturally fall ahead of the average to progress at an advanced speed. It also allows teachers to give more individual attention and time to students who are running into more challenges to help keep them up to speed… remedial instruction!
However, I began to witness that ability-based grouping can have a very dark side. I co-teach in a classroom that is known among the teachers as the infamous group of “troubled” and “unruly” students. I will not lie… I have exited that classroom with a throbbing headache! It is frustrating when your job in a classroom turns from teacher to babysitter. Classroom management will always be a struggle with teachers, but what I saw happening inside and outside of this classroom made me understand that management gone wrong can not only intensify, but even create the problem itself.
If you have never heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy… well here goes a perfect portrayal. Through formal observations and informal conversations with the teachers, I have heard over and over again that this class is unmanageable and not capable of the work of the other sections. I can clearly see the difference in disposition of the teachers as they walk into their “star” sections vs. the “others”. To make it worse, they have no problem letting the “others” know it. The students are made well aware of where they stand with the teachers.
The chosen discipline of one of my co-teachers, old and close to retiring, is to pinch or hit the children. Yes, corporal punishment is by no means illegal here in the Philippines. I have literally heard the words, “If it does not leave a mark, it does no harm.” Students have grown accustomed to this discipline and I witnessed, no joke, three boys handing a stick to one of the teachers begging to be whipped instead of forced to write a paper. Just a little backwards… for children to be begging for physical abuse over schoolwork shows how rampant abuse is in these children’s lives. Another winning moment was when my co-teacher screamed to the class, “you students behave as animals behave.”
These students are made to feel like they are worthless and have no hope in excelling. What incentive do they have to behave? Parents and teachers are given a powerful influence over the children of our world, whether they like it or not, and if they do not believe in the children, in most cases, the children will not believe in themselves. That is the nature of us humans. Now some of these teachers are giving signals to the students in far more subtle, unintentional ways than I have described above. I do not want to paint an inaccurate picture of absolute madness. The fact of the matter is though, that this is unacceptable. It makes my stomach sick and I can not stand by and watch it happen. They lump these slower learners together, treat them like slower learners, and then are so shocked when the kids start misbehaving and showing a lack of interest in studies. WELL DUH!!!!
There is a lack of affection between adults and children in the culture here in the mountains. A simple, “how was your day?” from parent to child is unheard of. This goes from the homes right into the classrooms. Affirming students is absent from classrooms. When a student makes a mistake, it is common behavior for both fellow students and teacher to laugh at them. Teachers publicly criticize and make fun of the students at times. Now, these are people that I am becoming very close to. They are not monsters. They are simply living in the same world they grew up in. This goes for students as well. They have an incredible resiliency to such treatment, seemingly because that is what it has always been like. I recognize this, but it gives me all the more reason to show them another way. The importance of a positive, comfortable learning environment??? It will take time to address this issue as it deals with deep cultural roots.
Without disrespecting individuals at my school and creating irreparable damages to relationships, which count for most of everything here in the Philippines, I decided to write a research paper on the negative affects that ability-based grouping can have on a school. I kept personal observations and hang-ups out of the paper, and focused on how detracking the students could benefit Guinzadan National High School. I stressed how mixing the students will give every student a chance to be among positive peer role models in the classroom and the “babysitting” role of the teachers will decrease. I stressed that the average grades of the students and national test scores (which schools focus MUCH of their energy on) would eventually go up over time. Although I think the learning applicable to the real world and development of life skills in students is FAR more important than inaccurate measures of intelligence such as national test scores, I am starting to see how important it is to appeal to the “other” side sometimes.
The fear that the “star” students would suffer from this mixing of abilities was calmed by my offering to teach effective differentiation within a classroom. I also explained how peer mentoring can be one of the most invaluable tools of learning for the more advanced students.
The point is…. I have successfully gotten the principal to agree to detrack the students this upcoming school year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May seem like a small feat, but giving 30 students of each grade level a fighting chance, a chance they might have been denied before, is going to give me some more peaceful nights of sleep!
In the future, I hope the teachers of GNHS will be able to effectively do ability-based grouping when appropriate, for example, tracking students in math and science, but one step at a time. I know this will not magically solve all problems, some students will still receive negative attention, but I hope that this will diffuse the problem at least a smidgen!
March 7th, 2010
I am starting to see that every culture defines beauty in a slightly different way. When I first came to the Philippines the debate over what shade of skin was most beautiful simply made me laugh. The fact that many Americans seek out a darker skin tone in tanning beds, by caking on bronzer, and using tanning lotions, while many Filipinos avoid sunlight at all costs and buy an endless supply of whitening products was initially very amusing to me. It seemed to be a simple example of wanting what we don’t have. I took the opportunity to engage in a cultural exchange as I explained that, no! I did not want to cover my precious white skin with an umbrella every time I went outdoors and, furthermore, I would love to get a suntan!
It was not until a conversation I had with my host mother that this difference in opinion over desired skin color went far deeper than I had originally anticipated. As I basked in the sunshine reading my novel, she asked me for what seemed like the millionth time, “Isn’t the sun hurting your skin? You know, you are going to get darker.” I decided this time to ask her more about their obsession with having lighter skin. She explained to me, in a matter of a fact tone, that people with lighter skin color are superior to those with darker. WHAT?!?! Here I was, talking to a well-educated, strong woman who was voicing a self-discriminating opinion… I was shocked to hear these words coming out of her mouth. When she went on to say that Filipinos need to “repair” their skin with whitening products and avoiding direct sunlight my jaw dropped and heart sank. I did my very best in getting across the idea that everyone is beautiful no matter what their skin color is… and all I got in response was a laugh and unconvincing “maybe”.
Why???? She told me it was probably from the hundreds of years of Spanish, Japanese, and American occupation.
“So you understand that this was an effect from outsiders taking control and making you feel inferior as a means of gaining power??”
“And now the Philippines has regained its rightful independence and Filipinos are free to celebrate their culture and be proud of who they are???”
“Hasn’t this come hand in hand with a pride and sense of beauty in your skin color?”
“No. It is just something we believe.”
If this conversation doesn’t disturb you… well man, I just don’t know. Coming from a country that has struggled SO much to heal itself from a past of horrendous discrimination… and that still has a LONG way to go, I felt really invested. It is one thing to hear an ignorant person being discriminatory to someone different than themselves… that is to be expected, a fear of the unknown unfortunately brings out some ugly things in people. But to hear someone being discriminatory against themselves and of others like them… now, that is just heartbreaking. The discrimination is coming from a very different place… and if I do nothing else during my service here in the Philippines, I hope… I pray… that I can help some people feel more comfortable in their own skin, however light or dark it may be.
Just goes to show you how deeply-embedded and twisted the effects of discrimination can be.
March 7th, 2010
As the presidential elections draw nearer, I have found myself contemplating the potential of the Philippines in terms of politics. I asked one of my students doing a presentation on past presidents, “What will the current president be most known for?” Without a second’s thought, CORRUPTION spilled out of this 12 year old’s mouth, as giggles erupted among the classmates. Usually one-word answers will not do in my classroom, but in this case, all I could think was, enough said.
Working in a country marred with corruption has allowed me to see how far outside politics corruption spreads its power-hungry hands or maybe how inherent politics is in every societal system…. Either way, it starts to become rather overwhelming. I try to advocate taking a stand and fighting for what you believe justice to be, but, I hate to admit, I am starting to see how a defeatist attitude may be the only thing that keeps your head on straight under certain conditions.
The school system here is controlled by the Department of Education. The fact that I have to navigate around the corruption within my small school of 350 students and less than 20 faculty members in an isolated village in the mountains BLOWS MY MIND. I won’t go into nitty gritty details… but there are definite factions within my school and circumstances that require me to walk on eggshells.
A few months ago… my host family was watching the news about some politician who was killed in a nearby province. When I inquired about what happened they replied with, “Oh nothing, its election time!” Violence being a casual sign of elections coming closer caught me off guard. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a naïve little girl who has never faced the realities of the world, but the Philippines has become another home for me. And for this to be a part of your home… well, it is rather unsettling. Politicians killing politicians… the intensity of violence being an effective tool to gauge what stage in the election process we are in… what are they really fighting for??
Standing in the doorway of my classroom, I see military planes flying by overhead. Knowing that this is not a usual sight here, I expect yet another story of violence coming my way. Sure enough, the NPA and military were involved in a conflict in the nearest city to me, which resulted in 5 military men being shot down dead. The NPA (New People’s Army) is a rebellion group that has been around since the 1960’s here in the PI. They are known to hide-out in camps around the mountains where I live. Their violent acts are directed toward the government, seeking political control and land reform. I in no way support violence as a means of conflict resolution, but in all of this, it is hard for me to decipher who the bad guy really is????
The distance I have had to the current administration’s human rights violations was recently disturbed. There was an illegal mass arrest of 43 health workers near Manila. These workers were arrested in the middle of a medical training, the military claiming they were constructing a bomb as disguised NPA members. When I found out my host father’s sister was one of these health workers arrested, I felt a fire start to grow inside of me. These innocent health workers were not only illegally arrested, but put into detention where they were blindfolded, starved, and further tortured. As is the case with any brutal, degrading torture… the military was able to get a few bogus “confessions”. My host father’s sister was a health worker who entered rural areas to help individuals in dire need of medical assistance. Come to find out, the military had warned her at an earlier date to terminate any further assistance. Why??? Because the far-flung barangays being helped were possible hide-outs for NPA members. This means that she could POSSIBLY be helping to save the life of a ‘good-for-nothing’ rebel. She decided to ignore this warning, seeing it as an atrocity to deny countless people aid, just as the government suggested, simply because she might stumble across and, god help us all, give medical attention to an NPA member. Sheds some new light on the ludicrous mass arrest eh?!? Sadly, not shocking. At all.
My head is racing in so many directions, as is evident in this post. I am banned by the Peace Corps in involving myself in any political battle here during my service, but that does not stop me from being affected. I have found myself thinking, what will it take for the Philippines to dig itself out of corruption?? And the answer, as it is always the case, isssss it starts with the people. Now here is where the real doozyness (yes, just made up a word!) comes in. I would argue that if the Filipino culture revolved around one value, that value would be family loyalty. This family loyalty has a beauty that can honestly knock you off your feet. Unfortunately, alongside the beauty there is a destructive nature that has sunk its teeth into the Philippines and the people refuse to let go.
In electing a person to ANY position, however big or small, family loyalty will win over credentials EVERY TIME. Now I see how preferential treatment to family members is existent everywhere. If given the choice, we will help our loved ones in any way we can, including the job selection process. But this goes FAR beyond loved ones in the Philippines. Let me paint a picture for you…. My host father is one of the barangay council members in Guinzadan and in the past weeks he has had numerous politicians calling him up, complete strangers, claiming to have blood relation. After claiming false blood relation, they remind him of his duty to campaign for them. Campaigning makes it sound like he must use a power of persuasion to win votes of the people, when in reality it becomes his duty to inform people of who they WILL, no questions asked, vote for. This is an obligation. No choice, for it is a matter of family.
When discussing this with a few Filipinos I have become close to, clarity was matched with disappointment. They fully recognize the negative effects this behavior has on the society around them; yet insist that there is no changing it. “That is just the way it is in our culture.” I know I am an outsider, but this does not sit well with me… not well at all. If we, as humans, can use culture as an excuse to continue destructive behaviors… oh lord, our world will never get to a better place. I am an optimist when it comes to the goodness of human beings and the shared desire to live in a more peaceful world. Yes there are many distracted people. You can give me endless examples of intentional acts of violence in this world. But, for some reason I can not explain, I will still believe in this shared humanity. Within my being, I know this much is true. I may not be a follower of organized religion, but I have an unshakable faith. People want to love and be loved. People want to feel like they matter. People long for human interaction and connection. I don’t understand why people do what they do, it has brought me to tears and heartache too many times to count… yet I will keep on trying to understand, because that is me.
It seems that the development of the Philippines will remain stagnant until the people can recognize that they are the ones who are creating this world of corruption they find themselves drowning in. It is a self-perpetuating existence. I wish I could swoop in as a superhero, and give everyone an “ah-hah” moment that leads to action. But sadly, the “ah-hah” moment needs to come from within the people. Until that day…. This vicious cycle is going to go round and round and round and round. That being said, I CAN and WILL contribute to the development of individuals inside of this mess of a country!
Sigh. As my host mama tells me over and over, “you need to choose your battles to stay sane and be of any help to anyone.” This is a battle I will not even fool myself into thinking I can address… but it will stay in my mind. I will set my sights a little lower than single handedly washing away all corruption in the world… haha but not much lower ;)!!! I think I am going to look into obtaining a magic wand! But then I guess… what would we be living for if the world was that damn easy?!?
Side note: I am in no way claiming that there are no Filipinos fighting for a new way… just a response to observations I have made in my short, short time here.