Where in the world is Stav now? Just kidding, I’m still in the Philippines! But wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a post. The past month and a half was a messy blur of site and training and traveling. And after some deliberation, I decided the best way for me to share this mess of a month with you would be through the highlights:
- Attending Sinulog festival in Cebu City in January. Sinulog is the biggest festival in the Philippines and one of the biggest festivals worldwide, rivalling the likes of Carnival in Brazil and Mardis Gras in New Orleans. The festival activities last for days, with mass prayers and marches, firework shows and dancing, but the peak of the celebrations are on the last day when a parade of floats and dancers in flower-themed costumes make their way through the city for hours on end. After the day parade, the night madness begins. The streets are left blocked from traffic and there are millions of people partying in the streets covering each other in paint and screaming ‘pit señor’! For the most part, we just watched from the sidelines, as a sea of thousands shifted back and forth and back and forth in front of us like a school of sardines. It was mesmerizing, magnificent, and memorable for a lifetime.
- Training! After 4 months at site and over 7 months in the Philippines, Peace Corps Volunteers attend their In-Service Training (IST) in Manila. That meant getting our whole batch of 57 together for the first time since we parted ways in September! We spent two weeks in the same center we stayed in, when we first arrived in the Philippines, swapping success and horror stories of our sites, discussing future travel plans and talking life in general. It was an extremely uplifting and motivating time – spending time with the Peace Corps community is like spending time with family. We play games, have heart-to-hearts, indulge heavily in food (pizzas, burritos, and ice cream were only a jeepney ride away) we tease each other, and most importantly, we love each other. I felt unequivocally bonded to this wonderful group of people in a way that I couldn’t imagine, and though we parted ways again for another 8 months, the spirit of being a family came with me.
- Bringing one of my counterparts to the Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop provided by the Peace Corps and USAid. This is a three day workshop that followed our IST in which we learn about developing projects, how to get funding, and how to keep projects going at site. I brought a counterpart from my office who I’ve really enjoyed working with in the past and we had a great time building our project ideas together – we’re planning a fisheries law enforcement strengthening training and education workshop to help create a more motivated task force and train the remote communities on how to better protect their marine sanctuaries. One of the most exciting parts of the PDM was getting to see my counterpart travel on a plane for the first time!
- Coming back to site after training has been another whirlwind in itself. My office is currently on a campaign to reduce illegal fishing by getting fishermen to register their boats and gear throughout the municipality. Every week we are traveling to a different remote island community for three days with a registration booth and stacks of 2017 permits. It’s been really wonderful to see my office in action working with the community, and being a small part of it. On top of that, my counterpart and I have visited a high school on another island to see if we can volunteer and teach some environmental education – spoiler alert: we can! Starting next Monday, I’ll be helping out in the science classes at a high school and working on an environmental education plan for the teachers and students!
So 2017 has been off to a fairly good start… There have been some ups and downs, but I feel that I’m starting to wrap my head around what I’m here to do! I have shifted my mindset from Coastal Resource Management technical work to an educational focus, and that’s just part of serving in the Peace Corps. We joke often how they want us to be ‘adaptable, flexible and resilient’ but that’s ever the truth. I had dreams and ideas of the kind of work I would do as a CRM volunteer in the Philippines, but those ideas aren’t always realistic to the needs of our communities and the resources of our sites. Getting my community to quit using plastic bags might be a lifelong battle, but teaching high schoolers about climate change and overfishing and pollution might just empower them enough to make these changes themselves—and that’s something I can do in two years. There’s an old saying, “if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” I could tell people all day not to use plastic bags and they might listen once or twice, but if I give them the knowledge and the tools to understanding why plastic is bad for people and the environment, there exists the potential for change that can last a lifetime.
Thank you for sticking with me on my hiatus; I’ve got a busy week ahead but I’ll be back to regular postings from now on!
With much appreciation from the other side of the world, thank you for reading,