One of the many benefits to serving in the Peace Corps is the opportunity to work with fellow volunteers with different expertise’s. Peace Corps Philippines has volunteers in three sectors – Education, Environment (Coastal Resource Management, like myself) and Children, Youth, and Families (CYF). We are scattered across the country, living in remote sites but are sometimes lucky enough to be just a few hours away from one another. My closest site mate, for example, is a CYF volunteer who is just an hour away and though we work in different fields there is always the potential to utilize each other for projects, camps, and education events. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a language camp created by an education volunteer on the neighboring island of Siquijor (when I say neighboring, I mean a 3 hour bus ride, a 20 minute jeepney, and a 3 hour ferry ride away). I had been looking forward to this event for weeks as not only would I get the opportunity to explore a beautiful new island but I would be teaching a class for the first time! Jess, had been planning this language camp for months and 118 students aged 11-17 were eager to sign up and attend a full 5 hours of lessons for the day! I was joined by 3 other volunteers and a local Peace Corps counterpart and we each taught a different language – Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese and Tausog, a local Filipino dialect from Mindanao—five times over to 5 different classes. It was quite a feat of musical classrooms, but we pulled it off and it was one of my favorite days of service in the Philippines thus far!
Let me tell you a little bit about teaching a different language… in a different language! In the Philippines, most high school classes are taught in English as kids start learning the language from a young age. But I knew that the kids in my classes would be of varying ages and that Visayan, the same language we speak on my island, is their first language. The Visayan language also contains a lot of Spanish words – about 20-33% depending on the dialect and region – so it was important to Jess and I that the kids got to see the connection between the two languages. To prep for our classes, where we couldn’t use PowerPoint and would have just a couple of minutes to transfer our materials in between, the other volunteers and I stayed up late writing out vocabulary and phrases on recycled manila paper. The day of the camp, I was assigned two fantastic volunteer helpers from the senior high school that assisted me with the materials and ensured a smooth running of the class. And just like that, at 9am on a Friday morning, class was in session and just like that I became Teacher Stav.
I entered my first classroom with a cheerful, Hola! followed by “buenos dias or maayong buntag” – good morning in both languages…. And we were off! We covered the different letters of the alphabet, masculine and feminine nouns, root verbs and basic conjugation and a handful of vocabulary all within an hour! The kids were extremely excited and excellent participants – asking valuable questions and quickly finding their confidence in the language. One of my favorite parts was introducing a long list of words in Visayan that I told the students they would learn to translate within the hour. When we revealed the words in Spanish, the look on their faces as they realized the words were almost exactly the same, was priceless. In every class there were at least a couple of audible wows that took my own breathe away. Another favorite moment was when a cow mooed outside and I said ‘what do you think vaca is in Spanish?’ and the kids chorused back ‘vaca!’ without being told prior. When I continued to probe them for the gender of the word, they guessed it was feminine—such quick learners! At some point in the day, my own mind got confused between the Spanish-Visayan-English dialogues and I uttered a few words to a class in Hebrew. But overall, the language camp went on without a hitch and I believe the students, volunteers, and teachers ended the day on a high. We walked out of the school feeling like celebrities after 500 photographs and even being asked to sign the students name cards and backpacks—but it was their excitement and joy of learning that I will take with me forever.
The rest of the weekend we were free to explore the mystical island of Siquijor – the island has a history of magic, sorcery and shaman inhabitants. I stayed with a couple of fellow volunteers at a beachfront hostel that provided us with excellent sunsets and lazy mornings lounging in the sand. We hired a trike for a day to take us to some of the sites; we sat with our feet in a freshwater spring under a giant banyan tree, sipping on fresh coconut and having our feet nibbled at by little fish; we climbed over rocks and fallen trees to swim and play in a beautiful set of waterfalls; and we rode to a remote corner of the island to explore a magnificent beach secluded by cliffs and giant rocks. We ate great food and drank delicious fresh smoothies and met backpackers from all around the world and relished in the natural beauty that is the essence of the Philippines. Overall, I discovered one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I feel extremely fortunate for that.
Having that teaching experience last week was extremely helpful and motivating as next week I will start leading environmental education activities at a local island high school. There is an enthusiastic principal and enthusiastic faculty and I hope the kids will be just as enthusiastic about my presence. Ideally, I would like to make my time at this school a core part of my Peace Corps service… but only time will tell! In the meantime, I’m off to Cebu City for the weekend to help judge an international writing competition – Write On – with other fellow volunteers. It has been another busy week of fishermen registration on the islands and prepping projects and lesson plans for the upcoming weeks. It feels that I am finally finding a bit of my stride in my service and what better time than Peace Corps Week? On March 1st 1961 President JFK established the Peace Corps, one drop of water that would send ripples around the world. Fifty-six years later, I am proud to be a part of the legacy – Happy Birthday Peace Corps!
And as always, thanks for reading,