My very wise younger brother once said to me, “only dead fish go with the flow,” a phrase I have come to love for somewhat opposing reasons. For one, I love the idea of “going with the flow,” of “seeing where the wind blows,” of living a life of spontaneity and whim and so this part of me resents that statement. But I am also a lover of making ripples, making waves, of creating movements and speaking up for what I believe in – of fighting the current. Too many metaphors? Anyway, in the Peace Corps, ‘going with the flow’ is almost a necessity to our survival, our success, and our sanity as volunteers. Many times, I’ll be asked to speak or give a presentation at a meeting mere moments before the meeting actually begins. Or I’ll come into work with plans to accomplish a task and we get a call for a sea turtle capture or a request for my presence in two places at once. Throughout training we were praised for being “flexible, adaptable and resilient” – true traits of successful Peace Corps Volunteers. We were warned that work may not happen for months and that we would fight bouts of boredom and frustration. We were advised to say “yes!” to any opportunity that came our way, involve ourselves in as much as we possibly can at site, to integrate and learn the needs of the community.
So, I have been trying to do exactly that. I have been this metaphorical “dead fish” just floating along in the current; saying yes to every opportunity thrown my way, giving presentations at a moment’s notice, and jumping on a trike or boat whenever my presence is desired. And it’s been exhausting and exhilarating and it is working. This little dead fish might have some life in her yet! But really, it’s been over six months at site now (time does fly!) and it’s about time I caught you all up on what I’m actually doing, so here are some of the projects I’m working on or participating with (some of these subjects will get a longer, more elaborate blog post of their own in the near future):
- BoatR – Boat Registration with my Coastal Resource Management Office. This is an annual campaign to get fishermen registered all around the municipality of Talibon. A team from my office goes out to different island and coastal barangays (neighborhoods) with forms, stickers, and receipts ready to register on the spot. The campaign helps reduce illegal fishing and provides fishermen with the ability to get insurance!
- Co-teaching – after a very inspiring day teaching at a fellow volunteer’s high school, I decided I wanted to get more involved in youth education. I have now started volunteering at a local high school that is on an island! It’s a really unique opportunity to reach out to a remote community that doesn’t always have great access to resources and funding. The high school is also comprised of kids from three different barangays on two different islands (yup, some kids have to take a boat to school, and so do I!) so I have the potential to reach more communities through this one school. For now I have been going out once a week to get to know the students and teachers by helping out in the science classes, but I hope to run an environmental education camp for the kids sometime in the next year, as well as some other little, environmental projects!
- Livelihood seminars – my municipality is really lucky to have an active Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that provides boats and gear to poorer, remote fishing communities on the islands and along the coast. As part of their Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) they are giving livelihood seminars to the 10 barangays that have received boat and gear thus far. My role as ‘marine biologist’ and Peace Corps Volunteer at the CRM Office is to give a talk at these seminars about sustainable fishing and how to keep marine habitats healthy and abundantly stocked with fish. I am presenting in 90% (funky) Visayan at this point but the fisherfolk really seem to love it… and so do I. These presentations have been some of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of my service so far (at the point of writing this, I’m 3 down with 7 to go); talking to fisherfolk about sensitive subjects like illegal fishing and overfishing is always nerve wrecking in a way – their livelihoods depend on these waters — and yet having positive responses to pitches about closed seasons and protecting certain fish species or creating more MPAs, I think gives hope to us all.
- Alternative livelihoods – through the seminars with DSWD, I have connected with a woman that works with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI – Filipinos really do love their acronyms)! In May she is holding a two day training with a Women’s Organization (WO) on upcycling livelihoods – making sellable items out of trash, scraps, and worn out products – and I have been invited to participate and present ideas at this event, too! I am so excited to be working with a WO and to be able to provide tangible ideas and models for alternative, sustainable livelihood projects… an exciting endeavor yet to come.
- Project proposal – finally, there is my own project! After a very motivating In-Service Training in February, my counterparts and I have decided to start preparing for a Bantay Dagat (Fish Wardens – they monitor illegal fishing activity) training and education seminar. I’m slowly chucking away at a proposal and working out a budget (ah, so much to learn) so we can host this event and create a more effective and motivated fish warden taskforce. More effective = less illegal fishing, a still-rampant issue in our municipal waters; so I’m very excited to be spear-heading this project proposal.
All of this amazing work has come to me from the power of YES, the power of being a ‘dead fish’ going with the flow… who would have thought? But, alas, I am Stav (a bit of a fighter), so it wouldn’t be honest of me to say I haven’t been fighting the flow either. Sometimes that means I have been freaking out when I have hit some lulls in my service, but mostly it means I’ve been reaching out and extending my ‘service’ to other organizations. And that’s brought me to some really cool extra-curricular opportunities:
- Plastic Free Bohol – this is a grassroots movement started as a Facebook page and an Instagram account by a local woman from Bohol. Jammy is an ocean advocate, a zero-waste lifestyle leader and owns and runs her own business (talk about women kicking butt!). She is making waves over here on our island, meeting with local politicians and corporations to bring awareness to the issues with plastic pollution. And on the weekends, I get to help here a bit – cleaning beaches, making info flyers and soon-to-be campaigning restaurant-to-restaurant to get them to ditch straws, Styrofoam, and plastic bags. It’s an exciting movement and we have much work ahead of us!
- Let’s Do It, Philippines! – Here is an NGO that is working on motivating, educating and creating eco-leaders all around the Philippines. They focus on zero waste production, cleaning up the environment, and youth leadership; a very hip and important national movement. I am honored to be attending their eco-leaders camp this weekend in Bohol where I will be on a panel discussing plastic pollution in the Philippines and giving a demo on plastic-free options for toiletries, shopping and everyday life!
- Greenpeace Philippines – recently I got invited to a presentation about the status of sharks and rays in the Philippines; only three species are protected and there are concerns of unsustainable fisheries (a big one here in Bohol). It was great to meet with such a renowned organization and learn about their efforts here in the Philippines – hopefully soon an ordinance will be passed to provide more species of sharks and rays with protection.
- Recycling Day Panelist – in a couple weeks there is a product upcycling contest and event to promote less-waste lifestyles at the biggest mall on the island. I’m very excited to be a judge and panelist for the event and help bring more awareness to issues concerning plastic pollution in the Philippines – yay, for public education, especially in a very busy, popular mall!
Two months ago, it seemed I spent a lot of my days twiddling my thumbs and now I feel I hardly get a moment to rest (and write my blog)! But I am so happy with where my service has come and all the opportunities I have to work with incredible people from different backgrounds and communities. My heart really goes out to these fishing villages—the water is what they know and yet it is changing and threatened beyond their control—and my desire to help them grows stronger and more insistent every day. Likewise, my passion for fighting pollution has been building for years and I am so thrilled to have met like-minded people here that are fighting for the same cause. And yet, still, I am not sure what I will accomplish will be enough. It is true that they say we are our own worst critics, and though I believe I will get things done here, there will always be more to do. The problems here are massive and elaborate and cyclic… and despite being a realist and understanding that my accomplishments here will be small, there is the idealist in me that wants to save the oceans, that wants to fix everyone’s problems, to make BIG changes. I have to smile at myself and shake my head at the same time: to remind myself that things take time and as my sector manager kindly reminded me recently, I need to be patient.
After nearly nine months in the Philippines, I know the biggest change that has happened in my service so far has been in myself. I came here with hopes of changing people’s lives (I’m still hopeful) but really, the opposite has happened. People here, they share with me their culture and their families and their struggles and my eyes are being opened. I am seeing patience and forgiveness and selflessness in ways that I haven’t before and I am soaking it all in, one sunny day by the sea at a time.
So, to my younger brother and all you readers, I think we know: I am no dead fish. Perhaps I am the inquisitive fish, the outspoken fish, the fish that swims away from the school following some shiny object into the deep. And through this journey, I am learning to be the fish that can both ride the current and go against it to create the ripples of change.
Have a wonderful weekend, readers. Be sure to check out my new pages on plastic pollution (they’re still a work in progress). As always, thanks for reading,
*I hope no one was too disgusted or offended by the “dead fish” metaphor. I can imagine my squeamish mother not enjoying this post too much (sorry, Eem) but in my head the “dead fish” was a cute little cartoon fish with an X-ed out eye and well, still truly alive after all. Kind of like this guy:
Also, I was trying to find the origin of the quote and the furthest I got back to was Oscar Mulero’s album ‘Only Dead Fish Go With The Flow’ but if anyone knows else wise, please share!