One of the perks of serving in the Peace Corps is the amazing opportunity to participate in extracurricular events outside of my primary project – in the Philippines, that means camps. “Camp” here isn’t a Monday-Friday summer event full of arts and crafts, sports, or outdoors activities. Nor is camp a sleepaway adventure at a remote wooded location somewhere north of the summer heat. Camps in the Philippines are short (even one-day), themed educational events for school children of varying ages. A few weeks ago I had the honor of participating in a language camp with a fellow education volunteer and had an amazing exchange of culture and language with a remote high school on Siquijor Island. This past week I got to participate in two camps, one with an NGO that I found through Facebook (social media for the win!) and the other through another Peace Corps Volunteer. They were both incredibly moving and inspiring camps to be a part of and even though they aren’t the core of my service, I believe these are more of those little moments that make extraordinary differences in peoples’ lives.
Let’s Do It, Philippines! National Eco-Leaders Camp!
Let’s Do It! Is a civic-lead movement to help clean up the planet, started in 2008 in Estonia. Since then, millions of volunteers in countries all around the world have picked up millions of tons of trash. A Philippines chapter started in 2015 and since then they have been using social media to promote clean-ups and environmental leadership all across the country. Currently volunteer-run Let’s Do It! Philippines is touring around the country hosting eco-camps and environmental education events; one of which happened to be on my island! I sent them an email a few weeks ago volunteering to help out however I could and we set up some activities for me to lead. The Eco Camp was held at the Bohol Island State University’s Bilar Campus, a beautifully green area near the infamous Chocolate Hills. There were 50 Youth Leaders that attended the camp from all over the country to listen to talks about the importance of the environment and government and non-government initiatives to help protect it! The Youth Leaders also had to come up with action plans for Clean Ups and Zero Waste initiatives that they could bring back to their own communities.
When it came to my turn to present, I gave a talk discussing some of the statistics of plastic production and waste, similar to what you can find in my own plastic pages. The numbers and the imagery can be quite devastating but I ended on a positive note, saying that there is hope for a cleaner planet if people start taking action now, and that every little action helps! After my talk, we heard from a member of Zero Waste International about the innovative ideas in which countries around the world are creating closed loop production circuits. It was a fascinating and inspiring talk about how shifting from linear to circular economies can reduce our carbon footprints and human damage to the planet. It was truly motivating and after Pal finished his talk I presented my Zero Waste Lifestyle Kit to the camp attendees. This was a giant cloth bag of toiletries, shopping accessories, and to go silverware that I use at home and while travelling so that I can avoid single-use plastics, like cutlery, straws, bags or takeaway containers. The Youth Leader’s loved seeing firsthand my tubs of homemade toothpaste and deodorant, my completely stainless steel razor, and the other plastic-free things I carry around – proof that a Zero Waste lifestyle is possible, even in a remote village in the Philippines. I had lots of lovely conversations that afternoon and the next day on how to integrate Zero Waste into your everyday life and how being a role model and an example is one of the most powerful ways to help spread the movement. The next morning we split into two groups to go visit a couple of tourist sites in Bohol – one, a popular spring and swimming hole; the other, The Chocolate Hills – and we did clean-ups right then and there at the sites! It was so great to put our words right into action as impassioned, earth-loving youth. I made many contacts after the event and am excited to see where the Youth Leader’s end up on their journey to make the Philippines a cleaner, healthier place.
GLOW Camp – Girls Leading Our World
This is a Peace Corps’ original: a gender empowerment initiative that started with Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania circa 1995. GLOW Camps are built around confidence boosting, goal-setting, and career and life-planning activities for young women. I was fortunate enough to be invited to run a session at my island mate Liza’s GLOW Camp last week and it was phenomenal! Thirty-six 14-16 year old girls attended a 2-night, 3-day camp where they did everything from learn about career opportunities to making their own reusable pads. Liza did an incredible job of putting the camp together and it was so inspiring to witness the fruit of her labor; the girls were sweet and shy and clearly ecstatic to be at the camp.
After the opening sessions, I gave the first talk of the day: Gender Roles & Women’s Empowerment. We discussed the difference between gender and sex, the traditional and stereotyped gender roles (a woman doing chores, taking care of kids), and how as females we CAN do anything men can do. One of my favorite activities was talking about things women can and can’t do; we started by writing down things they were told they couldn’t do on a strip of paper. We shared and discussed some of the can’ts, such as: being told they couldn’t live alone because they are dependent on others, being told they can’t play sports like the boys, or that college was futile because inevitably they would get married and pregnant and have to drop out. My heart went out to these girls and I wanted so badly to prove to them that these things weren’t true. I used women in education in the USA as an example. Although I am fortunate to have come from a supportive family and environment, in the USA, women are still underrepresented in science and technology careers. When I told the girls this and that I was in fact, a biologist – a scientist – who does field work and has worked in labs, their eyes widened and a couple gave an audible “wow”. I told them that they too could do anything if they put their mind to it and pursued their education – after all, that’s what I was told growing up. We crumpled up our cant’s and threw them away and then I had the girls write down the things they can do in their journals – I was happy to see that there were plenty of cans. We ended the session by creating a mantra that the girls could tell themselves whenever they were hitting a bout of can’ts. I had them choose the words: I am brave. I am special. I am smart. I am a woman. And we stood up and raised our arms and we repeated our mantra over and over and over again. It was the first session of the camp and the girls were shy – I wasn’t sure how much of an impact I had made on them – but throughout the day I would hear them referring to their mantra and I was truly proud of them.
In the afternoon, the girls learned about menstrual and sexual health, about the rise in HIV and AIDS in the Philippines, and how to make their own reusable pads (cheaper and healthier for our bodies and the environment). We got treated to lovely meals and snacks from the resort and they sat down for a movie night when I was about to hop on my bus back to town. Although Liza is a CYF (Children, Youth & Families) volunteer, any Peace Corps Volunteer can host a GLOW Camp… so maybe there is another one in my future. I feel so grateful to have been a part of this opportunity and so proud of my site mate for doing this amazing job for her community – how motivating!
Wishing everyone around the world a wonderful Passover or Easter if celebrating. That’s all from the Philippines this week. As always, thanks for reading!