The Peace Corps Experience and Life with the Natives

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“Little Docs”

Long time no see! I am nearing the end of service in the Philippines. Currently I am working with an organization named God’s Love for the Indigents Ministry (GLIM) with a displaced indigenous tribe known as the Sama-Bajau and also with local health units. One of the primary projects that has been a focus of community efforts is named the “Little Doctors” Health Project. It is a peer-to-peer elementary health project, and it has been a blast to have a privilege of working with the community. Here is a link of an article in which it was featured by the US Embassy here in the Philippines:

http://manila.usembassy.gov/little-doctors-pampanga-2013.html

 

Currently we are doing in-school lessons ran by fifth and sixth grade students for the younger grades. Topics range from hygiene  to nutrition to the importance of exercise among other activities.

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Here is What Has Been Going On!

The key to our supply chain… The mighty karabao!!!

All Smiles

Bayanihan… the community together

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We concluded the first three months of the Baclayan Elementary School Feeding Program with the school year’s end in March. Since the commencement of the program on January 9th, daily attendance rates have on average more than tripled. Each school day parents of the elementary students cook a nutritious lunch that is served within the recently built school kitchen. The Feeding Program acted as a springboard into the second phase of the Baclayan Education Program, Summer Tutorials.

The Build Begins

Stairway hoped for increased student attendance during the first months of the Feeding Program’s existence. Records of the months previous to the beginning of the Feeding Program, November and December, indicated that on average roughly 20-25 of the 113 enrolled children attended school each day. The main two causes were due to cold weather and poor road conditions. After the first months of our feeding program, in similar circumstances, attendance averaged nearly 70 students each day. Thanks to parent and teacher collaboration with Stairway staff, the program had a successful start.

Masamang Swuerte… We began the build of the kitchen in the middle of a tropical storm… in December?!

The Baclayan Elementary Feeding Program activities began late last year with planning meetings involving the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and members of the Stairway team. Before the program could begin, a new kitchen would need to be constructed. In late December parents erected a kitchen that once finished included two fuel-conserving clay stoves and enough space to comfortably serve 62 students. The build started in the middle of a bagyo (tropical storm) adding to the adversity needed to be conquered! On January 9th the first meal was cooked and supplies delivered by the elementary school parents.

Stairway’s role in the program includes the food purchasing every Tuesday and, growing of farm fresh fruits and vegetables on its farm in Baclayan, and operations oversight. The parents are required to transport supplies and provisions up the path to Baclayan and run the kitchen each day. Monthly monitoring and evaluation meetings are held between the Baclayan Elementary PTA and Stairway staff to make the necessary adjustments to sustain the program. In an attempt to maximize our available resources, actual costs of providing lunch is PhP25 per meal, far below the budgeted amount of PhP40 per meal.

Where the Magic happens… the Clay Stoves

Teaching good hygiene before eating.

The first of many trike rides to deliver the supplies to the bottom of the hill, before the long trek up.

With the overall success of the first three months of Stairway’s Baclayan Elementary Feeding Program, challenges have arisen and been addressed. Due to the physically scattered nature of the Baclayan community, equal parent cooperation in maintaining the project proves to be a challenge. The social pressure of parents’ peers and children is one method being used to sustain the program. From the outset, Stairway has emphasized that parent cooperation is of upmost importance. It was agreed in the planning stages that if parents were unable to attend to their duties, due to a variety of reasons such as caring for sick children, they must give 24 hours notice or find a replacement. Consequences will be faced if parents do not hold up their end of the bargain. If parents neglect their cooking responsibilities on assigned days, for instance, the kitchen will close and no lunch will be served that day. At some point this did happen. A few parents were absent on their assigned days, and Stairway staff met with the students to discuss the value of their parents’ participation in the project.

The social pressure of the children was also successful in reinforcing the parents’ responsibility of keeping the kitchen’s source of fuel, dry firewood in stock. It does not only depend on the cooking but also the fuel supplies available. After the heavy rains inherent to the area’s climate, volunteer parents and teachers have expressed difficulty in encouraging children to bring firewood from home. In effect parents were forced to spend time searching for dry wood before beginning the day’s cooking. Early on soggy rice was served on three consecutive days, because the firewood was not dry enough to produce the heat that was needed. Afterwards the situation was explained to the students, and since then the children have brought dry firewood every day. With over sixty families’ voluntary participation in the Feeding Program activities, we soon found several different methods of cooking were being used. During the first evaluation meeting with the PTA, it was decided to create a food safety checklist that everybody working inside the kitchen must adhere to. Stairway prepared the checklist that was presented to the parents for comments and validation. It was read and explained to every new volunteer parent who tends the kitchen.

The next time you are having a difficult day remember her

Several patterns have been observed reflecting differences in daily attendance rates. During the first three months, we realized just how important the family bonds are. Family events seem to take significant precedent over attendance. In one such instance, over half of the elementary school was absent due to a wedding that took place in the community. Also it was interesting to see how the community values education. During examination periods the attendance rates spiked to nearly 95 children up nearly forty percent from their average levels. The third and most significant pattern was based off of teacher attendance. Without teacher facilitation, students are unsure what to do in the classroom and soon leave once it is apparent no instructor is coming. Unfortunately when this happens, siblings in other grades also leave. During the month of March, teachers were required to finish year end reporting for the students. Unfortunately the only facilities available for document submission are in town proper. Thus after examination several teachers stopped going to class. On the whole we are pleased with the results of SFI Feeding Program and hope to carry the momentum into the summer and the next school year.

My host mother teaching her pre-school class

The karabao is dropping off supplies at my castle (the nipa hut) just below the school.

The masons who helped to build the school ovens

Meetings with the children before the first day of feeding

Aninuan Falls

Hi! Sorry I have not been able to post over the past few months. I have been busy up on top of the mountain with no electricity. I have plenty to share over what has been going on at site. It will be up soon. Here are some pics from a recent trip just down the street one of the natural attractions of Puerto Galera. Aninuan Falls…

First Day of Soccer

Here is a recent write-up for Stairway Foundation, Inc.is worth sharing of my experience taking the children of Baclayan down for their first practice with Puerto Galera Football Club, but more significantly their first exposure to playing a game with children outside of their vilage up in the mountains. Up to that point the only contact between the children of Baclayan and others below happened in passing as they came and went from the town market:

“Beep! Beep! Beep!” The alarm squeals in my ear. I roll over and see it is 4:30 AM. On any other day, I would just ignore the sound and instantly fall back into the night’s imaginings, but today is different. I am full of energy and anticipation, because it is the first day that the Baclayan children will take part in the practices of the local soccer program named Puerto Galera Football Club. It is time to begin my pre-dawn trek up to Baclayan. I flag down a tricycle and am soon engrossed in meditations of the days’ events to the backdrop of the motor’s hum. Upon arriving at Santa Nino trailhead, I embark upon the hour trek towards the center of Baclayan. I began my ascent as the first golden beams illuminate the path that lies ahead.

Beautiful views of the beach next to Stairway Foundation

Beautiful views of the beach next to Stairway Foundation

After a few minutes of walking through Barangay Santo Nino, I pass by the modest nipa huts that grant my entry into Baclayan, the Mangyan indigenous village in which I work and live. I am met by smiling faces and greetings of “magandang umaga”, good morning in Tagalog. I continue my climb up along the dirt path through the jungle. Green paints the landscape and the humming of crickets fills my ears. Even at this early hour, I breathe in the sticky air and sweat drips down my chin. The forest breaks signifying the arrival to my final destination. I turn back to see glassy blue of the sea far below and wisping clouds filling the sky above. Paradise!

Nipa huts along the path to Baclayan

After one final bend, I am met by one of the mothers in front of her sari-sari store, with her son in hand. It is time for football and meeting other children below! As the boy and I descend, three of his friends join. Echoes of laughter and shouting follow the rag tag brigade as we make our way down the mountain; I am sure it is to the dismay of those people still sound asleep! By the time we leave Baclayan, more boys and girls fall into the ranks, and our numbers swell to nearly twenty.

The children of Baclayan are introduced to curious eyes

We follow the road for a few minutes more and arrive at the football field. The laughter quickly subsides and is replaced with looks of awe and fascination. The children of Baclayan watched the skilled play of the others. The novel game leaves the mountain kids timid and wide eyed. I walk out to meet Coach Barry and play suddenly stops. The hesitant children from above follow my lead and are met with discerning looks. Upon introductions I feel tension filling the air, because I know most of the local children have had little interaction with their indigenous brethren. All of the participants are soon divided into different groups, and practice is set to begin. The Baclayan children take the field shoeless, wearing tattered shirts and full of apprehension, but no matter now; time to soccer!

Before the first drill, Coach Luloy reminds the other children to take care with their cleats as to not step on one of the bare feet. Upon hearing this one of Stairway’s oldest boys decides to take off his shoes and shin guards playing shoeless alongside his newly found comrades. In an emotionally stirring scene, the other children follow suit choosing to play barefoot on the field of cinders and rocks, for the benefit of their companions of Baclayan. This act is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of the adults who witness the scene. Although the Stairway children faced struggles on the streets of Manila, a far cry from environment of the foothills of Baclayan, there seems to be an instantaneous and empathetic bond, because both have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This subconscious connection is contagious and soon spreads to the rest of the children. Drills continue on, and the seasoned players tutor their Baclayan counterparts in the rules of the game. By the beginning of the scrimmage, the Baclayan children, have acquired enough knowledge of the game to participate. What the new players lacked in skill, they more than made up for with athletic prowess. The countless trips the children had made up the hill during their lifetimes serves them well. Impressive speed, endurance, and toughness allow them to compete step for step with the others.

Starting the hike back up after the first day with smiles on their faces

The play continues, and the significance of the scene interrupts my coaching, as I take a moment to stop and reflect. The children of different paths and social status are playing together full of smiles and laughter. Sport is working its magic, breaking down discriminatory boundaries, facilitating cooperation and teamwork. It fills my heart with joy to observe the transformation before my very eyes.

The games carry on, and a ball is passed ahead to one of the Baclayan children. He shoots and scores! No longer bound by reality, the boy flies back down the field, full of jubilation. His new teammates cheer him on, celebrating with smiles and high fives. That single moment is the reason for our work. Just imagine…

A Great First Day

By: Trevor Mooney

The First Four Months Part III

Part III

As I traveled by outrigger boat across the sea from Batangas to my final destination of Puerto Galera, I gazed in amazement as the pristine blue of the ocean and sea of clouds above seemed to converge into one. Within an hour I would be at the site where I would call home for the next two years. I was full of anticipation and excitement as my mind buzzed with so many questions. Soon the shoreline became defined as the boat trotted along. Squinting and straining to take all the stimuli in, I realized I was in a tropical paradise. Palm trees, clear water and warm weather that would surely act as respite on the more frustrating of days. The boat soon pulled into the docks of this foreign local that was reminiscent of Puerto Vallera, Mexico with its street vendors and many sari-sari stores lining the water.

Arriving on the docks with my counterpart, I was greeted warmly by several members of the organization and was escorted back to the compound. On entrance I was taken aback by the facilities and reach of the organization.

The Road to Stairway

Stairway Foundation, Inc. (SFI) was established in 1990 as a non-profit, non-governmental care organization located in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.  SFI was initially established as an alternative strategy to meet the needs of street children, particularly the most disadvantaged children, such as beggars, drug dependents, sexually exploited children, and children with serious health problems. Twenty years later, SFI has expanded into the following 3 main program components:

  • Residential Program – Each year, SFI brings up to fourteen boys (10-14 years of age) into our 10 month program. While here, the children are engaged in non-formal education, creative therapy, psychosocial interventions, livelihood skills training, sports and recreation
  • Advocacy and Training Program – This program focuses on children’s rights, with a specific focus on the prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation. With a variety of training programs and advocacy tools (animations, storybooks and manuals), our advocacy team is continuously working to expand SFI’s campaign to increase local and international awareness of the rights of children.
  • Community Assistance Program – With this program Stairway offers scholarships and financial assistance for poor local children to be able to attend school. We also provide a school bus service, transporting our scholars to the local high school. Educational and advocacy training workshops are hosted at SFI for our local community members, and advocacy training workshops are hosted at SFI for our local community members. In addition we provide livelihood assistance for the local indigenous Mangyan communities.

SFI’s vision is

‘Through innovation, creative excellence and professional networking, we strive for universal promotion and upholding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.’

SFI’s mission is

‘To gain inspiration, knowledge, conviction and humility from working with the most outcast and endangered children in society, and to manifest these gains in creative expressions, which will alter general perceptions of the most marginalized groups of children around the world and trigger mobilization of resources for change.’

Stairway's Stage

 Not only did it have a well-developed child abuse and child rights program that had been run for the past 20 years, but it had a vibrant atmosphere of creativity allowing its resident children to flourish. Vibrant with colors and ideas, the campus is the perfect place to nurture the well-being of its fifteen boys that are former street children of Manila. The living in program takes a therapeutic approach to its education, sports, and arts programs among many other activities. Through the orientation process, I would soon find that the organization’s staff was warm and energetic. Excited and full of motivation I was ready to head up the mountain to begin the real work. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. After three bagyos (typhoons) and waves bigger than Trestles back home, nearly two weeks passed by before I was able to finally move my things up to Baclayan.

By: Trevor Mooney

The First Four Months Part II

About halfway through training, we went to Supervisors’ conference. There it was revealed where actual work sites would be upon the conclusion of training, what the nature of each volunteer’s service would be, and the supervisors we would be working with. Placements were based on trainees’ skill sets and site placement interviews that were conducted a few weeks prior. Anticipation was high, as high as the fever I had due to a nasty infection in my foot. Infections and all the other fun diseases of this region are extremely difficult to heal due to the tropical climate, but that is a whole other topic for another day.

On the Road to Baclayan

I was lucky enough to end up with an amazing organization named Stairway Foundation, Inc.that is based in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. Stairway is an international organization primarily focused on child sexual abuse and child rights advocacy.  After twenty years and the maturation of these programs, the organization has began a community outreach program in the village of Baclayan. Baclayan is subsistence level agricultural community that is inhabited by the Iraya Mangyan people. They are an incredibly shy people that has been marginalized by the surrounding community and struggling in the daily fight for survival. They live in poverty but for the most part are a relatively happy people. My assignment would focus primarily on education tutorials, a feeding and health program for the elementary school in conjunction with Stairway’s farm, and livelihood program surrounding around the native products and art of basketmaking.

After the conference we went to Manila for street immersion. These emotional few days had us tour through some of the most dilapidated places in Manila observing the omnipotent poverty, street families, and prostitution. We toured several social welfare organizations including DSWD and an NGO that works exclusively with tuberculosis patients from a notorious part of Manila named Smokey Mountain. Each year in Smokey Mountain, nearly five hundred people contract TB due to inhumane living conditions of life literally in a landfill and antiquated charcoal production next to the landfill. Please use a search engine to see images of Smokey Mountain to see the conditions and truly understand what poverty is. I was blown away by the horrific skin conditions and assorted medical maladies that afflicted the people of the community and absolute unimaginable squalor in which the people lived.

The Beginnings of Stairway's Farm

After Manila we returned to Olongapo to finish training. After passing the Language Proficiency Exam (LPI) and getting in our basketball games in against the best of Old Cabalan with half the barangay watching, we again headed to Manila for Counterparts Conference to be sworn in. Before I knew it the trainings were done, we were sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteers, and I was enjoying my last bites of catered hotel food and real coffee. Next stop Oriental Mindoro…

By: Trevor Mooney

The First Four Months Part I

Olongapo City near City Hall

Wow so sorry to start this blog already into service, but here is what has been going on over the past four months. After 9 months of stress and anxiety that is the Peace Corps application process, between all the clearances and countless forms, I was accepted and slated to begin training on July 1, 2011 as a Community and Youth Development volunteer in the Philippines. That day we were staged in Los Angeles, CA, before leaving for Manila. I was lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive from the airport. So after one day of introductions and preparations at staging saying goodbye to the California surf, we were off, and the Philippine adventure began.We began the first stage of training in a center named IIRR, sitting through eight hour sessions of Peace Corps policy and the first introductions to the program framework and language. By the end of the week, I found out I would be spending the next three months training in Olongapo City in a barangay (roughly equivalent to neighborhood named after the ancient Philippine canoes named balangay) named Old Cabalan. When I arrived in Olongapo I met my nanay (mother in Tagalog), Nanay Ester. She was a sweet lady of 73 years old who would help me to adjust to living in the Philippines. She has a daughter and granddaughter, whom I was able to meet briefly during my first week living in Olongapo, before they left to return home in Germany. For the next three months, I was engrossed in technical and Tagalog language training Monday through Friday, eight hours a day with projects each weekend. Time seemed to pass as slow as molasses, but looking back in hindsight, it was a whirlwind. Amongst adjusting to the food, new culture, and language, I forged several close relationships with my training site mates and community.  Technical training focused on teaching development strategies and method that would be utilized throughout service by a community approach. We were engrossed in the Old Cabalan Barangay, implementing our trainings through tutorials in a girls’ home for those who had been victims of sexual abuse. On the weekends we also worked with the barangay government and community at large using the Participatory Analysis For Community Action (PACA) framework that we were learning in training. Using analysis techniques such as community mapping, daily schedules, and yearly schedules we facilitated discussion on what would be a proper project for community involvement. I had the opportunity to lead much of the development on the school planting project that the community decided on implementing.

Nanay and I

A Filipino Jeepney

          We lived in a middle-class neighborhood (by Philippine Standards) of Olongapo City. Olongapo is one of the more developed areas with nearly 250,000 inhabitants with a large ex-patriot community. Because of the old US naval base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City is one of the most Westernized cities in the Philippines. The base closed in 1991,and has since been turned into a free port. The main methods of transportation were the tricycle, a motorcycle with side carriage and also jeepnies. The Philippines is famous for its jeepnies that first came out of the American jeeps of World War II. Over the past sixty years, the design has stayed relatively consistent with the 1940’s era engine, an evironmentalist’s worst nightmare, and is about the size of a small bus. These are the main means of transportation for Filipinos. Only the most affluent can afford their own vehicles. I am drawn to the public transportation of the Philippines. Because of a lack of funds for personal transportation more than motorbikes, it is a walking culture in stark contrast to the requirement of a car to survive back home in California.

The unpredictable transportation along with other cultural norms leads to what is called Filipino time. This means that if a meeting is supposed to begin at 8AM it really starts at 8:45 or even 9 for that matter. For those that know me, I fit right into this system. Some would say I was born on Filipino Time. Another cultural norm that has taken some adjustment is the Filipino gossip that is known as chica-chica. The development of chica-chica is similar to the game of telephone where one thing is said and rapidly transforms through constant gossip. This stems out of Filipino’s non-combativeness and can be quite frustrating when perceived through a Western perspective but can be overcome with patience.
 
By: Trevor Mooney

The Neighborhood I called home in New Cabalan

The Training Crew during Technical Training in Old Cabalan