The First Four Months Part I
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.
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.