Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Baby Mangroves!

So our community project is well under way and going great! Tuesday we got the local kids together and after giving a short talk about why mangroves are important, we went together to the local mangrove nursery ground and picked up trash. There was so much plastic and other household trash everywheree in the mangroves, but the kids went full speed ahead to pick up everything. After only 45 min all of our trashbags were full and heavy and it started to rain so we called tapos na (all done). They were all so into picking up the trash that we had to tell them several times that we were done! And they all pitched in to carry the bags to the street to be picked up. The mangroves looked great and ready for the next days's activities: planting!

It has been a rainy couple of days but thankfully the rain held out for our planting day Wednesday! The kids again congregated and we showed them an educational powerpoint and video about the importance of mangroves and how to plant and take care of them... all in Ilonggo of course. They were very excited to start planting!

First we had to carry all of the mangroves to the beach. We had a line of kids and adults carrying mangrove seedlings two at a time to the beach and then back for more. Once we got all of the mangrove seedlings there the real fun began! The adults lined up all of the seedlings and spaced them out and they began digging holes with the two shovels they had. We trainees looked around at each other, then at the two shovels, then to the seedlings lined up in a row, and it didn't take us long to decide what to do. We found a plant and started digging in the mud with our hands. About 10 seconds later every kid on the beach was also digging holes in the muddy substrate and planting mangrove seedlings. In about 30 minutes we had planted over 200 mangrove seedlings in nice rows. It was a beautiful sight!

Tomorrow we are having a celebratory fiesta with all of the kids and adults that helped out with both the mangrove clean-up and planting. Our theme is 'Happy Birthday Mangroves', complete with fried limpias, homemade pizza, and of course, cake! We are putting together a slideshow of pictures from the clean-up and planting and are hoping to instill a sense of pride and ownership of the mangroves so that after we are gone they will continue to be protected and monitored. All-in-all our community project has been a huge success and lots of fun in the process! I look forward to having similar projects once I get to my site.

For now we are enjoying the slightly cooler climate of the rainy season, finishing up our CEP (Coastal Environmental Profile) for the town of Banate, and studying our Ilonggo in preparation for our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) next week! Wish us luck! Only one more week till counterparts conference and swearing-in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Enjoy these pics because my camera broke

Typhoon Megi has finally left the Philippines! Thankfully for all of us in the Visayas, the typhoon stayed north of us, however we did feel the affects of Megi's hard rain and wind. But today the sun is out and the heat is on its way back!

Also thankfully Megi did not interfere with our weekend in San Joaquin either! We traveled a few hours around the southern end of Panay Island for our coral reef destination. San Joaquin, where one of our PCVs will be staying for the next two years, already has three MPAs (marine protected areas) established. So we visited each one to practice coral reef assessments. It was amazing! Each MPA was better than the next, with expanding coral reef and many colorful fish!

Traveling south!

All of us and our local counterparts outside of a MPA guard house.

A giant clam L and I found at our 2nd MPA. SO cool!
We did two assessments Friday and one Saturday before heading back to Banate. But no one was ready to return yet! San Joaquin is a very beautiful and large town. They have many Barangays, including 18 that are coastal. They also have a lot of funding, which is where the PCV who is stationed there comes him. He will be able to work with the municipality to make sure funds are allocated and used in a way that is beneficial to managing the MPAs and increasing community awareness about why it is important to protect these areas. So far there is a lot of community support for these marine sanctuaries due to environmental education efforts. I hope to be able to use San Joaquin as an example when I go to my site as I attempt to raise awareness about marine conservation and protection as well as the management of an MPA. 

This week we are finishing up our technical training and getting ready for our environmental project taking place next week (for my cluster it is mangrove training and planting). For our language training we are continuing to learn about local customs, practices and beliefs. 

I have been living with my host family here in Banate for about 2 months now and have really become a part of their family. This has really helped me in getting to know the culture and language and becoming a part of the Filipino community. I never thought I would be so comfortable eating with my hands and taking bucket showers, but the local way of life has really become my way of life now too. I really love and appreciate the closeness of the family too, especially my host family. My parents are very close to their children, helping them with their homework and playing with them. Most of the men in my community seem to be a little detached from their families, usually spending time with other men in town, drinking and playing cards. However my host dad reminds me more of my dad in the states, he is more of a family man. He is always helping his wife cook items to sell in the market, working on household projects for other family members living in the compound, and making toys for the kids. I guess family life in the Philippines can be just as dynamic as it is in America. I will truly miss my family here in Banate though. I wish I could take them with me to Guimaras. 

For now, my days as a PCT are quickly coming to an end and soon I will be sworn in as an official PCV!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Grupo Terrible/Great

Another week and weekend come and gone in the Philippines! I really can't believe it is October already and my two month mark is coming up fast!

This past week was focused on Environmental Education and coming up with our community project to take place here in our training site of Banate. For the Environmental Education bit, the two CRM clusters split up into pairs to teach hour long sessions on either Solid Waste Management or Marine Ecosystems. There were four sessions this past saturday and there will be two more on the 23rd. Elizabeth and I lucked out and we are teaching on the 23rd so we have a bit more time to prepare for our lesson. We will be teaching Marine Ecosystems to grade 6-7 youth.... oh boy!

We also presented our bio-assessment (mangrove, coral reef and seagrass surveys) findings to the community this week and discussed with them what type of project they would like us to do for them. This was a little more difficult that I expected. We constantly have to deal with the perception that because we are American we have money and access to so much funding. We had to stress to them over and over that we only have a small amount for the project and that the main purpose of PC is not to fund projects (because we have no money really) but to lend our skills and expertise. I have a feeling that I will be explaining this concept a lot over the next two years!

After A LOT of talking to the community, it was decided that our community project will focus on mangrove planting and training. We will have a week of activities including awareness and education about mangroves, training people how to plant and maintain mangrove forest, and have a clean up and planting day as well. I really hope everything goes well, especially since the Barangay Captain elections will be right before our project begins!

Only four weeks left at our training site, before we leave for our counterparts conference, swearing in as official PC Volunteers, and then off to our sites for the next two years! And we are all really lucky that we really won't be that far from one another, which makes it much easier for collaborating on projects together and just generally supporting each other! Just to give you an idea, below is a map of Panay Island (where I have been training) with all of the sites where PCVs will be... and this is just one island of many in the Visayas where PCVs are/will be.

The future PCVs of Panay Island!

None of us can believe how fast time is going by! We are enjoying our time left here and are already planning holiday get-togethers. I am definitely excited about going to site and start getting things done, but I sure am going to miss Grupo Grabe! We have so much fun together :)

Playing soccer with some locals, including ex-national players.
Just one of our weekly routines :)
J, S and E having fun at Supervisor's Conference.

E, L, S and T hanging out in Bacolod.

The guys of Grupo Grabe decided to start a trend of mohawks, and the trend has already spread to our TCF. Next Banate, Panay Island, the Philippines, and then the world!
Getting ready to run in the Milo Marathon (the 5K part that is)!

Grupo Grabe - I love these guys!!!
That's all for now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Site Debriefing

So I had my site visit this past weekend and as excited as I was before about my site being on Guimaras, I am even more excited now!

We left Thursday morning for the ferry from Bacolod back to Iloilo (and by we I mean me and my Supervisor, and Rob and Jensen and their supervisors). Our CRM Guimaras group had bought tickets for the 9:50 ferry, but when we got to the wharf at 8:20, the 8:00 ferry hadn't left yet. So we quickly exchanged our tickets and made a fast run to the ferry, getting upgraded to first class (not sure how that happened actually).

When we arrived in Iloilo, Rob and his supervisor went their separate way, since his town in Guimaras has their own wharf. Jensen and I continued on with our supervisors to the Jordan wharf and boarded the pump boat for a 20 min ride across the sea to the island paradise of Guimaras.

Guimaras, as I mentioned before, is known for the sweetest mangoes. Mangoes from Guimaras have been served to President Obama in the White House and in Buckingham Palace. And the people of Guimaras take their mangeos very seriously! They don't allow any mangoes to be brought from outside onto the island so as to not "contaminate" the sweet Guimaras mangoes.

Once we arrived to Guimaras, Jensen and I parted ways and I went with my supervisor to the municipal hall, where the Office of Agriculture (my office) is. I met all of the people who work there, who were all very welcoming and friendly! My counterpart seems very motivated and knowledgeable about fisheries; he has also worked with PC volunteers before so I look forward to working with him. I also was able to meet the Mayor and Vice-Mayor and some of the SB (town council) members. I am very fortunate that our vice-mayor is very proactive and my supervisor and the mayor are on very good terms. This will all be important when I go to them to get projects approved and funded. My supervisor already talked to the mayor about getting me my own transportation to take me around to the different coastal barangays (barangays are basically neighborhoods or parts of town) and it sounds like I can count on my own transportation starting in Jan!

That brings me to the next part of my tale, getting to my host family house, it is no short trip. First I have to ride on a jeepney for roughly 10-15 minutes depending on how many stops it makes, then take a tricycle (motorcycle attached to a side car) for another 10 min up the mountain. I definitely foresee the travel from home to work as a potential pain, both for times sake and money. PC is giving me money to buy a bike once I get to site but it would be one rough bike ride back up the mountain! Because there is really no main road through the island, it can take awhile to get even short distances as the roads wind around the mountains. This could make getting around the different barangays a little time consuming!

My host family is really nice though and they have a really nice house. My host mom works at the LGU as the treasurer, and my host dad works the farm. They have a hog farm in the back, along with dogs, chickens, pet parrots and a goat. They have two kids, ages 8 and 5, who warmed up to me pretty quickly, especially after I let them play games on my computer.

I get my own bathroom complete with shower. The family also has a fridge, oven, two TVs and a room with AirCon. They also have their own videoke game, which we played all Saturday evening! On Saturday they took me to a famous monastery in town where they grow mangoes (one of many places on the island). They  told me about the Mango Festival every April. There is a mango eating contest and all you can eat mangoes for 50 pesos (roughly $1). Last year's champion ate 12 Kilos.... maybe I can be a contender ;)

All in all my site visit was great! There will definitely be a lot of down time (including the hour "rest time" from noon to 1 in my office, where the lights turn off and everyone takes a nap). But there will be other PCVs near me and there is so much of the island to explore. It is so beautiful and far less trashy than Banate. Needless to say I think I am really going to enjoy it there!

Well now I am back in Banate to finish my training for another month and a half. We will be working on our community project here, and I will enjoy hanging out with Grupo Grabe (as we call our training group) before we all go our separate ways to site in November.

Halong for now!