Sunday, January 9, 2011

A "friendly and loving people"

Now that the holiday season is over and people are back to work, I prepare for my month of community meetings. Having meetings with the coastal barangays is something PC encourages us to do initially at site as a way for us to not only get to know the community people we will be working with, and they get to know us, but also as a means for us to assess the resources and needs of the people. I am fortunate enough to have a very proactive municipality who helped me to plan dates for these meetings the first week I was at site. So I have been excitedly awaiting for the month of January and a chance to really begin my work here.
My first meeting was this past Thursday and I will continue to have meetings every Tuesday and Thursday until I have met with all 8 of the coastal barangays in Jordan. I prepared for my first meeting by deciding the activities, making an agenda, translating everything in Ilonggo (thanks to my language tutor who lives down the road from me), making posters, and gathering supplies.
I was of course nervous about how the meeting was going to go especially with it being the first of eight. The fisher families, my target audience, represent the poorest of the poor here. Although English is taught to children starting in kinder, many fisher families cannot afford to go to or stay in school, therefore many of them understand little English and speak even less. Some cannot even read and write. Therefore I was very nervous about my communication barrier, but thankfully three of my co-workers including my counterpart accompanied me and were able to help out in translating whenever I needed. This is also why it was so important that I translate all of the posters into Ilonggo and speak as much of it as I can.
We held the meeting at the local church and when it was time to start the barangay captain rang the bell. And wouldn’t you know it everyone in the coastal sitio showed up, and I mean EVERYONE: fishermen AND their wives and families (I was afraid only the men would show). The barangay captain was there along with BFARMC (fishermen organization) members and kagawad (barangay council) members. 53 total in attendance!
To start things off, I did my introduction (in Ilonggo) and had them all introduce themselves. This served as a sort of ice-breaker so that hopefully they would be more apt to participating later in the discussions (a handy strategy I learned from the best facilitator I know, thanks Becky!) This type of introduction I think is especially important in the Filipino culture, where so much emphasis is based on being part of the community and knowing the people. For this reason I have learned that when I introduce myself I always include what family I am living with. Family is the main tie that holds Filipino communities together (especially since everyone it seems is a relative of everyone else). It is how they think of you as a member of the community rather than an outsider. One of the greatest parts of the PC program is having us live with host families. Not only do we learn more of the language and culture this way, but we also are seen as a member of the community and therefore respected and protected as such.
After introductions, I asked the community members to list resources and needs in their barangay. Then I had a list of activities under columns of how often those activities occur. I asked them to each come up and put a tally if that specific activity occurred: often, sometimes, or never. The activities were things like: small fish catch, needing to travel farther to find catch, commercial fishers coming into municipal waters, trash on the beach, use of illegal fishing methods, etc. And it ended up being my absolute favorite part! Everyone wanted to come up and put their tally. They wanted their opinion counted. And I was able to encourage those in the back to participate by giving them markers and ushering them to the front of the room. It was an amazing sight to see all of them huddle around the poster, reading the activities and adding their tally.It was exciting to watch the community actively participate in identifying and managing their resources. 
The next activity I had them do was to list what they wanted for their community and among the top things was the establishment of a marine reserve. I asked if we placed one there would the community support and monitor it and it was an overwhelming “yes”. Then they made their community map, which they really got into and were very proud of, identifying all of their resources and places of importance, such as school, church, and of course, basketball court (which also doubles as a dryer for crops like rice).
Our final activity was to outline a community plan. This was my counterpart’s idea, to have people list what they wanted for their community. Of course I was thinking they would list similar things that we had discussed during the meeting, like establishing a marine reserve and keeping their beaches clean. However, instead they listed things like “to be a more friendly and loving people”, “to lead their lives according to God’s will”, and “to obey our parents.” I thought it was a very good wrap up for the meeting; we started out with individual introductions, had discussions about their coastal resources, and ended with the community reminding themselves they, above all, wish to live as a “friendly and loving” community – that is the Filipino people for you.
I am really happy with the way my first meeting went and am very hopeful and excited to visit the rest of the coastal barangays in my municipality.
Wish me luck!
Halong as always.
P.S. Shout out to my readers at NA Elementary School! Thanks for your support and helping me to accomplish the third goal of PC: to spread cultural awareness and understanding to my American friends :)