Sunday, November 27, 2011

The PCV Experience - Celebrating 1 yr of service

Well November has flown by and December is almost here! Nov 15th marked my batch’s 1 year anniversary at site. Instead of just listing some of my recent activities, I thought a better way to mark my one year of service is to share more about the "real PCV experience".

 Peace Corps Philippines Batch 269 started out with 145 Trainees and, now at the one year mark, we stand at 117 Volunteers. Some went home before swearing in, some went home due to medical or family issues, some went home for breaking policy (i.e. riding a single motorcycle) and a few decided PC just wasn’t for them. Being a PCV is not an easy life. There are constant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, and statistically the year mark is one huge ‘down’. But PC Philippines knows this and so scheduled our Mid Service Training (MST – govt agencies love acronyms).  

MST consist of two days of medical (we have a physical and dental check-up in Manila) followed by three days of PC training sessions. These sessions include some skills training that we can take back to site, but more importantly, it’s a chance for us to look back over our first year of service and take the time to think about our original reasons for joining the PC. Why did we originally sign up? What did we expect to get from our service? How do we feel we have changed in the past year? What do we expect to get out of our last year and how do we accomplish this?

Really MST is PC’s way of helping us get through the ‘low’ that most of us are experiencing. At past conferences and trainings many of us spend time talking about how things are going at site and getting to know how others are doing too. This time very little conversation revolved around projects at site. It was a chance for us to just be around our fellow volunteers and “just be Americans”.

We know coming into the PC that it will be both a challenging and rewarding experience. I remember thinking before I came to the Philippines and wondering about what my time would be like here and what challenges I would face. There really is no preparing for what lies ahead; you just have to go into it knowing there will be rough times. When I write my blog posts I always try to highlight the positive in an effort to share my experience and good times with you, my readers (although few of you – hi mom!). But in reality it is a roller coaster of emotions. There are so many highs and lows. But it’s the highs of course that get us through the lows. Getting used to the cultural differences here is, to me, the hardest challenge. The slow pace of work and passive attitude often frustrates me and makes me wonder ‘what can I really accomplish here?’ We all try to fit in so badly, to make friends and be thought of as part of the community. And although I have made friends here and do feel a sense of community, my own culture continues to separate me from those around me (not to mention my fair physical characteristics and giantness compared to their darker features and petite statures). 

We all go through these times of depression, feeling that we aren’t getting anything done, feeling isolated and alone even when surrounded by people, and of course that homesick feeling. But we also get through these times, either by texting another volunteer to vent, locking ourselves in our room to read a book, or even sometimes forcing ourselves to go out and be social.

So, there are times of frustration, sadness and depression, but I think that is a necessary part of living and working abroad. We are separated from our family and friends and everything that seems normal to us. And all of us come here with dreams of ‘making a difference’. But the real difference that is made is in the relationships we have with the people. I can hope that the MPA I will help to establish will still be here 10 or 20 years from now, but what’s for sure is the people I have met and worked with, the relationships I have made and the impact that I have had on others and they on me. I am sure my co-workers will always remember me and tell stories about the Americana that lived here for two years. I hear stories all the time about past volunteers (and the last one at my site was in the 70’s).

So as my batch 269 of PC Philippines celebrate our one year of service, we reflect on our experience thus far, the positives and the negatives. This MST was a great chance to not only reflect, but to also remind ourselves the reasons we joined the PC, and to know that although sometimes we may feel alone, there really are 116 other people who know exactly how we feel.

We have one year down and one more to go. I know that the road ahead is full of challenges and rough times, but it’s the hard times that we learn the most from and allow us to enjoy the good times that much better. Being a PCV is definitely not for everyone, but this experience has helped me to realize all the rewards that go along with the hardships. To know another people, another culture, and another way of life is a remarkable experience that will always stay with me and make me a better person. As they say, “it’s the toughest job you will ever love."

Happy Anniversary 269! One year at site! woohoo!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paint a mural!

Been pretty busy again this past month, so here is an update of all my going-ons!

This year the Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th Anniversary so provinces all over the Philippines have been holding events. We just had our Guimaras PC 50th Anniversary event. We joined forces with the RRCY which is a local center for children in conflict with the law. Boys come to live at the center after having too many run-ins with the law as an effort for rehabilitation. There were also some kids from local highschools who attended the event too. We (the six of us volunteers on Guimaras) gave a series of lectures on what PC is, and what it is to be a volunteer. We also talked to the kids about solid waste management and had a beach clean up followed by a mangrove planting. It was really fun!
Talking to the kids about PC and being a volunteer.
Planting mangroves with the kids and community members
Next was my CRM (coastal resource management) Planning workshop. Representatives from all of the coastal barangays in my municipality came and we discussed what CRM is and coastal zoning. The participants were broken up into groups and given maps of the coast so they could mark where the different coastal zones should go. Participation was great and the workshop was a great success! The information we gathered at the workshop will be used in creating the new CRM plan for the municipality of Jordan.
The groups marking coastal zones on their barangay maps

After the workshop I went off for a long weekend trip to Dumaguete, Negros. It was a long 5 hour bus ride (after an hour ferry ride) but I was able to visit a new province and all of the volunteers there. The are two other CRM volunteers in the region so we decided to go diving at the Apo Island Reserve, which is right by Dumaguete. The Apo Island Reserve was the second MPA (marine protected area) created in the Philippines and was established in the 70's or 80's.
So many fish and corals!
walo-walo or sea snake, very poisonous!
under the sea!
After my trip to Dumaguete, I made the long trip back to Panay Island and then to the rural province of Antique. The volunteer in the municipality of Culasi had planned an Environmental Camp for all of the high schools and needed assistance in facilitating it. Myself and two other volunteers from Bohol were there to help out with the camp. We taught kids ages 14-16 on various subjects such as population growth, plants, climate change, solid waste management, fisheries and map making. We also worked with the kids to create and paint a mural for their school.
Presenting to the kids
Playing games with the kids - trees, loggers, mudslides! (a different take on rock, paper, scissors)
Painting the mural at the 1st school
Mural at the second school. The words are in tagolog and say "we protect our resources" and "plant a tree".
Mural at the third school. Yeah for the environment!

I am back at site again but have my Mid Service Training (MST) in Manila in two weeks.
Thats all for now!