Aesthete

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I like to stand at the summit
And gaze at the sea of clouds
The magnificent mountain ranges
The sunset
The sunrise
I like how the cool wind embraces me
Tousling my hair
Like gentle hands giving its affectionate gesture
Dancing through the branches and leaves
Making them wave their hello
I like the refreshing smell of the air
The scent of wood, and soil, and vegetation
I like how the birds tweet a tune
And crickets and night creatures with their orchestra of sounds
I close my eyes and stretch my arms
Taking it all in

Aesthete (adj.): Someone with deep sensitivity to the beauty of art or nature.

Do you enjoy nature, too? If so, do your part. Be stewards of the environment. Happy Earth Day everyone!

Of X’s and Why’s

It’s been two years now. Ever since the time when I, together with a bunch of misty-eyed young people decided to take a chance and be a public school teacher as a fellow of Teach for the Philippines.

I was naïve, passionate, and hopeful. Overconfident, if I may add. Then reality blew up in my face. Of overcrowded classrooms, of kids coming to school with empty stomachs, of students with behavioral problems acting out in class. Add to that the unmotivated learners, and the non-readers, and the list just goes on.

I decided to put on the mean teacher mask. I became super strict and tried to employ a military style of classroom management. But I was like a mad man as I switched from the non-smiling disciplinarian to the overly enthusiastic persona when delivering a lesson or a story.

Oh and there were occasional bursts of anger but admittedly I was really angry most of the time. Angry at the system, angry at myself, angry at parents who don’t attend to their children’s needs, angry at these kids for being their rowdy selves which I couldn’t blame them for because, well, they ARE kids!

Despite the challenges and frustrations, there are moments when I felt like I was doing something right. When I saw the sparkle in the eyes of my students when they learned something new. When I observed behavioral changes and academic improvement. When I witnessed these young individuals demonstrating creativity, optimism, and kindness.

Fast forward to now. My former students back in Third Grade are finally graduating from Elementary School. I don’t know why the occasion brought so much pride and joy to my heart as I look at these faces and think about the ups and downs we went through together. They made it. They’re a step closer to their dreams.

It’s a bit conceited to think that I contributed to their success. It’s of course mainly brought about by their own will and perseverance. But then again, maybe I was somehow a part of it, being the positive influence that I wanted to be.

A parent told me that her son could still remember the words I said in class about dreams and working hard to achieve one’s dreams. That right there reminded me of my why. I do it not for myself but for the kids. After all, it has always been about them. And I may not be a teacher now but the experience continues to motivate me to strive to add value to people’s lives in whatever I do.

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Turned off from switching off?

It all began in Australia in 2007 in a lights off event. Now, dubbed as “Earth Hour,” it became an annual worldwide movement organized by WWF encouraging people to switch off their lights for an hour as a support for climate change action.

But is this simply another feel-good event that doesn’t really have any significant impact?

Critics say that the reduction in power consumption is negligible. Well, that’s true. And Earth Hour events when not managed well actually contribute to a lot of waste generated and more energy consumed.

But the whole point of Earth Hour is raising awareness on climate change and other environmental issues. Because frankly, there are still climate deniers, people who are oblivious to how we are destroying our planet, and those who need a little nudging to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

So I say switch off the lights. As you go beyond the hour and be more proactive in conserving energy.

Switch off the lights and let this be your vote in support for cleaner sources of energy.

Switch off the lights and continue doing something to combat climate change by reducing the stuff you buy, by being a responsible consumer, by re-using and recycling, and by lessening waste.

Switch off the lights and be part of this collective environmental movement.

Let the naysayers be for at the end of the day, taking action is better than inaction.

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HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.

Politics Classics in Introspection

History is a complete repeat of what was.

What’s happening to our country? What’s happening to the world? What’s happening to humanity? We usually ask these questions and history may hold the answers. Well in my case, reading “50 Politics Classics” by Tom Butler-Bowdon gave me a bit of understanding of the nuances of politics – a topic I’m not a big fan of. But according to Aristotle, man is by nature a political animal so I guess I have no escape.

Politics is all about power. In an ideal world, keeping it in the balance will result to utopia. But that is challenging and even impossible to achieve. Because we’re dealing with humans here. And humans are difficult to predict and to control. So we are left with constant power struggles. A continuous experimentation of some sort on what system could best work in the society.

For Fukuyama, liberal democracy, characterized by open society and equal rights, works best. I share Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s belief that a classless state where all means of production and property are shared among all citizens is ideal but knowing man’s selfish nature, this eventually would crumble. Thomas Hobbes also supposed that man is instinctively mean and so I don’t think Emma Goldman’s faith in anarchism, the philosophy of the sovereignty of the individual, will work. In this case, Hobbes putting forward that authoritarianism leading to order and physical protection at the expense of loss of freedom, makes sense.

The purpose of the state is to achieve the happiness and elevation of its citizens (Aristotle, “Politics”). Democratic Philippines haven’t quite achieved that just yet. But let’s not put all the blame on the government. The price we pay for living in freedom is the expectation of personal responsibility as stated by Karl Popper. Zakaria said that democracy contribute to long-term stability and yet we remain poor. Thanks to failed political institutions ran by corrupt politicians.

The quest for an ideal state constantly lead to roadblocks and now I understand how totalitarian movements rise. Hannah Arendt explains that they get their power from a claim to be the expressions of “inevitable” forces of nature or history. Compared to these forces, the individual life means little, and so is dispensable. Sounds a bit like President Duterte’s war on drugs, isn’t it?

Solzhenitsyn, who wrote, “The Gulag Archipelago,” an account of the horror of Stalin’s regime, state that all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth. But if it’s any consolation, totalitarianism tends to be short-lived.

Tyranny results to revolutions but despite the best intentions, most revolutions simply substitute one ruling class for another (George Orwell, “Animal Farm”). And in the words of Machiavelli, whatever form of government a state chooses, it always seems to become corrupted given enough time. Because power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton, “Essays on Freedom and Power”).

The political, economic, and moral struggles throughout history continue to the present day. The battle cry of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King for equality and justice would have to go on in the today’s fight against racism and discrimination.

Women empowerment is on the rise but somehow we’re still stuck in the backward notion that women should spend their time looking for love instead of gaining the impact that their abilities should award them (Mary Wollstonecraft, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).

In “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,” Naomi Klein said that we are citizens, not consumers. And yet to feed our appetite to consume, sweatshops abound in several countries and according to Upton Sinclair, this is a “passing stage” which any industrializing country goes through.

Indeed, history is a complete repeat of what was. Same issues. Same struggles. Same state. We try to be better. We fail. We try and then fail again, committing the same mistakes. Ultimately, it is in trying that gives meaning and purpose to life. And this should give us the courage to continue on.

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Climate change could ruin Valentine’s Day forever

I have always thought that romantic love is overrated but that won’t stop capitalists and corporations from taking advantage of so-called “heart’s day.” Valentine’s Day originated from a Roman fertility festival, became Christianized in honor of St. Valentine, and now is a major marketing ploy for those selling flowers, chocolates, stuffed toys, cards, and other gifts. Since we’re at it, we might as well talk about a much more important issue that could be the end of Valentine’s Day as we know it – climate change.

You see all those flowers you love to receive on Valentine’s, they could go instinct. Why? Because bees and other pollinators which contribute to the growth of fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants are disappearing. Thanks to climate change, the destruction of their habitat, and other factors.

For chocolates, another staple for Valentine’s, we could run out of these because climate change and poverty are driving cocoa farmers to produce other crops.

And how about those romantic getaway destinations? They could be destroyed by climate change induced typhoons, floods, and droughts.

So while you’re preoccupied today to be as romantic as you can to your sweetheart, I hope you could also spare a little love for the earth. Check out these Green Valentine’s Gift Ideas.

Being Human

The security guard opened the door forcing a smile. “Good morning, ma’am/sir,” he said. People pass by not hearing nor seeing him. Not a word. Not a glance. Not an acknowledgement of his existence.

Inside the elevator, herds keep to themselves. No eye contact. Phones serving as blanket for the awkward silence. Well, not just in the elevator. Everywhere. While walking, in the restaurant, in conversations. Everyone bowed down, almost like praying or meditating.

Folks being helped never saying, “Thank you.” “Thanks,” “sorry” and “excuse me” have gone extinct, so it seems.

How about a smile? Beware, it can be taken suspiciously.

When eyes meet, both immediately have to look away. Stare longer and you might get a frown or a “What are you looking at?!”

I suppose it has always been like this. Minding your own business. Never talking to strangers. Practically keeping to yourself. But I find it odd being human these days.