Be Part of the 5 Million

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – It’s not.” -The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

It started in one country. When 50,000 people gathered in Estonia in 2008 to clean up the whole nation and collected 10,000 tons of illegal waste. Others were inspired to do the same and the movement went global when Let’s Do It! World Cleanup was launched in 2012.

The planet is turning into one giant dumpsite as we generate 1.2 kg of waste per person per day (1.3 billion tons per year) according to the World Bank. These wastes end up in landfills and worst, in natural environments such as forests, rivers, and oceans.

So with the goal to clean up the country and be part of the solution, Let’s Do It! Philippines targets to mobilize 5 million volunteers, which is around 5% of the country’s total population, to participate in the National Cleanup Day on September 20.

Eco-warriors in different regions and provinces are coordinating with local government units, schools and universities, NGO’s, and other groups. This is not only to promote the movement but to encourage everyone to reduce waste, to be responsible in disposing garbage, and to maintain cleanliness.

With climate change, pollution, and other environmental problems, the Earth which we call our home needs our help more than ever. Be that someone who cares a whole awful lot. Be part of the 5 million!

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The Mean Teacher

I’m an alumnus of Teach for the Philippines, an NGO that enlists some of the country’s most promising young leaders to teach for two years in public schools throughout the Philippines. This is an account of how the two-year journey began for me.

I will be teaching Science to five sections with 50 plus students. The good thing about this is I would just need to prepare one lesson plan. But I may get bored of repeating the lesson five times a day. Well, I guess that’s the least of my worries. Heck, I’ll be dealing with a big group of kids cramped in an overcrowded and poorly ventilated room… Bring it on! Challenge accepted!

I enter the classroom well-prepared as I could be. I can see it. I will charm them with my creative and engaging approach to teaching. And they will listen, learn, and have fun! A few minutes into the day and all my plans got thrown out the window just like that.

We learned about lesson planning, classroom management, child psychology, and everything that could possibly equip us to be effective, transformational teachers. But it’s totally different once you’re in the real world – the real classroom.

After my first week as an elementary public school teacher, all I have is renewed respect for teachers especially those in public schools. I can’t imagine how they do it. And now I’m wondering what I got myself into.

I have pulled my hair in front of the class. Literally! Banged my head against a cabinet, even. Out of frustration, helplessness… hopelessness? How can these kids have so much energy?!

It could be that this is their only chance to be playful. Life at home may not be that ideal. They may live in the slums, raised by a single parent who could barely make ends meet. They may have to resort to scavenging for recyclable scraps which they could sell for a few coins. They may have to skip school to try to earn a living for their family.

Come to think of it, their noise is not that bad. But multiply that soft chatter to 50 and you have the whole room practically falling apart from all the ruckus. And so I transformed to the non-smiling, strict, disciplinarian teacher. And it worked. I mean, I could quiet them long enough to actually be able to teach something.

A friend visited my classroom one time and asked me, “What happened to you? You don’t smile at all.” Yes, I’m the serious type but I’m normally cheerful and I definitely smile. I was even told that I was too kind a teacher. Wait ‘til they see me now. The thing is, if I become the light, happy teacher, the kids think it’s a permission to be rowdy. I want them to be happy in the classroom but that would make it so much harder to handle them. It boils down to the excessive number of students in the classroom.

“Happy birthday to you!” my students sang as they greeted me during my birthday. And without cracking a smile I said, “Thank you, sit down!”

Hero

Poetry Writing 201 Assignment 6: Hero(ine), Ballad, Anaphora/Epistrophe

I teach
In a class
A class of 50
A class of potential
I teach
To contribute
To contribute to nation-building
To effect change
I teach
And I break down
Frustrated
Angry
Angry at the realities of poverty
Angry at the hopelessness of it all
Angry at myself because I can only do so much
I teach
And in spite of myself,
Hope
Hope that it gets better
Hope for these kids
Hope that I make a difference

Travel Bug Philippines (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting, craving, to travel overseas. But all throughout 2014, I’ve been having local trips which is not a bad thing.

“Huwag maging turista sa sariling bansa,” was once a tagline of the Department of Tourism. So staying true to that, I traveled and explored the many wonderful islands of the Philippines.

Naga, Bicol

Early last year, my friends from an international exchange program and I went for a trip to Naga. It’s not just the food with gata or coconut milk that made the trip memorable. We were able to hike our way under the rain to the Mt. Isarog falls, took a dip in the Panicuason Hot Spring, and tried wakeboarding (well, my friends did), and had a great time at the Caramoan Island.

Caramoan has been a filming sight for my favorite reality TV show “Survivor” so I was psyched to be there. We got to stay at Gota Village in these beautifully made rustic cabin houses.

There was a typhoon that time so the boat ride going to the island was wavy and a bit scary as we felt like the vessel would tip over or capsize. We would have been real life castaways!

It took us three days to do all these so the next time you have a long weekend, Bicol would be a worth it destination.

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Visayas

Normally, if you think of backpacking, Europe and Southeast Asia would come to mind. Who would have thought backpacking across Visayas would be possible. I’m glad my travel buddy, Brian planned for the trip and dragged me along.

The adventure started with a two-hour bus ride from Manila to Batangas then an overnight ferry trip to Caticlan. After paying all kinds of fees and going through boat transfers, I finally set foot on this island which gets a lot of publicity from foreign and local tourists alike. Thanks to its fine white sand, a choice of different activities (island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc.) and its lively party scene, especially at night.

We were hosted by a couch surfer. Wikipedia defines couch surfing as a hospitality exchange and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, or join an event. A cool way to have free accommodation!

Most of our time in Boracay, we just spent at the beach and swam in its crystal clear waters. And we sadly wonder how the displaced Atis, the island’s indigenous people, ended up begging in a land that used to be their own.

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From Boracay, we traveled to the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” – Capiz, Roxas. We did try their seafood but sadly our stomachs weren’t ready for their “kinilaw na shrimp.” And nope, no aswangs in Capiz. I was curious as to what got the place this kind of reputation and found out from the article of Estrella Torres, “The ‘Real Capiz’ Unveiled,” that the Catholic Church wanted to discredit the Babaylans or female healers in Capiz and demonized them as witches and called them aswang.

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Our wandering feet brought us next to the “City of Love,” Iloilo. We were fortunate to have an Ilonggo friend who toured us around the city and the churches while giving historical remarks of these places. It was such a delight to visit the Miagao Church, have a night walk at the Esplanade, and constantly hear the unique accent of the Ilonggos. Don’t ask me why, but I just find the way they speak amusing. They sound so gentle. Now, my favorite dish is sinigang and I have to say Iloilo’s version with batwan fruit gave me just the right kick of kilig-to-the bones sourness.

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Iloilo also became our gateway to Guimaras, the place which claims to have the sweetest mango in the world. And I think I would have to agree! Apparently, they got the 1995 Guinness Book of World Record for “The World’s Sweetest Fruit.”

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A RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ship led us next to Bacolod where we were hosted by another couch surfer, Julius. He opened his house to total strangers and I just couldn’t believe his hospitality and trust. There are still kind people in the world.

We visited The Ruins (of a mansion), went to the Mambukal Hot Spring, and enjoyed Bacolod’s famous chicken inasal.

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Hip Dumaguete was our next destination where we got a taste of their puto and hot cocoa breakfast. That was a treat! From here, we briefly traveled to Siquijor. Spanish colonizers called it “Isla de Fuego” or “Island of Fire” because of fireflies at night. Like Capiz, Siquijor is also famous for stories of the paranormal. I’m not really superstitious but the place gave that weird, eerie feel. Mystic aside though, I enjoyed the fish spa experience under giant balete trees.

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And for the final leg, we traveled to Cebu, to Ormoc, and then to Tacloban. It is saddening to see how the typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place. With that, the 39th Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme Philippine Contingent (Bugkos Lahi), a group I belong to, decided to do an outreach here. We donated monoblock chairs and computer tables for a school, conducted hygiene session with kids, and participated in a magic show in Child Friendly Space areas. Way to end such an amazing trip!

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For the Trees!

A jeepney drove us all the way to Sagada where Challenge 160 would start. This is a walk from Sagada to Baguio to promote the importance of trees and to protest against the cutting of these trees in the City of Pines especially at Luneta Hill.DSCN2059

It’s been ages since the last time I was in this part of Mountain Province. So many things have changed and I’m referring to these inns and cafes and establishments meant to take advantage of the booming influx of tourists, a good mix of Caucasians, Koreans, and locals enjoying the still pristine forest of this mountain resort, reminiscent of Baguio’s glorious past.

It is unfortunate that so-called development is creeping in but it’s a good thing that they still maintain their indigenous way of forest management – the “lakun” or “batangan.” This is a practice where a piece of land planted with trees is taken care of by families through generations. Trees are only cut to build a house. Lumber should never be sold. The trees cut, which is of limited number, are replaced. Their care and appreciation of the environment is admirable. I hope city folks could learn from them.

About 20 people joined the challenge and I’m sure the walk meant differently to each of us. To some a vacation, to others a physical test. A few saw it as early penitence and a time to reflect about life. But for me, more than anything else, I did it for the trees. Yes, I’m a self-professed tree hugger. My being an environmentalist didn’t come from the emerging trend of cool environmentalism. It’s an expression of my faith as I believe we should be stewards of God’s creation.    DSCN1943

I’m a hiker and I love walking. So I thought a six-day 160 km walk would be “chicken,” as easy as eating peanuts. Boy was I wrong. Imagine walking on hot, hard concrete for around 10 hours to cover more than 30 kilometers a day. Not to mention the sizzling hot sun at noon time and the freezing cold wind in the early morning and evening. They’ve been with us, as if mocking us, making every step miserable. But we pressed on anyway.

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We dodged buses and cars rushing by seemingly unmindful of pedestrians. Some would honk and smile and wave at us in encouragement. We had a feast of magnificent views of mountains and trees as far as the eyes could see. We enjoyed the fresh air but the smoke from passing vehicles would always have us cover our noses. We get curious stares and we just smile back. They ask us why we’re walking and we explain the cause for the trees.DSCN1981

I talked to the other walkers whom I have just met. I asked about their backgrounds, their reasons of joining the walk. We talked about books, and movies, and music. We even had a sort of game of naming as many cartoons as we could. Sometimes, conversations would go serious as we discuss issues of mining, pollution, politics, capitalism, and the like.

We talked about food, those that we were craving at that moment. I craved for fishballs and we did have a chance to eat some. It was as hard as rocks but I couldn’t care less. It’s funny that at these times, we get to appreciate the simple joys of life – cold drinks, warm bath, the convenience of eating whatever you want, the comfort of a bed.

Along the way, we saw forest fires. Intentional, I’m afraid to say, but I couldn’t really blame those who did it. They have to make a living, mostly through farming. That explains the many ads and posters of pesticides of all kinds and names; and the “chicken dung perfume” which we somehow got used to.

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We spent nights in schools, churches, and homes of people kind enough to host us. I would always welcome the break and check if my feet are still there. We would attend to blisters, sore feet, and muscle cramps. I sometimes fear waking up, unable to stand. But surprisingly, after a night’s sleep, I would be okay and ready to go.

Challenge 160 was indeed a challenge in all aspects. But I realized this is nothing compared to the challenge of changing people’s minds. Of getting rid of their apathy. Of making them understand that if we take the environment for granted, nature’s wrath would be upon us, as always.

Challenge 160 happened two years ago in February 2013. And for two years, those trees around SM Baguio stood in peace. I thought they would be there much longer. But they’re gone now. They got rid of the trees to make way for a Sky Park that features so-called environment-friendly facilities. Wait, what?! And they also boast of this “Grow a Million Trees” campaign. I mean, really?! How absurd can you get?!

To those trees, I give my sad good-bye. Challenge 160 is not over. I shall walk on.

My GX Volunteering Journey

“Get ready for the most challenging six months of your life,” read the ad on volunteering. The most challenging six months of my life? Bring it on!

Global Xchange (GX) is a youth volunteering program of the Voluntary Service Overseas that allows young people to initiate positive change by helping organizations and communities both in the Philippines and the United Kingdom. I feel a sense of fulfillment by volunteering, knowing that I can do something good for others without cost in our dog-eat-dog world. I decided that the corporate world was not my place, resigned from my job, and took the challenge of the GX.

After all the rigors of application, assessment, training, and clearances (I had to gain weight before I was medically cleared), we were off for the first phase of the program. Our destination – Bradford, West Yorkshire, located in the northern part of England. It is a small, friendly city with diverse people and culture, very similar to my home city, Baguio, in terms of size, weather, and the general feel of the place.

Our group comprised of 10 British and 10 Filipinos. Each one had a counterpart with whom we lived and worked with in a cross-cultural environment.

I had to get used to the language and the food. Bradford had its own British accent where “funny” is “foony” and “sunny” is “soony”. Rice-eating Filipinos learned to eat bread or cereals for breakfast and sandwich with fruits or crisps (that’s how the Brits call their chips) for lunch.

My first volunteer placement was at Seen and Heard, a program of Barnardo’s, a national charity organization that takes care of young people. My British counterpart and I interviewed some of the organization’s independent visitors and produced a promotional video from it.

My second volunteer work was at Abigail’s Project, an organization that provides accommodation for destitute asylum seekers, people who fled their countries due to political or religious persecution but became impoverished in the places where they sought protection. We helped set up the house where they would be staying and assisted establishing the office of the organization.

The Community Action Days (CADs) afforded the whole team to work on various community projects and activities from cleaning up and gardening to advocacy projects such as the peace display and presentations in an arms museum. We showcased Filipino games and dances, songs and poetry during our Filipino Fun Day and Night. We got a bit serious and discussed global issues like poverty, peace and development during Global Citizenship Days.

We tried to make sense of what we did. We needed to validate that our volunteer work was actually making a difference. For instance, we asked how gardening could be significant. We may not understand now neither see the results of what we did but I’m sure that the effects of volunteering are exponential, if not for others then for the inner self.

After more than 7,200 collective hours of volunteering in Bradford, we traveled to Mindanao for the second phase of the program.

Mindanao is an impression of danger and war, but the conflict in this Land of Promise is complex and historical. It is conflict over the rich natural resources of the region where greed and ignorance fuel all the negativity associated to the place.

My volunteer work in Iligan City was totally different from what we had in Bradford. We helped the Lanao Educational Arts for Development, Inc., a non-government organization that uses music and the arts for peace advocacy, organize a music festival for peace that promotes Iligan City and Mindanao as Zones of Peace.

During our CADs here, we had a sports fest at the School for the Deaf, tree planting with students and community locals, a fundraising gig, and play time with children in a disability rehabilitation center and kindergarten.

Because Iligan is such a small city, boredom set into me until the city was placed on yellow alert. We became anxious but had to be vigilant as the supposed ambush of the Philippine Marines by the Abu Sayyaf brewed war in Basilan. At that time I was reading Gracia Burnham’s “In the Presence of My Enemies,” an account of her kidnapping experience in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf. We felt relieved when the situation sort of improved.

All in all my GX volunteering journey has been challenging, frustrating, rewarding, and fun. I think I gained more than what I offered. Volunteers would usually think they could change the world but in the end, they wouldn’t have quite changed others. Others change them instead.

This journey is a prelude to simply be the change I wish to see in the world.