* I wrote this blog before I heard the news today. I did a 50th Anniversary celebration that you will read about below, sadly earlier today 4 of the kids drowned in the same river we played in earlier, I don’t know which ones, but spending time with them, playing with them in that same water, its just so tragic. Please pray for their families.
50 Years of Peace Corps
At a young age I took an interest in politics, thus I ran for many student government positions. My junior year of High school I ran for Junior Class President. I modeled my speech after JFK, because I admired his words. I thought I was clever and instead of saying, “Its not what your country can do for you—but what you can do for country,” I said, “Its not what your school can do for you—but what you can do for your school.” I remember the auditorium bursting into laughter, except I wasn’t trying to be funny. I really believe in those words, I really believe that in life we should do things for others.
Committing to something for two years is huge. Before I came to Peace Corps I took my LSAT and was ready to go to Law School, but before I went, I wanted to do something for world; I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me.
I wanted to understand what it means to be poor, hungry, and tired from working too hard. I wanted to invest myself into someone else’s future, as so many have invested into mine. I wanted to be exposed to a different lifestyle, so that no matter what job I do in the future I always can remember what it means to live with little. I don’t think I have shed much light on the lifestyle I live here. Let me paint a picture:
In America I spent more on gas in two weeks getting back and forth to work than I live off for everything, rent, food, transportation, basic needs, etc., in a month.
Imagine the difference.
Gas for 2 weeks =my entire life here
My Peace Corps experience has been all that I wanted, because it has been exactly that, what can I do for my community? As many of you know from blogs, I have had a intense journey, but every time it all feels like too much, I think about the big picture. Two years of my life, to infiltrate a community and do nothing but give yourself to your community in hopes that one day the things you do for them they will be able to do for each other is worth putting my other goals and ambitions on pause.
Being a member of Peace Corps this year in the Philippines has truly been something to celebrate.
Peace Corps is celebrating not only 50 years of service, but 50 years of service in the Philippines. Through these celebrations I have thought a lot about what other PCVs have been like. I watched a video with the first set of PCVs leaving America, and I wondered about what it was like for them. 50 years later we have medical support, materials, resources, phones, emails, trainings, systems, security, an ways to communicate needs. I can’t imagine joining 50 years ago, and to those people, I have the utmost respect.
Due to this milestone, Peace Corps allowed us to throw 50th Anniversary Celebrations. My first 50th celebration took place in May, very far from my site in a place called Banaue. For those of you reading this not from the Philippines, Banaue is one of the most widely famous areas of the Philippines, known as the rice terraces.
My months have been so busy I feared I would never have a chance to share with you one of my best experiences in Peace Corps, my trip to Banaue.
However, two weeks ago we had a celebration of 50 years of Peace Corps in my own area. The celebrations and activities were so different, that waiting to share my experience is actually a blessing because now I have a chance to shed light on the differences of two extreme differences in the Philippines, and what Peace Corps has done in the last 50 years.
50 Years of Peace Corps Ifuego
After being called up to Manila for medical, I was able to join the 50th Anniversary Celebrations in Ifuego. The trip was long and exhausting. The bus ride from Manila to Ifuego was 14 hours, because wait for it… our bus caught on fire. This is the second time in my life I have been on a bus that has caught on fire—not really good odds. By the time we made it to Ifuego we were exhausted, but amazed at how different the climate was. We took a jeep to the rice terraces and I was amazed at its beauty. It was one of the most peaceful moments I have ever had in my life. In this case, you don’t need my words, see for yourself:
We spend the weekend in a farm house, where we had the opportunity to actually harvest rice and do activities at the local school. My biggest fear was that I would find a leech on me, as they warned us that leeches often attach to you when you step in the mud.
The only dismay I found after harvesting rice was that my legs and arms were itchy, like blades for grass that cause microscopic cuts that somehow itch like crazy. The work overall gave me a huge respect for the rice I eat.
Besides the weather being much cooler, a huge difference from Iloilo to Banaue was the students ability to read and speak Engish at their grade level or higher. A group of PCVs planned on reading to the students at the local elementary school, but instead they read to us.
After our weekend in the Rice Terraces, we ventured back to Ifuego for one of my favorite experiences of Peace Corps. We did a native Ifuego dance, in native clothes. It was an amazing opportunity to really feel a part of another culture.
Another event was the HIV/AIDS Fun Run with an educational seminar after the run. I had been to the HIV/AIDS training in Manila a few months prior and it was the first time I was able to help lead HIV/AIDS related activities. It made me nervous to address a large group, in a language different than the one I am familiar with, but the students were able to understand and enjoyed the activities.
Finally the best moment of all, and the main difference between Ifuego and students in Iloilo was how brave the students were. After school some students came to our Peace Corps booth. One of them came up to me and asked right away if I was American. In Iloilo you have to build up the students confidence before you can speak with them, in this case the students wanted to converse. Their English abilities were out of control good. I asked a few of them if they wanted to play a game. I was able to explain the rules just one time and they were able to understand them easily. Soon our group of 5 turned to 10, than 15, than 20. Than I needed some assistance from the other PCVs, Jaron and my friend Mary joined the group. It seemed by the end there were about 30 kids playing a game I randomly made up. It was so fun, and I hated to leave. I loved the ease of making a connection with the students. At my site, you have to work to connect with students, but once you do, its truly magical.
It was a week away from site, but it served as a lifetime of experiences.
50th Anniversary Iloilo Style
During training we had the opportunity to visit an indigenous site. In the 1980s, I PCV was assigned to the area and was able to help the people keep the land. Over 20 years later and the 5 of us from Iloilo wanted to do something for the community we first fell in love with. My favorite picture of Peace Corps so far was taken by another PCV, Amari. She was able to capture a moment that I find the essence of the Peace Corps experience. A baby exploring my face and the difference of someone from a different culture, it constantly amazes me how babies are able to see the differences in those around them. You can see them react to the tone of our voices, and shape of our teeth, but mostly the desire to grab our nose.
Indigenous people here in the Philippines are called Ati. It is similar to that of Native Americans. The Ati were displaced all over Iloilo, they really needed a home. Ati are often found begging for money in the city. They usually have little to no clothes. My host father at my first home called them, “The ones with the Kinky hair.” The Ati are much darker in color than other Pilipinos. They also live naturally off of the land, but there is still much garbage. We decided to do a trash clean up, and a small English style camp.
As always a few of the children stole my heart. The boy pictured to the right loved to be held, and didn’t allow me to put him down. It was very difficult to climb up rocks and down to the river and up hills carrying a baby to pick up trash. I had a new respect for the woman and how hard they had to work carrying their children.
The second child that really made an imprint was one who I had sitting on my lap. All of sudden she realized I was different and she started SCREAMING!!!! I have never scared a little girl so bad. I tried to make it up to her but she was so frightened by me. By the end of the event she was following me around, so I know she wasn’t scared anymore just curious.
When we first arrived at the site, surprise surprise, they weren’t ready for us. We had a presentation and several other things planned but the majority of the people were in church. There were several children whoever, who were not in church. So I tried to teach them how to play “tag.” It didn’t really work, it was just me as a “monster” trying to tag the kids.
It was wonderful to hear so many giggles, but man was that a work out. There was a lot of little kids, a lot of hills and only one me. Still it was fun for all of us.
At the end of our activity we went down to the river to take pictures… the water was beautiful and kids were having so much fun that I had to jump in and take part of the off the beauty.
Just as I thought the day couldn’t get any better…. It did!
I get to check off a major item on my to-do list: PET A MONKEY!
There was a native monkey. And I can’t tell you how honestly scared I was to touch it. While small, it looked mean. Like the children who can tell there is something different about me. Eventually it grabbed onto my finger. WE HELD HANDS <3333 true love status.
All that’s is left on my check list
- Swim with a shark
- Ride and Elephant
- Save the world (haha jk)
As always thanks for letting me share my life with you. While my experiences differ drastically from day to day, the purpose is the same. I can’t believe how much I have learned about others and how much I have been able to share about myself. I look at all the events that shaped my life to bring me to this moment, how I learned games like tag as a child, and how those games help make a connection with others. I guess what I’m saying is that the life events you have now are all experiences that can eventually be shared and valued by someone else, and that is what Peace Corps is to me, a chance to be exactly who you are and to accept others for exactly who they are.
Happy 50 years Peace Corp Philippines!
Thanks for reading,