Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making Sense of Four Turbulent Years

July 4, 2010. This is the date when everything changed. Up until that point, I lived what you may call a 'normal' life; from school, to college, to steady employment as a civil engineer. I may have been generally successful, but I certainly wasn't content.

This date marked my arrival in Bamako, Mali. The start of my first endeavor on international soil. I was now officially a Peace Corps Trainee, learning a new language and preparing to live and work in a rural Malian village for two years.

Fast forward four years and 25 days later...

July 29, 2014. Departing Manila's Ninoy Aquino Airport, I found it hard to put it all into perspective. I had just completed my final international assignment before graduate school.

Between these two dates, I have served in three different capacities within the US Peace Corps. And unfortunately, only once did I successfully 'close-out' my assignment.

My two-year assignment as a Water and Sanitation Engineer in Mali was cut short when, in April 2012, political instability brought about by a coup d'état forced all 180 volunteers to evacuate. My five-month assignment as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, serving as a Disaster Risk Reduction Program Specialist in the Philippines, came to a premature end after just one and a half months when I had to resign due to a violation of Peace Corps' motorcycle usage ban.

The one assignment that ended as expected was as a Public Health Extension Agent in Kenya. I successfully closed-out my service, abbreviated due to my prior stint in Mali, after one year.

Leaving Mali was the lowest point in these past four years. Going to bed one night confident that I still had five months remaining, only to wake up the following morning knowing that I'd be gone within a week was devastating. My close friends in village and I counted on that remaining time together, both to tie up the loose ends of our projects and to share in our remaining time together. Fortunately, I found the time to return for a one-month visit before departing for the Philippines. Although far from ideal, this trip gave me the 'closure', both personally and professionally, that I desperately longed for.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Video: Cultural Presentations from Rosario

The following video is of the Stations of the Cross re-enactment held during Holy Week in Rosario, my Filipino community, on April 19th. Refer to my previous post entitled Rosariohanon's Passion of the Christ for details.

The following video was taken during the Kinis Festival held in Rosario, my Filipino community, on June 21st. Refer to my previous post entitled The Kinis Festival for details.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Last Month in Rosario

My host family in Rosario. After the thefts I experienced while living in my original house, Mayor 'Tidot' Miranda offered for me to stay with his family. Especially given my resignation from the Peace Corps, I cannot begin to express the hospitality and generosity Tidot and his wife Regi demonstrated during these last 3 months.
On July 5th, the Baraks Boys, my 'barkada' (group of friends) became entrepreneurs and started their own convenience store and fast food restaurant, under the encouragement and guidance of local parish priest Father Roni. Modeled partially after 7-Eleven, Baraks 24/7 is intended to be the first business catering to customers at all hours. Given the lack of local job opportunities, I was thrilled to see these guys take matters into their own hands.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Responding to Typhoon Glenda

Well that didn’t take long! Not one day passed after the approval of our Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (MDRRMP) on Monday afternoon before it was put to the test in the most severe disaster to strike our area since Typhoon Dinang in 1993 (Rosario has largely evaded direct hits from typhoons).

It may seem as though we rushed to approve the plan in preparation of this disaster, but that is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that Monday's meeting had been planned for a week, and even during this meeting, Typhoon Glenda only commanded passing remarks. The storm was forecasted to pass through our region, but at a sufficient distance to only entail heavy rains.

By 2AM Tuesday morning, these severe rains portended the looming barrage.

With winds beginning to squall around 6AM, my counterpart Bobi, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer (MDRRMO), summoned all members of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (MDRRMC) for an emergency meeting at 8AM. Even at this time, it was unclear whether we would actually see any significant effect from the storm. But in the name of contingency, we prepared for a full-scale response effort.
During our emergency MDRRMC meeting Tuesday morning, Bobi and I began by explaining the sections of our newly approved MDRRMP governing a disaster response intervention. The Responsible Official (the Municipal Mayor) then appointed Bobi as the Incident Commander, who is to lead all field operations. We then discussed the logistics of specific tasks therein assigned by our plan to key members of the MDRRMC.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Plan Approval

Members of Rosario’s Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (MDRRMC) signed and approved our Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Plan (MDRRMP) during a meeting Monday afternoon. The council, chaired by the Municipal Mayor, includes all municipal department heads, the Chief of Police, the highest-ranking officer of the locally assigned armed forces platoon, the local parish priest, and other vital members of the community.
Our office reached a milestone on Monday, becoming the first municipality in the Province of Northern Samar, out of 24 municipalities, to draft and approve a Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Plan (MDRRMP). This dearth of planning is in spite of the requirement from the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council, through Republic Act 10121 approved in 2010, which requires every municipality in the Philippines to develop their own MDRRMP by the year 2013.
Prior to the plan’s signing, Bobi and I delivered a presentation highlighting the key components of the plan. I was particularly intent upon explaining technical recommendations for risk reduction and proposals requiring significant budget allocation.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My First Pilgrimage, A Monkey Seller, Rosario's Founding Anniversary, and More

On June 6th, I joined my good friend Father Roni in making the long journey to Gamay at the far end of Northern Samar in advance of the Diocesan Pentecost celebration. It was a long journey by jeepney, car, boat, and ‘habal habal’ (a hired motorcycle accommodating up to 4 people).

Upon arrival, we socialized with his friends from the church. Pictured above, Father Roni sings 'videoke' at a local resort as the nuns await their turn. For all of their chastity, these singing nuns do love their love songs!
Representing our local parish in Rosario, I joined our delegation to march in the procession kicking off the Pentecost celebration June 7th in Gamay. (Photo Credit: Aida)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Benuga: Another Baraks Adventure

The sun setting over the bay and Samar Island as seen from Benuga. (Photo Credit: Father Roni)
Our municipality of Rosario is not known as a tourist destination. There are no developed tourist destinations, no lodgings, and no restaurants. No tour guides operate in these waters. The number of foreigners that have ever set foot on Rosario soil with the express purpose of pleasure can probably be counted on one hand. And these foreigners are likely to have ties to the area through marriage or work.

But these facts should not insinuate that Rosario is without its natural wonders. Rosario is, in fact, home to waterfalls, a hot springs (with potential for development, as unimpressive as it may currently be), and a beautiful coastal escape known as Benuga. This was the site of my latest excursion with the Baraks.

We first visited Benuga on June 12th, spending the whole day there. We took a boat to the secluded corner of Gilbert Island, far from the inhabited portion, and spent the day cooking, chatting, playing guitar, swimming, and exploring Benuga's rock formation and cave.

We enjoyed it so much that just 6 days later, we decided to return for an overnight camping trip, this time joined by my good friend and local parish priest Father Roni. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this trip quite as much as I would have liked.