Thursday, May 21, 2009


My homeroom Class (not everyone) Go Blue Team!

Yikes! I cannot believe that two months have past since I last updated the world on my Filipino life! Here I thought, “Wow, it is summer-time; days full of beach, good books, some ice cream, and a mango or two.” Unfortunately not all fantasies come true, even if you have already been to Disneyland.

Graduation occurred the first week in April and it was a fascinating exercise; a total of 600 some odd graduates and around 100 of them graduating with honors. The ceremony itself was quite traditional to what may be seen in America, but I am not sure if a graduation ceremony back home would still have an attentive audience after six hours, in a warm, humid day in the Philippines. Even with this temperature, the faculty, staff, and soon-to-be graduates looked prestigious and restful in their garb. Celebrations followed the ceremony with roasted pig, desserts, pansit (Filipino dish), kinilaw (Filipino side), and of course, rice.

Then for the faculty it was back to work, before the Holy Week approached. Holy Week in the Philippines is intense and can be very frightening for the non-Catholic. Palm Sunday starts the festivities and then Holy Week is the most dedicated time of observance. Marches, parades, and the like are happening throughout the barangays (villages), towns, and cities; all depicting the suffering of Jesus. The Stations of the Cross are dispersed kilometers a part, as “Jesus” proceeds with his final walk. Up north in Luzon, there are places where self-crucifixions take place (no worries, no one really dies). Many people fast during this time as well which I would presume is difficult here, as typically there are meriendas (snack) twice a day. Finally comes the Easter Vigil mass which is rejoiced in much glory.

However, I was actually looking forward to giving up something for Lent and attending Easter Sunday Mass as part of tradition. Soon, I realized that the act of giving up something for Lent is not commonly practiced at my site, and well, Easter Sunday Mass was very anti-climatic as it was just a normal mass. Also, there is some type of attachment some Americans get with the Easter Bunny, Peeps, colored eggs, and candy. I regret to say, none of the above was seen at my site. (Though I did receive some Easter candy from a dear friend last week).

The following week, I was off to Cebu for an 8-month check up with my batch-mates and the PC. It was a nice little break full of meetings and late nights with friends we hadn’t seen since swearing in. Also, there was a language camp to help guide us with some self-directed language learning techniques, considering many of us are learning a language that is only spoken, not taught. After the confidence boost of language instruction, we had some PC policy meetings and sector updates. Here, a project I have been collaborating with other PCV was presented. We proposed a new training program for the education volunteers. The curriculum was presented and approved by the staff, and now we are on the final stages of organizing this new training curriculum/module. After much work and many hours researching proper ESL techniques, I feel that much weight has been released from my shoulders.

After the conference/language camp, I stayed in Cebu for a doctor’s appointment as I had been having digestive problems for three months. With tests done and samples turned in, my diagnosis was okay and I went home with a small box full of medicine. Things are still “normal” at the moment.

I came home for a couple of days to check in with my work colleagues, only to turn around to head back to Cebu for another training/camp, but this time, I was not scheduled to be the participant, but a trainer. The training/camp was for elementary teachers living in Mindanao. Mindanao is the large island in the southern Philippines. Some parts of this region are unsafe and disturbed by occasional war. USAID has a many projects in Mindanao and one of these is called “Tudlo Mindanao”, simply meaning ‘Teach Mindanao’. As PCVs, we were interviewed and selected for this event, and are co-facilitators with Mindanao counterparts. My counterpart had been a facilitator for three years and we were responsible for teaching methodology courses for the next two weeks. We had an awesome classroom dynamic together and our homeroom class was always full of enthusiasm and smiles. Other courses worked on improving English skills for the elementary teachers.

The setting of the training was like as summer camp, so as many of you can conclude, I was definitely in my “environment”. We taught all day, and in the evening there were additional activities for participants if they were interested; ballroom dancing, jewelry making, cooking, etc. Other nights, participants and PCVs spent the night away working on their “cultural” presentations for the last night’s closing cultural ceremonies. As many of the participants displayed their indigenous traditions, dances, and garments, many of us Americans were left stuck-in-the-mud, as what could we really do to show our culture. Throw a baseball? Use comedy to display our cultural values of punctuality, determination, individuality, etc? How boring! So we did a music video which can be seen at this web address. (the Blue Team was my homeroom) It has become a tradition to make a PCV music video for the past three years of Tudlo.

The training, itself, was simply eye-opening. Going into Tudlo experience, I had heard nothing but wonderful things about the program, so it was easy to just follow expectations. However, knowing that views are commonly biased towards individuals, I came into Tudlo with positive energy and my own set of expectations, and the results of my hopes exceeded all measures.

I am one who lives for cultural exchanges and to be honest, this is very difficult to find with so much western influence and post American imperialism grounded in the Philippines; to find the purest forms of an endemic culture. Intrinsically I was able to feel, hear, see, and touch this type of exchange with various cultures coming from Mindanao at Tudlo.

For example, in one classroom alone, I had 24 participants that spoke 9 different languages and/or dialects. In another classroom setting, an individual had never met a nice and disciplined Muslim before and generalizations about both religions were quickly dissolved after open discussion. Christians were standing by their Muslim friends/counterparts at a time other Christians assumed the stereotypes. When I think about this discussion, it still brings goose bumps to my arms. It was one of the most amazing discussions I have ever witnessed in my life and it continues to give me belief that simple education can create a peaceful world.

I am forever grateful that I had such an opportunity to connect with some many individuals who were utterly thankful for the new knowledge learned, but more importantly for the new friendships that were made from all parts of the Philippines. One lady, in our closing interview stated, “Thank you Ma’am Syd. You are the first foreigner that has ever been nice to me. I really treasure you and how helpful you and your American friends were to us.” Another one said, “I didn’t know I could speak such English. When I went to SM (a shopping mall in Cebu), I was talking and didn’t realize it was in English, until the security guard asked me to speak Bisayan as I asked him a question in English.” Again, as I have mentioned before, it is not about replacing the native tongue of the participants, but giving them the confidence to use English as another tool in their life toolboxes.

My favorite part of this program is when one teacher pulled me aside and had this conversation in sbroken English.

“What do you know about schools in the Philippines? Don’t you get a big money to be here? Has your school ever been bombed? Are your students afraid come to school?”

Wow, I stood there without any answers. How do I relate? I simply looked her in the eyes, and said, “Ma’am, no I cannot relate to your daily battles. That is why I am here to learn from you too, so we can work together to make your life as a teacher much easier”. Later, I explained the concept of volunteerism and the role of PC.

This was a good conversation; it put me in my place and made me count those numerous blessings that I have which tend to be overlooked on a daily basis.

The most alluring part of what I have just described above is that these are just some of my stories and there are many others from PCVs alike. It was such an empowering experience for me, and just another story how much I have gained working with people of other cultures…more than what I could ever give them in technical training/skills. I still feel the same about my service in Armenia…There is nothing I could or can do to equate how much I learned from the Armenians.

…Which now brings me to date.

I took the GRE last week, and the preliminary results are higher than expected. It is a waiting game for the final results. Next step, deciding what institutions would like me in their classrooms. School will resume on June 8th, as many people back in the US are graduating/graduated and my Armenian friends will soon celebrate the Verjin Zang on the 25th, signaling the end of the school year. For me, my book list has grown, and the dreamy days of laying in a hammock with my book and mangoes are realistic…it is scheduled for Saturday :) Avocados are in season, so guacamole is on the menu… now I need to convince my friends here that an avocado is not always used a fruit.

Enjoy your Memorial Weekend Americans…and take time to reflect on the real reason why you get that following Monday off…then you will come to appreciate why life in the US is really good, even on the bad days.

Happy Summer to you all!

Ayo-ayo, ingat, amping, hajogh-majogh, take care,


Birthdays had and to be had: Lindy, Moni, RPCV Nancy, Heather, Kristen, Aunt Bard, Upchuck Katie, Ant, Alex, Bern, Jeff, Mom, Sam, Courtney, Artur, Anna, Meri

Anniversaries: Lindsey/Nick, Andrea/Nic, Rhea/Craig, Steph/Brian, Mom/Dad #30