PUBLISHED: Camotes computer classroom launch!

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For the first time since my arrival back in SA, I am sitting down at my computer at a coffee shop overlooking the ocean and did my little happy dance in the middle of the cafe when I came across an article published by the Philstar.com.

PLEASE read the article by clicking on the link!
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=790064&publicationSubCategoryId=107

I hope that this article will be another boost for the community in the Camotes to receive further funding and donations. Mayor Rama is determined to mimic this project across all elementary schools. I wish them the best and hope to continue helping in these endeavors…even though I am so far away.

If you would be so kind, PLEASE forward this link to all your international contacts – on facebook too! Check out A Camotes Volunteer on facebook.

From Cape Town, South Africa.

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Ari Nako (See you later)

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I fail to express my gratitude to the people of the Camotes for my five months spent here. I have fallen in love with the Camotes and all its people.

The Dalaguit family takes my breath away with their hospitality and generosity. “Real people” as Mindy would describe.

Thank you to Ondu, Flora, Sister Charmel, Sister Ann Ann and Christiaan for hosting me so lovingly. Saying goodbye to you has been especially hard and seeing tears in your eyes broke my heart! So there is no goodbye, only “see you later”.

The week went so well. Besides having a cold and being bed-ridden for most part, the Soli Soli festival turned out to be fun.

Most importantly, we managed to launch the computer classroom on Wednesday. I’ll let the pictures do the talking – it was a beautiful event. Mayor Rama guaranteed maintenance and support to the school and to roll out the project to other schools. My fingers are crossed. The Freeman newspaper has asked for pictures, so I hope that some exposure will bring more assistance to the school and the island as a whole.

My fairwell was held at Vall Hall last night with the Dalaguit family, Mindy and some precious neighbours in Mercedes.

Today, I said my final goodbyes to most and just had my last supper at Vall Hall with the girls, Felix and some of the neighbourhood boys.

Reality seems far away right now and I am still, like the day I arrived, waiting to wake up from a dream.

With so many goodbyes today, I do not think I can manage saying goodbye yet on this blog. My possible last entry will have to wait until I am settled back in South Africa.

❤ Camotes, thank you for your warm heart and loving people, may we meet again soon.

Clowning around

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Clowning around

What a beautiful week!

I have been avoiding writing my blog because I have been so sad and negative about having to leave the island. Oh yes, Qatar no longer flies the route I booked and I have no choice but to take the last flight out on the 24th of March (long stories).

However, I had the most beautiful week thus far and am happy to be writing from a positive Camotes heart!

Computer training has come to a sweet end. All the teachers (aka, my students) wrote their exam on Monday, Tuesday and, finally, Wednesday and they all passed! I am very impressed with what they have learnt in two months’ time and they are super chuffed with their results! I managed to buy a printer with the donations I received too! It did break the first day and forced me to choose between traveling to Southern Leyte or to Cebu to exchange it. Sigh…I exchanged it and now the school can print 🙂 Better yet, they can accept work from the community and charge a small fee which will go towards maintenance in the classroom. Big smiles all round!

So now, I will hand out certificates and launch the classroom on the 21st as part of a small celebration with the teachers, mayor, district supervisor, etc… Exciting!

Last week, Ondu had a fantastic, brilliant, out of this world good idea… That I should plant my own mango tree. Long story short – he has a small tree which he hadnt found a permanent spot for. On Monday, in between exams, Ondu called me to plant my very own mango tree. He prepared a hole and I had the honor of planting my very own living, fruit bearing (I hope) tree in the Camotes. “One day, when you come back, maybe you can eat your own mangoes”. I love this man like a father! I feel like part of the family. Ronell Dalaguit


In the evening, after the afternoon exam session, Ma’am Flora informed me that San Fran shipped in fair rides and had set up a small fair in the town!! Ondu, Flora, Yoly (friend), little Ann-Ann and I went on a family outing. I honestly cannot remember any family outings with both my parents, so this was even more special! We rode the ferris wheel (which, btw, is powered by an OLD tractor!!!), went on the carousel, the caterpillar and played games. What an exceptional night!

Tuesday evening, I slept over at the family’s. I loved being “home”. In the morning, I prepared a Thai curry for lunch and we ate like kings. Ondu slaughtered his own, native chicken and prepared coconut milk from his own batch of coconuts. Yum! What a lovely day and night.

Ondu has also helped me pick cacao pods, ferment the beans and dry them. They are ready for processing into chocolate but this will have to wait until I am back in SA, where I may have access to the right equipment!

On Wednesday, when I got back to the resort, Christy (manager) informed me that there is a couple from Belgium staying at the resort and that they are CLOWNS!!! Nathalie and Andrew are friends and both french-speaking, successful business folk in Belgium. They are part of a foundation “Clowns and Magicians without borders” and travel to entertain when they can both find a suitable time away from work and obligations. In the evening, Andrew taught me how to rock and roll dance and had me in stitches all night! He mentioned that they would be performing in a school in San Fran on Thursday morning.

Once I told him about my project, they agreed that they would “reschedule” to perform in Mercedes instead!!!! We rocked up unannounced and stole the kids from the classrooms. I honestly think I laughed more than the kids. They are spectacular performers and beyond funny! The kids LOVED the entertainment and I believe that this show brought a whole heap of happiness into their lives! And in all honesty, in mine too. They are a joy!

I spent the rest of the day with my new friends…clowning around. We had messy mochas in town, Nathalie and I spent ages trying to figure out the technology to download all the videos they have taken. In the afternoon, we drove back to Poro for a swim on the deserted beach of Mactang. Perfect.

Mindy invited me to attend a dinner with the mayor on Friday night…better put on my Sunday best for this one!

The weekend is Soli Soli festival in San Fran, so I predict a colourful last weekend in the Philippines.

This is not my last blog…that one will be filled with tears as I say goodbye. I’m not prepared for that.

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Where is my February?

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Where is my February?

When did March happen?

Im going to try my best to catch myself up to the past few weeks’ events and I’ll stick to the most memorable (translated: what I can most clearly remember).

Somewhere in February it hit me – I need to go home. The reasons were threefold (mainly)
1) My money is running out!
2) Every day I stay makes me want to stay longer.
3) Winter is approaching in SA…flying back in the middle of winter would be flying into certain depression. No jokes.

So here is where my bucket list began. The Camotes is relatively small, but also relatively big. I have been told that I would need at least six months to explore South America. The Camotes is minute in comparison and I have thus far managed to scratch it’s surface in over four months! The amount of time required to travel is not measured by distance, it is measured by depth of integration into your surroundings.

The more I learn about the Camotes, the more I want to learn.

In a recent conversation with Felix, I explained to him that I do not want to be a tourist anymore. I want to explore the islands the way he would – as a local.

SNORKELING IN SAN ISIDRO
Boating to San Isidro
Long before short, we rode our motorbikes to San Isidro – a nearby Barangay which was also nominated the cleanest Barangay on San Fran island. (side note: San Fran is the cleanest town in this province and the vice mayor even attended COP17 in Durban as a speaker…more on this later). San Isidro plays host to a beautifully managed marine sanctuary. The locals took us out on a small boat to the nearest coral “rocks” in the sanctuary for a snorkel. The corals seem very healthy in this area and there are plenty of fish to be seen 🙂
Afterwards, we had a beer at the local shop before heading back.
Felix invited me to a church event which had finished by the time we got there, and so we headed to the town bbq for some grub – great way to end that day.

SUROY-SUROY IN THE MOUNTAINS

Both Poro and San Fran islands have tarred roads which circle the islands. It takes a good hour or more to circle an island by motorbike and the drive is spectacular. However, in the middle of this circle are mountains, and on these mountains are houses, people, farms, caves, trees, animals…and whatever else I was about to discover.
On a day off, I mentioned to Felix that I would take a drive into the mountains, hoping that I could borrow the XRM (motorbike) instead of driving the fancy city scooter. He offered to drive with me and we would take both motorbikes – in case. I drove the scooter. Believe me when I say I was scared! The roads are washed away and for most part, your drive over rocks on steep hills…and down again. An intense ride to say the least! Those little wheels weren’t made for driving over big rocks and loose gravel.

We started on top the highest peak on San Fran where the communication towers are located. We stopped at a local house, were welcomed inside and had a chat with the residents for a minute or two. We continued over rough terrain on to the mayor’s “resting house”. This is what we would call a “lapa” overlooking the island where the mayor entertains, holds meetings, etc.

Felix recommended that we head over to the adjoining island of Poro and explore another mountain “range”. Starting in Pagsa, we continued east through a few Barangays, stopping here and there to see some of the land owned by Felix. We eventually visited the church of Christ where I had a long chat with their Minister about Christian belief and different denominations. We discussed biblical matters and faith in general for about an HOUR! I always count myself lucky when I can sit down with a theologian and connect as brother and sister in Christ. Refreshing… We drove on for quite some time and came to a stop even further off the beaten track. Here, we parked and proceeded to walk further until we reached a house. Friends of Felix!
This household is exactly the description of Camotes living. Town is far and thus they are, in most part, self reliant. The family prepared a lunch of lechon (spitbraai) chicken and maize. Delicious!
After this lovely rest, we ventured further, followed by two of the boys to another random bamboo hut. This lot is also owned by Felix, and so, the boys climbed a coconut tree and opened it for us to drink its sweet juice. They then fashioned a spoon-like scraper from the shell and we used it to scrape out the coconut meat as our after-lunch snack.
I LOVED this day. Thank you Felix!

BOATING

Mindy (bless her) has a boat! A small pump boat with two paddles… Since moving to Vall Hall, I am staying on the water (south side of San Fran island). Mindy lives on the water on the south side of Poro island. Quite some time ago, we pondered the possibility of rowing from her house to mine, and back again. Last weekend we decided, “it shall be so”.
I made my way over to Mindy’s on Saturday, parked my motorbike and we set off into the big blue with her boat at around 3pm – each with a paddle in hand.
Most boats, I thought, adhered to simple physics. Paddle left – turn right, paddle right – turn left. Not this boat. We paddled as straight as the footpath of an Irish alcoholic on St Patties Day. We even made a few circles before attempting to go in the direction of my house. But we did it! It took all of two and a half hours, but we did it. We successfully paddled from Mindy’s to mine by boat! We reached Vall Hall at sunset and the view was the perfect frame for such an awesome experience. Thank you Mindy!
The adventure was not over though – that boat had to go home the next day. On Sunday, after breakfast and some networking (more on that later), we got back into the boat and this time ventured a far less curvy route back to Mindy’s in one and a half hours.

SLIDING
There is a slide at Vall Hall which leads straight into the ocean. The trick is of course to wait for high tide before attempting to slide. On Monday, just before sunset, the tide was up and I was feeling adventurous. It was scary! The slide is really high up and once you’re in a sitting, “sliding” position, it’s hard to adjust before hitting the water. What this means is that you end up falling far and hard…on your thighs / bum. It was intense and I was too frightened to enjoy the first attempt, so I tried again. Exhilarating! Many veins in my left thigh burst and I am left with little blue spots all over, but it was totally worth it.

Next on the adventure bucket list: Snorkel / dive in Southern Leyte. Mindy and I will hopefully make it to Southern Leyte this weekend for a dive and a snorkel. I have heard that this area is extremely beautiful and worth seeing so I hope I get to see it before I leave the Philippines.

Welcome to my hood

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I woke up, determined to connect with the locals, get a sense of true backyard island living.  I got a good dose.

Before I could venture on foot beyond the gates of Vall Hall, Felix convinced me to explore a cave on his property that has not yet been explored by guests.  In fact, it is so unexplored that Felix gave it the name “Virgin Caves”.  After pointing out how he broke down some rocks at the entrance of the cave for easier access, he agreed that we may indeed need to rename it.

The cave was pitch dark and leaves a narrow space for exploration, just over a half a meter.  In most places, we had to crawl, or even leopard crawl through.  There are sparkling stalagmites and stalactites everywhere as we inspected with the flashlight.  The only other light was produces by the flash of my camera – see pics 😉

So I eventually got to walk through my neighborhood.  Given more time, I would have just loved to produce a coffee table book of pictures and short stories about the people that one encounters on such an exploration.  As an example – one family came out of their nipa hut (small, native bamboo house) when they saw me taking pictures. The man of the house offered to make me a small guitar from a coconut shell and some string.  I need to return to pick this up.

Another fascinating event was when I bent down next to a boy sitting in the road.  I gave him half of my orange, which he happily accepted.  I then reached for my camera to capture this lonesome boy.  At the sight of this silver contraption, the boy FREAKED!  Screamed, cried and ran as fast as his tiny legs could carry him – to safety.  Safety from, uhm, the white lady’s weapon?  I cannot imagine what he was thinking, but as I walked away, I could hear him cry hysterically for about another 5 minutes.   Oops!?

The rest can be told only through my lens.  I really wished that I had a better camera, better photography skills and better Photoshop skills.  It could really help in capturing emotion in these images.  When I look at them on the screen, they seem flat and lifeless.

Final thought:  The inevitable happened last night.  A frog jumped up against my foot.  It was huge.

anam-anam (little by little)

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The classroom has been transformed and the teachers are making great headway with basic computer literacy. They do love reminding me that they only seem clever because I am there to tell them what to do – step by step. When I mentioned the possibility of a test this week, Ma’am Tita simply stated “I will be absent on that day”. Lucky for them, I have been too lazy to devise a test but I can see how vital it is to learning.

If you walk past the classroom of any Camotes elementary school (and this may be true for others in the Philippines too), you will hear an entire classroom reciting their work – all in synch. It is Mindy’s (Peace Crops) observation that the educational system in these parts promotes a “following” culture, instead of a “thinking, opinionated” culture. Ask any student his or her opinion, and see the panic in his or her eyes.

I can only assume this has something to do with the way the teachers in the classroom are learning too. I tell them what to do, step by step. If I don’t, well, most of them wont take the chance to just try do what they think is correct.

That test will have to be administered, and soon.

Another disruption has been the lack of computers. With four functioning computers (three with Microsoft Office) and six teachers per class, I have been forced to group them into two groups consisting of three teachers per every two computers. This leads to “friends” sitting together and the most competent left to the work while the other watch, convinced that this is also a way of learning… Lucky for me, the technician showed up yesterday to perform some repairs! After an entire day of taking apart equipment and testing, I now have five functioning computers and all of them are running Microsoft Office. PHEW!

In today’s class, I made each teacher choose a number as they entered and they were forced to sit at corresponding computer. Mixin’ it up a bit and it seems to keep them slightly more focused.

As there is an inspection at the school today (Monday), most classrooms were busy on Sunday performing repairs to their classroom and prettifying the grounds. Yoly (my friend and Grade V teacher) is next door to my class. Yesterday, her and her brother spent the entire day painting her classroom. Yoly is a new teacher here and lives in Ondu’s mother’s old house on their property. She is also computer literate and so I hope that she will be able to carry on with training and assistance to the teachers and students once I have left.

All the learners were tasked with making “mushrooms” for the school grounds. These are sticks with halved coconut shells on top. They have been painted and stuck in the ground all along the pathway around the school.

As I waited a bit long for the computer technician to show up (it had been three weeks since his last visit), I had no option but to visit Mayor Rama and ask for further assistance. It is in this meeting that we agreed that this project needs to be rolled out to other schools. Mayor Rama is aiming to set up a similar classroom in each of the four major schools in the Poro district and, eventually, across all 17 schools.
My challenges are to:

  1. Try access the relevant hardware and software donations through a government organization and not an NGO; or to establish a close enough relationship with an NGO willing to act on behalf of the municipality and the schools.
  2. Complete all the paperwork required for these kinds of partnerships.
  3. Devise a rollout plan and work with the municipality to appoint a local project manager within the municipality.
  4. Try establishing a relationship with learning institutes in Cebu who may be willing to assist in training programs on the island.
  5. Try and establish an agreement of sorts with a reliable computer technician(s) who can be on call for repairs and maintenance.
  6. Ensure that the classrooms are equipped to train elementary students (i.e. relevant educational software installed). This is after all the main goal and I would rather achieve this is in one classroom than to roll out to others and it not being of benefit to the learners.

All this needs to be completed in the next two months. I won’t lie, it is rather unrealistic / ambitious and I will do what I can while I am here, especially as I do not yet know whether the municipality would be eligible to apply for donations, etc.
Step one is to launch the computer classroom and create a bit more awareness around the intentions for creating opportunities across the islands for the greater good of its people.

All shook up – earthquake hits the Visayas

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Yesterday, 6 February, at 12pm the earth shook.

I’ve said this before, I’m no writer (I was trying to think of the name of a good author there…evidence of how well read I am).

Point is, I can’t describe an event with such emotion and description that you could relive it all through your own imagination. I can only relay my experience of it…factually.

Yesterday was an overcast day. Ok, I was trying to set the scene but it’s irrelevant.

I headed to Mercedes, Poro to get ready for my class. I half-prepped my lesson and returned to the house (family Dalaguit’s) for my lunch, right before class would start.

I finished my last bite and remained seated, chatting to Ondu and little Ann-Ann when I realised that my chair was being nudged. Confused, I looked around the chair and nothing. “Am I drunk?” I thought. Ondu looked at my confusion and, as we all lifted our heads, we realised “earthquake”. We would later learn that we were experiencing an intensity 5.6 quake in the Camotes. Minor disruption compared to the destructive 7 in its centre in Negros. This lasted for four minutes.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react. I’ve never experienced an earthquake and wasn’t quite sure whether I should be freaking out or just continuing on my daily routine. Following suite meant “laugh and move on”? Seems that the culture here is “what’s the use in stressing about it?” So I continued to class but agreed with Ondu that my head was “drunk”. A condition that occurs from the imbalance…bla bla bla. So I proceeded to the classroom and tried my best to focus on the lesson but my mind was not cooperating. Soon after, we had a brown-out. This was a precaution to the after-shock. Classes halted and news (word of mouth) started pouring in about a tsunami warning. Seems people started paying a bit more attention.

I couldn’t access any news sources and relied on my South African friend to send me news via email to my phone.

The family insisted that I stay with them for the night, I in turn insisted that Mindy came to stay there too as her house is on the sea.

By the time we were having dinner (6:10 PM), Charmel came out of her room with a big smile “another earthquake! The bed just moved!”. Mindy and I both winked and said, she is probably experiencing the “hangover” effect from the afternoon. However, soon thereafter, emails came through of another quake at 6:10 PM, another at 7:33 PM and the last at 7:40 PM. The last two weren’t felt in the Camotes.

School was cancelled and so was my afternoon class. We spent the day in a passive state at the house with a “woah” feeling.

We were lucky not to get the blow that was experienced at the centre. 43 died due to this natural disaster in Negros Oriental – east of Cebu.

This was no life changing experience but one does look up to the sky and pray in gratitude for protection.

A more technical report can be read online.