The theme that pulls together our weekend experiences is community. We saw it everywhere we went: a resilient and proud community of people working together and enjoying life despite enormous challenges. The more time I spend in the Philippines, the more impressed I become with this spirit.
Early Saturday morning, we met volunteers from the school and other local groups who have transformed an abandoned fishpond into the thriving Katunggan mangrove plantation. Volunteers unearth and bag delicate mangrove seedlings to improve their survival chances. Mangroves provide essential wildlife habitat and flood protection. Since 2009, the community has worked tirelessly to protect 82,000 mangroves. Well, make that 82,005 thanks to the efforts of Roma and me!
The Philippines is the land of festivals, celebrating both religious and non-religious events. Our guides might not have exaggerated when they told us that a festival happens 365 days a year in the Philippines. We arrived in the midst of the Biray Paraw festival in Leganes, held at the Riannes Beach Resort. A paraw is a double outrigger sailboat traditional to the Visayas region. Roma and I experienced biray-biray (enjoyment of sailing) when one of the riggers took us for a ride. We also enjoyed some exercise in the form of sandbar soccer and a dance-off with local performers. We had a great time chatting with the young people attending the festival about school, sports, and music.
In the afternoon, we attended a BINGO fundraiser sponsored by the Leganes National High School Alumni Association. The association hopes to build an Alumni Hall, the first of its kind in the town, that can be rented out to raise revenue for the school. This community-supported and self-sustaining project exemplifies the Filipino sense of community and ingenuity that we have seen in evidence everywhere. While did not win BINGO, we were happy to contribute to this worthwhile endeavor.
After BINGO, we had perhaps our most candid conversation so far with educators from the school, aptly held in the faculty room. Roma and I asked more about the challenges they face: lack of resources, family difficulties, crushing poverty (estimated at 95%), nearly obsolete technology, and not enough support for students who are falling through the cracks. Teachers at the school regularly pay out of their own pockets for basic supplies, for food for hungry students, even for photocopies so that they can conduct their lessons. I asked why the overworked teachers don’t transfer to another school with more resources or an easier workload, and the answer was simple: this is their community and they love it. What an inspiring, remarkable, dedicated group.
Ideas are percolating in my brain for what we can do back in the United States to unite ourselves with this wonderful community. How can we make this resilient, spirited community even stronger?