A Walk Home from School

Last semester I took an Advocacy class called, Engagement in the city. A frequent topic discussed was the concept of the neighborhood effect and how the spatity of where people live affects their life chances. Life chances are opportunities people have that allow them to have more or less life chances than someone else. Many of these things can be related to educational attainment, socioeconomic status, employment, access to transportation, etc. 

Transportation is an integral part in how people live. It allows us to not only get from one place to another but also have the ability to acquire the resources we need to survive. I’ll give a simple example: the ability to get to school. If a child is unable to get to school, then how will they obtain an education that will allow them to get a job that makes them money. It is a vicious cycle that can be analyzed in multiple different ways. Today I am going to dive into transportation in the Philippines and the things I have observed during my time in the field as well as personal experiences I have with getting around!

I never expected transportation to be one of the more difficult things I would have to deal with while living abroad. Not only is finding a way to get around intimidating and a bit confusing, but the traffic is unreal! Transportation in the Philippines is much different than in the United States. At home, most forms of transportation are through private cars and public transportation like bus, train and air. Many of those forms of transportation are not common here. In my earlier blog post I briefly talked about Jeepneys which is a common form of transportation here. You wave down a jeepney similar to a taxi. You then ride until you get close enough to your location to walk or to transfer to another Jeepney. It is all easier said than done, they move quickly and oftentimes it is difficult to know if you are even heading in the right direction. However, I will say after a few rides you definitely get the hang of it. Another form of transportation is via Tricycle which consists of a motor bike with a small carriage to the right of it. Although it looks small you can fit up to 6 people not including the driver. It is quite amazing to watch. Although private cars also do exist they are not as common and quite impractical. It is extremely expensive to own a private car because of gas prices and the car itself cannot be afforded by many Filipino salaries. Traffic is constant and rarely lets up, unless it’s Sunday. To get 5 km(3 miles) in the US might take 10 minutes but here it could take up to an hour. You always have to account for traffic in your travel times.

Traveling to a Barangay by Bamboo boat (only form of transportation)

Transportation like I said can be very difficult and many can’t afford it which is why a common way of getting around is through walking or biking. When I was in the field I traveled to Barangays that were very rural and quite treacherous to get to. One story I wrote about in my notes stood out the most to me: 

A Walk Home from School – I had just climbed up over 100 stairs to get to the top of this beautiful waterfall only to realize there are still many meters of rocky terrain and smaller waterfalls if I truly wanted to reach the top. Although I find myself exhausted and overcome by my adventure already I decide to enjoy the view from where I’m at. All of a sudden 4 little children round the corner of the steps and begin their walk into the same path I took. At first I thought they were playing in the waterfall but then They continued walking and walking. They were no older than 8 and as young as 4. They held hands as they walked through the more dangerous and slippery areas. The oldest boy would test the boundaries before his two younger sisters and brother made their way. My coworkers told me there’s a village upon the waterfall behind the cliff. I watched in utter disbelief as I realized these kids were walking home from their trek into the town. To and from school, the store, even just civilization, these kids must make this hike. How dangerous I thought, how could a mother let her children do this? However, another part of me thought well what else are they supposed to do. Sometimes these children will carry bags of rice or food bags. I watched as every once in a while they would slip and fall back a few feet. It was truly remarkable to watch them reach the top. 25 minutes just to cross the waterfall.” 

I truly believe transportation is an important component to the way people live and the opportunities to important life chances someone has. I constantly think about these children and how making this climb is the only thing they know and may ever know. I wonder about their access to food and water, as well as school and medical treatment. Examples of this are what attribute to the reasons some people live the way they do. I continue to be amazed by everything that I see and experience every day that I am here. I truly am amazed by the people here and the resiliency they show in so many different ways. 

My field experience recap!

And just like that, I’m back at Sienna Park in Manila. 15 days flew by. I figured I’d give a recap of my time in the field, highlighting some of the key things I experienced while I was there!

We traveled to the northern part of Luzon island to the region of Ilocos Sur. We took a bus which left at 10:30pm and it took 7 hours to get there. We travel at night because the traffic is so bad during the day it would’ve taken us an extra 3 hours to get there. Our first stop was to the beautiful city of Candon. It serves as one of the main cities to the small, rural communities that surround it. We were so fortunate to stay at a really nice hometel for the first 2 days and meet some of the locals who work there, including the cutest little boy named Franco. It was there that we met our first subteam.

DOST-FNRI has multiple teams in which each are designated to a certain province in the Philippines. Team 2 was assigned to Ilocous Sur. Within the team are many subteams composed of local researchers and medical technologists that are stationed at different Barangays (what could be compared to as a neighborhood or smaller town). Throughout our trip we jumped around from subteam to subteam and got to meet so many wonderful people and form many new friendships! Truly one of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to meet so many people not only through work but in each neighborhood we traveled to and lived at during our time there. We also got to meet so many mayors and Governors to let them know a little bit about the research we were conducting!

Our living arrangements were a mixture of luxury or the bare minimum. Our first city, Candon, we stayed in a beautiful hometel with air conditioning and even a running shower! However, in the following barangays, we stayed on tile floors with sleeping bags, no AC, and bucket showers! (Stay tuned for my experience about that in the future!) It is usually a tossup as to what kind of living conditions subteams will have and they often do not know until they arrive. A few of the Barangay living arrangements we stayed at that I thought were more severe, teams told me were some of the nicer stays. I can only begin to imagine what other Barangays may look like.

After Candon, we traveled to Danuman West in Santa Maria. This was a much smaller barangay than the first and much more rural. Houses were a very great mixture of makeshift materials and nicer concrete homes. It was there I experienced our first brown out! This is where they shut down all electricity to the entire town for the whole day. Yes, that means no AC, not running water, and no light. I remember the small ounce of fear I felt knowing that AC was not accessible and the forecast showed temperatures of up to 98. Little did I know that would mark the last day I would have AC for the rest of the trip.

Although many people would feel burnt out after experiencing the way that we lived for over a week and a half, I could not be more grateful for having the opportunity to truly live in the shoes of those we were living among. It was extremely humbling to experience for myself the way millions of people live every single day of their lives. It was even more useful when conducting our surveys because we could actually see how living the way they do plays an integral part in their health and nutrition.

Our next barangay was the tiny town of Bia-O. This may have been one of my favorite locations simply because of the people who lived there. In my earlier blog post I talked about playing on the beach with all the children which was by far the highlight of my trip. There we were able to assist in taking measurements like Blood pressure, height, weight, BMI, MUAC as well as even conduct some interviews on food security, food recall and lifestyle habits. I learned so much from the people I met and interviewed and could write an entire other blog post about the responses.

Finally we traveled to the city of Caburaro, Santiago and Cabugbugan, Tagudin. We met 2 more subteams and assisted them with their final data collections. Each Barangay we traveled to were so different yet so similar. Between the foods I tired, the people I met, and the friendships I made, this experience has truly been one to remember!

Stomachs of Steel

There’s one thing that’s for certain, I will never have to worry about going hungry here!

That’s ironic isn’t it? Considering 4.5 million Filipinos do not own a home and over 27% of the entire population live below the poverty line (Philippine Statistic Authority). In other words, millions of people are starving everyday. All the neighborhoods I have traveled to thus far have a fair disparity of the wealthy living among those who are poor. Although, every single person regardless of socioeconomic status live in harmony as neighbors- friends even.

Last time I traveled to the Philippines I got to experience Tondo which is the largest, highly dense slum in the Philippines. People that live there not only live in makeshift homes on top of each other but there is little to no access to medical care, education, or even basic necessities like water and food. While I was there, I noticed that so many children had light strands of hair. I asked if it was popular or common to dye your hair, knowing that in the US, lightening hair is a common fashion trend. Although it is popular for some people, most of the time in young children it is a sign of severe malnutrition. The lightning of the hair is due to a lack of protein which causes thinning of the hair and the lightening of the color. This horrible realization is overwhelming once you begin to realize really how many children there are suffering from not eating. 

One night, after we concluded surveying the homes in our neighborhood we took a trip to the beach (only minutes away from where we were staying). I managed to gather 25 Filipino children and taught them how to play American games like Tag, Sharks verses Minos, Little Sally Walker and Simon says. This was by far my favorite day. They were infatuated that an American girl (in which most of these people will only see a foreigner once in their entire lifetime) was playing games with them. After running around for an hour we were all exhausted and sweaty so we sat on the beach to catch our breath. One girl was panting and said she was thirsty. I had asked her if she had water she could go get from home. Immediately, she got shy and shook her head no. It pained me to face that horrible reality that many of these children go home hungry and thirsty wondering when they will eat again. However, one would never even know unless you ask due to their deceiving smilies, laughter and passion for life that tend to overshadow those hunger pains.

Going back to what I said about never going hungry. Since I’ve been here I’ve eaten more than what I would eat in an entire year. It’s 3:00pm and I’ve had 4 full course meals. A full course meal almost always includes rice and some type of meat and fresh veggies. They also love to include Filipino desserts which is some variation of glutenous rice. One of my favorite things about this country is how hospitable the people are. No matter what socioeconomic status one comes from, everyone will greet and serve you with food (including the ones that can barley can afford it). It’s always open arms and full plates if you’re a foreigner in this country. I actually find myself challenged to keep up with how much they eat! Although, when I think about how sick I feel from all the food I’ve consumed, I feel guilty knowing that so many people around me experience the complete opposite issue.

I’ve realized the Philippines has very little grey area when it comes to living. You either have enough to survive and live in manageable conditions, or you find yourself struggling to make ends meet every day. Although the middle class does exist, it is hard to come by and compared to American standards it’s not the same. I continue to be humbled by the harsh realities I see every single day, but I am also amazed by the joy and love this country has for one another – something I hope to share with others and abide by when I return to the States!

Heat waves

It’s been a whole 12 days and this is the first time I have actually had the time to sit down and write about my experiences so far!

Each and every day I have been here I think of 30 different things to write about. At the end of the day when I would sit and reflect on the things I saw, I found it difficult to recall those intimate and real feelings that overwhelmed me in those moments. As a result, each and every time I saw, heard, realized, or felt my mind pondering, I wrote it all down in my notes app- aren’t smartphones so handy?! Now I have pages full of detailed authentic thoughts that I can easily go back and reflect on. These blog posts I will be posting over the next few weeks I will discuss topics from my notes and eventually I will  post the complete list throughout my time here.

Okay so let’s get one thing straight, the Philippines is hot. And it’s not like 80 degrees on a summer day in Bloomington, IL hot- It’s like 98 degrees with the humidity at 65% and the “feels like” at 105 on a “good day” hot. Let me tell you, when you walk out of the airport in your Chicago weather clothes from 30 hours before and you take that first step outside, it feels as if you could quite literally be wearing a winter coat and snow pants in Florida. Although in the United States you only stand outside for a short amount of time before hopping into a nice, cool, air conditioned car. However, in the Philippines it’s always pretty much a coin flip as to whether or not your next location will have AC or if an air conditioned car is even available. And let’s be honest, you will most likely be taking a jeepney or tricycle (which is the Philippines form of government regulated public transportation). 

Although I can spend my first blog post writing a detailed explanation of my transition into Filipino time, getting settled in my new condo or trying my first Filipino foods, I feel that this post may be more beneficial to cover prominent realizations, issues, and topics as they come. 

Let’s go back to the topic of heat. Although it’s known that the Philippines has a very tropical climate, it can never truly be explained in writing unless you experience it in real life. 

It is ALWAYS hot. Some people spend each and every day in the sweltering heat. Of those employed in the Philippines, many of those include manual labor jobs such as farming, construction, merchants, etc. 23.8% of all people in the Philippines that are employed work in the agriculture sector- much of which is done outside (Philippine Statistic Authority). But it doesn’t stop them from getting work done, although it does take a little longer – but who can blame them. However, instead of going home to a nice air conditioned home after work to decompress after a long day in the sun, many return to houses made of light materials such as bamboo, tarps, metal scraps, and zero AC. You can never escape the heat unless you are one the few fortunate enough to belong to the upper class. 

My first day of work in my field placement, we set up our data collection station in the town’s center. Most town centers in the Philippines always consist of a basketball court and awning. Basketball is a hot commodity here, it is every Filipino’s favorite pastime. Even adults after work will gather and play a few games together. I watched as kids from all over town would gather and play basketball together. No matter the size, age or economic status, they all bring their own balls and play together, all day. The heat never stops them from engaging in their daily games of scrimmage and 10 seconds. I even had the privilege to play with some of these children. Within 10 minutes I found myself drenched in sweat and exhausted but those kids just kept on playing. 

Despite the heat, I have met so many incredible people thus far. Filippino’s never fail to impress me with their hospitality, resiliency, joy and passion for making new friends- oh and their obsession with taking photos! No matter the conditions, every single person treats you with kindness and compassion. A lot can be learned from these people and I think one of those biggest lessons is resilience.

Leaving the country in T-8 days!

Hello or kumusta kayo! Welcome to my Freeman Asia blog!

As I sit here in my spacious, air conditioned, living room I wonder where I may be sitting a week from now writing my 2nd blog post. I ponder what I may be looking at, what I may be sitting on, who I will be with, where I will be and will there be any air conditioning?- hah!

The Philippines is hot and humid, especially in the summer. Their weather is very tropical and unpredictable. One day it could be down-pouring and the next it could be close to 100 degrees. I am lucky to know what I am getting myself into as I have been to the Philippines before! I traveled with my mom in the summer of 2019 with my church for a mission trip. We spend 14 days in the city of San Pablo interacting with different communities and helping in any ways we could. One of the things I am most excited for is to visit the many friends, some who I consider family, back in San Pablo.

Although I have been to the Philippines before, it doesn’t make the anticipation grow any smaller. I am curious about many things as the unknown can be scary. Last time I traveled I was with my mom. This time I will be completely on my own with people I have only briefly had an acquaintance. I am excited to find out what I will be doing, where I will be living, as well as the new lifestyle and routine I will grow into. When I return in August, I know I will have an abundance of experiences and opportunities under my belt that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I couldn’t be more grateful for IWU as well as the Freeman Asia program for allowing me to embark on a unique journey like this one. I have looked forward to this since my freshman orientation day I had in 2019! In 8 days I will be on a plane traveling to the other side of the world and the next time you hear from me I will be in another country. See you soon or paalam!

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