Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Batad and the last stretch in Tabuk

How are things? I just got home from an incredible adventure. I went to see the 8th wonder of the world, mud-walled rice terraces at Banaue. I arrived in Banaue, got the usual hassle from a tricy driver - essentially, I'll be your tourist guide and help you part with your money ASAP. I went to eat, saw the terraces and decided the town wasn't for me. So I decided to go to a different village, without road access, in order to find the silence I was looking for. I found it, in Batad.

It's a 5 km hike up and over the mountain. I met a local woman in the jeep and so we walked together. We took the path the locals favour. It was straight up, but so worth it cuz when I got to the top there was a rainstorm. Otherwise I would have hiked in the rain nearly the whole way. I rested at the top and then hiked the last 3 km down the mtn in the rain. It was killer. Today, I did the hike out and I don't know how I did it the first time - in the pouring rain at dusk. I guess hunger is a great motivator :)

So I stayed two nights there. I hiked all thru the town, over the terraces and went swiming at a waterfall (90ft high). And best of all, I saw less than 10 other tourists. It was great to have a break. Banuae and Batad are in Ifugao province, Ifugao is the largest tribe in the Cordillera, ie they have their own province. The Ifugao have the reputation of being the best engineers among the Cordillera tribes, they created the rice terraces over 2,000 years ago, using a complicated system of bamboo tubes to irrigate and, unlike most terraces they made mud walls in stead of reinforcing with rocks. The terraces at Batad and Banaue are UNESCO world heritage sites.

I handed in my thesis on Sunday, so that's over now. I am a social worker, wheew. Graduation is on Oct 24, a bit after I return.

Last Saturday, I did two workshops. It was good, learned a lot, heard a lot of stories. The workshops were on women's health issues and violence against women. Contrary to most places (esp. in the first world), where the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by a close relative, friend or partner (about 85% in Canada), in the Philippines a significant portion of VAW here is perpetrated by the military and the police, particularly rapes. So we spent a lot of time talking about strategies for safety etc.

It's a hard hard thing to process, that those who are supposed to "serve and protect" have the worst record for killing, torturing and raping women. The justice system is designed to favour men for ex. when a case goes to court the military and police have the option of testifying, they don't have to participate in the legal process. The laws for rape put the burden of proof on the victim, ie he/she has to prove that it wasn't consensual. In cases where an anulment is happening due to infidelity, infidelity for men is defined as having a second home with a partner, ie one-night stands do not qualify. For women, one incidence is enough to have grounds for annulment. Makes me burn...

I've been buried in UN and NGO reports about violence here. At the workshop, I shared many stories and case studies from the reports, the participants confirmed many of the facts and shared about more local cases. It's the reality here. It was good to have a forum for discussing the experience of Indigenous women. I also shared with them about the Pickton case.

So there's two weeks left here in Tabuk and then I'm going to go to Manila. I'll visit some friends there and volunteer at the shelter where I worked in 2005. When I visited in May I noticed a lot of changes, so I'm looking forward to really catching up with the staff I worked with.

I'll try and post once more before I go back to TO. If not watch for the top ten when I return. It's been great sharing this trip with you guys, thanks for all your emails, letters, packages etc. I'm looking forward to seeing you all again and catching up.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Someday Daniel will be the death of me

Someday... but not yet.

Sue Daniel in safe crag
At the TOP


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A sbort post

So I've officially planned the last 6 weeks of my time here. It's going to be busy. It's so strange to realize that this time is coming to an end. Two days ago I received my first goodbye gift. Last night we had a celebration for all the students who had a birthday in August. We ate pancit, a Filipino noodle dish. I started taking notes so I can make it at home.

Right now I am working on several workshops for the female college scholars. The topics are: Community Violence, Nutrition, Self-esteem and the Colonial Mentality, Healthy Dating Relationships, Women's Reproductive Health and Family Planning, and Academic stress. It's two workshops per saturday for the next 3 weeks. Then we will have two more workshops on women's rights and human rights facilitated by a woman from a local feminist human rights/advocacy group. For some of the workshops we will be creating some theatre presentations to present information in different communities. I'm trying to create workshops where half the time is information sharing and the other half is some sort of active response, like creating a skit, or some other form of media, developing a petition or letter writing campaign etc.
I'm really excited to begin and to hear the students perspectives. I am having a student advisor for each workshop to gain their feedback and input prior to the workshop. Yesterday, I had meetings for the first two workshops. It was really helpful and great to hear their insight on these issues.

The workshops start on Sept. 1.

That's all for now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Human Rights?

So remember me telling you about those 9 squatters who were killed by the police/military? Well, a few days ago some family members of the victims got together and ambushed the police, they killed one and injured 5. After the ambush, the mayor of Rizal, called for more military checkpoints and he is gaurded. The Butbut tribe has declared that they intend to kill him next.
I can't really imagine a place where civilians engage in armed conflict with the police. It's even harder to imagine a place where the mayor can call on the military to kill people who are squatting on land that he wants. He treats the military like a private army.
I went to a local human rights/women's rights organization last week to get info on the situation. It's called GABRIELA. They conduct fact-finding investigations and document human rights abuses. Last year their leader was shot by the military in front of the school here in Bulanao. The woman I spoke to has had several death threats.

I can hardly process all of this. I've been reading articles about the long-term effects of chronic political violence on children's development and self-esteem, this is my thesis topic. But it's hard to find something that is actually comparable to the situation here. There is armed conflict between civilians (tribal conflicts), between civilians and the military/police and between the military and communist guerrilla forces (New People's Army). There is also escalting armed conflict in the south between the military and muslim groups.

So I'm trying to figure this out. In the meantime, there are more military checkpoints and questioning.

Monday, August 06, 2007


So I've spent the last few days high in the mountains in a little semi-touristy village called Sagada. In Sagada they have the tradition of burying their dead in caves, stacked up in boxes along the cave walls. Unfortunately, due to the rainy season the caves were inaccessible. So I just saw the hanging coffins that are attached to cliffs in the area. I did some hiking, found wild strawberries! and the highlight - I found a place to eat fresh yogurt with guava jam on top. I miss my dairy. Also, I haven't seen a foreigner in 3 months, so it was nice to meet some native English speakers as I toured around the town. I met a woman from Surrey, UK near where my sister lives!

Initially I went to Sagada for some work-related business. Once I got there I just couldn't leave, it was so peaceful. So my companion went on to the other villages and I stayed there. When we arrived we went to meet the students in the village that are sponsored. So we sat down for coffee, as is the custom. Then a neighbour arrived, Manang D.C. and she invited us to have coffee with her as well. So we went to her house, perched on a cliff overlooking the town, her yard was a paradise - a huge array of potted flowers and rock formations/benches/chairs. So we had coffee with her, it was dark by this time so she invited us to stay for dinner. And then she invited me to stay with her and so I did. And it was just what I needed. I stayed with her and her niece for 3 days. Manang D.C. was incredible. On the morning I left she rose at 4am, to collect some vegetables (wild fern, lemongrass, syote, ponkan) for me from her garden. She packed a huge baon (tagalog - means gift/food for the journey) for me. It was the most incredible and timely experience of hospitality I have ever had.

It was so wonderful to have a break from work. And it was great to play with some kids. Healthy playful kids, with no ribs showing. Manang D.C. raises dogs, she has 5 puppies currently, making her yard a beehive of activity as the neighbours and school kids drop by all the time to play.

I returned on Sunday. Yesterday I went back to work. As some of you know there is an ongoing tribal conflict here between Tulgao-Nambaran and Lubo - it's about 3 weeks now. A man was beaten by two men from another tribe. This is what started it. Now there are negotiations going on for a settlement. They are getting dragged out as the victim is delaying deciding whether to accept a settlement or call for further retaliation. There has been a second retaliatory attempted murder. As you may guess this is effecting my work. My co-worker, who has been on maternity leave returned yesterday. We cannot go to Nambaran, as she is a Lubo. This community is getting further and further behind on the Heifer project goals, at our last meeting none of them had worked on any of the tasks, partly due to disinterest and partly due to a recent water shortage. I recently discovered that they were incredibly active prior to receiving the animal disbursement. I wonder if perhaps the animal disbursement should have been delayed.

In case you're thinking I'm in danger due to this tribal conflict, it's unlikely anything will happen to me as it is blood ties that determine if a person is to be targeted.

My work is piling up like crazy. I am working on my thesis, due August 30. I am creating a mentoring program for girls and doing test runs of some of the modules. At the end of the month I am co-facilitating a traveling sanitation workshop where I go to different communities to teach them how to dig proper latrines and establish composting. I am also supervising the establishment of a garden at the dorm and a landscaping project.

That's about it, I turn 25 on Sept 2! I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Living Room Shenanigans

For all those who cannot join in regular LR fun, we had a crafty night a couple weeks ago, starring my new typewriter.


what are we doing?


I also enjoyed worshiping with an unusually present living room (all were there who feasibly could have been so).

We well-wished and prayed for those who could not make it, including Rachel, Miriam, Daniel, and team Sam, Katherine and Action.




Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So it's the halfway point of my internship. I return to Canada on October 9. I have to admit my impending unemployed/homeless state is on my mind more than I would like these days. But instead of ruminating on that I'm going to tell you about my latest adventure: trekking in the jungle!

This past weekend I was invited to go home with one of the students to meet her family and see her home. So I said yes right away without asking too many questions, like how long does it take to get there and what kind of shoes should I wear.

Four students ended up deciding to join us, so we were a group of six. We left at about 3PM on Saturday afternoon. It was raining off and on that day so we (maybe just me) were eager to beat the impending downpour. We caught a jeepney and rode for about 20 minutes. I was busy chatting with the other riders so I didn't see where we were until I got off the jeepney. The windows are low on a jeepney and my head brushes the roof so I rarely have the opportunity to catch the full view. So as I got off the jeepney I saw the Chico river, it had flooded the banks and we were to walk across the dam! So crossing the conventional way was not an option as we would have had water up to our knees and two of the girls with me were well under 5ft.

We walked downriver and got a bangka (small, leaky boat) to take us over. It cost 10cents/person!And then the real journey started. We hiked up the river bank, through fields, 2 villages and then the upward part of the journey commenced. By now we had been walking for 2 hrs and my sandals were mudslogged and useless. So I took them off. Then we hit the "road," about 6 inches deep in mud from the rains. We walked on this road for another hour and darkness was starting to fall. It is really hard to walk fast in mud, barefoot. It was also really funny, we were all just sliding around in the muck.

Every half hour or so one of the girls would call for picturetaking, yes this is a well-documented adventure. Patience. You can see the photos when I return. So by this time the rain was intermittent and we were back onto steep and narrow paths and we met a soldier who was drunk and hilarious as he attempted to talk to me in a mixture of English, Tagalog and Ilocano.

We crossed two more rivers and arrived in Paligatu just as darkness was falling. We stopped to wash at the pump and 20 people watched me scrub the mud off! There was no power there so I spent the night talking to Jane's family in the dark. She has an infant brother so we played with the baby and then went to bed. I shared a bed with 5 others. I'm getting used of that now.

The next day I saw the village, it is so beautiful. Her tribe is known for its skills in stone masonry design and this village was stunning - stone steps, walkways and walls, benches and a water fountain all out of perfectly arranged smooth stones gathered from the rivers we had crossed on our way. Unfortunately, we had to leave right away that morning as I had a meeting in Nambaran with the Savings and Loan group.

We hiked out via another village, Mabatu, of the same tribe, Bigaa. This hike I was barefoot the whole way, and the route was a bit treacherous in places. Halfway to Mabatu we found some wild guava trees and had a rest there. In Mabatu, my arrival was expected, unbeknownst to me. Twelve years ago IAT had a 5 year project here where they funded a preschool. The funding ended 7 years ago. When they found out I was coming they thought I had funds to disperse. They had prepared a presentation, a welcome sign, was really awkward. I had to tell them I was in the Philippines to do a social work practicum, not to disperse funds. It was even more awkward as the students I was with acted ashamed of their elders/relatives very direct requests.

Next week I am going to Pinukpuk, a village that is easier to get to, but much further away. My plans to travel further afield have been postponed again as my supervisor is inundated with report writing so I can't really leave the office.

I am starting to see some of the interpersonal problems and behavour issues with the students. So I am working on some workshops to address some of the issues. Most of the dorm students only have one parent and come from families with 8 or more children. Most are landless and cook over woodfires, they cannot afford to buy fuel. When they come to the dorm their standard of living increases, even though they may still not have enough food as their parents are rarely able to provide enough food. The NGO I am working for ends up augmenting their food situation in order to prevent theft. During the past two weeks, a digital camera, a cellphone and a goat were stolen and the dorm students are prime suspects. Some of the interpersonal issues relate to breakdowns in parent-child relationships, especially resentment over growing families when older children are not provided for. There are also a number of dorm residents who have been abandoned by their parents and do not receive any parental support, financial or otherwise. No FRO here.

The problems with the Savings and Loan groups are ongoing, and, strangely, I am growing in patience, empathy and hope for changes in the participation habits. As I learn more about the problems these families are facing it seems more reasonable for them to have a hard time adjusting to the expectations placed on them in this project. There is also a feeling of fear among them as they are reluctant to issue and take loans. I am starting to notice the demographic, individual details, like which of the participants have children who are malnourished, who has access to land, who is a single parent, histories of dependence etc.

About two weeks ago, I was really homesick, probably because I was sick. Now, I keep saying there's not enough time, not enough time. It has taken 3 months just to figure out what's happening here, what kind of role a social worker can play, what the social and political context is etc. I am just beginning to be able to assess things clearly.

Miss being with you guys, especially since you all get to see action in person and I just get to see the photos :(