Sunday, August 06, 2006

First day of Training

This Wednesday, the Iligan SCALA center was launched! The ceremony took place in an open air packed b-ball court. At the foot of the b-ball net was a massive dark blue banner with individually pasted letters, which the center manager had spent all night preparing. The list of people in attendance was massive, from the kid living across the way down to the mayor. The speeches were seemingly endless and were filled by acknowledgements. Luckily the court was covered with a tin roof, otherwise I would I have sworn I had only imagined the hundred or so times the mayor’s name was called. Regardless, I still think that I missed a lot of them.

I’m not too sure how I managed it, but I was able to sneak away from my front row seat to go and chill with Foncy. At first, conversing was pretty rough going. I had a very limited Visaya vocabulary and he was quite shy. As the speeches dragged on, our friendship pushed forward. I had pulled out my notebook, which I had used to compile all the Visayan phrases my friends had painfully repeated. It was gold. Foncy and I would just point to a line in the book and ask each other the same question, laugh, and then try to answer each other. We must have gone through the notebook twice before the mayor cut the ribbon for the official opening of the SCALA center.

Once the ribbon was cut, the place started bouncing and people were smiling. The formalities were over and the lechon (oh so good, slow roasted pig 25-50kg) was there for the taking. I grabbed a few key sections and ate quickly so that I could talk to as many people as possible. As the festivities were coming to a close, Narz and I were asked to give our closing remarks. I had been prepping late into the previous night for this moment to shine among the stars. I think I had gone through the speech a thousand times with my ate (older sister) trying to get all the pronunciations right. I think it paid off. The speech, which was actually like three lines, went smoothly. Narz, brought the house down with his speech, the mayor was crying, angels were flying and the city was brought to standstill, Well, I guess my memory isn’t always the greatest. Nonetheless, I was a pretty solid speech; I wanted to pump my hands in the air.

I had just as many fist pumps on Thursday, as it was the first day of training. When I got to the center at my usual time, 7 am, there were already a few youth waiting outside. I invited them in and gave them a little tour of their second home for the next three months. I was a little worried about how the day would turn out, as the trainers weren’t ready to go right away and the youth were starting to get a little restless. The next moment I cracked; I approached one of the trainers and started suggesting that they use a little icebreaker so as everyone could get to know one another. However, just as I had begun to voice my suggestion the center manager took charge. I was in awe with my jaw dropped for the next half hour. The center manager was unbelievably prepared and she was something to look up to in the way she presented her material and kept everyone interested and involved.

Despite the center manager’s incredible control, I was able to sneak out of the center to say goodbye to a few friends at the office next door. In the process, I was introduced to the city planner who was currently documenting all Information Communication Technologies projects in Iligan. The mayor had asked him to perform this task in order for the city to focus its attention in an ICT area where Iligan excelled. Through the compilations of projects like SCALA as well as achievements from regional colleges, the city hopes to attract foreign investment to the region. The city planner told me that the city was a long way away from this goal but that this documentation was a great start to attracting investors.

When trying to attract call centers, the Philippines has a some pretty good things going for it: a high literacy rate, most people in cities can speak English, labor is cheap and abundant. Something which I think lessens the Philippines opportunities to get these call centers is the extremely high cost of purchasing computers in the Philippines. In terms of cost for the private investors it might be minimal, but it restricts people in the Philippines from learning basic computer skills. Skills centers require. SCALA isn’t the only project providing computer access to the youth; the city government has been working hard to provide all its public schools with computers. This year 400 refurbished computers were delivered to public schools in Iligan. As well as generators were provide to those schools which had no power. Four of the trainers who had participated in the SCALA training of trainers are working on this project. They go from school to school giving the teachers basic lessons on computers. The teachers then use these lessons to teach their students.

During the President’s State of the Nation Address, she spoke of focusing heavily in ICTs and attracting call centers. These super regions are to focus heavily on one industry, so Manila will be focusing on provision of services, another region on tourism, and another on agricultural production (also ICT and I can’t think of the other). I’ve heard different views from people surrounding the Super Regions. Some people are extremely welcoming to the idea and the prospect of jobs, while others are skeptical about who will benefit.

Who will benefit? This question has entered my mind so many times that if it were a song getting radio play, I would turn ill upon hearing it. Thankfully, this question is more like a song that you keep discovering new things about it every time you hear it. I went out for dinner the other day with some volunteers from VSO (volunteer service overseas), and I really wanted to find out about what these people where doing. I spoke briefly with one man, Victor, at the end of the night. The guy was petty awesome, in his 50s and just… at peace. At the start, we we’re taking about what gets prioritized in development projects; whether its gender equality, health, education, environment, economics… This debate ended when he asked me what development was. I guess my view of development is constantly changing. What is your current definition of development?

After leaving the development question to rest, we started talking a little bit about world affairs. Victor pulled out the analogy that a few countries had created a certain current and that you can’t always swim against this current. Engineers can build dams or re-direct rivers, but who benefits and does the current change?

In light of that questions, I’ve also learnt that not everything can be thought through prior to doin’ it. Sometimes you have to get your feet wet, and constantly assess your situation and your direction.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cash Money

Please welcome the Iligan city SCALA teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaam! Standing at 5’2" we have Mme. Josie the center manager, next we have the trainers: Precy, Dennins and Freddie and last but not least Jojo the center’s technician. The team just finished an incredible home stretch, going 3 and 0 and will be playin’ Alubihid on Monday for their first away game.
We’ve finished the third week of the iligan city SCALA center and everything’s been going real well. Two of the trainers have degrees in computer science and the other has a degree in business administration. All that to say, they basically ran the show while Nars and I helped to facilitate the sessions. It’s been really incredible being able to work alongside everyone. I’ve also had the chance to get to know all lot of the people at the SCALA center and the City Social Welfare Department (CSWD).

The people are amazing, always working hard but never breaking a massive smile. Dennis, one of the employees of the center, is married and has two infants back home. He’s working a 40 hour work week at the SCALA center and he’s also taking a nursing course on weekends. The guy already has one degree in computer science, why does he need another one in nursing? Well, The income he makes at the SCALA center as well as that which his wife as a teacher are barely enough to cover the expenses. He hopes to be able to get some startup capital to build a few apartments to rent out to boost his family’s income. Apartments do pretty well here and could really help out his family.

Unfortunately, getting this capital is not that simple. At the CSWD, he is employed as a casual, before a city employee has worked for 6 months straight the city government forces them to take a certain vacation. This is because once someone works for longer than 6 months that person will become a full time employee, something which the city government is unable to finance. Mme. Grace, the DSWD director, has been advocating to the mayor to give the trainers contracts with the SCALA center, which would provide more job security and a small increase in wage. His current salary is just under 300 Filipino Pesos (PHP) per day or about 7-8 Canadian dollars.

This low salary is one of the reasons Dennis has been wanting to start up his own business, but getting the startup capital is a challenge. Dennis’ first option is that of getting a loan from a large bank, however, this option falls short as he cannot meet the larger bank’s requirements. Thus, he must go to either the city hall or SEA-k (a GO) and ask for a loan which once again have their complications. In order for Dennis to get a loan from either one of these sources he must join a cooperative of around 20 members from his barangay (his neighborhood). He has little choice in deciding the members of his cooperative and this worries him as he becomes responsible for any missed payments of other members. Another reason for choosing a different route is the size of the loans; the city hall offers a hundred thousand PHP, but divided by 20 does not leave nearly enough to pursue his desired business.

Working abroad is thus his way to finance the startup for his business. But getting employment abroad and making good money isn’t all that easy. He has been taken nursing courses on weekends for a year now and will be graduating in two. Upon graduation, he will need to work in the Philippines to gain some work experience. Unfortunately, this work experience is not always enough for a job in the States. He thinks he will have to spend a few years in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait in order to work in hospitals with more modern equipment to finally obtain employment in the States. It is his hope that once in the States, he will be able to save enough to start up his business in the Philippines. Despite this long list of activities and what each of these activities mean to his family, he still keeps that massive grin on his face while sharing his vast knowledge with everyone else.

Are there bank which can provide Dennis with a loan he needs to start his business? Dennis has yet to find one in Iligan, Philippines. I read a pretty cool article by Hernando de Soto called the "mystery of capital" which if I can remember talks about the need for a set of formal property laws to ensure that capital becomes "active capital" and is able to produce economic growth.
One last thing, I would really appreciate some suggestions on how to make sure that Dennis’ knowledge and experience can be passed on when / if he leaves the center. How does our Chapter gain from past VPs and members experiences? Are there any other possible ways?

Ignat (take care),

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Phili style

So what’s life like in the Philippines?

Well, son, it really depends on the place and the day. I’ve been in Iligan city (Region X, Mindanao) for 15 days. My life here reminds me of when I was in grade 9. I used to be kind of Iloilo; knew the ropes, all the hot spots, and had a crew to hang out with. Then my world got thrown upside down after taking two ferries and a bus. The whirlwind left me here a little dizzy and tired. I no longer knew where I stood. The world was no longer that small school block and the local park, there was more, there was more?

So I began learning the new ropes, meeting new people and exploring a little. My Iligano mom is pretty cool; I can talk to her about almost anything. The only problem is that she’s so overprotective, won’t let me out pass 11, how am I supposed be cool if I can’t hang out past 11. Well, I actually haven’t stayed up till eleven for a while now and I don’t really have a curfew. Although, I have yet to be allowed to leave the house on my own, hahaha. I’m working on it though, I’ve been able to go for some jogs in the morning, but the market and the city is off limits. I’m hoping to graduate early so that I can start going to the market after work.

Not being allowed to leave the house has meant that a lot if not all of my time has been spent with the fam. Days have passed with lots of talking with mom and the aunt, watching game shows and tele novellas, a little videoke, some cooking, contilang hand washing my clothes and a lot of rocking out to Green day and Offspring, what? Sano, my 16 year old bro, often blasts the tunes with his buddies. He’s a pretty dope brother; really down to earth and smart, got a little fro going on.

The other thing that reminds me of my youth is that high fives are in and everybody’s doing it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hey pares (friends), Kamusta Ka? (how’s everyone doing in the T.) I’m doing it mabuti style (good). Now, that I’ve totally miss used tagalog (the Filipino national language), hahaha, I actually couldn’t find anything to end this sentence with, sorry.

So, everything thing here is pretty awesome, I arrived in San Jose del Monte, a city an hours drive away from Manila, this Monday and will be leaving on Saturday. The reason why my stay is so short is that, well there’s just so much to do and learn. Here in San Jose del Monte I have been doing a lakbay aral, which is basically spending all my time talking to those involved with the SCALA/ICT centre here to figure out what it takes to set up a kickass centre………pause……….YEAH!

Recently, I joined the trainers and trainees during a life skills session held at the agricultural centre in San Jose del Monte. Its pretty cool, it has several different demos of vegetables and fruit trees as well as numerous seedlings for people to pick up. The idea is that farmers or those with enough land can come and see how these plant are grown and learn about farming techniques such as grafting or marketing. Then the farmers are given the seeds for the plants they chose, a lot of these seeds are hybrids given from a private company.
So it’s all great for farmers and those with a little land however for the most part, the inhabitants of San Jose del Monte have extremely small lots. This is where the initiative gets more interesting, the agricultural centre is producing seedlings, which can be planted in bags of rice, or even pop bottles hung up somewhere. Thus even those without land can possibly grow enough food for the subsistence of their families.

How do the people find out about this service? This is pretty funny, its actually somewhat of a community service, for those departments that fail to show up at the flag ceremony on Monday are condemned to head over to this agricultural centre and its also voluntary for others who wish to visit. The trip to the centre consist of an introduction to the centre where the project is explained in full detail and then guest are given the seeds and seedlings of the plants they wish to grow.

Of course community service wouldn’t be community service without back breaking labour. After all the fun stuff, the group is sent to the field for a few hours to do some physical labour. Our group spent, I believe, three hours putting soil into small bags in the exhausting mid-day heat. I almost blacked out a couple of times as I tried to get up from my squat position. I guess it was just I, because I got laughed at every time I had to reach for the bamboo framework of the hut to regain my balance.

Balance is everything in this project and a lot of things must go right for this initiative to be able to work and improve people’s livelihoods. From a first glance it looks pretty awesome, possibly going deeper into the project it might also be awesome. The people who ran the agriculture centre were extremely knowledgeable, masters possibly doctorates in agriculture. I was just wondering what kind of things would worry you if you were overlooking the entire project? Maybe we could start a post on myewb and I could try to answer questions you might have as well as throw my two cents in. I’ll attach my itinerary for the summer as well, so that all y’all can get a better idea of what I’ll be doing. Again, feel free to email me any time with questions and comments or anything at all! I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible, but the truth is, I might just be shootin’ some jays, hahaha. I’ve actually yet to play a game of b-ball, seguro and sana today (maybe and hopefully).

Maging Mabuti Anglahat – Everything’s gonna be all right

Two weeks ago was a pretty rough. It was spent at a resort with a 30m pool, a bowling alley and a bar and restaurant oh yeah and cable tv. The 9 of us spent the week going through the SCALA program manual to get a better grasp on what is involved in the SCALA center set-up. Yada yada yada, things didn’t go so well. The Filipinos hung out with each other as did the Canadians, not a whole lot of bonding going on. Oh yeah and the world cup was on the tv, the tv. I hadn’t watched tv in several months now, and it was the world cup. The week wasn’t a total disaster as I’m painting it out to be, by the end of the week we were enjoying our training. I was quite glad to leave that place behind when the time came.

I believe that the day after we left the resort, we found out that there we’re some problems with the shipment of computers. This meant that we supposedly had a week to kill before Nars and I would set out for Iligan to assist in their center’s set-up. Girl, I tell you there were big plans for that week. Nothing was too big to take on, of course will do that, oh yeah and that. So by the time the week played out, Megan and I were able to put a check mark beside one item on our list.

The days were spent talking with everyone involved at the Iloilo city SCALA center. Sometimes running around frantically trying to catch someone and other times just letting things happen. While the nights were spent eating at this awesome buffet style restaurant which would set-up shop on the sidewalk of General Luna Street when the sun would set, playing a game of b-ball with the employees at our pension house, and discussing what we at heard, understood and planned to do the next day. Throughout the course of our discussions several concerns were expressed regarding the budget, a lack of technician among others. It was looking pretty worrisome, and Megan and I were scrambling to learn about everything and anything so that we could recommend possible solutions.

By Thursday afternoon, Megan and I had prepared our first agenda and were going through the items with all those involved in the SCALA center. The start of the meeting was a little shaky as we were either lacking words or were too forceful in approach. As we started to leave more room for others to speak, things just started flowing. Suggestions were being proposed and agreed to act upon which neither Megan nor I had thought about. It was pretty cool; Megan and I went from busting people’s back to basically note takers adding in a few words for good measure here and there. I went into the meeting feeling a little uneasy about the amount of issues, which had been presented. By the end of the meeting, it was quite evident that: Sir Fred, Mme. Nida, Sir Mario, Sir Che, Mme. Felina and Knock Knock knew exactly what they were doing.

Its funny, talking to everyone individually merely produced a mess, but then when everyone got together and started sharing their stories that mess became a force, baby.
The center was looking oh so sharp thus my worries were gone. The only possible thing left was to party, it was time for a fiesta! And what a fiesta they were. The first barangay fiesta we attended consisted of an awesome meal at a friend of friend’s place, a little dancing from Megan, and the best seats in the house at a cockfight (we tried watching from a far but we were physical dragged to the seats).

At the end of the cockfight we made our way back to main road. Around a half an hour walk along a dirt path, a walk that the friend had done everyday during his training at the SCALA center, ontop of a 15 min tricycle ride, and a 10 min jeepney ride. Arriving at the next barangay, its sight was just as memorable, a labyrinth of houses on stilts and walkways, which kept you feet from sinking in the black clay. We had lunch at two separate houses, again friends of friends, and once again the food was amazing. At the last house I had the pleasure of meeting the coolest kid in the Philippines. Her name was cookie and she could kick it like none other.


What unifies people can also divide them. Culture, religion, race, politics, sports, etc. can act as unifying agents but they can also act as exclusive ones. Can something that divides people also unify them? Throughout most of my conversations here in the Philippines migration has been a constant theme. Migration takes many forms; immigrating to Canada or migrating to a different region within the Philippines, working in a different county or working in a different city. The reasons behind migration are as varied as the types of migration and possibly as varied as the people involved. Nonetheless, those involved in the process of migration feel its effects. Migration for most has been a choice but also a necessity.

Then again, migration has not always been a choice. For example, during the Marcos regime in the late 70s many squatters in Manila were forced to evacuate from their lands. One women recalled as a young child how her family, equipped with the few materials which they could put in a jeep, they were dropped off on a vacant piece of land. her mother and father used two pieces of surrogated tin to serve as a shelter for their family on that first night. The next morning was spent finding a source for drinking water. Her family like many others had been kicked off their land and dropped off in what is now the city of San Jose del Monte, made to fend for themselves.
The effects of the Marcos regime were far reaching and even though the economy prospered under him, many people were forced to flee. A social worker in Iloilo city, along with her husband left her family in Manila in order to escape the violence that came with Marshall law. She has spent most of her life working in the development sector for UNDP, CIDA, World Bank and now the DSWD. She describes the positive change with these development programs bring and can bring but the frustration of always lacking the necessary funds to properly administer these programs has left a bitter taste in her mouth. Both her and her husband have decided to join his family in Canada in the following year, something which both of them had previously toyed with but had turned down because of a desire to push for change. In moving to Canada, is not a sign that they will give up the fight, but instead that they shall be tackling the issues from a different vantage point.

But what will the impact of migration be on herself, on her family? A family, which she lost close contact with in the 80s but continued to visit almost monthly. In Ormoc city, Jenry, a SCALA trainee with whom I resided for a week, was dealing with the realities of being separated from his family. The only job his father could find was that of a taxi driver in Cebu city, four hours by ferry. The two had not seen each other since December and there had not been any plans to see one another in the near future. Jenry’s grandparents had taken to providing for him, give him a roof, food, and jeepney fair, and of course a lot of lovin’. They were pretty amazing grandparents; the grandmother was the sweetest and most wonderful women I have met in the Philippines/world (apart from Canada), and the grandfather, well he was just awesome, outgoing and wise as one will ever hope to be. Yet still it was really tough on Jenry, not having a mother or father to turn to, separated by the ocean.

I also seen and heard the amount of hope placed in working and living overseas. Everywhere you turn there is some agencies offering to find you a job and send you abroad, and you can bet that there’s even more people trying to live and work overseas. What pushes or pulls people to leave their families for a new country? One woman told me that her friend was working in New York City. When I asked her what her friend was doing there, she replied that her friend was working three jobs: a taxi driver, a tutor, and at a high tech firm. My jaw immediately dropped, I could not understand why this person was envied; yet she was. The opportunity to work three jobs and earn a little extra was more than enough to convince this woman to do the same. The salary was low at her current government job and the hours long, that and the limited options of pursuing a profitable second job made it almost impossible for her to gain any extra cash.

Does “money make the world go round” or is it “mo money, mo problems”? or neither and I’m just talking gibberish. Anyways, I just thought it’d be cool to put some names and possibly some people behind the phenomena of migration. And what am I doing so far away from my family and friends? All I know is that there’s nothing quite like a fourteen hour ferry in the dark of night, I ain’t never seen a prettier moon, and her reflection is surely something to be marveled at.

Monday, June 26, 2006

So here's a little entry I wrote in my journal during my first visit to a SCALA centre, I believe it was the day after my arrival to the Philippines. Sara Triggs (long-term Overseas Volunteer), Megan (Waterloo short-term) and I went to visit the SCALA center manager in Alaminos, a city in Region 1. The centre manager was only one title that this woman held, there were numerous others, none of which I can currently remember. All to say that she was a very busy person as are most of those involved in the SCALA program.

The purpose of our trip had been to talk with the mayor with the hope that he would agree to allowing one of the Alaminos' computer trainers to become a SCALA volunteer. Becoming a SCALA volunteer meant that the trainer would be gone from the Alaminos center for a total of 5 weeks, 1 week training and 4 weeks setting up a new center in region 1. At this point I was presented with two different descriptions of 5 weeks. The first coming from Sara was that 5 weeks was a month. The other coming from the center manager was that 5 weeks was a month and a half. Both are quite close to the reality, hahaha.

In order for the SCALA program to be able to create new centers once the last EWB volunteer (Sara) has left, the program needs to have Filipino SCALA volunteers. Who wouldn't want to be a SCALA volunteer, I'm havin' a wicked time. Unfortunately, not everyone is in the same position that I'm in, a large percentage of the computer trainers are in their late 20s, early 30s and have families to look after. One quick clarification that I should make at this point is that Filipino SCALA volunteer are actually paid their regular salaries from the city. This brings up another issue; it is often the mayor and the center manager decision to send a SCALA volunteer and sending a SCALA volunteer means that the center is often understaffed for those 5 weeks. Thus, there are often difficulties in convincing mayors and centermanagers to send SCALA volunteers.

With these difficulties in mind, Sara sought to convince the center manager of sending a volunteer by presenting the need for volunteers to continue to set up more centers, as well as the knowledge and skills that the volunteer would bring back to the Alaminos center. The acknowledgement of these benefits consisted of a smile on the part of the center manager. We weren't able to see him, due to unfortunate circumstances in which his son had fallen ill and the mayor had to take him to a hospital in Manila.

On the upside, we were able to meet with the center manager for a second time. After which Sara felt quite confident that the center manager would approach the mayor with our request for Alaminos to send a SCALA volunteer.

Another interesting issue that arose in our conversation with the mayor was the selection of Out of School Youth (OSY) to participate in the SCALA program. The center manager's criterion was heavily focused on the OSY's family income but also on their ability to write and communicate in English.

The lost Blogs

So, I think that I lost a few of by blogg posts and since I have yet to put any of them up, I figured I put this thoughts up as the opener. But you should have seen the beautiful entry I had, joke lang.

So, It is a very different placement than I had imagined others would be. I haven’t really spent more than 6 days in one place. Nonetheless, I have learned and will continue to learn a great deal. I feel and hope that my involvement in the SCALA program has had a positive impact.
Throughout most of my stay, I have been spent countless hours living and enjoying life alongside friends, many who are considered below the poverty line. For me poverty was a relative statistic deeming some poor and others extremely poor and few other words thrown in for good measure. Poverty grew to include grandparents caring for their 7 grandchildren because their parents were working in other cities/countries. Children who hadn’t seen their parents for months and even some who had lived with their grandmothers for their first nine years, waiting for immigration papers to come so that they could be reunited with their mother in a different country. And after a visit to one of the SCALA trainees’ houses for a fiesta, poverty grew once again to include a very real and devastating lack of basic medical attention and proper sanitation, as well as the people affected by this type of impoverishment.

And it’s really tough to see this poverty growing. Seeing the SUVs and Megamalls beside a vibrant and lively community without proper sanitation and whom none of its members have legal rights to their land, knowing that nurses are leaving the country like sugar being harvested from the plantation and then knowing and seeing what happens to the soil, to the people.
It’s pretty tough thinking about it, and I know that I often throw it in the back of my mind when go into work and even after work. The upside is that the present is always moving and changing. Oh yeah and what’s written on the back of Narciso’s T. is also pretty solid: " The challenging problems the youth face today will not be resolved in a 100 days from now, nor will they be resolved 1,000 days from now, but LET US BEGIN……" Its all about the little things and it’s the combination of those that will bring about real beneficial change in people’s lives.

There’s a lot of development talk round here, probably because I’m working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. I always find it cool to hear about other projects which are going on or about to start up. Again, because of my short stays these programs are only discussed in small detail and I haven’t had a chance to hear more about them. A disheartening feeling that has been expressed by numerous people in the different DSWDs is that of waiting for another development agency to come along with a project. There is a thin line between people feeling that they are being developed and that they are developing. The offices and budgets might be frozen waiting for new projects, but the people within the offices and in the communities continue to move and to live. People find a way to get by, whatever getting by may mean. The people I have met in the Philippines are full of life and kindness. "And change is gonna come" I believe Otis Redding once said.