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.