Thursday, April 2, 2009

Doing More for the Children of the Philippines

1. My Cute Host Cousins
2. Our 1st Art Class with Kuya Romeo
3. "The Choice Is Yours" Workshop with DSWD Girls
4. Random Pics of RSCC Kids

I came to the Philippines wanting to make a positive impact in the lives of children living in difficult circumstances and I feel every time I do make a small contribution I get 10 fold in support back. I wasn’t expecting that. I knew I would work with good people and sweet kids however I look forward to the screams of kids “Ate Kate, Ate Kate!!!” the cuddles and the wonderful talks I have with staff at RSCC or friends and family in my community. I am truly a blessed volunteer.

Just this year I have had the pleasure of co-planning an HIV/AIDS project and then working with 6 intelligent DSWD staff to implement the project. We were able to educate 32 very bright girls in 4 DSWD centers about preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The workshop gave them the skills and chance to recognize how special they are and there is positive or negative consequences to each decision they make. We showed them how contracting a STD like HIV can drastically affect their lives and how to prevent it. The whole day was filled with fun and interactive activities at a beautiful and newly constructed center Amor Village in Tarlac. I believe most of these girls have been told some or all of the information we provided before however we were able to come at it with a different spin and I feel reinforcing information strengthens positive behavior change. It was nice for me to see some of the girls who also attended our Girls LEAD camp last year at this workshop.

Yesterday our new art teacher from Bataan Peninsula State University came and presented his first art class. I have been doing art classes since I arrived but Kuya Romeo is someone they can identify with. Not all the kids get to attend, we have 30 kids who want to participate and only 15 spaces. The kids at the center love to draw and want to paint so badly. I’m so excited that most of the projects we implement will be done with paints. The focus of the first class was to explain how art is a personal and creative process and they got to write their names on big pieces of paper and do designs around it. They had so much fun.

My host cousins in the compound spotted me before them this evening and I got blown over between them running for cuddles and the puppies and dogs also wanting love. This is a very affectionate culture which suits me just fine. I always know if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed I can hang out with the toddlers when I get to work and they will be full of smiles looking forward to playing with someone. Some people say they could not work at my center because of the infants and children who get brought here but I think by having the child here it is one less child left in the trash, behind a building or out in the elements dying. The social workers work so hard to find families for the children and we have great partners in the U.S helping us find families for the more difficult children to place, our schoolers. We have a large staff and the house parents love the children and parent them the best way they know how.

What does break my heart is when children are returned to us because the foster or adoptive family could not “handle” the child or it has become inconvenient to have them. Like if the family has got a visa to go abroad and don’t want to take the child. That sickens me. There is a problem in the system and families are not being adequately prepared and supported to foster or adopt these precious and extremely vulnerable children. Hopefully if my extension gets approved I will help Region III develop a stronger advocacy program, pre-placement training and continuing education program for foster and adoptive homes. They are already in this process and I am privileged to be included in this process as it is a very large step in the right direction to helping relieve the institutionalization of Filipino children. Right now I’m collecting information on various foster care training programs, parenting class curriculum, child development and other materials to start developing a culturally appropriately program for Region III. Children develop more appropriately in a family and home environment and an institution/orphanage needs to be a last resort situation.

Friday, January 23, 2009

More on the Library

This library is very exciting for me and already we have recieved interest in sending us books!!! Thanks to everyone who is helping. Some questions have come up and I would like to address them:

1. Are any books acceptable? YES, as long as they are in good condition and sutiable for children and teens. Educational books about animals, plants, the world, people, etc. are also appreciated.

2. My contact info if you would like to correspond personally with me about the library project: Please DO NOT sell or use my e-mail for mass e-mails or the likes.

3. Shipping: right now I am aware of using M-bags to ship reading material abroad. Basically no matter how much reading material you send (up to 66lbs) in the M-bag it will cost the same as sending an 11lbs package to the country you are sending the reading material to. Videos, CD's, DVD's, tapes may also be sent but only 4lbs of the M-bag can contain this kind of material.

We at RSCC look forward to parterning with you on this project! Have a great day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Starting a Library

Hello Everyone,

I am currently starting a library with my counterpart at the center I am working at. We have a few shelves of books however they are a couple small shelves and used by the day care. Below is my book request letter. If you are at all interested in helping or have suggestions please send me a note at the end of the blog. Have a wonderful day!!!

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

Good day! I am a volunteer from the DSWD Reception and Studies Center for Children (RSCC) in Lubao, Pampanga here in the Philippines. I work with staff at my center to improve the lives of the children at the center through education, life skills and self esteem activities. I also do this through training staff to improve service delivery. Currently, all school age children attend the local school are currently behind at least one grade level. This is due to them coming to us without attending formal education and the lack of resources available to them. Our children are bright but need additional materials. The majority of our children are in elementary school with a few in middle school and one in high school. At this time we are working to create a library/resource room for the 97 children residing at this center. We have a building and are fixing it up by: painting the room, adding screens and fans, making book shelves, with tables and chairs to create our library and resource room.

This room will also serve as a place for us to do staff trainings and a resource room to staff. We have started a small staff library with educational and training materials, manuals and texts for them to improve their skills as service providers. This room will be used by the entire RSCC community.

With this wonderful addition to our center the daycare worker and I are have developed a basic English tutorial program and reading program based on a reading program developed by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer. We are very excited to get our program off the ground this summer with our children. We have 2 additional staff from the center with teaching degrees to assist with the implementation of the program.

To make this library/resource room and English program a success we need your help. Currently, we have requested through various teachers and community members is to hold book drives for us to collect as much of the following material: Easy reader books (reading level books) and mini-books for young readers and story books. Specifically we need literature, fiction and non-fiction books for K-9th grade students. English grammar, math and science texts for children in 1st through 6th grade (5 copies of each) would be extremely helpful. Other resources we could use are flash cards, workbooks, atlas and map books, picture books, educational posters, dictionaries, school supplies, educational materials on CD or DVD, books on working with kids (counseling, developmental delays, child development, etc.) teaching strategy manuals for teachers in: English, math and science, an encyclopedia set or Childcraft.

The literature and fiction books will be used in our reading program and the text books will be used in our after school and weekend programs that the house parents coordinate.

We at the RSCC truly appreciate any support you could give us to develop our program to its fullest potential. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.


Katherine Pentz
Peace Corps volunteer RSCC

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Searching for Balance

After a fun day Surfing

There are ways in which the universe connects people to their needs if they are specific about what they need and are open to receiving what they asked for. Me, I have been working very hard to both. I have put out into the universe what I want and seeing it manifest is sometimes tough because I think it should arrive in blue packaging but it arrives in red packaging. Really I need to have no expectation on the packaging.

I have just finished this book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is a fabulous book of a woman who has divorced, broken up with her lover and then decides to take a year for self discovery. In Italy she learns to indulge in pleasure through food and learning Italian which she has wanted to do for a long time. In India she learns about devotion at an Ashram looking at aspects of herself and finding a spiritual calm. In Indonesia (Bali) she wants to find a balance between the worldly indulgences and her spiritual devotion where she finds love. The way it is written is how she experiences certain situations, the mental conversations and all the emotion involve. I loved this book and much of her process is at some point how I have felt: over analyzing relationships, not allowing my ego to control me, indulging in beauty for the sake of it being available are just to name a few.

Since November my goal for my last 6 months in country is to really enjoy being here in all aspects: work, peace corps, exploring, relationships with people here, fitness and most importantly not to let things bother me so much. I can do what I can do and that is all. I don’t want to consistently change my plans because someone needs something, I can say “no” or “that time or date does not work for me” or “do you have an alternative date.” I have been planning to do this 28 day boot camp for a fitness program and I don’t want to keep putting it on hold or getting though 4 days and then something comes up. I told the universe I want to do this and all appointments or activities need to be after 9am. I want to have the motivation to get up when my alarm rings. So far it is working and when I said I could be available at 8am I internally remembered my commitment to myself and rescheduled for 9am.

I have also really wanted to become calm. I seem to have gotten into a habit of reacting instead of responding. Again I let the universe know this is an area I want to rehabilitate. I got a message from a coworker stating the regional director for DSWD wanted sample cards for Valentine’s Day. Let me just say the card making livelihood project has become a thorn in my side since my suggesting it and I have become a scary crazy person whenever the director and card making come up in the same conversation. Already that day a decision was made that we need to focus our efforts because we have been working in crisis mode for production. Our new goal is to have 3 types with three versions. After the second text satanic flashes of frustration were tearing through my body and my coworker was still up in arms. I shifted my mindset, did some deep breathing, reminded myself the evening was beautiful and this was not a big deal. I worked very hard to bring myself into some semblance of calm. I repeated to my coworker everything would be fine and we would come up with a solution. By the time dinner was over I had my solution, I would send a letter to the director about our livelihood project. In this letter I described the challenges of the Christmas card making and how our new system would be more efficient. I described the time and energy involved in skills development for the young artists while sharing how they have grown and improved. By the time I finished the letter and sent it off for proof reading my heart rate felt as if I was never upset at all. I know I have full control of my experiences and perception and I am making this a reality.

I am living in a wonderful country, having amazing experiences: hiking volcano’s, surfing, watching the reenactment of the crucifixion, staff Christmas parties, riding on top of jeeps soaked to the bone, eating snake (very boney) and duck embryo, playing patentero against RSCC kids and loosing, and finding family in friends. Life is like being at school and the universe our principle, there to support us when we ask for help.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Wild December!

New Years 2008 – Bagio

1. Crazy Zab in party mode
2. Me in Becky’s outfit, we wanted to see if we should switch
3. Videoke!!! We all had a turn
4. Me and Becky in our ‘80s atire
5. The group minus me, I’m taking the picture
6. Our group
7. Having pre-party drinks at a local bar and yes, that is the old South African
flag in the background
8. Katie doing a performance for the crowd a Tagalog song “Alleluia” by Bamboo, she
was awesome!
9. Macho Zack and his ‘80s outfit
10. Native Dance done on Session road at a New Year’s Party with the Mayor

This past December like every December here in the Philippines is chock a block full of wild and fun activities. Christmas has been in full swing since September however by the end of November even the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s have Alvin and the Chipmunks rocking out their favorite holiday songs (FYI-Iglesia’s don’t celebrate Christmas). December is also not the best time to have projects or activities at a center as you will be in conflict with many other groups wanting to host a party for children living in an orphanage. At my center we are lucky to have so many people wanting to support us.

At the beginning of December I headed to La Union to help a fellow volunteer with her Basketball Camp. Of course whoever knows me even a little knows I can barely dribble the ball and I would need more skills than a camp could teach the youth just to make me a novice. It is true I wasn’t there for the basketball portion but for life skills; I did sessions on HIV/AIDS prevention and gender awareness. Now the population we were doing this camp for are children in conflict with the law so many of them have committed serious crimes. Trying to teach these macho men how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS using a condom or challenging their stereotypes on what men and women roles was challenging to say the least. It was fun to be up there working with teenagers and it made me realize I like working with elementary and middle school kids a lot! Younger kids really like to be a part of activities and go with the flow easier.

I was also in full swing with our Card Making crew on developing and painting Christmas cards requested by the regional director. She wanted 300 within 2 weeks which we all know is totally impossible however it gave us a goal. We were able to hand over 36 by the deadline. It was nice to know important people from the region received them (congressmen, governors, mayors, etc). Usually this kind of stuff does not make a difference to me but it matters in this culture so I’m starting to adopt the need for approval. Maybe by the time I get home this will have worn off.

The staff Christmas party was a blast! We got to exchange gifts, get a door prize (mine was a set of glasses) and a food box with 100 packets of ramen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much ramen outside a grocery store however I’m glad I have it. Right now I’m on an MSG kick and I couldn’t get enough if it wasn’t for my ramen. We also went dancing on Subic base after to dance the night away. I hadn’t been out that late in months. I finally got to bed at 2:30am, craziness and tons of fun!!! I hope it’s not sad when a person gets really excited to stay out after midnight.

I also got to participate in our family Pig slaughter on December 24th, wow okay so I was around for the last one but this was much more interesting. I actually saw them wrestle the 230kg (506lbs) sow out of the pen, get it onto a wooden bed frame thing, slice into its neck artery (which I helped with) while it squealed bloody murder, which I guess it was. The most interesting part is the specific process in chopping it up. My host mom had people from the community order different parts so they had it all planned out already. First after bleeding it out it is cleaned and hot water poured on in patches when they scrape off the hair and first layer of skin and dirt. Then they cut out a portion of the neck (the throat area. After the head is chopped off. By the way as something is chopped off it is weighed and given a price. They cut all the way down the middle of the pig (tail to neck) very carefully not to cut any internal organs. The pig is opened and internal organs taken out carefully. Then they slice off different parts of the stomach area, legs and finally the ribs. It is a process that required 3 men for the pig slaughter, chopping and cleaning also 2 women for weight, measurements and payment also divvying all parts so everyone has what they ordered. I was up by 4am and the process started about 4:30am after the deliberating on what needs to be done and how. It is a family event in the compound and when I left by 8am the work had still not been totally finished. I’m glad I ended up being the photographer because it was really messy and I didn’t have clothes I wanted stained with pigs blood. My host family was surprised at my interest but I feel that if I help with chicken and duck killing and plucking why not pigs. Also if I’m going to eat Porky why not know how it all works.

To round out the year Christmas was really nice. I visited with a fellow PCV who lives on the China Sea coast in Bawang, La Union. We made tuna and sun dried tomato sandwiches and headed to the beach. It was a great Christmas and totally different. In South Africa when I was little we used to go to the beach on Christmas when we were with my Oupa Herman and Ouma Armorel for the holidays. It brought back nice memories.

I also got to learn how to surf while I was up there and it is tough!!! Seriously I felt old after and my 40 year old friend also did it and I’m proud of how she held up. I need to work on my bicepts (doing pushups), pecs and abs to be a good surfer. Now I know why surfers have such great bodies, it is hard work but totally fun!

New years eve was also a blast with a bunch of PCV’s in Bagio (1 ½ hours up in the mountains from Bawang). The theme was ‘80s attire and I found the most hideous dress. Bagio is known for the best second hand clothing despot in the Philippines so I got some cool stuff. We rang in the New Year watching native Ifagao dancing, fireworks and dancing to a live band. I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday season.

May my future December’s be just as interesting and fun :-)

Practicing Surfing

I'm up and I'm surfing :-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bontoc, Banaue, and Batad

Mountain Province

1. Moma is a substance that reminds me of chewing tobacco except it is all natural plants and it makes your mouth red and people spit it everywhere
2. The ride from Bontoc to Banaue
3. I think this pump still works!
4. Its kinda hard to see but these fields with plants have designs. Magnificent!
5. Our jeepney after we arrived, it was a rough trip especialy with minimal view and the cold rain
6. Looking into Banaue
7. Incredible 3000 year old rice terraces
8. We have to hike into this valley and it is already 5pm and it is already dark at 6pm. Our hike is still 1.5 hours
9. Down there is Batad proper
10. A woman maintaining the rice terraces. Basically the women do most of the work for the terraces
11. View just before going over the ridge back at Batad
12. Dave and I taking pics of each other on the way up the valley to get over the ridge towards the waterfall
13. The waterfall
14. Crazy Dave and Katie swimming. Katie swam to the other side of the pool
15. Us with a local in the local clothing
16. Our hut
17. A view on our 12km trek – rice terraces everywhere!
18. The jeepney that took us back after our 12km trek
19. The swinging bridge on our way to Sam’s waterfall in the Ligawe area
20. Sam’s waterfall

I had the pleasure after another crazy Thanksgiving in Segada to head to the famous Banaue. We left Segada and caught a jeepney from Bontoc to Banaue. Us PCV’s decided to ride on top to have a view however 2/3’s of the trip it rained, covered with clouds and it was really cold. We grinned and bore it as we are tough PCV’s enjoying another part of our adventure.

Banaue is famous for its couple thousand year old rice terraces in the mountains. They are truly remarkable! Upon arriving we (Dave, me and Katie) decided to head to Batad with the help of a local guide. Batad is a 1½ jeep ride from Banaue usually. You get to the turn off and go up to the saddle of the mountain and hike into Batad. We left a little late, 3:30pm. Also there was a mudslide 1/3 way up the mountain to Batad so we had to hike up the saddle too. We did not realize the intensity of where we were going and with our 10kg bags headed up to the saddle. Upon arriving we viewed the incredible valley of Batad. Then a look at what we had to walk down. It was pretty much huge steps down followed by walking down into the valley. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad the uphill was out of the way all I did do was pray my knees didn’t give out. We managed to get to our homestay in one piece however there were many close calls when we were walking on very uneven tarriane without a light. Yes, we were in the natural darkness and all I said to myself was it is too cool for a snake to come out and bite my ankle.

Our home stay was a native Ifago hut. It was beautiful however we were bushed and just wanted a bath and our bed. The next morning we were able to look at our dwelling and recognize how ingenious it was. We used a ladder to get into the hut and many of the huts usually had a attic where they would store goods. In the main room were the beds and hearth. The hut is made of wood and the roof of local leaf materials. Under and around the base would hang the baskets, skulls of animals and various other tools. I know the area gets extensive rainfall and it helps to keep above it.

We headed out after breakfast downhill to the bottom of the valley to the town center. We then hiked all up the side through the rice terraces to the other side of the valley were we went straight down again to the waterfall. At the waterfall Katie and Dave were brave enough to take a dip but I’m a wimp and don’t like to be cold. Also give me a break but I was in jeans and a sweat shirt (okay Katie was too but as I said before she is tougher or crazier than I). We hiked back up to the top of the valley and took a different route around the rice terraces back to our home stay. Gosh we worked hard already.

Our plan was to make the most of this trip and that we did. After lunch we did the 12km trek through the mountain seeing more communities and rice terraces till we caught up with our jeep. Katie made a cute comment wondering who would be the first to take a tumble and yes it was me. I slipped and fell in some tree roots which made a nasty bruise on the side of my left arm. I was a trooper and did not complain.

On the way back the jeep ahead got a flat tire. This must be a regular thing as every jeep driver and guide from the 8 vehicles behind us got out to have a look, watch and smoke. The French visitors from this vehicle took the opportunity to walk ahead while the tire change took place. The Koreans also decided to watch and make comments in Korean. Us, three PCV’s popped a squat next to the locals and watched. It was complete and everyone was back on the road in 25 minutes. We got ripped off on the jeepney ride to Sam’s place in Ligawe but by then we were exhausted again and didn’t care. It never helps that your guide gives you one price upon departure and the driver gives another when you arrive. This is normal and honestly it was such a good trip I didn’t care to put up a fight.

Sam took us to another beautiful waterfall the following day in a neighboring community. The mountain province is magnificent. It is just as beautiful as some of the sites in a coastal community. We did about 25km in 36 hours and it was fabulous to stretch my legs. Doing all this hard walking increased my dedication to returning to my running schedule. The Philippines has superb costal experiences and contrasting high elevation excursions. Please visit and take advantage of so much fun!!