Why I’ve been MIA

It’s been awhile, a pretty long while, since I’ve posted any updates. But as they say, no news is good news, yeah? In this case, that’s accurate.

When I was first accepted to the Peace Corps, I went a little overboard preparing my blog. I was excited. It was a way for me to get mentally prepared for this little adventure without the labor of cleaning, packing, sorting, etc.

During my first three months of training, blogging was a fun way to reflect on all the new sounds and sites in the Philippines. Once I swore in as a volunteer and got to my permanent site, I didn’t have a whole lot of work up front and posting on the blog made me feel productive. (I made posts about walking to work and snacks.) Then, work picked up a little and I had some new things to talk about. (FARMCs and Oyster Farmers) From there, the posts slowed down and I eventually stopped updating all together.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have news to share. Since my last update (8 months ago), there were quite a few times where I thought of ideas for blog posts. I’ve gone on some pretty amazing vacations in this beautiful country.  My mom and best friend from home visited. I’ve lectured on proper solid waste management and overfishing.  I planned and implanted a two-day training on environmental education for high school teachers. I facilitated camp sessions and helped teach college students about HIV/AIDS.  I spent my Christmas back in the US. A whole new batch of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in country and are now 6 months at their sites. I accidentally adopted a kitten.

More than all that though, I’ve really settled in. Life has happened, and I stopped counting how long I’ve been in the country and how much time I have left. I have made friends and feel like a part of the community. I have regular tasks at work and hobbies outside of work. I don’t get stressed about having to communicate in the local language and transportation is rarely an issue. Wi-Fi and general internet activity has continued to be a problem, however.

As all this has been happening, sharing blog posts has fallen down on my list of priorities. But, in my weekly phone calls from my parents back home, my dad keeps reminding me to get back to it. (Hi Dad.) So this post is part explanation for my absence, part resolution to myself to keep updating, if not for my dad, than for myself and anyone else who randomly comes across this page. I’m still here, and I promise I’ll be back with something to share soon.

In the mean time, here’s just one picture from each month I’ve been away:

July MFARMC meeting in Balaring
July: MFARMC meeting in a coastal barangay
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August: Lauren gets to experience the random selfie requests from strangers
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September: My mom visits and spends time in my community with my counterpart
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October: Some stylish SCUBA diving in Puerto Galera
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November: Talented students from Capiz State University perform during the diversity-themed talent show
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December: Learning about mangrove seedling bagging with the Zoological Society of London in Iloilo
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January: Roxie- the cat I took home with me from the trike terminal in Roxas City
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February: About to enjoy some mango halo-halo with friends in Boracay on Chinese New Year

Halong (take care)!

Cara

 

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Amat-Amat: Baby Steps and Continuing Work with FARMCs

Woah, I’ve been in the Philippines for 9 months today! (That was true when I started this post a few days ago at least.) That means, as a fellow volunteer pointed out, that my 27 month service is 1/3 over. It also follows that I have a year and a half left. Depending on the day, that seems either really near or really far away.

I’m happy to share, I’ve been fairly busy lately. Not everything is going smoothly, but things are certainly going. The main activity on my plate right now is a massive re-organization of both the Barangay and Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Councils (BFARMC and MFARMCs, respectively).

Over six months ago, I wrote a post about FARMCs. As a quick review, they’re basically organizations of fisherfolk for every level of government, from the smallest (barangay) to the largest (national). In my last post, I talked about how in a perfect world these organizations would create local fisheries management, created by fisherfolk, for fisherfolk (with a little help from local government, NGOs and national agencies).

My municipality and our FARMCs are not there yet. And we have a ways to go. But, now we’re working in the right direction. To get things started, we enlisted the help of the provincial BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) director. He agreed to join in a meeting with all of the barangay captains (local leaders) to and share our plans to organize the fisherfolk in their barangays.

Next, my filipino work partners and I visited all 10 barangay and held information sessions and elections. Basically, we’re now the proud parents of 10 newly-born fisherfolk organizations. Some of these infant organizations are better off than others with strong leadership, vocal members, and supportive barangay officials. The rest might take some extra TLC…

Now, with most of these new groups deciding to have monthly meetings, my schedule is filling up. The goal is for each group to be self sufficient where they are able to set their own agendas and goals, have their own funds and budget. However, right now, I’ll be happy if the meetings simply happen.

So far, the regular meetings are off to a bumpy start. Of the four originally scheduled for the first week of April, all but one was postponed. The one that went on as scheduled started almost 2 hours late and had 15 participants out of about 140 potential fishfolk members…

But as they say in Hiligaynon, amat-amat… or as I’d say, baby steps. It isn’t easy to get busy fisherfolk and fishworks to come together in an organized way once a month. On top of having hectic work schedules, many have second sources of incomes and families to take care of. Further, most organizational efforts have proved ineffective and teetered out in the past for all sorts of reasons. And, starting from scratch, we have very few resources (or pesos for snacks) to work with. This is likely to be an up hill battle.

Over the next 18 months, I’ll continue to attend meetings. I hope to help these organizations gain recognition and find support in their communities. This month, I also plan to have an orientation meeting for a the municipal level FARMC and get that up and running as well. I’ll be sure to post another update down the road.

Wish me luck!

Three Months Site: Meeting with Oyster Farmers and Identifying Projects

img_20150101_092535Three months gone. I’ve managed to stay fairly busy. I’ve tagged along to all kinds of events and meetings. I’ve explored my municipality and seen coconut groves, rice fields, mangroves, sea grasses and corals. I’ve been to a wake, a baptism, and a wedding. I’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays. I even judged a high school mascot competition on “World Toilet Day”. They were all winners, some more than others.

Now, it’s time to get a little bit more serious. At the beginning of February, I’ll be back in Manila for initial service training (IST). This is significant because at end of IST we also are trained in grant writing. Meaning, we can start applying for project funding. Right now, I’m a well-intentioned foreigner with a cursory knowledge of my community, the language, and its coastal resource management needs, but no money.

Looking ahead, I’m trying to identify potential projects. One group I’m particularly excited about getting to work with are the manug talaba, or oyster farmers. Oysters are not all the popular in the Philippines. They are more of a cheap protein source than a delicacy, but the market is growing, especially as more tourism moves into the region.

Almost all the oysters harvest in my municipality are farmed, meaning they are not harvested directly from reefs. Oyster farmers put out spat (baby oyster) collectors and wait for oysters to settle and grow to market size. This is mostly done using a process called the “stake-method”.

The stake-method has its benefits. It’s low cost upfront and quite effective. However, space and the growing problem of sedimentation are issues. In the main rivers of my municipality, various stationary fishing gear are taking over. This has obvious impacts on both water flow and navigation. Sedimentation is an greater problem, exacerbated by a host of factors. One direct effect on oyster farmers is that their stakes are getting buried, killing off oysters or minimizing the space they have to grow.

In the past few years, several groups have come into the area to aid oyster farmers in adapting new methods, mainly the hanging and raft-methods. Both use clusters of old oyster shell to collect spat instead of bamboo. When it’s time for harvest, instead of removing a stake, a cluster is removed. Also, both are effect ways to both minimize the space used and keep the growing oysters off the bottom and away from sediments.

Of course there are trade-offs. These methods, particularly the raft, are more expensive and labor-intensive, both up-front and in terms of maintenance. Also, although harvesting is easier, so is theft. Some oyster farmers are interested in making the switch regardless because of the potential increase in profits. But, others are happy with the old way.

I am no expert on oysters or aquaculture. So, if I want to help these people, I have a lot to learn first. In speaking with several groups of oyster farmers, the main problems brought up were: lack of capital, lack of market control, and lack of support in cases of gear loss or redtide (paralytic shellfish poisoning).  Even with no funds (yet), one way I can help is to assist in the formation of people’s organizations.

Peoples organizations (POs) are groups recognized by the local government unit, usually operating on the barangay (smallest unit of government) level. A good PO group would serve both the needs of the people and would create a channel communication between the people and the government. To become an official PO, a group must hold and election, write up and a constitution, and submit it for local government approval.

Ideally, once a group is formed, it will meet regularly discuss problems and work together to come up with solutions. Of course, this is the challenging part. PO groups often die out quietly as members simply stop showing up to meetings. A successful group needs both strong leadership and clear benefits to its membership, making these early steps important.

Some potential projects I hope to work on with oyster farmers include: information sessions on the relevant laws, developing marketing and harvest strategies, formation of savings groups, and development of secondary livelihood activities.  Again, these are areas that I am only just learning about myself. If anyone reading has any suggestions or leads to follow, please let me know!