Cross-cultural volunteering with VSO Bahaginan ICS

*Article originally written June 29,2013

9 young Filipino volunteers + 9 UK young volunteers + 2 mentors + 1 island + 6 municipalities + 3 months + Living, learning and working together = VSO-ICS!

Since June 12, I have been living, learning and working together with 19 other young people in the emerald island of Bohol. Ever since we arrived here, I cannot help but be grateful for this opportunity to be part of the VSO-ICS Youth Volunteer Program. This program aims to bring together young Filipino and UK volunteers for 3 months to live, learn and work in a cross-cultural setting. Our team was commissioned to go to island of Bohol in Visayas. Specifically, we are to be of service in advocating for the protection of the Carood Watershed, which is constituted by 6 municipalities surrounding the Cogtong Bay. As volunteers, we are to work hand-in-hand with the local government units of these municipalities, as well as some non-government organizations and the municipal academic sector.
It was a hot afternoon when our team arrived in Bohol last June 12. Of the nine Pinoys, one came from the municipality of Ubay in Bohol.  She will be our Visayan language teacher for the next training days in Tagbilaran. The next day, the nine UK volunteers arrived in the Philippines. We were just so excited to meet them. Now the team is complete.
My birthday was celebrated with a road trip going to the Eskaya Tribe of Bohol, via the official service of the team: a dump truck. I have rode on dump trucks before though, this is the first time that I got to wear a helmet as we journeyed all the way up to the mountain. The tribe had a council meeting that day. By the end of the session, we feasted on banana and rice cakes served with fresh coconut juice. It was refreshing to see the landscape of the Lundag, the ancestral land of the Eskaya. We are looking forward to having a learning-time with the tribe in International Indigenous People Day come August.
Another task given to our team in Pilar is to help in the project in Barangay Cansungay (a Barangay still part of the Carood Watershed) in the process of application for the national search for the Healthiest Rural Barangay in the Philippines. We were taken there via a mini-truck together with some volunteer health practitioners from the regional health unit of Pilar.

Rebuilding lives

“Di ko alam kung paano ako magsisimula. Di ko na alam kung sino ako, kung ano ang nangyari sa amin.” Typhoon survivor, Guaian, Eastern Samar

The day i dreaded happened yesterday, when, all ghastly winds and the storm would calm, and people face the sad truth that villages are wiped out, and people lie dead under debris pieces of things we do not recognize if what they were before the surge. Just tons and tons of sadness looming over like dark clouds above our heads. I cannot, until now, why all these things happen at the final quarter of the year, when, people are happy thinking about the coming of Christmas.  The earthquake in Bohol and this strong typhoon. Rebuilding lives will take so much time. 


“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” [Miriam Adeney]

Hello friends! I have been very much alive and back in the virtual world. It has been more than 6 months since I last posted here. So much have had happened to me that I really need to sit down and think through what I had to write from January. It has been a rich year for me, so much lessons learnt and so many loves have come and passed. In the next days, I will take time to write about my new stories, hope you journey along with me.

Vadchang: Restoring the Batad Rice Terrace

A half-day farm work at the foot of the terraces was nothing compared to the lessons I have learned about the life of my friends from Batad. I have been going to the rice terrace for 5 years now, but have never really tried plucking out the unharvested palay stalks left after the harvest season. But this time, I took the opportunity to take part in the restoration work which started last year by Ka Rene Bajit and his team. Ka Rene has been like a father to me, ever since I came to know him in 2008 in the same place.

In able to help the community members restore the damaged fields, Tatay Rene and his team started the Vadchang: Restoration of the Batad Rice Terrace. The Vadchang (or hachang as spelled and pronounced by the locals) means to work together or in Filipino bayanihan. It aims to gather volunteers from all walks of life to spend a weekend in Batad and help carry out some tasks in restoring the typhoon-ravaged terraces. I was happy to meet new friends come and carry rocks and piles of dirt from one terrace to another.

Lolo Kano never grew old

It must have been this same love that kept us talking from 4:00 to 11:00 in the evening.

Sir Ed Ruch, or Lolo Kano as the Tagbanua brothers and sisters call him, has been doing so much in the community ever since he came in Coron Island right after the World War II. He is a missionary from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). He, along with his wife and a team of missionaries, came to Coron to do translation work a few years after the World War II.  And now, for more than 50 years, Uncle Kano has continued to serve the Lord through his friendship with the Tagbanua people.

In between sips of tea, Uncle Kano narrated how he came to the island in the 1940s.  The staff of the SIL were asked “who among you is not afraid of water?”. Lolo Kano gladly volunteered. So with his team, they sailed off to the Calamianes group of islands. He was newly married then, and was a new father to their first child. By profession, Lolo Kano is an anthropologist specializing in language studies and translation.

The first few years were not easy. The island did not have electricity, not even accessible potable water. Aside from this, the island was infested by malaria. This was all far from the comforts of his home in the USA. However, the greatest challenge was building friendship with the people who are so different from all he is. But Lolo Kano, amid all these, plunged in to the joys of serving God through his friendship with the Tagbanua people.

He also literally plunged into the waters of Calamianes for he loved SCUBA diving in the island’s coral gardens and shipwrecks. “Never grow old” he’d tell us. When I was in the island, Lolo Kano even SCUBA-ed the Calis Point with my friend Unting. He was 87 years old.

Stories in pictures:

Lolo Kano and I at Banuang Daan. This photo was taken after a tribal wedding. Lolo Kano is highly respected in the community and people sought after his advice and suggestions regarding community issues. He is, deep in his heart,  a Tagbanua.

Lolo Kano taking meeting notes at the monthly Saragpun. Saragpuan is the gathering of all Tagbanua followers of Christ. This time, it was held at one of the towns in nearby Banuang Daan. We were joined by representative from the tribal churches from more than ten towns in the Calamines group of Islands. I understood very few of the whole gathering. The event was delivered in the native language, including the worship songs.

Jeremiah or Unting (a native name christened by a brother to my friend which meant liar, hehe) accompanied Lolo Kano as we passed through the mangrove-lined path to the shore.  It was a delight to see them together with held hands.

Lolo Kano gave me a wave as I took a shot of the team. They are heading back for Banuang Daan, the island at the heart of the Coron Island, his home for the past 50 years.

My brothers Unting and Ruzz, conversing with Lolo Kano at the church in Banuang Daan.

Gayyem: A journey into the heart of God

Come with me to the village where there’s not much to live on, but there’s so much to live for. [Dr.Sarmiento]

If there is something that really excites me, it is that every time I usher someone into an adventure of going deeper into the heart of God. I am always excited to see someone be amazed and wonder at how marvelous the love of Jesus is that we were given the chance to live lives of sheer joy out of obedience. Last summer, I had another chance to witness this unfold when I joined the Operation Samaria.

Operation Samaria is an annual community immersion and a ‘missions’ exposure trip which seeks to challenge young people to go beyond their comfort zones and journey towards a life of ‘walking’ alongside the marginalized Filipino groups in the Philippines. It is an initiative of Medical Ambassadors Philippines for over 20 years now. From this trip, many students, young professionals and health workers have been challenged to respond to the call of service, and love.

Image[Sun shines over the fields of Aguinaldo, Ifugao as the team headed for the MAP Clinic (or what they fondly called Hillgendorf). The rainy season has not come yet and all the fields are enjoying the sun. From here, the team will be divided and go to 3 other barrios.]

Image[The teams were assigned to go to other barrios to conduct medical services and teach children. We were joined by bright young medical students from prestigious medicine schools in the country. I am so proud to be a part of the team, and to witness their joy in serving our Ifugao brothers and sisters. Keep it up!]

Image["Gayyem" or friends from Ifugao line-up for their free check-up. Most of the patients were infants and children accompanied by their parents. I do not have pictures but I was so happy to be in the surgical team, it was a learning experience to assist Dr.Jun Garcia, our surgeon for the mission trip. I hope it happens again. Or, someday, I'll be the one doing the surgery. Why not!]

Image[Some cooking wares and chicken houses spotted in the community. The beauty of Ifugao lies not much in the grand belongings of the people, but rather in the ingenuity crafted in their every day lives, as these "everyday" wares portray.]

Image[The whole OS Team joined by Doctors Jun and francis, and the barrio's Barangay Captain. We're off to Batad in Banaue, Ifugao, our second mission site for the trip.Can you find me?]

Image[Great morning from the land of the Ifugaos! Behind us is the Batad Rice Terraces, famous for its majestic amphitheater-like rice terrace. The fields are waiting for the sun, soon, it going to be harvest season, again!

I am grateful the Lord for all the new gayyem I met in this journey. The love and concern I have seen and felt only reminds me that He, indeed, makes himself known to his people, through his children. I am glad that I have witnessed how a co-participant gladly opened her heart to the Lord, and asked Him to turn her life around. Til the next OS!

Some more stories:

[Photos included in this post were primarily from Ms.Precious Banas and Allan Nacino. Thank you!]

On everlasting arms

And just like in any great day, we’ve come to the end of our time together today. Til we meet again Papa. I will find my way to you.

Whenever I see the empty chair in the house– that chair where you always sit, sleep and read your map– I feel sad because I will never see you sitting there again. you will never come back from the hospital. But til we meet again Papa. Watching National Geographic beside you, listening to your FYI’s and experiences, it will never be the same again. It was a hard 6-months for all of us, but it was most terrible on you. But now, you are resting well Papa. You have been healed. I will carry you in my heart wherever I go papa, whether I go up summits of triumph and joy, or under deep waters of pain and discipline. Thank you for your labor. Christ saw you and carried through it all. Hanggang sa muli po, papa.

3rd’s the sweetest

The third time’s the sweetest. Thank you Lord Jesus for you are our Great Healer!

[Quick update: My father has been confined in the hospital thrice this year since February. What a big welcome we had for 2012 when he was brought to the ICU the first time he suffered heart attack (which was later, we found out,  due to liver cirrhosis).  We spent a grueling week inside the ICU and then another in the hospital ward. The next confinement happened two weeks after. It had something to do with emphysema, his airways are constantly tightening and he could hardly breathe. The most recent was because of what seem to be COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). And Papa's here!]

[Hugging papa after  days in the ward was the sweetest gift. Yehey. Finally, we're going back home! I grew up with inhalers and nebulizers around the house. Papa has been suffering from asthma since he was young. Although, the asthma got worse (severe asthma, almost COPD in nature), I believe that Papa will still live many full years. By the way, I am the youngest in the family.]


[Although our house is beginning to turn like that famous drugstore, it is okay. So when I enter med school, I'm going to ace Pharma.]

[And Papa's going back in Dear Street!]

[Because his bunso, that's me, said so.]


Tapyas: Journey to Faithfulness

Climbing the stairs that early morning was more than refreshing. Some few more days and I will be leaving this familiar sight, and not know when I would be back again. They say it has 700 steps (I guess more!), and at the top is a 360 degree view of islands of Coron. Seas, mountains and islands surrounded the bald mountain where the three of us headed for, that good morning.

I was the lead of the pack. But, of course, no one will be lost here, as anybody could see the white cross even at the start of the hike. It somewhat reminded me of God, and us on a journey towards him.

Kaya pa? Kaya pa!” Ate Cathy said as she rested her back on one of the railings. She has been here in this place, probably more than a hundred times for she has been living in the area for more than 20 years. She and her husband (and now, with their four children) are missionaries serving the Christian churches in the Calamianes group of islands. With us busily taking our pictures was Miles, her eldest daughter. Silent, she may often be, but her heart is full of stories and wisdom yet to be taught to many younger Christians in the area.

20 years. No, more than 20 years. Can I last that long in serving communities? Can I be faithful for such long number of years? Sure it won’t be easy. But, as long as I see the cross along the way, the 700 steps won’t be too wearisome, and too long.

Ayan ate, andito na tayo!” I said, as Ate Cathy set her foot on the last step.

[Lush green mountains and canopies surround Mount Tapyas, the viewpoint where one can have a 360 degree view of the Coron Islands. I was privileged to hike the mountain with two of the loveliest people in the  island. We were heading for the small cottage to have a quick devotion.]

[There is so much truth in what people say that Palawan is the last frontier of the Philippines. May I add that, Coron, in all it's glory (haha!) have the best of both worlds when it comes to mountains and seas. In view is the mountain range at the boundaries of Coron and Busuanga.  I could not number the islands that lay before the mountain.]

[Behind me is the famous Coron Island, also known as the Sleeping Giant (You have to go to Coron to figure that out). Clear blues skies, and kalmada seas greeted us that morning. I hope I can take my family here some time soon.]

Other stories: