Major major times in Cebu

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Home, Mandaue girls, Guba, Bantayan Island

Flag of Philippines  , Cebu City,
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Friday 23rd brought the first GCD: Civil Society. Some excellent background on civil society development from History Dad David and epic quizzes, all of which took place at the University of San Carlos, which is our new GCD venue. We ended up taking 4 jeepneys to get there…it appears there's more than one Uni of San Carlos. Excellent. Post-GCD we did a tour of the uni officials, stopping off at the Dean and then the Vice President, both of whom welcomed us to their university and encouraged us to make ourselves feel at home. After a quick coffee and cake stop-off to facilitate various committee meetings, we headed to Patty and Chris’s abode for a fairtrade photo shoot for David and Toni’s "Do you want to be fair?" fairtrade campaign. Stupidly hot in the teeny white room + lights + lots of people, but some immense photos. Bridget and I were balancing recycled bags, which caused great hilarity, mainly for us. On the return journey a group of us stopped off for bbq, rice and beers, aided by chilli eating contests etc, then a rainy wait for the taxi before home.

Saturday was mangrove-planting day. After an epic search around the Department Store for water shoes, I discovered that my flippers could only be catered for by a pair of, what are essentially, plastic moccasins, with holes down the side to let out the water; they make me look like an underwater grandad, which is exactly my style. We boarded the jeepney for Mactan Island and endured a sweaty, snug journey before arriving at Boyla Resort once more, where we spent our first night in Cebu. Mario, Placement Supervisor for Des and Bridget at Ocean Care gave us all (GX, members of the urban poor of Cebu, and volunteers from Freedom from Debt Coalition) a thorough and fascinating briefing on the role of mangroves as: flood / typhoon defences, sites for marine eco-diversity, soil / sand stabilisers, generally very cool plants that can survive silly amounts of salt water and are the inspiration for the Ents in the Lord of the Rings. From the jetty we took a very small, man-powered (literally a man wading through the water with ridiculously hench arm muscles) boat to the big boat that was to take us to Olango Island, an island that hosts a bird sanctuary and also the site of our planting fun times. Such a wonderful experience on the boat, firstly to be on water and with a solid, fresh breeze, but secondly, and far more importantly, it rained, a lot. We sailed into the storm and got completely soaked, so spent most of the journey shrieking and running around the boat, taking photos and generally making complete fools out of ourselves. Once we anchored at Olango we each had to wade through the water carrying the mangrove seedlings above our heads, like some sort of bizarre eco-spiritual ritual. We were greeted by local kids on the island who were picking their way through the shells on the shore and whistling away. Bridget kept the youngest members of the island occupied with her extraordinary capacity to whistle like a bird, whilst we made trips back and forth to the boat to bring the seedlings to the island. We then made our way through the houses, puddles, cockerels and trees of the island community to the beech, laden with muddy mangroves on soaking wet sacking. Definitely very grateful for my moccasins, as it was sticky and slippy. Once in situ we received a short briefing from an Olango Bird Sanctuary Ranger and then, with the help of the Lapu Lapu City Pulis (so spelt on their t-shirts) we set to work planting the seedlings. It took no time at all to – effectively – stick the plants in the mud, so after one or two interviews with the local media, we picked our way back to the boat. Our return journey was a tour of the ocean bed, aided by our impromtu Cebuano guides. We saw sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish, jelly fish, sea molluscs. It was amazing. As we neared the boat it was deep enough to swim so we were able to wash off the traces of our mud fight and splash around, until JoEd attempted to touch the bottom and ripped up his foot in the process – good times. After all the water had bubbled out of my epic footwear and we’d all dried off / changed, a group of us headed to Gerry’s grill for a seriously tasty dinner of kinilaw, molo soup, grilled squid, chop suey, sisig (pork and fish), garlic rice, and a beer. Trix and I stayed on for smoooooothies, but Trix was then sick – time to go home!

Sunday morning left Trix more ill than the previous day, so no church for us. After much persuasion, Tito and Tita released me…alone…to jeepney it down to Ayala before heading to the eco-house where Mark, Papa, Sam and Karl are living. The house is the residence of former Councillor, Nestor Archival. We were given the guided tour of the: goats, organic garden, birds, aperie, climbing wall, furniture workshop, rubbish area, and vermicasts (worm composts), and given thorough explanations regarding the eco importance of each part. Inside the house itself everything is made from recycled items / materials, which makes for some very attractive interior features. Lavly. Post-tour we hit the swimming pool…via the slide. Epic times, then back to nurse poor wee Trix.

Monday brought super cheap lami oi (very delicious) lunch and general worky business, plus GCD meeting at the glorious Ayala. Tuesday 27th was a day of preparation at work for the three-day CASA/GAL Orientation Training from Wednesday – Friday. This facilitated my first visit to a stationery store in Cebu, which was immense. The school books are completely different, there were epic amounts of kitsch notebooks, red floor wax, which is called “Star Wax”, and lots of assorted pen / crayoning goodness. Packed our bags for the following days’ training, including optimistic amounts of sun cream.

Wednesday was training day one. Enjoyed a scenic tour through Cebu City, Mandaue City, Concolacion and Danao, accompanied by JP and Ray’s Cebuano lesson and whilst reading snippets of Cebu Daily News. Arrived at Stakili, Estaca Beach Resort having experienced JP’s guided tour of Cebu from a car window, dumped bags and got ready to encode / take minutes. Some excellent speakers to listen to: Executive Judge Paredes re Examination of Child Witnesses; Dr Naomi Poca on Child Development; Atty Joan on pertinent laws affecting Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) and re crimes against minors; and Ms Patalinghug from Dept for Social Welfare Development re Children in Need of Special Protection (CSNP). The day was punctuated by numerous deliveries of food from the resort staff; we had our full five meals of Filipino foody yum, including tasty toasted tuna sandwiches – brain power for all the encoding, a lot of which was in Cebuano; I had to translate around the English bits! Once the sessions were over a huge storm began, which massively disrupted my internet usage for GCD prep, but was awesome to observe.

Thursday aka training day two, started at the joyous hour of 8:15am. More speakers of interest: Leticia Patalinghug re How to Conduct a Case; Sir Ricky on CASA/GAL, with lots moe Cebuano to test my immersion skills. Caught a very quick swim in the blue green sea before nearly experiencing death-by-multicab on the way back home for a final GCD meeting.

GCD! Karl, Patrick and I brought HIV/AIDS awareness to GX via quizzes, games, activities, debates and probing questions. I focussed my activities around World Aids Day, myth-busting, stigma and the world view on the epidemic. After a long day I had my first IMAX experience at SM. We watched Inception, which was superfly, and then indulged in a long coffee chat sesh.

Saturday 31st was tour time and Jonny’s birthday back at home. We jeepneyed it up from Ayala, accompanied by Mark’s voluntary-tour-guide friend who took us from Cebu Cathedral, to Santo Nino, to Magellan’s Cross, and to the fort. Cebu City is the oldest city in the Philippines and the second oldest in Asia, so there’s plenty of history to soak up. Magellan’s Cross is the cross that the Portugese brought off the boat at Magellan Bay when they first arrived in Cebu, bringing European culture, Catholicism and occupation. Pottered around the fort walls with Coffee Crumble ice cream in one hand and camera in the other, creating a sticky mess of photos and lolly stick before heading to Larsian food market for bbq meat / fish, rice, soy sauce and sili (chilli), lots of Coke and Sprite and a large amount of flirtation and interest from the lady boys at the next food stall. Trix, Marvie and I then mounted a search in the sun for a coffee shop selling black coffee and settled for Mr Coffee, which produced no such commodity. Despite the heat and the summer months we discussed what makes a Filipino Christmas: midnight mass with a meal afterwards, staying as a family from Christmas day through to New Year, at which everyone wears red, lots of church, lots of caroling and very particular but delicious-sounding food. Headed to our glorious abode for pancet dinner and shower before donning our dresses (which practically matched what losers we are) and heading to Shagri La Resort for a free Moet Et Chandon party! Whoop. Clambering onto a jeepney in a dress is completely indelicate and probably obscene from behind, but we managed, and set off for Mactan Island (via a beer in Mandaue) with a large proportion of the team. We arrived just in time for the rain, so got completely soaked as we ran through the Resort gardens to the beach bar, just in time for photos and a Moet Et Chandon glitter tattoo, beautifully applied by the gorgeous Des and Bridget, who were on hosting duty as part of their Ocean Care placement. Had a lovely lovely evening of chattings, free glass of Moet, winning two prizes in the raffle: free night at Shangri Lam, Manila and SL, Baracay, which went to Chris’s parents and Elsie respectively, thanks to the kindness of Chris and Dani, who were the original winners. Hilarious skinny-dipping antics involving spotlights and general beach escapades before heading to sleeeeeeeeeep after a wonderful night of sea, sand, and music.

Sunday began with repeated dashes to the loo – arrival of the stomach bug. Delightful. Stocked up on Filipino porridge, which is savoury and made with rice, spring onion, ginger and yum, and tried to rest. This process was aided by Tita Inday’s intense raiki session and the joys of Sunday afternoon karaoke led by Tita Luvi and Tita Inday. After a heavy dose of the Philippine version of tiger balm, I was ready to face the great outdoors and my first skype date with the Francis clan, which was super lovely. Then more porridge and more sleep.

Monday 2nd was a day off, thankfully, so lie-in, washing, internet at Ayala, newsletter writing and more sleep. Spent the whole of Tuesday sorting out the encoded notes from the previous week’s Orientation Training, whilst Trixie headed off for - what turned out to be a - tour of the barangays in order to get a shuttle for the 1GOAL event the following weekend. It was Ate Rhoda’s birthday so we all enjoyed pizza in the office, which was lami, but sat funny on my post-bug stomach… We were back home early so spent the evening sitting out in the street talking to Tito and Tita’s neighbours, drinking 7 peso Sparkle and watching the light fade – it gets dark at 6pm, which is quite a change from the UK. Really enjoyed just sitting with Tito and Trix; felt very relaxed and at home in my new community. Wednesday brought the final completion of our Orientation Training report and an epic lunch at Chowking, featuring a mung-bean dessert, my first in the Philippines. Had a quick but fruitful GCD feedback meeting, it seems the day went very well and was well received. After late din dins I set to reading the local Cebuano newspaper: Sun Star, which Tito kindly bought for me in an attempt to push my Cebuano up a gear. Lisud mag Cebuano (Cebuano is hard), pero (but) Trixie and I enjoyed translating and I learnt: “bala” (bullet), “gipatay” (was killed), plus the usual delightful media coverage.

Thursday was sent preparing press releases for the 1GOAL event at the weekend, and then the call from Dexter came…it was time to go to DSWS (Department for Social Welfare Services)! We’d sent the letter asking to work with Dexter at DSWS almost 3 weeks before; such a good moment. We jeepneyed it across to Labangon and to the DSWS offices for a bit of orientation, which involved a complete tour of all the staff in the 3 storey office building and a lot of repetition aroun GX, VSO Bahaginan, British Council, 6 month programme,GX… But great to meet all of the Social Workers and great too that Dexter took the time to tour us around. The offices were simple and in places a bit run down, but the DSWS uniforms: green with diagonal yellow, green and blue stripes, brightened up the place, as did the smiles, the welcome and the activity of the office. We had a brief chat with Dexter’s supervisor, Maam Gloria, met the Penelope Pitstop pink brigade a.k.a the Home-based Carers group who happened to be meeting at the officem and then sat down for an explanation of all things DSWS… Dexter is part of a 3 person team that covers District II of Cebu City, which consists of 16 barangays, totally about 160,000 people. We talked for some time about the different strands of work undertaken by the DSWS, which basically encompasses all social work, except for adoption and fostering, with the addition of burial and medical services. New staff were hired in 2007 to support CICL (Children in Conflict with the Law) once they are put on diversion / community work programmes in the barangay, in response to the 2006 Juvenile Justice Act - RA 9344, which was established in order to create a separate justice system for children. We discussed the barangay councils and their failure to adequately support the BCPC (Barangay Councils for the Protection of Children) – the operational status of this group directly equates to the quality and provision of diversion programmes for CICLs; the funding for programmes supporting the rights of the Filipino child: survival, protection, participation, and development, which hasn’t been utilised / implemented in many of the barangays; and the fact that the office only got a computer last year and does not have internet (notes and letters are typed up by social workers or one of the 3 administrators for the 80 barangays in Cebu City). After a lot of discussion, deliberation and negotiation around work proposals and our role in the office, it was decided that we would work to strengthen and capacitate the BCPCs in District II barangays. There is a local election in October, so the implementation budgets and plans need to be reviewed and the commitment of the BCPCs to child protection strengthened. The nomination of Cebu City as “child friendly city of the Philippines” has created a good amount of panic amongst the barangay councils and has created a considerable drive to reaching child protection targets, even if it is in a mildly tokenistic fashion. The effect of this is often a weak or loose commitment to child protection and a tough deal for children at risk or at risk of re-offending. Dexter is keen to establish a structured framework for diversion programmes that can be made into a local ordinance that will force change. The work is undoubtedly very interesting and caught up in a complexity of political and social factors – therein lies the challenge! Headed to Ayala via a massive downpour and a leg-achingly long jeepney journey, met up with the team and then headed home for yummy dinner, Sparkle and Cloud 9 chocolate – a nice version of Snickers. Am contemplating postcards, but there are no post boxes in the Philippines, so I will have to seek out / find the post office.

Friday brought Ren, Des, and Papa T’s GCD on “Globalisation,” which was excellent: we mapped the extent of our own globalisation, made t-shirts in sweatshops, discussed OFW, were quizzed on McDonalds, watched the hilarious Marie Tess and the Superfriends, and had a powerful presentation on sweatshops from Ren. I committed to cutting down my clothing expenditure, and to 75% charity shop or vintage clothing (at least), so all is greener. Had a fantastic and hilarious presentqation on human trafficking from a couple who work for Visayan Forum: “the subject is dark, but I make light!” Excellent times. Greetings were passed onto Tita Inday, as one of her comrades founded the organisation with Inday herself. Post-GCD I sent out the first GX Team Newsletter and then we boarded the shuttle bus to the airport to pick up the Philippine National Football team. The team arrived with a few meanwhiles and the number one salami, and Dan, the coach / Trixie’s brother, who is the first and original Palami and looks just like her. Chatted to members of the team as we embarked on our radio tour of Cebu: ABS CBN FM and AM, Monster Radio and a rock station. Karl and I featured as GX representatives for ABS CBN AM, and gave a good insight on all that is 1GOAL. We eventually headed to Cassa Verde for a yummy meal en masse: footballers + GX. In an attempt not to leave any food on the table I massively overate and virtually staggered out of the restaurant to the shuttle – definitely time for bed.

Saturday = 1GOAL! The 1GOAL campaign was established in conjunction with the World Cup 2010 in order to gather millions of signatures worldwide in support of education for all children. The aim is to get 72 million children into a school. Since 2005 when the campaign was launched 40 million children are now in school, but more pressure on world leaders is needed to get everyone into the classroom, including the 6 million children out of school in the Philippines. Trix and I spent the early part of the morning touring Cebu to seek out footballs, nets, the Philippine team, and everything in between, all in prep for the day’s event. We arrived at the Montessori Academy, Uni of San Carlos for registration and introductions, and the arrival of the Lapu Lapu City football squad, who dominated the field and all of whom come from the squatter settlements in LLC. The LLC team usually play / practice in a small sandy area, so the field made a nice change. The clinic got going amidst the grass and the occasional puddle, with the Philippine Football team running a tight, structured clinic that made the most of the space we had available. I was on camera duty so snapped away happily and tried to time the perfect action shot. We broke for lunch, and were able to share food with all the kids who attended, which was great. After lunch, water and some sleep / time out it was match time: GX v the Philippines. We won! Joke. We didn’t lose by too much though, only 4 goals to 10, not bad against the national team. Had the chance to put my limited Cebuano in practice with some of the young people who’d come along to showcase their footballing talents, which was great fun, if challenging – on both sides! A number of the work placements also came along for the day to exhibit their wares as organisations, including Fairtrade Cebu plus an unending supply of ice cold kalamansi juice. Score! Our event was covered by ABS CBN, Sun Star newspaper, and a student newspaper, secured over 120 signatures for 1GOAL and had a great level of attendance. All of the girls headed back to the Mandaue house for sleepover fun times, which turned into 30 inch pizza and beer before we all crashed out at 11:30; it was raging.

Sunday started early for the Fairtrade Anniversary Event, to celebrate one year since the opening of the fairtrade shop in Cebu. The day started with mass, then presentations from David and various fairtrade people followed, including Gigi, who remortgaged her house to get the shop off the ground. There was also a “who’s going to lead the singing” moment, so we elected Mark, as it was his birthday, and then we all sang happy birthday to Mark and the fairtrade shop! We all decked ourselves in jewllery, bags and accessories of the fairtrade variety for a catwalk, which was followed by an amazing lunch of: mango juice, prawn coconut curry, red rice, banana heart…all of which was organic and fairtrade. There was also a huge lechon (roasted pig), but that wasn’t for me. Our lunch was punctuated by the arrival of Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama, who introduced himself and then broke into song. He sang two numbers whilst we contemplated the likelihood of Boris Johnson cracking out a musical number, maybe “I dreamed a dream”. We decided for Nick Clegg it would have to be, “Sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare,” with Gordon and David dancing provocatively in the background. One of the speakers was a guy from Japanese Youth, who gave a great speech, and accompanied us to Ayala for a Japanese film festival. “How to Become Myself” turned out not to be an amazing film, but it was free and gave us something to do before heading to Elsie’s house for Mark and Bridget’s birthday extravanganza, which turned into a very hot karaoke session.

Spent Monday discussing our up-coming work at the DSWS, preparing an activity for the Parenting Effectiveness Seminar we will be co-leading later in the week, and report collating at the office. Headed to The Jokers Arms, and English pub, for Bridget’s birthday drinkings…gin and tonic! Wahoo. Bridge loved her birthday bag and general fuss and love, so all was well. Spent Tuesday doing more prep for Thursday and chatting to the pamilia on t’interweb, which was lovely.

Wednesday was oath-taking day! Trix and I donned our frocks (joke lang, though I did wear my BHF floral dress and received a few “gwapa sha” comments), and headed to the office. We met the wonderful Judge Paredes at the Waterfront Hotel on Mactan, for a right hand in the air and repeat after me session – we are now official CASA/GALs! So exciting and a great little photo-taking session afterwards with the judge, with certificates and with one another before a group lunch. Tita let us off work early so we spent a long evening at Ayala talking about cultural and team things before a late night of last minute activity-prep.

Thursday began early, we were at the office by 7:50, after a bizarre and roundabout jeepney ride, just in time to write up the articles of the UNCRC in Cebuano, ready for our activity. We headed off with Maam Portia and Dexter in the little Cebu City DSWS minicab, which is bright white, logoed and teeny tiny. Hopped off near the oldest bakery in Cebu City, which Dexter used to frequent as a child, bought some pain de sal and then picked our way through street vendors, street families, horse and carts, puddles and rubbished that surrounded Manileno Bakeshop. The neighbourhood is much poorer than the central Cebu City area, which can be hard to get your head round. One more jeepney, this time with buckets full of fish that steamed into the heat, before arriving at Inayawan. The streets were filled with flags from a fiesta the previous weekend, which fluttered as we passed through the market stalls, tricicads and vendors on our way to the sports complex where our activities were to take place. The building was undergoing serious building works; the entrance was filled with builders, piles of materials and tools. Our venue was the basketball court inside the complex, with chairs laid out for the participants and a sound system to battle against the drilling, hammering and clamouring of the builders. Our activity consisted of dividing up the participants into groups, handing out articles on the UNCRC and asking each group to consider how they would implement the article in their own home. Dexter gave the group a brief introduction regarding our role as GX volunteers before we hit the stage to introduce theUNCRC, its role, history, implementation and purpose. There were a lot of pregnant mothers and mothers with very young children at the seminar and unfortunately there weren’t enough chaits, or any fans. Nevertheless, we had great input from the group, who spoke confidently and with passion over the noise of the building works. All the participants were part of the PPPP programme which is a financial family support programme for the 300 poorest families in the barangay. Many families are eligible for money, but funds have to go to the very poorest. The participatory nature of the exercise seemed to be well-received; everyone was able to get involved, represent their views, and present in front of the group. Once our activity had finished we headed to Uni San Carlos to meet Karl, Sam, Papa T and Mar for the tail end of a Freedom from Debt Coalition presentation: “Coal or not Cool”. We grabbed some snacks before heading to a press conference on the Naga coal-fired power plant which is soon to become operational. If it becomes active, the plant will produce 50 cubic tonnes of coal ash every day, at a cost of US$52,000. As the press conference got under way the exent to which companies are happy to exploit people, communities and the environment became grossly clear, in the effort to make a profit. The new plant was financed by a deal between the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine government; a political twist on the situation. After the press con I had a brief chance to chat to the lawyer in charge of an environmental protection case that seeks to establish special protection for dolphins off the Cebu coast, after they saved a fisherman. Earlier in the day, on the jeepney from the Parenting Effectiveness Seminar to the coal forum, I had the chance to talk in detail with Dexter re the DSWS in Cebu. As mentioned before, the department that Dexter works in was expanded in 2007 after the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, through the recruitment of extra social workers to support CICLs (there are 2 such social workers for 80 barangays). The DSWS is independently financed by Cebu City government, as opposed to falling under the umbrella of DSWD. The dept acts as a frontline service of the City government for disaster relief, aid, and community work. There are54 staff at DSWS for 80 barangays, and a ratio of 1 social worker to 18,000 people.

Friday brought a GCD on Environment; plenty of Age of Stupid, oil-related exercises around political power dynamics, and then lunch at Elicon Café, a permaculture café that is ecologically minded in terms of air streaming instead of air con, interior made from recycled materials, locally sourced, light shafts to save electricity etc. We gathered for a team chat on our experiences in Cebu and how we record them, and our respective experiences of cultural difference. Fundraising chat then games at Elicon, including an epic session of Word Factory, and the amazing Inetllectual Game (actual spelling).

Saturday began super early; whilst Trix rested up I headed to meet Des, Marvie and Ren for tree-planting in Cebu hillylands with PBSP (Philippines Business for Social Progress), one of the oldest NGOs in Cebu. The aim of this project is to plant 200,000 indigenous tree seedlings, in order to cultivate eco-diversity and water sheds in the montainous areas of Cebu. The other planters were from Lexmark, San Miguel etc, as part of their CSR strategies. The drive up to the mountains, followed my jeepneys packed full of planters, was essentially a tour of the beautiful hills of central Cebu; it’s so different from the city, with the windows wound down you can taste, smell and feel the freshness of the air. Reggie, who was leading the planting, gave us bundles of information about the planting, and about PBSP, which gave a good context before we arrived on site. After a quick orientation at the planting site, we set to work packing together the soil around each seedling and bedding them into the pre-dug holes. We planted 1,700 indigenous seedlings (bangkal and toog) before wending our way down the mountainside a little way to the seedling bursery for bird identification, seedling discussion and trying on the carry bag that farmers use to carry their produce down to the city to sell. As Reggie explained, the work of PBSP is largely poverty alleviation, so the tree-planting (an environmental initiative) runs in tandem with a farming cooperative that produces the seedlings. PBSP support the farmers, encouraging them t use high yield crops, to rotate their crops, and to use efficient farming methods. After jumping about under a banana tree, taking photos of the jeepney, fire flowers, and eating jollibee chicken (or rice for me), we headed back to the city, via a mountain tour. Reggie was more than happy to show us the beauty of the mountains: we passed Manunggal Mountain where a former president crashed his plane and died, visited one of the farming cooperatives that PBSP supports, and met the Principal of the coop who fed us evergreen ramboutans, showed us around his plants (turtle plant, manunggal tree), and wishes us on our way. We stopped off on the way down for fresh corn on the cob, which was lami oi, before cleaning ourselves up pre-ocean clean-up. The beach at Punta Enganyo was absolutely filthy, so so much rubbish, which gave a sense of purpose to our clean-up operation. However, after many sweaty hours of work our small area looked clean whilst the rest of the beach still looked filthy, despite having collected 70 bags worth of rubbish. We worked with members of the local community and a few boys who lived in the area around the beach, who, after we exhausted our bag supply, had spider wars: making spiderts fight along the length of a chopstick – they keep the spiders in matchboxes ready for battle. David took great delight in exploiting Michael’s fear of spiders, as did the boys when they caught on. Headed back to the Mandaue girls’ house for a shower, we were all glistening and sparkling from the tiny pieces of disintegrated plastic up and down our arms and on our faces. Enjoyed an impromptu night with the lovely GX ladies before heading to bed.

Sunday: Ren, Bridget, Rachel and Crazy Frog (aka Trixie) head to the mountains. We all jeepneyed and habal-habaled (riding on the back of a motorbike) to Barangay Guba to support / join Ren in her drama workshops with the SUPACA group: a group of young people from the mountain barangays who raise awareness and distribute information around human trafficking, which is particularly prevalent in the mountains. The ride up to Guba was absolutely stunning; it was my first time on a motorbike, and what a way to start, surrounded by rolls of deep green Philippine rainforest, and the dramatic blues of the afternoon sky. After fish soup lunch we headed to Guba Elementary School for drama times, which were great fun; the kids were bright, enthusiastic, very intelligent, and keen to get involved.  Guba has the one of the best records for education out of the mountain barangays, which is largely down to the hardwork of Share a Child, Ren’s volunteer placement NGO. Guba is also one of the more wealthy barangays, despite the fact that only 1% of the community lives above the poverty line. At a budgeting seminar Ren attended, it came to light that most families with 6 or 7 children live on 600 pesos a week, which is about 8 pounds. So looking forward to going back to Guba again next week, we had such a good time. The ride back was equally amazing and gave me the chance to take some photos and videos, though it’s hard to capture the beauty of the scene. Back at the Mandaue house Des’s sisters and friend cooked us an amazing feast of garlic butter shrimps, cheese and brocolli soup, mashed potato and rice. We chatted about GX for a while before Trix and I headed back home to sleep.

Monday brought a morning of donations collection and collation for the fire victims of Barangay T. Padilla, a barangay near to where Trix and I live. The fire affected 700 families and 3000 people, destroying many homes and livelihoods. Had a number of bizarre exchanges with members of the public (no change there), including a pissed white guy who kept asking where the barangay was over and over again, before giving  21.25 pesos and then leaving, and also another white man who wanted me to give blood for his daughter, though I wasn’t the right blood type. Had a fairtrade shop haul with Ren in the afternoon whilst Trixie flew home as her nanay was very ill, before fundraising meeting, dinner, bed.

Tuesday I was back at DSWS in Labangon: read through papers on CICLs / RA 9344, visited Dept Head Cathy Yso, and made a home visit to Punta Princesca, which was a great experience – we were made very welcome, despite the very modest set up of the family we visited. Had a lovely lunch with Dex and Melissa, and enjoyed hearing about Bohol from Melissa, who used to live there. On the way to lunch we visited what is now known as “the international bakeshop” (my exclamation, which Dexter found hilarious and retells to everyone we meet), as it has a Filipino spin on: Belgian bread, Mongol bread (!), Spanish bread, etc etc. More fundraising meetings, lovely skype date for J and J’s wedding anniversary and then back home.

Wednesday was a DSWS day again, with a visit to Barangay Basak Pardo. Before our meeting we popped into the day Care Centre for children whose parents are at work. Some of the children blessed me and called me “Ate” (elder / oldy – joke lang!), by putting their heads to my hand – so sweet! A lovely colourful classroom for all the bata, but not a very big one, and one of the little babae who beemed up at me, chocolately snack in hand, had the worst teeth I have ever seen! At least they’re milk teeth and will drop out. Round the corner we clambered through mothers and babies awaiting post-natal check-ups; all of the babies were quiet cooing and getting on with being babies, which was quite remarkable. Had a very interesting meeting with the pink-shirted GAD focals (Gender and Development focals) regarding the BCPC (Barangay Council for the Protection of Children) agenda. The whole conversation took place in Cebuano, but I understood most of it, especially the Enlgish bits (haha). One of the GAD focals took me to meet the Barangay Captain, which was interesting, and, I should mention, to get to the meeting, Dexter and I took a horse and cart – yay! Had a lovely coconut milk and gulai lunch and then headed off for team times and then a very successful fundraising meeting at Outpost; we will be running an event at Outpost bar, to raise money for VSO Bahaginan, the Philippine arm of VSO.

Thursday began stupidly early with a 7:30am meet near the North Terminal Bus Station, ready to board the van to MPR (Mid Phase Review)on…Bantayan Island! Wahoo. Had a lovely aircon view of Cebu with Patricia, Ren and Michael, punctuated by a brief stop to admire a coconut tree with 4 branches, which is apparently very unusual. Boarded the ferry and watched Cebu float into the distance as we approached Bantayan to be greeted by beautiful blue seas, storm clouds and schools of fish in the waters of the port. At Kota beach Resort we ran around the beach, then deposited our belongings in our beach huts (!), and headed off for a pre-session swim. I was sharing with Bridget, April and Marvie again, so good times ahead. Day one’s sessions featured: build your host home on the beach (epic representation of our abode and surroundings, including dogs, jeepney and sari sari store), volunteer placement review, and then dinner and an evening on the beach in underwater-themed attire. I featured as the seabed, Ren as Spongebob, David as Poseidon, before we all got involved in various MPR-team-led games that ended with everyone bruised and battered by coral.

Up to watch the sunrise on Friday morning after a late night, which despite everyone’s assertions that they’d be there, was a lone venture until Trix arrived and we watched the sun come up together: the fishing boats, the sea, the gathering light, it was stunning. Breakfasted and then began the sessions of the day: counterpart pairs, team committees, and activities for the final 3 weeks. After lunch we headed to the beach for team games; Team Sponge (our team) did not do particularly well, in fact we got one point out of: the treasure hunt, mosquito game (removing “mosquito bites” from a partner whilst blindfolded), water collection, and tug of war. April ended up with a huge bruise from a tug of war-induced pile-on, and I got rope burned by the horribly scratchy rope. The games were abandoned as the wind picked up pre-storm, so we headed into the sea for a swim / sea-urchin-avoiding (Sam trod on one the day before, it looked so angry and painful), and splashed around in the rain and thunder. Back to the beach for an epic volleyball session, which culminated in a Brits v Pinoys session – they beat us by one goal (hahaha). After dinner we had a “group issues” session before heading out to a karaoke bar (oh dear), pottering around the shops, and trying out a Bantayan Caiprinhi: gin, kalamansi, sugar and ice – lami oi! We drifted back to the beach via the sari sari store for chats with a boy who lives on the beach and had been getting involved in our team games all day; he’s 8 and has lived on Bantayan Island since he was 4 years old – his parents live in Manila, and he has recently been diagnosed with pneumonia. However, we had a lovely singing session together whilst the team talked, and then back to the beach until the early hours of the morning.

Saturday: MPR extended to Sunday! Yay. We headed off island-hopping, which began with wonderful snorkelling of Virgin Island, a splash about in the shallow waters and the bbqed lunch of parrot fish, squid – with April featuring as The Grudge II, covered in black squid ink -, pork and rice. We jumped off the side of the boat on the way to island number two before jellyfish sent us scrambling back onto the boat. Took many a photo of Michael in his Laurence of Arabia-style headgear – hilarity – before reaching Ogtong Island for a failed trip to a lagoon and caves. Sam, April and I planted 3 mangroves in memory of the joys of mangrove-planting on Olango Island, and as we sailed back to Bantayan our island tally went up to 7! Spent the afternoon in the waters of Bantayan with Elsie, Ren, Des and David, spying out cloud shapes, jellyfish, and fish, before heading into the streets for a Sparkle, and then back to the beach for a whole coconut: juice, flesh and all! More volleyball, more swim, more dinner, more chattings, and more sandy sleep.

Sunday began with a sunrise, again, with Ren, Des and Trix. After breakfast we set off home, and David, Elsie and I discussed the joys of British food on return…yum. Made a mad dash to the mountains with Ren, Bridget, Des and Trix; gathering helmets, food and water along the way. Shared a habal-habal with Ren up to Guba, which gives a totally different experience – not as squashed as expected, and the scenery was as beautiful as ever. Had a great drama session, with familiar faces, excellent participation, and activities focussed around the final script. Leslie, Ren’s supervisor, invited us to stay over in the mountains after our drama CAD next weekend, which will be fantastic – so excited. Enjoyed a Jollibee 10 peso ice cream (18p) with the Mandaue girls before heading home to be reunited with Tita and Tito. Gave Tita a shellbox from Bantayan, which she loved, and then had a 20 peso pedicure and, at the behest of Tita, had our washing done by a local lady; then bed.

Nine glorious hours of sleep later…Monday 23rd August. Ate far too much at breakfast before heading to CASA/GAL for a quiet day in the office, which featured a visit by one of the organisation beneficiaries, a pizza from the beneficiary’s father, and some postcard writing over lunch. Tuesday was the day of the Community Stakeholders Forum in Mandaue, which went well. The Mandaue DSWD offices, where the forum was held were filled with stacks of sacks of rice and corned beef, for relief operations. The CSF was very well attended by Home Care staff from the barangays across the city, and by 5 street children, who sand the national anthem beautifully, messed around and pushed each other for a bit, slept, and then headed off. The training largely detailed the UNCRC and associated CASA/GAL information, punctuated by an en masse Jollibee feeding session. Skype date en famille for Jonny’s epic GCSE results and then home for bed.

Wednesday and Thursday centred on team discussions, and catching up on emails, work bits and pieces and so on. Friday brought GCD times, and then home for a fiesta! Took the car with Kuya Alan, Joy, and Tita Inday to Minganilia, such a long way for Tita to be travelling from every day! We were welcomed into Tita’s lovely blue house, with its green interior décor, and fed with yummy sweet and sour fish with ginger, carrot and onions, rice, and a cocktail: tanduay, beer and coke – lethal! After some Agua Bendita we headed into the centre of the barangay for a dance contest, and stopped off on the way to view the flowers at the local chapel. We sat and took in the atmosphere of kids dancing, blaring music, families, lady boys and their squealing camp friends, and the prep for the dance contest, which finally began at 10:30. When the dancers finally arrived they were fantastic: break-dancing / hip hop / acrobatics / Diversity-style, with many small Filipino boys flying through the air as part of the show. The groups were called: Boys Make Style; Pinoy Movers; and Apolcalypse, and were dressed in black and orange, the colours of the Philippine flag, and in yellow with Spongebob Squarepants rucksacks, respectively. Had to head back home in the middle of the contest – shame – but much fun was had.

Saturday was mountains day, so after pack and prep Trix and I headed to Pitos for habal habal fun times. Patrick and I boarded the habal habal together, and the ride was even more beautiful in the bright sun, with sweeping view of Cebu, all the way to the ocean. Arrived in time for fried / sugared sagin (banana) and a potter round the basketball court, hillside hut, and organisation building headed up by Leslie’s Nanay, Ate Cirilla. The organisation provides support and education for some of the poorest families in the barangay, an initiative led by the calm, open, giving, honest figure of Cirilla. Once we all arrived we got stuck into drama games; I delivered a voice session; we did props, costumes, make-up, auditions, set design, and then games altogether after a cheap tasty lunch at the Cirilla-provided karendiria. After the CAD activities had finished, basketball recommenced, plus general chattings, before a group of us headed off to the walk the mountain views of Guba.  Stunning vies as we walked along the lanes, stopping to collect mangoes, waving to Apple Mae’s family, and discussing the importance of farming. We pushed our way uphill, through cornfields and to the hillside edge looking down to the river, with the kids, Leslie and Apple Mae guiding us. We eventually discovered the rest of the team laid out on the hillside and watched together as the dusk drew in. Headed back for more karendiria, more Sparkle, and more fried banana, before talking at length with Ate Cirilla about Guba, her work, VSO, and the difficulties faced by some of the families in the mountains. We moved onto chattings within ourselves and then headed back to the hilltop overlooking the Muslim cemetry and the rainforest, as it rolled out to the city. Karaoke brought us back down the mountain; we then spent the rest of the evening avoiding having to sing, despite the protestations and serenadings of a vinegary old man who was singing song after shrill song, waving his hands at us, and dedicating his tunes to us, “paithpully”. Elsie, Ren, Michael, Patrick and I slept in the hillside hut, which was fantastic as the rain beat down. We all (Ren and Michael), got terrified by absolutely nothing, so got little sleep. Michael also stole my sheet, leaving me to lie under me teeny towel until a midnight toilet break / attempt to save the materials we’d left out in the rain only to be apprehended by a dog who was sitting on them.

Woke up to the sounds of the community and to 12 huge mosquito bites – yay. Changed, ate yummy breakfast of egg, fried banana, coconut milk and squash, and rice, before boarding the van to Ayala. I still, to this day, do not know how the van got up the ridiculously rocky and steep hill away from our mountain venue, but am happy to say that gravity did not get the better of us, despite Bridget’s screams about the HUGE spider inside the windscreen, which I swear nearly sent us off the road. Back for blissful shower and yummy crab lunch before re-gathering and heading to Taoist Temple and Tops. The temple was interesting and very striking, though not quite as I had expected, and then Tops – quite literally the mountain…tops. Spectacular. The views stretched as far as Mactan Island and Olango Island; you could even see Bohol, it was so beautiful, until the rain started! We headed back to the city for a delicious thai meal, a beer and then bed.

Monday 30th was National Heroes Day, so no work. Headed to Carbon Market, which was brilliant: made an absolute haul before a mad dash to the mountains of Guba (again) for final drama workshop and farewells to Ren. The kids sang a lovely song and gave cards with lovely messages and best wishes. Back down the wet wet mountain (scary) for dinner and Monopoly Deal at Mama Luce’s and then moonlit kayaking via Lapu Lapu shrine. Had a very thorough kayak clinic before boarding the boat with Ren; we seemed to drift to one side most of the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself - it was too beautiful a scene to fuss about technique. We drifted into the lagoon and into rocks (!), through the ultra-violet plankton, jellyfish and swells of the current. There were quite a few clouds about, which were intermittently lit up by flashes of lightning, amidst the rolls of thunder and the shifting moon. We splashed, chatted and giggled at Crazy Frog and Mowgli (Trix and Karl), especially when we returned to discover that Karl had rowed into a boat rope, which clotheslined him hilariously. Death by midnight boats. Water splashings and a change later (I left my lovely shorts on the beach!) before jeepney off the island, over the bridge and home to bed at late o’clock.

Tuesday at DSWS: visit to Lihok Pilipina, a women’s organisation that promotes women’s rights, herbal medicines, self-sufficiency through the Sacred Garden planting project, and makes products to sell out of recycled materials. We then made our way to the Second Chance Centre, with fabulous views as we skirted the edge of the mountain on the way through Barangay Guadalupe, past Cebu City Jail and the dancing inmates, past the women’s jail and to SCC. We met some Danish volunteers who are on 6-month placement in Cebu as part of their social work degrees, and then the Deputy Officer of SCC, who, after initial misgivings about us not having the documentation needed, allowed us to observe two intake interviews that Dexter was about to conduct. Really interesting to observe the interviews of two minors whose situations / contexts wer pretty tough even before they ended up in conflict with the law. They seemed to be well fed at the Centre, which is for the rehabilitation and reintegration of CICLs (Children in Conflict with the Law). Headed back down the mountain for meets at Mayflower Inn, which is partnered with Elicon eco Café, and then yummy pizza at Kuku’s Nest before bed.

Wednesday morning was spent at CASA/GAL with supervision from Tita Inday, followed by supervision with Elsie over tea at Macbay, a dash to Elicon, and then home for dinner. Experienced our first home brown out (power cut), so had most of our dinner by candlelight before heading to meet the manager of Outpost ready for Friday’s event.

Thursday today and Trix is not well, so I’m computering it up in lieu of work. Really looking forward  to the last week or so, and hopefully to a final blog next week (time allowing).

Hope all of you lovely folk are well, and sorry for the excessive delay of this entry.

Daghang gugma (lots of love).


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