Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Permanent Site for the next two years!

This is my new home town! Every morning I "talk" to that mountain in the distance, it is what stands between me and the ocean! I want to go to the top and see the Pacific!
I arrived at my permanent post on Sept. 17, 2011 in Ibaan, Batangas to the sound of a mini-marching band at Ibaan Central Elementary School. They were very good and so very cute to welcome me with song and dance. Many teachers and parents were also there to greet me with a large welcome banner and of course, no celebration in the Philippines would be complete without food! We had a wonderful merienda of pancit noodles and I was introduced to the staff and the education councilor. A tired and very sweaty Amy then went to meet her new host family for the next three months. A lovely home and large welcoming family. Food again and then a bit of rest and unpacking in my new room. I had to write down everyone’s name that I met because there were so many and I was afraid I would forget who belonged to whom.
   Sunday was morning attendance at St. James Catholic church, lovely Spanish elegant architecture, lots of statues and gold, beautiful paintings. While I have not been to Europe, the large Catholic churches here remind me of photos of historic European churches. I was tired and a little spacey from travel, new surroundings and I knew I was not focusing 100%, but during the mass I saw something jump from the gold ornate altar from about 10 feet high to the ground, it was beside a statue of Mary. It was a calico cat, the mass continued as this was a usual occurrence and I had to blink twice to make sure I was not hallucinating, not something I was expecting! The mass is in Tagalog and I heard the words “US Peace Corps Volunteer Amie” and I realized the priest was introducing me! I sheepishly stood up and waved, not sure if this was culturally appropriate or not….(They call me Amie, short ”a” sound, rhymes with Tammy).
The Lola of my new host family is one of 10 children, she had a stroke about 7 years ago and is in a wheelchair. She also had 10 children of her own, one lives in the compound and many live near by or visit for the weekend. One of those ten had 10 children herself (the one in the compound), so need I say more? There is a lot of family here!! It is hard to keep track of who is coming and going but now after three weeks, I am getting much better. There are two “helpers” at the house, one is the cook, and caretaker of Lola, the other is called a “yaw yaw” or nanny, to the 2 year old. His mom works in Manila and comes here on weekends, the dad works about 8 hours away and visits when he can. Many Filipino’s have family working abroad, called Filipino Overseas Workers, or OFW, it is very common for the men to go to Saudi Arabia or Qatar or somewhere and the women to be domestic help in Singapore, Italy or England. Nurses want to go to the US or Canada for big salaries, they have to pass an International Board Exam to even begin the lengthy process of applying. So many people have said to me that they want to go to the US for a better job and cannot believe that I would voluntarily quit a high paying position in the US to come to a foreign country and work as a volunteer. They see that I am happy, I try to briefly explain that being accepted into the US Peace Corps is a privilege and very competitive. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I do believe that God wants me here or else he would have closed all of the doors for me to come. I explain that I sold my car, gave away almost all of my personal belongings and furniture, quit my job to come here, I say that not to brag or make myself seem so “holy” or something, I say it just to explain that I did sacrifice a lot to come here, but I did it so very willingly and I felt very at peace about the whole thing. At the end of the church service when the priest says, “May the peace that passes all understanding guard your heart and minds with the love of Jesus” – I have that peace that even I cannot understand.
My school has about 1500 pupils (they are called pupils grade kinder – grade 6), kinder is half day, first grade has an a.m. and p.m. session to accommodate smaller class sizes and many pupils. Most classes have about 50 pupils, wooden old fashioned desks, fans, blackboards with chalk, many have ceilings that are badly stained and/or sagging from decay and the hot humid climate, windows open and no screens. Teachers wear mandatory uniforms, heavy polyester fabric, different colors for different days; pupils wear uniforms as well.  I am assigned to work closely with one teacher, my “counterpart” who teaches English in two sections of Grade 5, he also works with the school journalism group. I have been visiting and observing many classes to get a feel for the whole school and Filipino education system. Like in the US, there are differences among teaching styles, but my counterpart is excellent! Many teachers did not want me to “observe” at first for fear I was like a supervisor and they were a little shy about their English skills. I have worked hard to try and say that I am here to help the pupils and learn about the education system and slowly they are more accepting. When a Filipino has difficulty speaking English they are very shy, cover their face and say they are having a “nosebleed.” I have tried to also say that when I speak Tagalog, I have a “nosebleed” and so we are the same!

Mini band performing for me as I arrive!

Yes, I am all sweaty and surprised!

Exercises every morning for the whole school under the covered court.

My wonderful Principal!
Every morning the pupils clean the school grounds and classrooms, I really don’t think this would take place in the US! We have a flag ceremony with pledge, national anthem, local anthems and exercises in the morning. The pupils are for the most part very well behaved. Some have excellent English skills, others not so much. Same goes for the teachers, and that is why I am here. No computer lab, no library, no lunch room, no gym, no a/c, no flush toilets. There is a canteen that serves snacks and just recently lunches for purchase, I eat there every day for free as part of what the school can provide for me and I am very grateful. Everyone takes a merienda break around 9:30 or 10 am. There are a very very few computers for teachers, most bring their own laptop if they need one, all  have to bring their own broadband jump drive and of course, pay for that. Teachers seem to be involved in so many extracurricular activities, from scouting to home economics competitions to sports to oratory competitions. They are out of the classroom a lot supervising these activities and many are away on weekends. I have been fortunate to attend several area and district wide events that have really helped me get a feel for the overall education system. There was a very unique home economics-like competition that included painting, cooking, woodworking, plant grafting, flower arranging and circuit board creation. Another was all about journalism and even included the creative usage of newspaper for making costumes. Girl scouts went on a province wide camp out and this week I attended an area sports competition, very similar to a mini-olympics with the torch and everything. The Filipino are so talented, the children do sports, recite memorized speeches, can really really sing and dance, I am enjoying them! More to come later, churches, pigs, fiestas and more.

Parade in town for World Teachers' Day

New teacher friends

Filipino national game is Sipa Takraw, he is holding the ball, I have not seen it played yet.

Cub Scouts doing a sack race, they were great!

Winners of the best costume award for the Press Conference