already two weeks into June and these two weeks have been very
busy indeed. June started well with my friend Judith visiting me here
in Kalibo. I remember her arrival in Kalibo Airport and the welcome
committee to pick her up. At the time we were lucky enough to borrow a
car for her airport transfer. And it was a good idea because Judith
brought staggering 50kg of luggage to Kalibo! The majority of it being
donations of rescue gear for our office. It felt like Christmas in June
that afternoon, unpacking all these beautiful things in our office,
people watching with big eyes. If you know rescue work you will
understand what immense difference a few donations from Australia can
make out here. It's the first time ever our province has seen double
sheave pulleys. The first time ever our chainsaw operators can protect
themselves with chaps. Combined with the other personal safety
equipment that, while available here, remains largely beyond the
budget. But now our rescuers can be safe by adding safety glasses,
ear protection and dust masks to their equipment. Also we can refill
first aid kit with new supplies. Those and many other things almost
doubled the inventory of our rescue office.
Judith stayed in the Philippines for only 10 days, so we had to take
the opportunity to travel a bit. For me too, I never left my own island
since arriving in Kalibo! So it was time, I took the week off from work
and we flew to Bohol. Recently the island province of Bohol featured in
the international news with the magnitude 7.2 earthquake which
devastated the island in October 2013, just one month before the
arrival of supertyphoon Yolanda. Still today it was shocking to witness
the devastation. The force of the earthquake destroyed a large number
of brick and concrete buildings. The Typhoon finished off the timber
and palm thatched ones. Many sections of the road have shifted sideways
or up or down and were temporarily patched. Bridges lay crumbled in the
river, covered by new temporary iron bridges. Houses lay on their side.
Other were in complete ruins. As were all churches, every single one
was at least severely damaged, often completely destroyed. It's
heartbreaking to see the old churches and cathedrals, historic
monuments build by the Spanish colonialists centuries ago and now
crumbled on the ground, starting to overgrow already in the tropical
But going beyond the desaster, there are many cool things to do
make Bohol traditionally a favorite tourist destination in the
Philippines. Such as the Tarsiers, the smallest primates in the world.
They are smaller than your average fist. Their eyes are bigger than
their brains. And they literally are the cutest things you can imagine.
And yes, they live in Bohol. Or there are the Chocolate Hills, a big
area covered in limestone domes. The grassy vegetation on those hills
turns them into a chocolate brown during the dry season, hence the
name. For our visit though, the Chocolate Hills presented themselves in
a lush green. As we watched them appearing out of the mist from
the visitor complex, still in ruins after the earthquake.
Or there are the small islands surrounding Bohol, like Balicasag or
Panglao. With the most beautiful turquoise waters and coral reefs,
white beaches lined with coconut trees. We went snorkelling there
alongside massive sea turtles. Just jumping into the water and snorkel
around for a bit and suddenly there are these huge turtles just
beneath the surface, slowly moving their heavy body alongside the coral
Our last day in Bohol was spent on the water once more, kayaking to
meet the fireflies. Kayaking at night is quite special and we had a
guide with us. He showed us the most amazing things - whole trees
lit up like Christmas trees. A thousand small but bright lights
blinking and moving around. A whole tree full of them. They were in
fact fireflies who chose that tree to be there home. Like little
aeroplanes some of them would fly past us, slowly but constantly
Being in Bohol also presented a great opportunity to catch up with the
three Australian volunteers
assigned in there. We have not seen each other since our In Country
Orientation almost 4 months ago!
On the same day when Judith left back to Australia, we had another
celebrate in Kalibo. Allister, my colleague from the SES in Sydney will
Kalibo for 9 months from now on, assigned in our office. Which brings
the number of Australian volunteers in Kalibo to now seven. Allisters
arrival kept us busy for the last week to support him settling in. But
successfully so, he now has a home in the same townhouse complex as us
and most of his things are organised. Ready to start his new Philippino
life seriously from next week.
Life here is still good. Not just good, it's awesome. I say that every
day and it's not just me saying it. I remember returning from Bohol how
happy it made me to be back in Kalibo. Kalibo really feels like home
and that is mostly because of the people we have here. The people I
have around me every day at work and at home, workmates, volunteers,
neighbors, stall owners at the market make every minute a happy one.
Philippino people must be the happiest ones in the world, they
certainly appear that way and they let you participate in their
happiness whenever you encounter them. I feel very lucky to have so
many good Philippino friends after such a short time here. It makes me
feel right now as if time is flying much too fast and the 10 month
assignment that seemed so long from Sydney is now just like a happy
movie rushing past. I hope and will try to stay on and extend my good
times here, why would I not? So hopefully it works out.
Workwise we will have a few busy weeks ahead but also exciting weeks.
There are Search and Rescue Trainings in quite remote municipalities,
remote enough so we don't come home at the end of the day. Sleep overs
are usually good fun though and although it's to a degree stressful to
live out of backpacks again it's a good opportunity to dive in ever
deeper into Philippine life and meet more people. The entire next week
will be spent in Batan, a municipality at a beautiful ocean bay on
the eastern boundary of our province. I'm already looking forward to it!
almost four months in the Philippines I got my first visitor from home!
brought with her a lot of really good rescue gear, it will make future
operations so much safer for our rescuers.
in Bohol, pristine waters and coral reefs - perfect stereotype for the
huge sea turtles near Balicasag Island.
is good in the Philippines!
aftermath of the Bohol Earthquake in October 2013 - nearly every church
on the island lies in ruins.
meet friendly Philippinos wherever we go - here in Cebu City
newest Australian Volunteer in Kalibo - welcome to Allister!
straight into a first field trip - Disaster Risk Reduction workshop in
Hospital and their only Ambulance vehicle. Altavas is at the fringe of
our province of Aklan, the hospital serving communities as far as
across the border to Capiz. It's a challenge to do so with the limited
funds provided but we met a very committed hospital manager and his
team doing the best they can.
team of Altavas Hospital after our workshop
day another orientation session with the community about flood
evacuation. The venue being a small church in the Barangay of Aliputos.
The month of June is coming to an end. Workwise it has been my busiest
month in the Philippines so far. It's due to training courses that are
requested from our office. And even more so June was the month of flood
drills. What makes it busy is that all those courses and drills are not
conducted in our office but in various locations around Aklan. Training
courses usually mean we are away overnight for a week or more. Flood
drills are usually two days in a Barangay. Being outside usually also
means we meet a lot of new people. It often feels like a genuine
Philippine experience to go out into the villages and work together
with locals for a day or two. Or five or six. After all these months in
the Philippines I am still amazed how happy this work with the people
makes me, busy or not, it is heaps enjoyable here. It's the way people
accept strangers here, the way they worry for you if you're not happy.
Philippinos always look after each other and their guests. One good
example is that you always need a companion, a concept quite foreign to
western civilisations where competition and self sufficiency seems more
of a desirable lifestyle. Certainly not so here. There are numerous
examples of how I experienced it. One is when we go on field work with
the local Red Cross teams. The Red Cross usually picks us up in an air
conditioned comfortable car. On many occasions though the flexibility
of a motorbike is also of advantage so I go on site with my motorbike.
Always, without fail, someone will hop on the back and keep me company
while at the same time sacrificing their comfy ride in an
airconditioned car. Whenever I go somewhere, whenever I do something,
someone will come along. It's no good doing anything by yourself in the
Philippines. And I love it, in retrospect it is one of the things I
missed in Australia.
The social connections people form with each other and now also with me
often surprise me but after considering things they make sense. For me,
grown up in the western system of effectiveness and competition, it
often appears strange. As that one day when we had a 5 day training
course with sleep over some two hours away from Kalibo. Trainers were
the Seals volunteers, the whole group. However, I had other things to
do on day one and so had one of the Seals so we would join the training
from day two. Right? No! After finishing our own business in Kalibo I
seemed to ask the strangest question - when would we start on my bike
the next morning to join the others? You probably can guess the answer.
We had to go on that very day. Why? Why would we prefer to sleep here
in Kalibo alone when we could sleep together with the others in the
dorm at the training site? Of course being in company with the others
was the only choice, no matter day or night.
And really - why would we not?
All this friendliness and connectedness is indeed addictive. Quite
often I find myself thinking - 'What the hell just happened' - how can
I take things as being so normal, in Australia many would be beyond
exotic. But I guess it's just the time of exposure that changes a
person. I love being around the locals and whatever we do - it's
so much fun. Even though here in Kalibo we are now seven international
volunteers I still find myself instinctively preferring to hang out
with Philippino people. And can't really be grateful enough to have
found so many cool people to hang out with.
Having a good time also means that time is flying past, I am now past
the half way mark of my assignment time here in Kalibo. The thought of
that dreads me a bit. Just a few days ago I got an email from my old
job agency offering me positions in Sydney. With a sudden shock I
realised that there is less than 5 months left in the Philippines! And
that again makes me thinking. I mean, what would you do if you are
somewhere where you absolutely enjoy your time? There are options for
me, one is to extend my assignment by two months. The other one is to
write another assignment and take it up myself. It would mean staying
in Kalibo for another 10 months in the next year!?!? I know it would be
some awesome 10 months but also, the longer I stay here the more
difficult will my return to Australia be. Jobwise for one thing because
I am not really working on my career here. But also generally, the
longer you are away from your friends the harder it will be to
reconnect. Maybe? The longer you live in a country of happiness and
huge 24/7 social circles the harder it will be to return to a
competitive society. As for now I just applied for a two months
extension. There is a 50/50 chance it will be granted. Giving me more
time to consider wether or not a new assignment is a good idea...
As for the next few weeks - I will be gone again, 6 days in Madalag, 6
days in Malay, 3 days in Malinao - all the beautiful spots in Aklan
and Rescue training in Batan - the final day. The new rescue volunteers
had to find and rescue the boy underneath the debris...
one of the twenty casualties that had to be 'rescued' during the final
day of the training.
part of the training in Batan was a fitness exercise of running along
the beach and...
highlight of social activities are the 'Boodle Feasts', food is served
on a long long table on banana leafs, everyone is sharing everything.
part of the Search and Rescue training was an abseiling exercise.
week another training - the new Seals volunteers of Kalibo getting
familiar with the Aklan River.
'Aklan River Cruise' involves floating in the river and walking across
shallow parts for around 4 hours, from the town of Banga all the way
back to Kalibo.
course more abseiling, this time from Mobo Bridge in Kalibo.
week another activity. The holiday of St John the Baptist attracts big
crowds on Aklan's beaches. So all available volunteers had to be on
duty for any just-in-case emergencies. We were transported to our
locations by the truck load. Literally.
Seals are a great team to be part of.
patrol on the beaches during St John the Baptist day.
all over the province had fun in the water.
Seals Rescue volunteer keeping a watchful eye on those swimmers.
work doesn't feel like work and at the end of the day when the sun sets
over the still hot and humid beachside I understand that life is good
in the Philippines.