Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The US Ambassador visits!

A few months ago, my regional manager contacted me and said that United States Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney was planning a visit to my site, as she enjoys meeting with Peace Corps Volunteers. There would be exactly half an hour for a visit, and then she would host other PCV's in the area for lunch. What would we do?

I was sort of in disbelief that the Ambassador would come to my site, but this was huge! The US Ambassador has an extremely big profile in the Philippines. Statements she makes and events she attends are sometimes front-page national news. There is a lot of history between our two nations, and because of (or in spite of, depending on your opinions) this history, the Philippines seems to be one of the few countries in the world with a generally positive view of the United States. Plus, Ambassador Kenney is extremely popular for her warm personality and willingness to indulge in stunts like this, dancing the Papaya on national television.

We began a detailed, intense planning process, coordinating between myself, the municipal government, the Peace Corps, the Embassy, and the various other places she would be visiting that day, which included our rural health unit - also a beneficiary of USAID funding. After weeks of nailing down every last detail (including what the Ambassador would have for lunch - a ham and cheese omelet and Coke Light, if you're keeping tabs), I returned from my vacation 2 days before she was due to arrive in town and reported to work the next morning to finalize plans. The mayor sadly informed me that she most likely wasn't coming, after all. This set off a crazy day of back-and-forth between me, the Peace Corps, and the Embassy, trying to figure out what on Earth was going on. The locals were sure she wasn't coming and had even canceled lunch. We were in a position of waiting for what we assumed was a final cancellation. Then, at 3:45, I received a call that the Ambassador was for sure coming, and all the original schedule would be kept. So we scrambled to put everything together again.

The rest of the story will be told through photo captions:

After making final preparations, the local officials and I anxiously awaited for Ambassador Kenney's arrival at the front of the Municipal Hall.

Although scheduled to go right up to the municipal hall in her van, the Ambassador disembarked early to shake the hands of the many schoolchildren who were lining the road, waving handmade Philippine and American flags, as drums played and a festive mood filled the air.

As Ambassador Kenney and her support staff from the State department approached, I provided the official welcome, and proceeded to introduce her to my co-workers and the local administration.

We went through a receiving line upstairs to the city council meeting chambers. I was quite worried about the schedule, since every event had been assigned a very specific time in minutes, but the Ambassador put me at ease, and was extremely friendly with everybody, taking time to shake lots of hands and take lots of photos.

The Mayor and I presented a brief overview of our CRM program, and a summary of the major initiatives that Peace Corps and the local government are working on here.

After some photos, we proceeded to our Tandayag Marine Sanctuary to show off one of the crown jewels of our town and meet with local fishermen. A TV had been hooked up to my laptop and was showing off some underwater footage, since we didn't have time to go snorkeling. We discussed the history of the sanctuary and our hopes for developing more eco-tourism here, as well as improving fish catch for the marginal fishermen.

Ambassador Kenney gave a brief message to those assembled - members of our Bantay Dagat, Municpal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council, and the Tandayag Marine Sanctuary Managment Association, and handed out some pins featuring the American and Philippine flags together, and we headed to lunch.

PCVs from Negros Oriental and Siquijor joined for a delicious lunch at a local resort that I could hardly eat because I was still so wound-up from the day's events, and hadn't really taken a breath for multiple hours.

One last picture, with the local PCVs, Ambassador Kenney, Mayor Bentham De La Cruz, one of our SB members, and my work counterpart and supervisor.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing day. The preparations went off pretty flawlessly, and my co-workers and the local government went above and beyond in preparations for the event. I was very proud to have a part in hosting the Ambassador, which is believed to be the first time that a US Ambassador has come to my town. I hope that having such a high-profile visitor to our project will help convince the locals of its importance, and enable us to continue improving our programs. And, above all, a goodwill, face-to-face visit such as this goes a long way toward preserving the main goal of my organization, stated in the very first word: peace.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ocho Cero Uno Sa Inyong Radyo...

Hola, amigos, I know it's been a while since I rapped at ya. A lot's been going on, from projects at site, to a vacation to Palawan, to a visit by the US Ambassador. I plan on making posts on all of these things soon enough. In summary though, I'm back at site and things are going well. I got some new soccer cleats, a ridiculous number of cats have been dying at my house, I finally got to read the 7th and final Harry Potter book, I'm chomping on a lot of sunflower seeds, and I just started the 5th and final season of The Wire.

In this post I mostly want to talk about a recent radio show appearance I made, because it was kind of cool. Our mayor purchased some airtime on a local station for us to talk about environmental issues, and the first week was for Coastal Resource Management. So, I went along with my co-workers to 801 Radyo Bandillo in Sibulan for the program. My assignment was to talk about marine sanctuaries. The station is popular among fisherfolk, so I decided to speak in Cebuano. I wasn't sure what I was going to say until a couple hours before we decided to leave and I lifted a few Cebuano phrases from a poster we have in the office, then madly practiced my pronunciation.

Listening to the Mayor introduce the CRM program while nervously awaiting my turn

I guess the host had been falsely buttered up as to my level of Cebuano skill, and my well-written (not by me) prepared remarks didn't help shatter any myths. So when I sat down and started getting asked all sorts of questions, I did my best to respond, but then let her know I'd really be more comfortable reading my prepared text. Later, after I was done and Job had been speaking about fishery laws, the host called me to the mic and asked me some rapid-fire question regarding mesh size for a certain kind of fish net. I ran away and made Job answer the question. Laughing about it after the show, the Mayor suggested that next time, I should say "that question is so easy that even Job can answer it, so I'll defer to him". Not a bad idea!

Here's a picture of me breaking it down on-air, and then a transcript of what I said (the English translation - I guess you can contact me if you'd like the Bisaya).

A well-managed marine protected area (MPA) promotes habitat recovery and restores fish productivity.

1. MPAs are designated areas where fishing or other forms of human access and activities are restricted to protect the area’s ecosystem. MPA is the general term for marine sanctuary, marine reserve, or marine park.

2. MPAs promote the recovery of degraded habitats critical to enhancing and sustaining our fishery resources.

3. MPAs have a no-take zone or “sanctuary” where the harvesting of fish or any marine life is not allowed. This enables fish stocks and all marine organisms to mature and thus reproduce at a higher rate. As fish and other marine life grow bigger, their ability to reproduce increases.

4. Bigger fish produce many more eggs than smaller ones. No-take sanctuaries have been proven to host more and bigger breeding individuals, increase the supply of young fish and lead to a build-up in fish populations.

5. Once fish populations inside the MPA increase, some fish will spill out of the MPA and boost catches of fishers. Currents will also disperse eggs and larvae (newly hatched fish) to populate other habitats.

6. The enhancement of fisheries is only one of the many benefits of MPAs. MPAs also contribute to the stability of the marine ecosystem, biodiversity conservation, research, public education, tourism and recreation – benefits which often exceed the economic benefits derived from fisheries alone.