Thursday, October 6, 2011

I have fallen off the horse...

This is my attempt to get back on.

The last time I posted a blog entry I had just finished the incredibly satisfying tour de force that was the Faces of Tomorrow Cleft and Palate medical mission. It is now October, a full 9 months later and life is considerably different.

When I last wrote I was only 3 months into my volunteering (plus the 3 months of training), and still fairly figuring out what the heck was going to become of me and the looming 21 months ahead. Now that I find myself at the half term mark (less then 13.5 months to go) I can't help but wonder where all that time has gone.

I am now in my second (and only full) school year of teaching. It has gone a lot smoother mainly because last years juniors are this years seniors. Being able to teach students from the previous year is a lot easier then teaching new students not only do they ask more questions, but they also are a lot more comfortable around me and used to my American twang. My juniors are no less awesome. I have actually found that they are embracing me very quickly and love to ask me questions when they don't understand (Boy do I love it when I don't have to pull teeth*). Guess being with a class from the beginning of the school year does help. Other then teaching the students using the new DLP framework (insert exasperated sigh here, thanks for making my job harder), I have been working on scholarship and information collection for the different universities on my island/province. I along with a few other volunteers all over the Philippines are working on creating an online database that can be accessed by high school students with all the information. It is in the very rough stages at the moment, but with the information I have managed to collect over the last few months plans are in the works for a career planning/college information workshop for the entire senior class at my school, here's looking at December.

In an attempt to keep this post short(er)
School/life activities that keep me busy/entertain me...**
• Activity lesson corrections
• Curriculum planning
• Book donation hunting
• Dancing with faculty in front of 2,000 students and again in front of Dep Ed and government officials (think extreme aerobics with dark electronic music)
• Playing a female faculty vs. faculty game of basketball (in which half the players ran carrying the ball up and down the court)
• New volunteers (Two assigned to my town! Yay for new friends!)
• Reading, lots of reading
• Watching, lots of watching
• Biking, kayaking, getting scuba certified!
• Trips to visit my fellow Boholanos (aka my PCV family)
• Following up on Cleft/Palate patients (Amazing!)

There's a lot more that I can't quite remember and a lot coming up, but hopefully this is a good enough (re)start.


*Not literally (sarcasm intended, offensiveness be darned)
**These activities are from June 2011 on, anything between January and then has been lost in the craziness that is my brain.

Fun Fact:
This entire post was written while listening to the music of Shakira (pre-English crossover).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 15-23, 2011

A week that will live in infamy? For a few families... yes.

1 week ago today I, along with 3 other Peace Corps volunteers (Abby, Kate, and Kristen; Claire another PCV helped out on the 15th), were on our way to pick up the medical team of Faces of Tomorrow. Faces of Tomorrow, for those of you who don't know, is an amazing organization based out of the California Bay Area that makes yearly trips to countries like Ecuador and the Philippines in an effort to give free Cleft and Lip palate surgeries to those in need. This year they made their first trek to the Philippines and I got to play a small part in the amazing thing that these people do.

On the 15th we picked them all up from the airport, and off stepped 30+ Americans to the sounds of a marching band, seashell made lei's and of course a huge banner welcoming them to Tag(bilaran), Bohol. It was exciting to watch them enter thinking oh man that was a 20 hour flight, bet their jet lagged, bet their dying of heat, bet they have no idea what awaits them. To be an insider peering at the outsiders was a new experience. Little did I know the next week was going to show me how much I have changed and learned since arriving 5 months ago to the Philippines.

The 16th was the first day of the mission and it was a whole day devoted to screening patients. It was on this day that we were to identify the patients that would be undergoing surgery and/or getting Obterators from the dentists the next week and also to get a feel for what the entire team was in store for. I don't think anyone was expecting what we saw. By 8 am there was a steady crowd of people entering the building, I was in charge of getting the patients that had already been evaluated by the doctors from the basement to the 4th floor for a visit to the speech pathologists and then back down to the basement where they were told to wait to find out if they would be helped. All in all, 200+ people came to be screened and many had never had an operation meaning their cleft lip and/or palate had never been fixed, a good portion had only ever had one operation (either lip or palate), and others had been operated on but still had various speech/eating/aesthetic problems. All ages were represented from babies to adults. The end of the day the announcement was made that 55 surgeries would be done all on kids no older then 11 years old and about 30-40 obterators would be made by the dentists for those who didn't make the cut to qualify for surgery.

From the 17th to 21st the surgeries took place. There were 3 operating rooms and each room was assigned 4 surgeries a day. Cleft lips take about 2 hours and Cleft palates take around 4 hours. While the doctors were downstairs operating the fourth floor, where we were placed, was busy as well. The nurses up on the fourth floor were in charge of overseeing the patients after they had been brought up from recovery. It was there that the newly operated on patients finished recovering over night till they were discharged the next day and also where the patients for the next day would have to sleep the night before. As you can probably imagine the fourth floor was pretty chaotic particularly in the morning and in the evening. The afternoon was generally the known as the calm before the storm. This was the time we used to play with the kids that were left to make sure the newly operated patients were comfortable and also to talk to the lovely staff of the medical team.

Everyone we met that week was amazing. Not only are these professionals in their respective medical fields but they are some of the most down to earth individuals I have ever met. Never did I expect to walk into an Operating Room and hear Akon, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry blasting through the small speakers in the corner. Or did I expect to talk to nurses who had a 3pm silly hour. It made me really happy to see people enjoy their work and do good things in the world. It also made me think about a career in the medical field... But luckily I have two years to think about it.

When Sunday the 22nd, discharge day, finally came around it was exciting to see the lovely faces of all our patients, the smiles from their parents. Many of the kids served will get a chance at a normal life; they will be able to go to school and not be judged based on their physical appearance. It was truly one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. I encourage everyone to look up Faces of Tomorrow, help them in their efforts and help other medical missions much like them. Your help won't go unnoticed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

With the start of a new year,

Comes a new blog post.

I have in fact been on a very windy road of emotions these last couple of weeks. Christmas has passed, New Years is now done with and the last stretch of school has begun.

Christmas in the Philippines, well what can I say other then it was as most people cautioned a low point. The 9 days leading up to Christmas include a lot of caroling where young and old alike come to ask for money or treats, but mainly money. They sing a few x-mas songs in English a few in Tagalog and then a thank you song when you’ve given them what they want. Its great the first few days then you realize it's the same groups coming and you feel a little cheated. It also includes 4 A.M. mass, you heard me right. Tons of devoted Catholics wake up at 3 A.M. each morning to make their way to church and sit in pews, chairs, or stand along the sides. It is really quite a sight to see, I know very few people back home who would actually make it to church that early. Christmas Eve you attend midnight mass and if possible that one is twice as full as the ones leading up to it. You then make your way home to stay up till midnight. My celebrations included some delicious deserts and lots of Videoke with my host family. We then went to sleep and all woke up at random times the next day but in time for mass at 10 A.M. on Christmas day. After mass we went to the mall to finish buying presents for various family members. That was a big surprise that first of all everything was open and second that so many people were still at the store. After buying what we needed we came home and spent the rest of the day lounging around in the true spirit of Christmas.

My experience was I would say typical and definitely not anything to crazy but it was still sad throughout the day to think if I was at home I would be doing this, eating this, able to go here. I was really nostalgic for past Christmases but did enjoy how sweet my host family was and how helpful they were in trying to keep me busy. The next day things got a lot better. I was able to call my family through Skype and so that really helped me cope.

New Years was a very different experience. A large amount of the volunteers from Negros Oriental/Occidental, Cebu, Leyte, S. Leyte and Bohol all met up for a weekend trip to Panglao, Bohol. White sand beaches, crystal clear water and Americans, What more could you ask for? It was a lot of fun and a good break from a rough Christmas. Although it was still hard to be away from family and friends being able to celebrate among people whom you can talk to about your experiences was extremely therapeutic.

Upon returning to site I realize now I only have a few months left before the school year in the Philippines ends in March. January means the end of the third grading period and tests, while February means the dreaded NAT and RAT*. March means preparations for graduation. In all of that I have to figure out how to implement PACA** and teacher trainings, which I was told, work best at the beginning and end of the school year. As well as help the teachers with strategies to help review for the tests so that students are prepared and of course Co-teaching. I really don't mean to make it seem like my life here is hard. I am actually looking forward to all of it because it means I'll have things to work on. Also, you should know a lot of the other volunteers have just as much to work on if not more.

So is the fabulous life of a volunteer.

*Also known as the National and Regional Achievement Tests, these tests cause a lot of headaches since they basically decide funding and put the teachers in jeopardy if their students don't pass. They have also been known to come with mistakes and difficult wording that would confuse even a native English speaker.

* Participatory Analysis for Community Action which basically means you use different methods and tools to figure out what your school, students, and teachers need so that you can create or improve projects.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How long has it been?

Too Long.

Last time I wrote I was, I think, being sworn is a Peace Corps volunteer and on my way to new and brighter horizons. Now on the eve of my first month at site I am happy to report that things have gone quite smoothly.

I have settled into my new life in a fairly quick and painless manner. My host family is very nice to me always asking what I like to eat, the difference between American, Mexican and Filipino foods, and also extremely helpful when I don’t know something. Before moving in I was worried that things would be awkward and tense since I was basically coming into a set family unit and shifting the dynamics of normal life. I have found that things have worked out quite well co-existing in an easy manner, which has definitely made my integration into my new life a lot better. For my pack lunch they often throw in raw carrots, cucumbers, jicama. Which trust me when I say is not considered a normal food to consume raw and without vinegar. They have even taken me on a tour of Bohol that was a lot of fun since I got to see two types of monkeys (one being tarsiers), chocolate hills and Sagbayan Peak. I am looking forward to living here for a while seeing as how things have been going so well for me.

Working at my high school has also proven to be a good experience so far. The teachers have all been welcoming, allowing me to observe their classes and even though the language gap exists trying to include me in the daily chatter between class and of course during lunch. They also love to see me try new and adventurous foods and of course pairing me off with all the eligible bachelors they know, which has yet to get old. We recently had a teacher's day full of videoke, dancing and a lot of laughter. I would even go so far as to say it's in the running for one of the best days in the Philippines.

The students have also been very nice to me. I hear a chorus of "Good morning Ma'am Jess" the minute I walk through the school gate, which is always a pleasant greeting first thing in the morning. They love asking me questions about my personal life (always draws a chorus of screams), my family (when they hear I have a brother in their age range squeals emanate from the girls), and of course about what life in America is like. I am always willing to talk to them because to be honest it is one of the few ways even the most shy and the most rebellious students will speak to me.

Teaching itself hasn't gotten started yet for me. I've been patiently observing since I arrived almost all of the English Department and my two counterparts entire class load. Although it hasn't always been the most exciting it has definitely given me an insight into what the teachers deal with on a day to day basis. As well as what type of kids attend my school. While I am in a small town on the island of Bohol (Talibon to be exact) I am teaching at a school with 2,500+ students and a faculty of 50-60 teachers. Making it one of the larger high schools on the island. All kinds of students attend the school those from Talibon, neighboring towns and also the neighboring islands. It makes for a very interesting dynamic.

In January I will get to start Co-Teaching with my counterparts which I'm looking forward too. I would also like to point that it has officially been one month since I arrived at sight, that in and of itself is quite the milestone.

Hate to rush the post but sleep is calling my name. I will hopefully write more soon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"So your favorite foods is rice and... ?"

The above title is perhaps one of my favorite quotes ever.

It was said to one of my fellow PCT by her supervisor when we were traveling to our permanent sites and is to this day ridiculously funny. White rice is perhaps one of the biggest food staples and also the one that gets old the fastest. While I have learned how best to eat it (with kalamansi, soy sauce, and occasionally some small peppers) and how best to avoid it (Wala. Busog kaayo daghan Lumpia!) I still cant get away a full day without eating it at least once. Anyways, I'm rambling.

So I am a full two weeks away from Swearing In and I have got to say I couldn’t be more ready. Training has been fun and I am going to miss my cluster (Team Awesome) more then words can describe I can’t wait to finally get to my permanent site and get to work. While I know getting to site is only the beginning of a new form of waiting it's exciting to think that my time here in the Philippines will finally get rolling. Till then I will be patiently waiting in the confines of the gorgeous Duma city.

Living in the Visayas (and in particular Duma) has its perks (actually a lot of them). A week ago we got the chance to head over to Dauin, a beach about 20-30 minutes away, with an awesome marine sanctuary. The day was a little windy but the sun was out and while the water wasn’t as crystal clear as it could be it was still amazing (2 and a 1/2 months and already I'm a beach snob). We got to snorkel and while we were there it started raining but since the sun was still out there was a double rainbow. It was one of those once in a lifetime kind of experiences.

Last week was also the last week of teaching for us at our practice site. It was really nice to see how much I had learned over the last couple of weeks and how sad the kids were to say their goodbyes. I got a few "Thank you Teacher Jessi" letters and a cool necklace from the class. The best part was probably being able to give them candy for being such good students to me and having a few personal teaching victories with my counterpart teacher. Now to just put on a Multiple Intelligences Seminar for the teachers there and I'll be able to move on to my new site.

The last awesome thing that occurred last week was the Buglasan festival held every year in Dumaguete. It is tooted as the Festival of all Festivals and towns from Negros Oriental come in for a week for a series of dance, music, crafts and other various competitions. It was a lot of fun to be able to get a glimpse into the various towns in Negros and what they are known for.

So a personal request...
Send me things!! I haven't really done the whole posting of my address here but I've decided it’s critical to my sanity (pause for dramatic effect). Among things I need...
Seasoning for meats and fish, cilantro seeds and vegetable seeds really, Red Vines, Pop tarts, reading material, plastic (ziploc) bags, curly hair products, regular gum, recipes for Mexican food (Angie I'm looking at you), and really anything else you think I may need.

It's just kinda nice to get stuff.
My Address:

Jessica Miguel
c/o Peace Corps
P.O. Box 7013
Airmail Distribution Center
N.A.I.A, Pasay City
1300 Philippines

Jessica Miguel
c/o Peace Corps
6/F PNB Financial Center
Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City
1308 Philippines

*Also send me addresses if you want letters and stuff I can probably get that going.*

And with that I'm off to study, I've killed enough time.
Ayo-Ayo (take care)

Life has never moved at a more rapid (yet slow) pace

It seems like just yesterday that I boarded a plane to the Philippines and pledged to write consistently on my blog. While I am still here (yay!) being consistent with the blog is harder then I thought. So let me begin...

Two weeks ago we went to the city of Bacolod about a 6-hour bus ride from the city I'm currently in (Dumaguete). We were there for a conference in which we met our supervisor. It was 3 full days packed of get to know you activities and ways to get along with one another, It was at a nice hotel and the best part was the food. They had TACOS. They weren't very good but trust me when I say any taco is better then no taco. At the end of the week we went to visit our permanent sites (aka the place I will be living for the next two years). It was a great and eye opening experience for me. I was placed in Talibon, Bohol. Bohol is a small island between Cebu and Southern Leyte. It is the home of Tarsiers, White Sandy Beaches and Chocolate Hills. Google it and be jealous. My town could be classified as small to medium sized since it has a downtown area with a supermarket and (tiny) department store. It is about two hours from the capital and one hour from the chocolate hills and one hour from the nearest Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn't very bad at all. The school I will be teaching at is large by Phillipine standards since it is home to about 70 teachers and 3,000 students. (Yes the math is correct classes here can contain anywhere from 50 to 70 students). So why eye opening you ask? For the past couple of weeks I have been living in the lap of luxury. Duma is a fairly large college town that is pretty atypical to all of the Philippines. While I have loved my time spent here (and time I have yet to spend) it is very different from the town I am moving to... getting used to a whole new atmosphere is exhausting and challenging. My solace? The fact that Bohol is very beautiful and I get to live there. 4 weeks left!

From there till now life has moved quickly. This coming week is my last at the practicum site (HS we've been training at) and also the last of my Technical (teacher) Training. In 2 weeks we take our Language Proficiency Exam and in 3 we leave our current sites and get sworn is as official Peace Corp Volunteers. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oh man how do I begin to explain whats been going on over the past few weeks? It's been a long time since I last wrote (at least it feels like a long time). I have been pretty busy between learning the language, observing in classes my weekdays are more packed then ever and getting more interesting. Next week we will have a PACA workshop (no logistics since I dont even know what it is) and the week after that Supervisors conference!! Which means I will FINALLY be finding out where I am going to be placed for the next two years. At which point I will be half way done with training and a little closer to the start of my two year stay. Well I have dinner to attend plus I am ridiculously tired after walking up early for class (5:30am) but its not like I can sleep past 7am anymore so its not as bad as it sounds. I will write with more info another day I just didnt want the blog to feel neglected!

much <3

p.s. I went to the beach again with my host mom and this time it was a much more peaceful experience. It felt nice to just be able to swim. Plus I was surrounded by people, the whole town was fishing and it was an awesome sight to see. Pics to be uploaded soon!