Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bagong Taon (Happy New Year!)

After an unreal two weeks back in the First World, I've returned to the 'Pines for a some more fun and games. It was difficult to come back -- I got used to the good food, hot showers and a comfy bed. Since my arrival in Manila on Jan. 10, I've been staked out in a single bunk in the dorm at Pension Natividad. It's sort of the Peace Corps volunteers' home away from home. I was placed on "medical hold" for the week in order to undergo some fasting and then a rather invasive test, pareho Si Katie Couric. But all is well, I'm pleased to report. I feel fine anyway, but it didn't hurt to have a week in Manila to ease into life back here.

Today, I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of the pension, sitting on the lanai and eating a curry tuna sandwhich, while chatting up two street kids, Monica and Palo. (I offered to buy them lunch, of course, but they had already been fed by the pension owners) Monica and Palo are two of a number of kids who live just outside the pension gates on the filthy streets. Their mothers are "glue" sniffers and I'm not sure where their fathers are. They are cute kids and very polite and sweet. Monica, 7, is in the second grade but hasn't been to school in a while. She likes to read. Palo, 5, is pasaway (naughty) and was fighting with Monica over some cookies I gave them. Such is typical life here in Manila where thousands of kids and their families live in the streets.

Tomorrow, I will travel a couple of hours south of here to Tagaytay to attend a conference on Project Design Management with my co-worker, Linell Jacinto, the school librarian. We will hopefully be learning ways to get funding for our library project, which, thanks to many of you out there, is slowly and surely moving along. We have more than a 1,000 books donated so far and people continue to give. Thank you all so much. At the school, there is some movement happening to fix the leaky roof and give the existing library space a new coat of paint to get ready for the arrival of all the books in a couple of months. It is a painfully slow progress...but, eh, there is progress. I have been overwhelmed by so many of you who have been willing to give -- from those of you I know well, to people I don't know at all. Please know that you are making a worthwhile contribution.

It looks like I will be very busy in the next few months. I am working on a proposal now for my secondary project, a Marine Ecology Learning Center, to be built near the shore in Donsol. I am working with local environmentalists who want a place to carry out environmental planning and activities, hold environmental education seminars and trainings and teach little kids an appreciation for the environment. We have been promised a generous offer from the Thomas H. Waters Foundation and now must go through a rigorous approval process under Peace Corps to have the money released to our project. If approved, we will build the center out of native materials...just like my hut! I will let you know as things go along, but if anyone out there has any ideas for the center, please send them along.

Things should be changing in Donsol when I finally get back to site. I got a text from one of the local environmentalists who says the whale sharks are back! They have returned to feast on the plankton abundant just off shore in town. That also means lots of foreigners and I'm interested to see all the people who will come through town. It will definitely change the character of the place for a few months, until the butanding leave again in May.

Salamat sa inyo lahat for all the support. It gets easier, but is still incredibly hard to do what I'm doing and your support is appreciated more than you know.

Ingat kayo!

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