Community Engagement in the Philippines: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story
By Leah Ettema
Like almost any other coastal community in the Philippines, my Peace Corps site (Laoang, Northern Samar) is primarily composed of fishermen and farmers who report that their fish catch has drastically decreased over the past 20 years. This threatens their food security, income, and way of life. During my service, I worked with my municipal counterparts to visit all 28 coastal communities in Laoang, where we held community meetings. We talked, listened, and worked with the fishermen to help identify the resources they still have, explore their problems, and come up with ideas for the future. During these visits, I was able to briefly participate in the everyday life of coastal communities. I learned that even in the poorest of areas, someone will always have a generator to sing videoke, the fear of Aswang (witches) is very real, simple ingredients make delicious snacks, and basic street fair games are highly entertaining. Despite having an increasingly difficult livelihood, the residents’ sense of humor, joy, and resiliency is unwavering.
We compiled the results of our discussions into an environmental profile, which serves as the basis for future coastal resource management programs. We formed plans to enact a Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council that would work closely with the local government to re-establish marine protected areas and to monitor the health of the coral reefs, sea grass, and mangroves. These plans also called for the enactment of a Bantay Dagat (coast guard) that would aggressively apprehend illegal fishers, as well as to encourage schools and households to segregate their waste for recycling.
What we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, worked toward was to develop the Filipinos’ abilities to effectively manage their resources to improve their standard of life. My Filipino co-workers (and friends) are inspiring, hard-working community developers, and will continue working to improve fishing resources and livelihoods long after I’m gone.
About the author: Originally from Frankenmuth, MI, Leah Ettema, RPCV Philippines, 2009-2011, currently works for EPA’s Region 4, (Atlanta, GA) for the Water Protection Division.
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