By: Nina Olivier
“ANG PINAKABUDLAY nga obra nga palanggaon mo gid ya!”
It has been the hardest job I have ever loved. I chose to leave my country of the United States and offer more than two years of my life volunteering for the betterment of the lives of Filipinos. I served as a Coastal Resource Management Peace Corps volunteer on the Island of Guimaras. After two years now living in this beautiful country I can now say I speak Ilonggo fluently, have climbed to the top of a coconut tree, have cooked pancit and adobo hundreds of times, danced Tinikling, pounded roasted corn to make bayebaye, and have even mastered “Hawak Kamay” on videoke. Many ask why I chose to give up the comforts of home and my beloved family for two years, I simply answer them with the same response everytime, “because everyone in this world is worth giving something up for, and I chose the Philippines to start.”
Currently a Graduate Student at the University of Alaska, moving to the Philippines was a huge adjustment. Coming from the snow and mountains, the tropical environment of coconut trees, jungles and white sand beaches was like a whole new world. Serving as an International Master’s Student, I have conducted my research project here on the Island of Guimaras.
I was assigned to work for the fisheries sector of the Municipal Agriculture Office of Jordan, Guimaras with an environmentally enthusiastic and adventurous counterpart. As a fisheries technician, he has taught me how to inspire and work with local communities for the protection and conservation of their environment. During my service I helped facilitate the establishment of a Marine Protected Area for the community of Barangay Sinapsapan to protect coral reef habitat and increase fish catch of local fishermen. Marine Protected Areas are coastal areas including mangrove, sea grass or coral reef habitat that is protected against any forms of extractive practices such as fishing and gleaning. We also helped facilitate the adoption of Ordinances, management plans and alternative livelihood programs for other coastal Barangays within the Municipality of Jordan.
In our strife to protect coastal environments, a typical work day consisted of traveling out to rural barangays and collaborating with fishermen to implement projects and programs. It was an inspiring experience to observe some of the most impoverished of people making sacrifices to protect their natural resources in hopes of their future generations having the ability to continue fishing sustainably. Our work also consisted of underwater scuba diving to assess marine habitats or rescue injured wildlife such as sea turtles.
I also had the opportunity to implement secondary projects such as environmental workshops and camps, beach clean ups, bike rides and other outreach events through the support and guidance of my supervisor, Municipal Agriculturist of Jordan. I even had the opportunity to help facilitate rehabilitation workshops for women prisoners of Iloilo City through music, art and dance through the leadership of a professor and humanitarian activist I have the privilege to call a dear friend. My host family also opened their home to host several workshops for local children in our Barangay ranging from topics in Dental Hygiene, music and art.
Many often ask, “na hidlaw ka man sa pamilya mo?” Yes this is true, yet I often explain how lucky I have been to have made a family of my own here in the Philippines. I had the opportunity to live in a small raised bahay kubo on a host family’s farm located in Barangay Daragan, Buenavista. My host family has adopted me like as if I was their own daughter, which has made me feel truly loved and cared for. This is no ordinary Filipino Family, for they are vegetarian, practice Hare Krishna, Bob Marley Fans and some of the best Music Jammers you’ll ever meet. I have never felt more at home with a family that I feel I can laugh with, can cry with, tell them absolutely anything and cook incredibly delicious food. During morning bike rides and jogs through my humble Barangay, the children always call out to me “Maayong aga Tita Nina” and will sometimes even join me. I have become close to members of my community establishing trust and friendships that will last a lifetime.
There are no words to describe the impact this volunteer service has made my life. The love for Guimaras Island burns in my heart and will melt the Alaskan snow when I am home.
About the Author
Nina Olivier started her Peace Corps volunteer works in Jordan on September 2015. For two years, Guimarasnons have known her as the “Kana” riding her bike to go to work daily – to the municipal hall in Jordan town proper; to Sinapsapan, Lawi and Balcon Melleza; to Guimaras State College Mosqued and Buenavista Campuses where she did volunteer lectures on girls empowerment, reproductive health, applying for jobs; in Provincial Capitol, where she worked with government agencies for the formulation of coastal conservation policies, among others. She also did volunteer works in Iloilo City such as helping female inmates cope with their circumstances through arts, teaching the coastal community of Sooc how to help mitigate the impact of climate change, among others. Nina leaves for the US on Oct. 15, 2017 to continue her Masters at University of Alaska.