Feeling Alive in All My Sweat

Mangroves, rabies, bonfires, and infections. These have been the main themes of the Philippines now being here for three weeks. A weird mixture of good and bad, but an exciting one. Each day I’m up by 7:30 a.m. covering myself from head to toe in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, water shoes, a hat, and sunglasses. The second I step foot outside the door, the sweat begins to drip. Hot sun, warm wind, crystal clear waters, welcome to the Philippines.

Mary Jane, my coordinator for the environmental program, has been guiding me in my 5-week journey. Almost every morning during the week, we spend three to four hours in the mangroves. Sounds like a short period of time, but another second in the tangled roots of the trees will leave you begging for a bucket shower.

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Balancing on the roots of mangroves

The main task is to search for 12-14-inch long green rods laying in the mud or murky water, these are also known as mangrove seeds. With a team of six, we are usually able to collect about 1,000+ seeds to plant for the next day. Feeling half monkey, half human at work has been quite a liberating experience. Mary Jane gracefully walks across the roots barefoot most days, while the rest of us volunteers struggle at each step, holding onto the thick branches, hoping to stay away from the murky water below. With our time spent here, we can usually plant around 2,000 seeds in a week, helping to further the existing rehabilitation goals of Palawan.

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Mangrove seeds

Now you may be wondering about the other words in the list I mentioned in the beginning of this post. Well, I have come to the conclusion that basically any living creature on this island is out to get you. Unfortunately, rabies became a problem after one of the volunteers was bitten by a dog. This is where I learned about the unique dark humor of Filipinos. Flustered and scared, my friend was crying as we zoomed down the road in a tricycle heading for the clinic. Upon entering and explaining the situation, the nurses didn’t seem worried or in any sort of rush to give her the time-sensitive antibiotics that she needed. Honestly quite humorous, I learned in the next hour that most Filipinos laughed when there was a serious situation at hand. For better or for worse, we ended up traveling to six clinics collecting the needed vaccines. I learned a little more about myself that day. Sometimes Americans just take things too seriously and worry a little too much.

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Molly with her rabies vaccines

Onto the bonfires. Now the camp I’ve been living at houses people from every continent on Earth. With such diversity, there is lots to learn. After volunteering during the day, we would sit around a bonfire telling stories and reflecting on the day. Besides the bonfire that was made on the Fourth of July and ended up engulfing one of the volunteers and hospitalizing him, they usually go well. Under the stars we talk about politics, galaxies, our dreams, our identities, and our homes. I have learned so much from the people I have met here. My lifestyle has begun to change, where I can now accept not always having to do something, but rather to live in the moment and enjoy what is happening in front of my eyes. My time here has only gotten better. Each day I begin to fall more and more in love with the Philippines and the incredible people who live here.

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The infamous Fourth of July bonfire

On the flip side, a few people have been suffering from some serious infections. Paranoid about this, I have been covering every tiny cut with band-aids, which usually end up slipping off within minutes of entering the mangroves, but at least I had peace of mind for those couple of minutes. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, our environmental group participates in the teaching portion of our program. With little experience in teaching, I have been conflicted on whether I have been helping or actually hurting the process of learning for the kids. It has been a difficult process teaching four grade levels about the environmental issues surrounding them. But by the second week, I have become more creative and decided to use art and singing in the lessons. This has had an astronomical change in the productiveness of the children and I believe our song about renewable energy could be one of the next top 50 songs in the Philippines. Now having adjusted to the new lifestyle, I have found that my mental and physical health has improved exponentially. Surrounding myself with people who are passionate about social justice and progressive change has helped me grow as a human being.

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Teaching Grade 4 about the environment

Kaitlin Wheeler

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