Tuesday, 31 May 2016

MENRO's Service Learning Project for University Students

University student interns pose for the camera!
For the past three years San Jose’s Municipyo has hired university students to work and serve in the Local Government Unit (LGU) as part of an on-the-job training program. During this time my office – the MENRO – supervises around 100 students at a time for one week. This year our office created a unique program for these young interns. An International team of educators from Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States worked alongside Filipino counter-parts to design an Environmental Leadership Training and Service-Learning opportunity that college students could engage with. The output? Over 800 pounds of trash was removed from San Jose’s streets in just a few hours, one new bottle brick bench in the community, and most importantly – enlightened young people with a better understanding of environmental global solutions and sense of empowerment.

International Educators from the UK, US, Spain, and the Philippines share their knowledge with 100 Filipino university students.
The Sponge Bobber Team working together on a small group activity.
My third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer has been unique in that I get to work closely with other International volunteers from different organizations. For five days our International team engaged the university students in a variety of areas – all relating back to the environment. We began by playing Environmental Bingo, which is a fun way to briefly visit each topic and is great for keeping the energy up. Instead of pulling B9 or O62 – words such as Sustainable, Organic, Pollution, and Climate Change are drawn and a 2 minute explanation of the word is given. Climate Change was a topic the team referenced throughout the week, and this training was the first opportunity for me to share Al Gore’s Climate Reality slide show presentation, which I received in Manila from Mr. Gore earlier this year. We showed the documentary An Inconvenient Truth to follow up the Climate Change lecture and to drive this topic home.  

Environmental Bingo game
Max Escribano, a Spanish volunteer from Madrid who is currently serving with Associate Missionaries of the Assumption (AMA), presented the effects of Environment on Mental Health and Environmental Psychology to our participants. Welsh volunteer Eleanor Margetts from the United Kingdom who is also an AMA volunteer, shared her knowledge on Human Rights to a Clean Environment and also presented on Conservation.

Ms. Margetts explained the importance of teaching this concept to youth and explained further that, “It is important for everyone to feel passionate about their environment – by teaching our youth that is in their right to live in a clean environment, we hope to empower them to see that anything otherwise is an injustice. People should be angry about pollution and realize that they have the right to stand up against it – that way, real changes can be made.” Peace Corps Volunteer David Pennini from Massachusetts presented on The Carbon Footprint and how to lower CO2 emissions.

Out on an Environmental Walk!
Filipino counter-parts and local community members also helped develop this training. MENRO Designate Mr. Cornelius Q. Yanga shared his expertise on Solid Waste Management (SWM) and led the bottle brick bench construction in the community of Supa. Mr. Bong Sanchez – a local San Jose man who I met in Manila at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project – also presented on the Seminara coal-mine that is currently polluting local waters. Mr. Sanchez is the President of the Save Antique Movement and is currently working to bring Filipinos together towards clean renewable energy in the Province. Another resource speaker who attended the training was Mr. Totei Villavert who hosts a weekly radio program and has featured environmental talks in the past. Mr. Villavert was able to share his expertise with how media can be used to bring awareness to Environmental causes.

Graphing our results!
This project also consisted of community service, and for four days the students participated in Environmental Walks, a tree planting, and helped clean the local community road-ways. On these walks students removed trash from local roadways, the beach, and in town. Students also assisted with the finishing touches on the Environmental Mural project over-seen by MENRO earlier this year, and helped create a bottle brick bench in one of the inland communities. Bottle brick benches are made up of ECO BRICKS and each brick is made from 1.5 Liter plastic bottles, which are then stuffed with approximately 300 pieces of trash each. A single bench can contain anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 pieces of trash. Mid-way through the week workshops were held at the Marine Protected Area (MPA) and Learning Center. Here, Filipino government employees presented on Alternative Livelihood Projects that are currently offered by the Local Government Unit including how to make salt from ocean water and how to smoke and dry fish using a steel drum.

Playing a game at the MPA Learning Center!                     
Making Eco Bricks from 1.5 L plastic bottles.
I interviewed students during the week and asked them why we should care for Mother Earth and Nature. Miss Li-An Salinog who wants to be a high school science teacher and who is is majoring in Biological Science from University of Antique explained, “We should take care of our Mother Earth because we depend on our Natural Resources and if our Natural Resources are destroyed we have nothing and we are very effected because the negative things we do like throwing garbage anywhere it will also return negatively to us because everything is connected to Nature.”

Painting protective emulsion to the Environmental murals.
At the end of the week students were asked to share their learning with the facilitators and MENRO Designate. The 100 students had been broken up into four teams earlier in the week: Rumba-Rumba, Saging, The Sponge Bobbers, and Team Name. Each group created their own unique 10 minute presentation to share. Some groups sang, other groups created a role play and drama, and some created video presentations. 
AMA Volunteer Max Escribano from Madrid Spain posing with university students.
I asked MENRO's Community Affair Assistant,  Mrs. Dyan Caturao who assisted with the event, what she enjoyed most about the week and she responded with, “I really enjoyed the whole week with the Summer Jobbers – I learned a lot from them [the students] and the Resource Speakers.” When I asked Mrs. Caturao what her biggest concern for the Philippines is from an Environmental standpoint she explained that her two biggest concerns were "managing our waste because I notice there is a lot of trash scattered in our surroundings...and second is that I notice people don't care about Natural Ecosystems." Mrs. Caturao's future projects at the Municipyo include helping preserve ocean ecosystems by creating Alternative Livelihood Projects for the fisher-folk people in the 14 coastal communities of San Jose.

The week was long, but enjoyable! It was a chance to build global relationships, and an opportunity to share different world perspectives and solutions regarding conservation of Mother Earth. Both Filipinos and Internationals left the training with new insights, new friendships, and a renewed sense of hope and empowerment. Wherever you come from on planet Earth, all nations and all people share her beauty and her gifts of life. Earth’s life is our own life, and we must be united in this effort to protect and conserve our natural resources for future generations.
Blog author and Peace Corps Volunteer Dana R. Jordan poses for the camera with the participants

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Art for Earth

So much color! So much thought! What a great message!

If you read my last BLOG you will have seen that I attended Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. During this conference the former US Vice President challenged participants to commit to 10 Acts of Leadership within the next 12 months. This BLOG is about my first Act of Leadership, and a project I organized with the Local Government Unit (LGU) of San Jose de Buenavista to paint environmental murals  in the community where I have been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My hope was to build love for the Environment through the visual arts and to promote awareness for local environmental concerns such as recycling and Solid Waste Management (SWM).

Hard at work!
22 high school students participated in this event
It has always been an ambition of mine to try this! In high school I took four years of art classes, but I never had an opportunity to paint a mural. I was excited to find mural painting so popular in the Philippines, and such abundant community artwork adds to the beauty and to the uniqueness of the country. I promised myself I would not finish my Peace Corps service until I had painted at least one! Thus, I coordinated San Jose's LGU and the Visual Arts class at Antique National High School, and together, murals were painted at three elementary schools depicting happy, healthy environment. The 22 high school students who participated in this project were divided into three groups and assigned to different schools to complete this project, which lasted almost 3 weeks.

Below is some of the art work that emerged:

So, I painted my mural and here is my reflection on the process: IT'S HARD WORK!!! Mural painting is FUN, but it is not easy - especially under the hot Philippines sun! I enjoyed the experience, but it became exhausting after several days of painting. The students were only able to paint during their scheduled class hours of 10 am to noon, which is the hottest part of the day here. Some of the sites (like mine) were in the full sun. Regardless, working with these talented and passionate teenagers was remarkable fun! We laughed, we shared stories from our cultures, and we bonded through our love for painting and for Earth.

My creation and design!

The students at this school selected an ocean theme

A sink will be installed at the bottom of this mural where kindergartners can wash their hands

These kids had so much positive and fun energy! They were great to work with

Friday, 13 May 2016

Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project

Peace Corps Volunteer Dana Jordan, Manila, Philippines
Over 700 participants from 58 countries attended The Climate Reality Project hosted by former US Vice President Al Gore. This three day conference and training happened at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City, Manila, during March 2016. The Grand Ballroom was absolutely buzzing-over with anticipation from excited guests, and I nearly fell out of my seat when Al Gore came on stage just a few feet away from where I was sitting! I was immediately captivated by his energetic presence and charming smile. This brilliant story teller is probably the leading authority worldwide on global Climate Change issues. Mr. Gore is the chairman of The Climate Reality Project, and everyday he is updated with photos and research from around the world concerning either catastrophic weather occurrences or solutions promoting sustainability. After attending this three day training, I feel more aware of Climate Change issues and where we are all headed as one world! We have a hopeful future ahead of us regarding solar, wind, and other renewable energy, but according to Mr. Gore the time to kick the fossil fuel addiction is NOW. 

The Grand Ball Room at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City
Over the course of three days attendees listened to Filipino and International speakers on a variety of topics and attended break-out sessions. The Mayor of Tacloban, Mr. Alfred Romualdez, shared an emotional story about his experience during  and after Typhoon Yolanda  - the strongest wind-storm to hit Earth (November 8, 2013). Mr. Romualdez’s teenage daughter was nearly swept away in a fast moving current along a city street. The young girl was forced to cling to a lamp post for more than two hours until help arrived. Rodne Galicha was also an inspirational speaker. This young Filipino man shared his vision for a more sustainable Philippines and is the new branch manager for The Climate Reality Project in Makati – one of ten branches around the globe. Mr. Galicha comes from an island in the Philippines that is currently getting 100% of its energy from a hydro-power plant. He explained that for Earth Hour (March 19, 2016) every household on his island intended to leave all the lights on to celebrate their achievement in clean renewable energy.

Former US Vice President Al Gore lecturing
It is important that the Philippines – a country of approximately 60% coastline – take strong and immediate action to build resiliency in regards to changing weather conditions. The Philippines is the number one country expected to be affected by Climate Change, and the former US Vice President stated that “sea level in the Philippines is projected to rise two to three times faster than the global average (Al Gore, Personal Communication, 2016).” This is why it is incredibly necessary and vital that Filipino communities work with their Local Government Unit (LGU) and other emergency groups such as the MDRMMO and PDRMMO to create strong Climate Change Action Plans and to not build within 200 feet of the water in the coastal communities.

My personal snap-shot of Mr. Gore on the go!
Participants at The Climate Reality Project were grouped by region, and at my table I sat with attendees from all over Panay – an island located in the Western Visayas. Coincidentally, I met a man from the same community as mine – San Jose de Buenavista, Antique – where I serve as a  Peace Corps Volunteer under the Environment sector. Mr. Bong Sanchez, an Environmental and Human Rights Activist has become an inspiration to me with his own work fighting for Climate Justice. We have been able to meet and collaborate since our first meeting in Manila. Each participant had his or her own story to share, and we discussed our projects, ideas, and solutions for three days in small group break out sessions. I was impressed throughout the conference! The venue was easily accessible and incredibly luxurious - the grounds were lovely with cemented pathways meandering through a landscaped garden and over looking a palm-lined Manila Bay. But more importantly, I was impressed with the organization of the event, and that the conference made efforts to be 100% waste free! For example, each participant received a binder printed on 100% recycled paper, durable and yet bio-degradable! Efforts were made to buy local ingredients and the menu all week was meat free! (Food production and food transport are large contributors to CO2 emissions, especially where the meat industry is concerned.)

Love this! It's 100% recycled paper!
The Climate Reality Project has changed my life. I sat and listened to this visionary speak of his dream for the world alongside people from all over this planet who believe we can have a better future than the present one we are currently traveling down. Al Gore united people – complete strangers – from 58 countries – men and women from places I will never have a chance to travel to. I did not realize how attached I was to this vision for a renewable and sustainable Earth until I listened to him speak.  I have a calling in life and that is to Teach for Ecological Consciousness and Change. This is how I can aid this movement and do my part. This calling has brought me to the Philippines where I have lived and served for three years in the community of San Jose de Buenavista, Antique. I have missed precious time with my family in the US to not only share my knowledge and skills, but to learn from Filipinos new ways of recycling and sustainable living. Filipinos are making remarkable efforts in growing organic food and keeping it local! This experience has been an opportunity for me to grow professionally and spiritually. Al Gore reminded me of my commitment to service, and of a deeper commitment to this Earth and to people which I serve on this planet.

Sunset over Manila Bay at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila
I left this event exhausted. (Al Gore can talk!) And I returned to my home in San Jose knowing that I am, in fact, part of an extensive world movement and collective of world Environment leaders. Every nation is joining together in this battle – to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. Al Gore has challenged me to get involved deeper - by committing myself to 10 Acts of Leadership to be completed this year. 

Are you interested in attending The Climate Reality Project as well? I totally recommend it! And if you are a CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER then you should definitely attend! This project is offered 4 times a year by Mr. Gore and his staff in different locations around the globe. 

My selfie with Mr. Gore! I had to contortion my body in uncomfortable ways to get this photo! 

This three day conference was held at the Sofitel Hotel - a luxurious 5 star hotel in Manila

Me! Empowered and following my dreams in Teaching for Ecological Consciousness and Change

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Pesos for Pigs: A Recycled Piggy Bank Project For Youth

These colorful piggy banks were created from 1.5 Liter Coke bottles!

Children from the coastal communities had a blast making these piggy banks

Hello and greetings from the Philippines! For this BLOG I want to share with all of my teacher friends and Environmental Educators in the United States one way Filipinos are recycling here: by making piggy banks out of 1.5 Liter soda bottles! This piggy bank project has been enormous fun for all ages – and I believe children in the US would enjoy this activity. It is also cheap and quick to do – great for a rainy day! Allow your students about 1 hour to complete the project. I usually have my students  make these piggy banks after a Solid Waste Management lecture, as a hands-on activity that promotes the 3R’s (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle). If anyone attempts this activity in the United States (or elsewhere in the world), please let us all know how it goes!

This activity was a hands-on component for our Solid Waste Management (SWM) lecture for children

You will need the following materials:
1.5 Liter plastic bottle with cap
4 additional soda caps for the feet
Crazy Glue (also called “Shoe Glue” in the Philippines)
Hot Glue Gun (Optional)
Soldering Gun
Moving Eyes (also called “Googly Eyes” in the United States)
Spray Paint
Scissors and box cutter
Twist ties

*Peace Corps Volunteers - you can acquire 1.5 Liter bottles (and extra soda caps) from local Junk Shops for about a peso each

Bottles can be cut down to the desired size using scissors or box cutters

Step One: Use the box cutters and cut the end off of your 1.5 L coke bottle and put it aside for the moment. Next, trim off about 3 to 4 inches from the main part of the bottle for a smaller sized pig.

Step Two: Cut two ears to the shape of your desire from some of that plastic bottle you just trimmed away.

Step Three: Use the box cutter and make two slices where the ears will go. Insert the ear pieces into the slits. Use the Shoe Glue (Crazy Glue) to secure them in place.

Step Four: If you have a soldering gun, heat it up and burn four holes into the belly region of the plastic bottle.

Step Five: Burn two holes into each of the 4 caps, which will serve as feet. Next, use the twist ties and secure them to the plastic bottle.

Step Six: Place the bottom end onto the other half of the bottle. Connect the two, and use Shoe Glue to permanently attach them.

Step Seven: You can use the soldering gun to burn a slit for coins in the top of the piggy bank. A box cutter will work also.

Step Eight: Take the yarn and tie it around the “nose” of the pig and fasten the end to some place out in the open where you can spray paint the bottle. Paint your pig the color of your choice! Spray paint seems to dry extra-fast in the Philippines, so be ready to move on fairly soon after.

Bottles can be painted a variety of colors using spray paint!

Step Nine: Once your pig is dry it’s time to decorate it! You can use either a hot glue gun, or Shoe Glue to secure your eyes in place. Get creative! Add a ribbon or a feather to make her a little more festive. A black permanent marker is great for adding eye-lashes. Little straw hats make the pigs EXTRA happy. Have fun! And be sure to add a peso or a quarter into the belly for good luck and forever-wealth.

This is my God Child who had fun playing with all the piggy banks

The future Miss Universe! She had a blast with the ribbons and feathers

My God Child found another piggy bank to play with

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

International Coastal Clean Up Day and the Let's Do It Philippines World Clean Up Movement!

International Coastal Clean Up Day combined with the Let’s Do It Philippines World Clean Up Movement was one of the most intense times for me physically and emotionally during my Peace Corps service. My counter-part and I had just 5 days of planning. Despite the small amount of time for organizing, the clean-up came together better than any of us anticipated. In just five days, we organized 5,000 plus volunteers who collectively removed 4,369 KG or approximately 10,000 pounds of trash from local beaches. I weighed most of the trash myself on my bathroom scale, which later broke.

In this picture I am weighing trash on my bathroom scale

There were many challenges during the clean up. At one school it took 45 minutes for teachers to organize their students, and when the students finally started picking up trash, the clean-up stopped after just 10 minutes. The students spent more time writing their names on the Sign In sheet than cleaning. In this case it would have been appropriate to establish a walking route previous to the actual clean-up. Another problem occurred (at another school) when the teachers had un-intentionally instructed students to remove ORGANIC debris such as leaves, grass, and twigs instead of trash. When we arrived for weighing and trash pick-up, the school had bags of leaves and grass clippings to give us, which we were unable to accept. Visiting the school previous to the clean-up and speaking directly with the teachers would have helped with this miscommunication.

One of 20 elementary schools in San Jose that participated in this World Clean Up effort

However, the positive moments were long lasting! I had never been more happy to engage in my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer and "Environmental Enthusiast" as on this occasion. Working alongside a counter-part as equally empowered and exhausted as myself made the event even more memorable. One particular high-light for me was when we arrived to one school and the children ran out to greet us with smiling faces. In just a few minutes this group had picked up nearly 300 pounds of plastic. Thus, I observed that each of our 22 clean-ups took on a life of its own!

These children did an amazing job removing trash from the beach down the road from their school

After the event, I brainstormed in my journal ways I can help my community improve organizing and implementing this large-scale clean-up drive for next year! The following is a short list of some ideas:

1.) Begin organizing at least 2 months before the event. For the 2015 clean-up my counter-part and I had just 5 days of planning, which resulted with almost 5 tons of trash. I asked her to imagine what 1 or two months of planning could accomplish?

2.) To bring awareness for this event it is my aspiration to have a large tarpaulin printed and hung in a public place promoting International Coastal Clean-Up Day and the Let’s Do It World Clean Up Movement. During our 2015 clean-up drive, concerned residents observed large groups of children cleaning, but they did not understand why the children were doing this during school hours. An awareness campaign or promotion geared toward parents and community members is necessary if we are to engage students during class hours.

3.) It is important to work with teachers and principals to establish a walking-route before the event, instead of just “winging” the clean up on event day. School’s that picked up the most trash had formerly worked out a plan and had informed their students to bring sacs.

4.) It is my hope to work closer with San Jose's LGU to establish a more defined schedule for trash pick-ups, and to organize a team of 3 to 5 workers to assist with bringing trash to the dump. Myself and the driver did a lot of the trash loading and unloading, hence, my extreme exhaustion at the end of the week.

5.) It is important to teach future coordinators the significance of weighing trash and collecting and submitting these numbers as world data to the appropriate agencies.

Approximately 2,000 children helped from this school

Our local goal was to encourage around 12,000 volunteers to participate with this clean-up

Another school poses for the camera just after their morning beach clean up

Monday, 9 May 2016

Sea Turtle Excavation and Re-assembly Project

***Please note that it may be necessary to seek the appropriate permit and legal papers to possess a turtle skeleton while residing in the Philippines. My suggestion is to contact your local and regional BFAR offices for rules and regulations regarding the possession of marine animal remains before proceeding with your excavation and re-assembly. It is important to promote the right message within the community and to nurture conservation for these declining sea turtle species!

One of the best projects during my Peace Corps service in the Philippines  was excavating and re-assembling a turtle skeleton using marine epoxy, tape, and an electric drill. It is unclear why this turtle died, but plastic bags were found inside the stomach region, which may have contributed to the death of the animal. This turtle is one of two that I helped excavate during my service, while I also helped bury one on a beach, which had also died for undetermined reasons.

Excavating the turtle skeleton from a local beach required around 5 hours of physical labor

The carpenter and I worked on this project during the afternoons with cups of coffee and freshly baked bread from the bakery across the street. Neither of us had ever done this type of project before, but together we figured out how to re-assemble a turtle skeleton! It was a memorable period of bonding for an American and a Filipino over a project we knew would be useful to the children in the community and one that would help conserve local wildlife. We are still good friends three years after completion of this project.

Pencil was used to mark each bone

This skeleton has been a valuable teaching tool in our marine children’s museum! During our school field trips the educators emphasize how plastic bags can be devastating on marine life. I am not an expert on bones or skeletal re-construction, but I do like puzzles! And my philosophy at the time of excavation was that if I could remove each bone carefully (and label it in some way) I should be able to connect it back to the whole later during re-assembly. Use a pencil for labeling and be sure to bring many plastic baggies, and a camera for documentation. I found myself taking many pictures to remind me of which bones connected where.

Local children insisted on helping wash the turtle bones

I did my best to keep these bones organized using post-it notes

After excavation, wash and clean your turtle bones. The kids volunteered to help and were very curious about the process from beginning to finish! Take advantage of the opportunity to talk with curious spectators about turtles and conservation. This is an opportunity to bond within the community, and people were curious to learn about this animal on their beach! The children and I used soapy water and a few soft brushes for gentle scrubbing. (It is important to not rub down the areas where the bones will later connect. They serve as your “guide lines” and will fit back together perfectly if not disturbed.) Allow your bones to fully dry before gluing. Once they are dry you may begin piecing them together again. The pencil should not have washed off during the cleaning process. You can erase it later using the eraser.

Mixing marine epoxy for the first time

The carpenter showed me how to use the tools and together we slowly worked through this project 

Marine epoxy can be bought at most hardware stores in the Philippines. It’s about 80 pesos for ¼ liter (they give you two small canisters). You will need two separate mixing sticks, and you must mix both pastes equally together on a plate or in a cup or on some surface. The mixture will gradually start to harden. It becomes as hard as plastic, so be careful. Next, frost your bones like frosting a cake! Apply generous amounts of the mixed-marine epoxy to the edges of your bones and tape them together using tape to hold them in place. You can wet a sponge or a paper towel and wipe away any extra marine epoxy from your bones. It’s best to get all the extra off at the start – it will save you time during the sanding down process. Use small pieces of wood, screws, and an electric drill to hold the bones together firmly during the drying process. Use your masking tape liberally for extra stability and allow about 24 hours for drying.

I looked forward to working on this project every afternoon for many months!

The entire reconstruction process can take an extremely long time, or not long at all depending on your work speed! This skeleton took me 9 months to complete because I was working on other projects at the time, and I was dependent on the carpenter who owned the electric drill and over-saw our work space. This turtle did not have a head when it washed up on shore and so, no head is included in the final reconstruction. Also, it became too tedious to identify the little finger bones. (Perhaps if I had taken more care during the excavation process I may have been able to label them at the beginning and thus, piece them together during the final re-construction stages.)

The carpenter (Richard) is sanding down the dried marine epoxy so the shell would have a smooth finish

Richard posing for the camera! This was his first time engaging in such a project too!

Eventually, you should sand down all the rough bumps and edges of the dried marine epoxy once you finish constructing the skeleton. You can then paint your skeleton using lacquer (around 60 pesos per bottle). This will help protect the bones and give them a shiny finish. I put about 6 coats on this skeleton because I wanted it well protected. 

Again, this specimen hangs in our marine children's museum and is used elusively as a teaching tool and for educational purposes. 

The finished specimen hangs in our children's museum by the ocean

This view shows the ventral side where the "belly bones"attach

This specimen has been a valuable teaching tool during our Marine Protected Area field trips