The perception of Filipino life in this blog has largely gone in one direction: from the Philippines and Filipinos to me, then from me to here or out of my mouth to all of you. So I think it’s high time that I let you know some invaluable cultural insights and observations about Americans that I am trying to teach to Filipinos.
- A state is kind of like a province. A Local Government Unit (LGU) is kind of like City Hall. Except here, a job at the LGU is one of the most coveted positions in my town and all towns. It is one of the only insitutions, locally, where you can have full-time, salary-with-benefits employment. If you don’t own land or buildings, the only way you can expect to make any sort of reliable income is to move to a city or work abroad. Can you imagine City Hall of Anytown, USA, being a desirable place to work? Most people here are shocked that I’ve never, not once, known the name of the Mayor of my hometown. If I saw him/her at CVS, I wouldn’t think anything of it.
- Not all Americans are white and look the same. I don’t think I can ever really get this point across, without having an American person of color or other ethnicity visit my site and have them shove their American passport in my community’s faces. Even there, it’s a stretch. Yes, Barack Obama as our President has helped to dissolve this notion a bit, but I get a lot of “He’s not really American” comments, like something out of a Fox News broadcast. Filipino family that is born in America is now American, and does not look like me. They look Filipino. Which actually is of Malay origin. See what I did there?
- America has poor people too. My counterpart has one of those aforementioned coveted LGU positions, makes the equivalent of about $3000 a year, and owns two motorcycles, a (small) house, provides (rather) comfortably for his wife and two kids, and sends one to a local private school. How is it possible to make 7 times that in the States for a family of four, and still really struggle to put food on the table and make rent payments for an apartment that is almost worse off, structurally, than my counterpart’s house? It just is.
- Lawns. A vestige of the physical geography of northern Europe where lawns naturally exist, lawns are seriously ingrained in American culture. We ditch and drain our landscapes for pre-planned communities in Florida, recreating an illusion of how it’s supposed to be and justify it by saying it’s “Deed Restricted”. We build entire cities with millions of people in the middle of a desert, complete with lawns. Do natural landscapes exist in the States? Suburban America is a weird place.
- There are places and homes in the United States where people who are over the age of 60 go to live when they can no longer perform simple, daily, household functions. They go there, alone, with other people, who are also alone, seemingly abandoned by their family. It is assumed here that a geriatric family member lives with their children. A nursing home or retirement community is hard to explain. They see it as a cruel and unusual punishment, where we see it as freedom and relief. Of course, this isn’t everyone, but I think it’s safe to say that most adults will do everything possible before ceding to live with their elderly family members. What’s even more difficult to explain is how you can do this and still love those same family members.
- Most Americans are not that happy. Moving to the United States does not create happiness. We feel it is something you choose, and you get there by making changes in your life and making choices that eventually, hopefully, get you there. I don’t want to sit here and tell you that all Americans complain and they don’t have real problems that prevent them from obtaining their goals and dreams that they feel will grant them happiness. Because people do. But maybe ignorance is bliss (it’s not). Maybe happiness is just a state of being that just is (maybe, sometimes). Americans are constantly searching for a level of meaning and happiness in life that is probably just an illusion. People here don’t search for it, they believe it’s already here, and just genuinely don’t want for anything. Is that happiness?
Now that I’m back at site and trying to get work done before I COS (Close of Service) in six months, I’m rapidly trying to make stuff happen, tie up loose ends, and work on some side passion projects of mine that I’ve been wanting to do for some time.
Several other PCVs and myself are working on a camp BRO here in the Philippines. We initially intended to go through the Peace Corps website to raise money through a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) grant, but realized our timeline was too short and our planned activities too imminent, so we are fundraising ourselves.
I wrote a short narrative about our project to give you all a better perspective on what it entails. I’m asking anyone to please donate and help out in any way that you can. This is a project that we hope to continue for years to come with incoming Peace Corps Volunteers all across the Philippines. Any support is fully appreciated. Thanks!
Link for fundraising site: https://fundly.com/gender-development-in-the-philippines
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The BRO (Boys Respecting Others) Camp idea began with Peace Corps Volunteers in Jordan. It grew out of the need to have a counterpart to the Peace Corps-wide success of Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), a female gender development camp that has been a PC backed initiative in all countries for quite some time.
After spending enough time in the Philippines, it became apparent that 1. This country is full of children and 2. While these children may come from tight-knit, loving families, there is a lack of male role models for young men in the provinces, especially since many men work abroad or away in the cities in order to make a high enough salary to provide for their families.
This frequent lack of male role models for young boys slows the sort of emotional intelligence growth that is needed for boys to look deeper into themselves. Without this ability, many young men have trouble developing the self-awareness that fosters a healthy, non-violent masculinity, positive socialization, interpersonal skills, as well as attitudes and relationships towards women based on respect and understanding. We want to stress that even though healthy relationships are mostly loving, they can also be challenging and painful, and that building strength within yourself helps you overcome those hard times.
The 5 day/4 night camp will encompass group-based workshops on leadership, character, gender stereotypes, healthy relationships, adolescent health, and stewardship - particularly aimed towards protecting the rapidly degrading coastal environment.
The big picture idea for this Camp BRO is to initiate it as an annual Peace Corps Philippines project with the development of the Camp BRO module, so BRO Camps can be replicated with different PCVs across the Philippine islands. A future goal is sustainability of the camps, with trainings on facilitation to Filipino peer educators and teachers, to keep the BRO camps alive.
Two separate BRO camps will be held- one in Sagay City, Negros Oriental and one in Sorsogon City, Bicol. The camp in Sagay City, at Sagay National High School, is in direct counterpart to the highly successful GLOW camp conducted there last year by Peace Corps Volunteers. The school administrators were so impressed with GLOW that they had specifically asked if there would be a similar camp for the male students. The Camp GLOW also predicates itself on leadership, gender stereotypes, healthy relationships, and self-esteem and body issues.
My fellow Peace Corps BROs feel that men tend to be socialized to push past pain. The message we want to bring to these young men is that if you can’t recognize your own pain, how can you handle someone else’s? We feel that attitudes towards women need to change specifically among young men, and that type of change, even if impossibly small, seems most possible when awareness and protest comes from within the group that holds the most power. Boys can be the solution, not the problem.
We want this call for alternative role models to rewrite and redefine what men in modern society are- and aren’t, who they can be, and what they can become.