So, the third and fourth week in the Philippines had to be the hardest for me. Not only were they difficult for me as a general traveler, but they were hard from a social justice point of view and health wise.
The third week, my fellow YAVs and I went to an island about two hours away (by boat), called Bohol. There, we stayed in a very rural area with a local pastor and her family. That was a rough week for me because I realized a) that I’m privileged and b) I’m not so great at physically adapting to my environment. The entire week, we lived in this farming area, where everything was far, where we got to see our food before we ate it, and where the only foreigners were on the television.
We had some amazing opportunities in Bohol, like plowing a field with a Philippines water buffalo, planting corn, working in rice fields, etc. However, those opportunities have led me (along with my fellow YAVs) to the conclusion that nature is not my friend. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen into so much mud in my entire life. Also, I realize, fire ants hate me. I’m allergic to something in the rice fields and possible one of the local fruits. There are a lot more reasons, but those are just the major ones. Regardless of nature’s dislike of women named Akilah Hyrams, I still enjoyed my time in Bohol.
My fourth week was a different story. We went to a mountainous region on an island in the northern part of the Philippines called the Cordillera. There, we visited a lot of indigenous communities who were facing a lot of injustices. Many of the communities were farming communities that heavily relied on their produce. It was really heart breaking because, as I learned, farming is a very unpredictable business and the farmers don’t get to control the price for their own produce. They have to go through a middleman to sell them in the market. When I was there, farmers were given 2 Pesos for one kilo of carrots by the middleman. It costs 7 Pesos to grow one kilo of carrots. So the farmer just lost 5 Pesos per kilo. Oh, and since most communities don’t have trucks to transport their produce, it’s costs 2 Pesos per kilo to send them to the market on a truck. Well, there went the 2 Pesos they actually “earned” from the carrots they sold. Being in those communities, watching and participating in some of the work they did just to make a living was so hard to do, knowing they were getting next to nothing for it. Later that week, we saw some more indigenous communities fighting to keep their land as international mining companies came to exploit the land. And the companies that were already there were destroying the quality of land and the lives of the local communities; from contaminated water to crumbling houses due to underground tunnels.
So, not only did I see the effects of injustice and a corrupt system, there was also the factor of nature hating me, so naturally, I was sick pretty much the entire week. But, I really do appreciate the opportunities afforded to me over the month of traveling. There are some things you really can’t fathom until they are right in your face. And even then, I was always aware of the fact that I was leaving the area, bringing myself back to a relatively comfortable place while those communities continue to fight for their rights and their land and will continue to do so long after I leave the country next year.