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Reaching Deep into Filipino Communities with World Vision: An Amazing Experience

Reyford & Reymark 2I travel to many remote places in helping provide clean water through the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. Today is one of the most remote visits that I’ve ever made. It took two days to reach the Philippines from my hometown in the US. Then it took a full day of travel from Manila to the island of Siargao in Mindinao. And, this morning, we were up at sunrise to start our travel to the island of Maribojoc. Today, I’m traveling with Keith Kall of World Vision US and Billie Abata, Joy Mariscal, and Joel Pielago of World Vision Philippines.

       Stilt house 2 Carrying packets 2
It’s about an hour ride in a small catamaran to Maribojoc. But because it’s low tide, we walk the last mile carrying the water purification packets and buckets needed to prepare clean water. I’ve been told that the traditional name for foreigners in Filipino is “dayuhang mana nakop” or “foreign invader”. As I walk onto shore, I hope that I’m not being viewed as a foreign invader.

Jonas 2I can tell from the smiles that we’re very welcome. Filipinos and Americans have a great bond of friendship that formed during War World II and it’s felt to this day in the relationship between the two countries and their people. Speaking of armed conflict, the mayor of this area insisted on sending an armed guard with us today because we’re in areas that have seen some conflict. It’s low risk but nevertheless we’re grateful that Jonas is providing a bit of security for us.

Boat 2

 

As we dry our feet and put our shoes on to walk to the water sources, I ask about the last time there was a visit like ours. This leads to a long discussion that I don’t understand. Eventually they reach a consensus that the last visit by someone doing development work like us, was a visit either seven or nine years ago by the Australia Agency for International Development (AUSAID). It’s clear this is not on the main circuit for development efforts. When I think about the supply chain that has taken the packets from our plant in Pakistan to this remote village, it’s pretty impressive. It helps that a couple of small boats can bring enough of the packets to last an entire year for this community because the packets are light weight, stable, and easy to transport.

Barangay Health Workers 2I lead the first demonstration of the water purification packets today to reinforce the correct procedures with the new volunteers. The Barangay Health Workers here are wearing uniforms to highlight their status in the community. We gather the contaminated water from the shallow well and show them how to make it healthy. Today the water from the shallow well is pretty clear but they tell us that it’s frequently dirty. 

MariJane 2When I ask if anyone ever gets sick from the well water, I notice one of the Barangay Health Workers giggling nervously into her handkerchief. MariJane Compra is a young mother with two children and she had waterborne illness for the last several days and today is the first day that she’s been feeling well. She’s been standing close to me during the demonstration and very interested in our work. In fact, I picked her to do the second demonstration before I knew this. While we always have a pre-trained person lead the first demonstration, we randomly pick a local person in the crowd to lead a second demonstration. This reinforces the correct procedure, gives people confidence that it’s easy for them to do themselves, and provides just the right amount of activity before the water from the first demonstration is ready to drink. 

After drinking the treated water and while we walk to our next stop, MariJane tells me that today has been an amazing experience for her. She’s been very worried that her children will succumb to illness from drinking their water. The purified water is very nice to drink and has a good taste. She tells me she’s very happy and I tell her that I am too!

Reyford & Reymark gsa 2At our next stop, we take some pictures with some adorable twins, Reyford and Reymark. These adorable 9 year old boys have earned the nicknames of “Popoy “and “Kiking”. There’s an explanation for the nicknames but it’s sort of like rhyming cockney and the meaning of these nicknames gets lost in translation.

Aurelia & boys 2The mother of the twins is 46 year old Aurelia Daban. We sit down for a chat about life on her island while the World Vision staff led a demonstration for more people in the village. Aurelia tells me that almost all the men on the island fish for a living. The women plant some cassava and harvest bananas. And there’s a small school that sits over the water with a teacher from the mainland who has commuted every week for the last three years. And, of course, the Catholic Church is an important part of the community. Aurelia has lived in this community of 260 households for her entire life. She’s raised 9 children including the twins and now has a little grandchild nicknamed “RR”.

Greg and Aurelia Daban & family 2I’m also pleased to meet Aurelia’s husband, Romy, and we pose for a picture to remember our time together and celebrate the start of our efforts helping this community. Then I sit down with Aurelia and the twins to record a short video summarizing our visit to Maribojoc (VIDEO).

Before we leave, we learn first-hand one of the advantages of living in a fishing community. We’re treated to a feast of boiled crabs topped off with fresh mango for dessert.  It’s a fantastic meal and we’re very thankful to the fisherman and their wives.

Filipino girls 2We have to wait an hour before the tide comes in sufficient for the boat to make the channel back to the larger island of Siargao. Keith, Billie, and I enjoy the time with the children. But, school is about to start so we soon have to shoo the kids away to make sure they don’t miss their lessons.

Hauling water1 2Our last community to visit is Abad Santos. This is the remotest part of the bigger island of Siargao and not surprisingly has some of the worst water access. In this community of 118 households and 583 people, there are several shallow wells in the middle of town. But these are so obviously contaminated that people only use this water for washing or bathing.

Hill 2

 

 

 

The community has to walk down and up very steep and slippery paths to reach nearby springs or creeks to gather their drinking water. Not surprisingly, people frequently slip and fall while carrying their heavy burdens of water. 

Water source 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barangay leader, Captain Gerito, is happy to take us to the springs. It’s very steep and the late afternoon has become stifling with humidity and there’s no breeze to provide relief. Keith and I are soon completely drenched in our own perspiration.  The first spring is beside a creek and the water looks like milk. The second water source is clear but we’re told that during the dry season it will also be dirty.

Spring 2

 

 

 

I’m starting to feel a little queasy. I try to pretend the symptoms don’t exist and grab the 50 pounds of water from one of the local teenagers and haul it back to the village.  But before I complete the journey, I know that I’m not going to be able to avoid my issue. I made a very stupid mistake back on Maribojoc and drank the contaminated water. We keep out a glass of the starting water to show people the difference between the dirty and clean water. In fact, I warned Keith and Billie to not drink the contaminated water. Then Keith said I was looking a little pale from the heat and that I should drink some water. So, I drank from the dirty water glass that was in my hand at the time! It was only a sip before I recognized my mistake. But I know that even a sip of this water could have millions of bacteria and viruses.

Sure enough, my mistake from about 6 hours ago is coming back to visit me. The community is great and locates one of the nicer houses that has a toilet and gives me some privacy while I spend a few minutes. Well, it can happen to anyone. I’m certainly not happy to have this experience, but it a strong reminder of why we’re providing safe drinking water. It’s humiliating and it hurts. I’m lucky that I have medicines if needed, I’ve developed a strong immune system over the years of traveling to the developing world, and the community quickly provided me access to a toilet. So, I’m only having a small taste of what it must be like to live in this community and have to drink contaminated water.

In the center of town, it doesn’t take long before we have quite a crowd to watch the demonstration of the purification packets. Captain Gerito is very engaged and endorses our efforts. He tells us that there is usually a wave of sickness that overcomes the village during the start of the rainy season when the water gets very dirty and during the dry season when they run out of rain water and have to return to using the springs. He’s very grateful that P&G and World Vision will be providing the packets to his community.

Captain & Demo 2Luckily, I made it through the day and we don’t need to cut our visit short. Keith and Billie tell me that they’re absolutely exhausted from the long day so I don’t feel like I’ve held anyone up. So, we say good-bye to the community of Abad Santos and head back to our hotel. 

Sunset 2It will take me a couple of days travel to leave the Philippines as there’s not regular plane service to the island. So, we’ll take a long ferry to start catching the flights back home. In thinking back over my time in the Philippines, I think about MariJane on the island of Maribojoc this morning. She told me that it was an amazing experience when we visited her. I absolutely agree. My time in the Philippines has been an amazing experience, and I’m very grateful to World Vision Philippines for the work they’re doing to reach the most vulnerable people in very remote places where clean drinking water will make a big difference in improving and likely saving lives.

Comments

beautiful story! please continue this program forever!

What a wonderful and enriching experience!
I'm living in Singapore, working at SgIC. How can we help to this program in the Philippines? For us is easier to travel to the Philippines. Singapore is just 3 hrs away from Manila.

Greg, thank you for doing this work. Thanks for sharing your stories. Blessings to you and yours.

Thanks for your comment. For Singapore-based P&G employees, the best way to help is to get involved in the Pantene Healthy Hair for Healthy Water, SKII Clear for Life, or "Carry Each Other Walks" to raise funds and awareness for CSDW. Ask your ER manager how you can help. We also occasionally have employee volunteer trips to our CSDW sites so keep an eye open for those. Thanks!

The work P&G is doing with the PuR program in so many different places. The lengths that these villagers have to go to get water is shocking, especially since the water that they're able to get isn't even safe drinking water. I'm someone who doesn't even like drinking tap water and this particularly story was very humbling. The mistaken sampling of the water clearly shows how difficult having limited to no access to clean water is for so many people. The P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program is a program with incredible vision that's doing such great work and I commend your team on it's ability to affect change in these people's lives as I'm certain that having clean drinking water completely changes their quality of life. I only wish more companies took the time and funds to see a mission like this through.

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