APYExperience: A Walk to Remember

It has been 10 months since I returned Hanoi and left Manila, together with the good old days in San Fernando, La Union. Occasionally, I opened the Weather app and suddenly switched the screen to the left, then Manila weather appeared. My reminiscence knocked. I miss the afternoon with barefoot on the sand, diving into the ocean with high blue sky above, miss moving from here to there riding a jeepney with friends, evenings doing teamwork on a background of the waves’ sound, and miss the dawns being wakened up by the sun. But most of all, I miss friends whom I had a chance to meet, whom I’m close to. I miss the local people being comforted a Vietnamese girl that was searching around for goodness.

This article is written for Manila, San Fernando City, and Barangay Pias, with love.

1. Elderly people feeling uncomfortable when being asked: “Do you speak English?”

​​It is a fact that over 90% of the Philippines population speaks English, even at a proficient level, not just babbling. I had learned about this on the Internet before but still remained quite skeptical. I thought that “I must experience it myself to confirm”. Only after I had set foot on this nation did I believe and understand the reason behind. My friend, a 16-year-old Filipino girl, from secondary school, said all subjects are taught entirely in English, expect the Filipino subject. Tintin – a little girl at my host family also said English is among one of the three compulsory subjects for first-grade pupils. This explains whenever you bump into a stranger on the street, you will see that they’re very good in English.

During my time in La Union, I involved in an activity called “local immersion,”, which means engaging with local people to gain insight into the social issues they’re facing, then come up with a project resolution. After researching nearly 20 households in Barangay Pias, I realized that even the elderly there could communicate very fluently in English. One of the feedbacks we received during our survey was that they don’t like being asked: “Do you speak English?”

2. The world praises the Japanese for their kindness, how about the Filipino?

Kind-hearted is an adjective that pops up in my mind when it comes to Filipinos. Yes, it’s kind-hearted, neither hospitable nor nice because when a Filipino helps you, it’s exactly what they want to do, not just because of their politeness. That time, I booked a room for one night in Airbnb because I arrived one day earlier. However, the host had forgotten to provide me with the name of her tower, while there were three other towers looking like the same. In the Philippines, apartment buildings are secured strictly. I won’t be allowed to enter if the security guard doesn’t know which apartment I’m going to visit, and who I’m going to meet. For that reason, the taxi driver did not only share his 3G data to me but also lent me his phone to text, and call the host. The security man, standing beside also waited patiently with no complaint. Trying all ways but still didn’t work, they told me to wait at the lobby. In the end, my problem was solved after another security guy texted my host.

After being in the Philippines for a day, I became familiarized with almost all security guards because every time we came across each other, they would all greet me with a bright smile and would talk to me affectionately. One time, while I was hesitating to cross the street as I didn’t see any red light and vehicles kept moving very fast, a middle-aged man suggested to lead me through (I think he saw my embarrassing face haha). Furthermore, he also asked where I was going, walked with me to my building because of the fear that I would get lost. He even insisted to me to save his phone number in case of need. On the back of his T-shirt presented a humanitarian organization’s name, I guess he is a member.

“Filipinos are like, you need 2 pesos and only 2 pesos left in their pocket, they would still give it to you”, said Nikky. That’s true, I did experience that “2 pesos story” in local immersion. Nearly ten people live in a house that is slightly larger than a classroom, they still had to accommodate six of us. They welcomed us with warm smiles, gave up their beds for us, gave us the best blankets they have, constantly asked if we had any difficulties. I remember one time I washed my T-shirt and dried it outside, it suddenly rained heavily when I was away. Upon returning, I saw that it has already been taken in and folded neatly on my mattress.

3. Connect with us. We are listening.

​Six days in San Fernando forever remains so meaningful to me as I got to know about this city’s righteous government.

During our community research, we figured out that local people are being confronted with the lack of water from March to May annually. They have to buy water from a long distance at a high price, especially when it is a crucial need during hot weather. Based on our research, there hasn’t been any solution to this problem, the households have already prepared to encounter the water shortage next summer. Therefore, Nikky said, “We can call the city government to ask if they know it”. That moment, I was like “What? The way you say it sounds like calling your neighbor!!” But yeah, all we have to do is touching a “call” button. They picked up the phone at the very first call. When we were wondering what to say, I was made to hold this responsibility. The woman on the other end of the line listened carefully and answered every concern of us with her great patience. Before hanging up, she also thanked us for consulting with her.

I deeply appreciate the way this city’s leaders care about their citizens, despite being aware that it’s what they’re supposed to do. Before pitching our project at Asia Development Bank, we had to present it in front of the San Fernando’s City government (and once again, I was voted to take this mission, with Sheraz).

Throughout our presentation, they were so attentive that they noted down every significant point we mentioned, questioned us a lot till they’d got everything clear. That moment, I felt our project really has a meaning, our resolution was seriously taken into consideration. I hope that when I’m typing this, the water shortage in Barangay Pias has already seen some positive changes.

Until now, I still follow the fanpage “City Government of San Fernando, La Union” on Facebook. I feel the love fulfilling my heart whenever I see the city leaders together with the residents collect plastic wastes, overcome natural calamities’ consequences, support families with difficult situations, and also jointly sing and dance. At the end of their fanpage’s introduction lies a heart-warming message “Connect with us. We are listening.”

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