One year ago I got a call from my dad. He had just found out about the Young Adult Service Corps. A day later I called Douglas Fenton, who explained to me more details about the program. He also told me that even though the deadline had long passed, if I could get an application and references in immediately, I could go on the discernment weekend in two weeks. I told him to let me sleep on it. I woke up the next morning deciding to call him and accept. Before I could, I checked my e-mail to find my flight itinerary for Florida. Two weeks later I met about a dozen people that were shockingly similar to me. We were all crazy enough to want to leave America for the great unknown. I became fast friends with most of the guys. I also met a couple of former YASCers on that weekend. One of them described their experience by saying, “The tough times are really tough… but the good times are really really good, and at the end of the day, I’m glad I went.” That is when I decided to commit to YASC. This line has stuck with me a bit, because it is completely true. Christmas alone sucked. But my day trip to Lon-oy more than made up for it.
Lon-oy is a small barangay in the diocese of North Central Philippines. I was there to observe an ECP micro-hydro project that has been extremely successful since the early 90s. The whole time I was there, I couldn’t believe the natural beauty of the area. It is where a major river begins, creating corkscrew-esque carvings in the rocks. A felt like I was in a level on Tomb Raider. There were long handmade footbridges, giant spiders, and shaky ladders hanging over steep cliffs.
Another thing the really impressed me were the people. I couldn't talk to the locals as much as I would have liked, because they usually just ask me questions about how the heck I ended up in Lon-oy. However, I did observe their dogs, and you can tell a lot about a person from their dog. The dogs moved towards people, meaning they get pet more than they get hit. They looked healthy, meaning they are well fed and looked after. Not one looked like they had ever been in a fight. Seeing that set a really nice vibe for the rest of the day.
In the United States, I am quite interested in politics. The reputation of Filipino politics is that it is even more corrupt than in America. However, I saw two things that give me a great deal of hope for the future of the Philippines. In Lon-oy many people have to travel a great distance every day to tend to their farms. Some farms are on the top of the mountain. In the middle of town there is a large green fertile field. The grass was greener than anything I have seen in the Philippines. It was not a farm, but rather a field for elementary school kids to have recess on. Its presence means that no politician or leader has ever taken the land for himself, and the people put an extremely high priority on education and recreation.
The second thing came from my time in La Trinidad. La Trinidad is not like Lon-oy. It is a big city that has to deal with a lot of big city problems. They invested a lot of time and money in a environmentally friendly landfill. This is a truly rare sight, even in the US. Most environmental project concentrate on everything the public can see. However the leadership of La Trinidad installed a collection system to collect and quarantine the environmentally hazardous runoff from the slowly degrading plastics in the land fill. Even in the US this stuff usually finds its way to the water when nobody is looking.
Here is what happened Friday at the landfill: The director of development for the ECP, Floyd Lalwet, knew La Trinidad had a highly advanced system for producing wood vinegar (aka liquid smoke), but they did not know what to do with the carbonized byproduct. My charcoal project utilizes carbonized material, but we have struggled to produce very much wood vinegar. So on Friday I met with a Japanese volunteer who designed their wood vinegar production system and an engineer from the mayor’s office. I left La Trinidad that afternoon with about 3x the knowledge of wood vinegar, as well as a rough design for a more efficient production system. I left them with training on how to grind, mix, and mold their bio-waste to produce eco-friendly charcoal. Within a week or two, La Trinidad should begin production of this charcoal.