Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FWS Biologist Shares Her Peace Corps Experience

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a proud employer of Peace Corps alumni. In celebration of Peace Corps Week (February 24th - March 2nd), we asked an FWS biologist (and former Peace Corps volunteer) to share her story. 

I served in the Philippines from 1987-1989 where I lived in a small town in the north of the country, and had my own bamboo hut on the Lingayen Gulf. My field was Marine Fisheries and my project was building artificial reefs out of old tires. 

The natural coral reefs had been dying off for several reasons, including dynamite fishing. The artificial reefs were intended to provide habitat for reef animals and plants. My Filipino coworker would arrange to obtain the materials (including BUYING the old rubber tires), and we would travel out to small villages and work alongside the villagers to construct the tire reef modules and cement weights. Then the men would take the completed modules out to the chosen site on a bamboo raft and push them off into the water. I really enjoyed meeting and working with the subsistence fishermen and their families, and seeing how they lived. The Filipino people are very kind and friendly.

My host family was wonderful and took excellent care of me. They brought me along to family and town functions and introduced me to the food, customs, and culture of the area. My town had electricity (much of the time), but did not have any telephones. The nearest phone was a few hours away. I wrote letters by hand to keep in touch with my family and friends at home, and mailed them at the post office in town. Receiving letters and packages from home was a big deal!  We volunteers did not have cell phones, texting, email, Skype, or computers for that matter.  I typed out my quarterly reports on a manual typewriter with carbon paper. No instant digital photos either; I took pictures with film that I got developed in the nearest large town, about an hour and a half jeepney ride away.

Some of my favorite times were going to market twice a week with my host grandma and great-aunt, fishing with my host father, visiting and snorkeling at local beaches with beautiful white sand, travelling to nearby towns with the local extension ladies to teach canning, and just hanging out with my family. I will never forget being invited by my family to attend a wedding with them at 6:00. About 5:00 AM, they called over to see if I was ready to go. Waking up out of a sound sleep, I said I had never heard of such an early wedding, and that I thought they had meant 6:00 PM. They said they had never heard of such a late wedding!

Now that the world is more closely connected through electronic communications, I am Facebook friends with members of my host family. It is a little strange, considering how isolated it was when I was there, but I am fortunate to be able to easily keep in touch with them. I plan to take my kids there for a visit when they are a little older.

When I left for the Philippines with my brand-new Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries from the University of Washington, I was excited to teach my community about fisheries-related issues. But my family and friends in the Philippines taught me more than I ever taught them. My Peace Corps experience gave me confidence, balanced with some humility, and an appreciation of how big the world is. Now, working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I use those skills to work with and learn from all kinds of people. 

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