Jul 082014

Warm greetings from rainy Palawan! We are just starting a new season here – the season of rains and floods and coincidentally the start of the new school year.

We started off the month with four staff members – Joie, Ivann, Victoria, and myself – participating in the very first LGBT awareness conference in Palawan. Sponsored by a civic group of women, many of whom used to be with Palawan State University, the seminar featured two excellent speakers from Manila academic institutions and proved eye opening for many of the participants. The participants came to understand some of the complications of gender orientation and presentation, and how difficult these notions can be for young people to negotiate. In both school and work environments, principals and bosses seem to agree that it is okay to be gay as long as it doesn’t “show”! Participants became a little more conscious of the burden this places on youth who are gay.

We were also invited to conduct anti-bullying seminars to all of the high school classes in the PSU Laboratory High School. Our teachers designed a thought-provoking program and we finished six groups in June and will finish up the other four this first week of July.

Noelle Pineda, our intern from Stanford Medical School, arrived just in time to witness some of these sessions. She is working on a project that involves in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with high school age students on their views of sexuality and sexual behavior, so this is a good start for her. She has graciously agreed to hold a professional development training on how to conduct focus groups properly and in such a way that they may yield reliable data. She is also a very happy addition to our staff.

The Financial Literacy team has also been working hard. At one point they were teaching six classes a week in two communities! They just finished a class in Pulang Lupa, have an on-going class in Magsasaka, and have just started a new group in Aplaya. They have noticed that some groups are very much better than others in their basic math skills and have had to adjust to that.

The clinical team continues their regular visits to all six of our neighborhoods, handling pap smears, prenatal exams and providing injectable contraceptives. Sadly, we bid good-bye to one of our nurses, Deng (Christine Mampay), who has decided that the time has come to work abroad for a while. The clinical team is exceptionally close and many tears were shed at the farewell lunch for Deng. She has been a joy for all of us to work with.

During the month, we met a Korean doctor, Dr. Ahn, who is conducting anti-tuberculosis work in Palawan in partnership with the local government. He was very interested in our work and introduced us to a Korean NGO called Global Together whose mission is to help local in-country organizations conduct work to help achieve their MDGs. We have spent some time with Dr. Ahn and a representative of Global Together, Dr. Lee, discussing possibilities of working together to carry out maternal health work, as well as potentially train our CHAs to encourage community members to get TB tests. It will be interesting to see what possibilities for collaboration we may come up with.

At the very end of the month one of our New York board members, Justine Fonte, arrived, and although she is traveling in Palawan and will only make her formal appearance in the office next week, Ami, Marcus, and I did have lunch with her on Sunday. And our interns, Victoria and Noelle, will join one of their travel adventures! We are excited to have Justine with us for a week and will include an update on her visit next month.