Peace Corps Project Spotlight

Trevor Mooney’s Project Spotlight and other topics from
My Peace Corps Experience with the Natives of Mindoro
Hey What’s Up Batch 271?! Welcome to the Philippines! I hope you are ready to embark on a great adventure discovering a new country, culture, people, and a new you. The rollercoaster lives up to the hype as “the toughest job you will ever love”, except in ways that you do not expect. Yet with an open mind desiring to serve your community, whether within a center with a handful of clients or an urban community with thousands of constituents, you have the ability to improve the lives of those around you, and I know you will!

Hi, my name is Trevor Mooney. I am a Batch 270 CYF Volunteer based in a rural native community named Baclayan in the mountains above the beach town of Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. I am originally from Mission Viejo, CA, and have recently finished a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of Delaware. I currently work for a child rights focused NGO named Stairway Foundation, Inc. Stairway’s primary initiatives have been its advocacy and residential programs on behalf of street children. I have had the opportunity to take part in the development of Stairway’s nascent community outreach efforts to serve the community members of Baclayan, most of who are of the Mangyan indigenous tribes.

Who are the Mangyan Peoples? The Mangyans are the original seven tribes that inhabited Mindoro, each with its own distinct culture and language. Historically these passive peoples were fishermen, subsistence farmers, and handicraftsmen that exchanged goods with foreign traders. Only in recent generations circumstances have altered with an influx of opportunistic mainlanders and foreigners developing tourism and mining industries with little regard for the natives. As a result the majority of the Mangyan peoples have taken refuge in the mountains of the island. This is the case for the members of Baclayan, most of which hail from the Iraya and Tadyawan tribes. The heart of Baclayan is situated five kilometers above the town of Puerto Galera with its inhabitants scattered throughout its forested hills. Stairway’s assistance program is designed to help strengthen community relations and develop the area’s livelihood, education, and farming capacities.

My site has proven to be extremely flexible in its day-to-day responsibilities due to the grassroots approach of serving the community. Upon first arrival in the mountains the seemingly endless opportunities were almost intimidating! With the necessity of community integration and acceptance in mind, I first started by making the effort to meet with and work alongside several community members in hopes of better comprehending their daily lives. In addition I decided to conduct Basic English tutorials for the children as an introductory exercise knowing that it would make an immediate impression and impact on our relationship.

Once basic rapport had been established, I worked alongside my supervisor to understand what were the most pressing needs and opportunities that our project could address. With the invaluable lessons of the facilitation of PACA and project implementation during pre-service training, we began to implement community analysis. It soon became apparent that due to the timid nature of the Baclayan’s inhabitants, many of preconceptions I had of understanding the community’s issues needed to be adjusted. Thus in addition to the PACA activities performed, informal methods such as interviews and barangay/group meeting observation proved necessary to better understand the community’s personality and perspective. The techniques also helped identify which of the community’s needs could be most effectively addressed by the skill set that the members of Stairway Foundation possess. After the synthesis of the gathered community data, I set to work alongside our agriculturalist to develop a proposal that would encompass the entire Baclayan project. After a few months, we had a finished product ready to deliver to funders. In our case the most favorable and desired project for implementation was a feeding program at Baclayan Elementary School, addressing low attendance rates and nutritional deficiencies affecting the community’s children.

Community participation is a critical component towards the overall success of any community project. The Feeding Program was set in motion, after funds had been secured, with a series of community meetings to discuss and develop an action plan that would be in the best interest of Baclayan Elementary School and its students. The school kitchen construction commenced over the elementary school’s winter break riding on the parents’ enthusiasm and hopes that the program would assuage the burdens of their children attending class. Since the commensuration of the feeding program in early January, the Elementary School’s PTA leadership has been instrumental to the program’s initial success.

Each school day nutritious lunches are cooked and served by community parents using fuel efficient clay stoves within the school kitchen. Due to the limited seating capacity of the kitchen, lunch is conducted in multiple sessions each day. Food waste is disposed of in pre-determined containers that are taken to Stairway’s Farm and campsite for composting. Children join parent volunteers to complete the dish washing tasks each day. Bi-weekly meetings are held to evaluate current methods of running the program and imploring improvements. As the community has become more comfortable with the program, volunteer responsibilities have increased.

Stairway’s Feeding Program, though successful raising attendance rates and improving student nutrition, is a challenge to sustain without external funding sources. Yet, the program has already left a lasting impact on community organization opening the door to opportunities within the school and the community-at-large, such as planned basic health education outreach, that would have been otherwise politically infeasible. The sustainability of Stairway’s Feeding Program lies in its ability to organize the scattered inhabitants of different tribes and ethnicities residing in Baclayan toward common goals for the betterment of their community. The program is yet in its infancy, but it will be exciting to see how it evolves in the coming months.

Project development takes patience and cooperation. The feeding project required nearly six months in preparation on the ground level meeting, networking, and shoveling hay (literally, in my community!) to get the ball rolling, and the program is continuously evolving to better suit the community’s needs. First and foremost develop relationships with your counterparts, target populations, and fellow volunteers. It is amazing how far a smile and vested interest in others will go. Their support and ideas will pay dividends and make life much easier in the long run. Be sure to assess community data, community assets, and also the skill set of your organization. With diligent research of internet, community, and volunteer sources you will find great inspiration for projects. At times you may feel uncomfortable, anxious and overwhelmed, but keep your eye on the prize, because each day will have its small victories. I am excited to meet you guys and hear about all the unique experiences you have. Best of luck as you begin your journey, and just remember with a good pair of eyes and ears, you will be able to accomplish great things in service of your organization and community!

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