Monday, June 30, 2008

Learning from the Ivatans of Batanes

I just came back from a week-long trip to Batanes. It was a tiring but very enriching trip. My body still aches from the uphill walks and the unbelievable 3-hour trip in the high seas to Itbayat -- the farthest inhabited island in the northeastern part of the country. But the biiiiigggg waves was peanuts compared to our "landing" in this coral island. (This will be in another blog.) So much has been written about Batanes. But you cannot completely comprehend the superlatives until you immerse in their culture. Then you'll understand that some superlatives are understatements.

I want to share an article I wrote which came out in PDI last Sunday. We have so much to learn from the Ivatans. This is just one aspect of their culture. I hope to share some more in the coming days.

Ivatan of Batanes share secrets of survival in typhoon belt

By Andrea Trinidad-Echavez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:58:00 06/29/2008

BASCO, BATANES -- IT IS SAID THAT NO ONE dies in a typhoon in this so-called typhoon capital of the Philippines.

As “Frank” started to threaten the rest of the country a week ago, 85-year-old Carlos Balasabas confidently went about his usual routine.

He led his carabao to the payaman (communal pasture) to graze, and patiently waited until it had its fill, never mind if over the radio, the weather forecaster had said Signal No. 3 would be raised over Batanes.

Going by the signs of nature, Balasabas knew that Frank would not hit the province.

“You will know there’s a typhoon coming when the cows at the payaman come down to seek shelter,” he said.

The payaman is usually located on the higher slopes of Batanes. When a storm looms, cows instinctively take shelter. They return to the hills only when the rain and wind have died down.

For generations, the Ivatan, as the people of Batanes are called, have relied on cows and natural signs for “weather forecasts,” according to Gov. Telesforo Castillejos.

“But cows are the most reliable,” he said.

Birds, the wind, cloud movement, and the color of the sky are also indicators of the weather in the days to come.

“When birds start taking cover inside houses or go down on the ground, or when the sky becomes pinkish orange, there is an imminent typhoon,” Castillejos said.

When the Ivatan see these signs, they start gathering their animals and stay inside their stone houses. No fisherfolk will dare go out to sea.

About 15 typhoons hit Batanes every year. Supertyphoons come once in about four years.

Scholars attribute the survival of the Ivatan to their communal values and their ability to master, rather than fight. their environment.

Vital statistics

Batanes, the little dot on the map at the tip of the Philippine archipelago, is made up of 11 islands and is fringed by the South China Sea to the west, the Babuyan Islands to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

It lies closer to Taiwan than to the Luzon mainland.

Located 860 kilometers from Manila, it is the least populated and smallest province of the country, occupying a total of 229 square kilometers with a population of a little over 15,000.

Florestida Estrella, 82, remembered how her parents gathered everyone in the kitchen every time a storm threatened Batanes.

The family would stay in the kitchen until the strong winds subsided.

“We can tell that a storm has ended by the sound of the wind,” Estrella said.

Most of the Ivatan, young or old, can tell the weather, according to Dr. Antonio Torralba, dean of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s College of Arts and Sciences, and a frequent visitor of Batanes.

Even days after Frank left the country, boatmen would not budge despite the pleas of stranded tourists to take them to nearby islands. And the fisherfolk, despite their mastery of the sea, stayed home.

“The sound of the waves is not good and whitecaps are everywhere,” said Robert Bastillo, a Manila-based Ivatan who came home to attend the province’s 225th founding anniversary on June 26.

Stone houses

“We Ivatan do not resist nature. We have learned to use it to our advantage,” said Governor Castillejos.

The stone houses, for instance—vahay in the local tongue—are a testament to the positive attitude of the Ivatan to adopt to their harsh environment, he said, adding:

“It is also living proof of their deep-rooted values.”

Building a stone house requires up to 50 tons of limestone carefully gathered near the shoreline. The roof is made of 47 cubic meters of cogon grass and about 8,000 reeds.

A house is built through payuhwan (cooperation).

“With the amount of materials needed to build an 8-meter-by-6-meter traditional house, it is impossible for a family to do it without the help of the whole community,” said Castillejos.

Learning from forefathers

The loss of lives in various parts of the country in the recent typhoons has made the new breed of Ivatan realize the importance of learning from their forefathers.

Recently, the provincial government launched a campaign for the preservation of the Ivatan’s old traditions. The campaign includes encouraging the elders to consciously teach the youth.

“Our forefathers survived the harsh conditions on the islands for centuries because of [the old traditions]. We may embrace modern conveniences, but we will keep holding on to old traditions to make life in Batanes more beautiful,” Castillejos said.

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Imagine a world without Filipinos

Thanks to my on-line friend and brother Kaloy, for sharing this wonderful article. This made my day.

(photo by Kaloy.)

Imagine a world without Filipinos

Abdullah Al-Maghlooth | Al-Watan,

Muhammad Al-Maghrabi became handicapped and shut down his flower and gifts shop business in Jeddah after his Filipino workers insisted on leaving and returning home. He says: “When they left, I felt as if I had lost my arms. I was so sad that I lost my appetite.”

Al-Maghrabi then flew to Manila to look for two other Filipino workers to replace the ones who had left. Previously, he had tried workers of different nationalities but they did not impress him. “There is no comparison between Filipinos and others,” he says. Whenever I see Filipinos working in the Kingdom, I wonder what our life would be without them.

Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipino workers — 1,019,577 — outside the Philippines. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing. Filipinos not only play an important and effective role in the Kingdom, they also perform different jobs in countries across the world, including working as sailors. They are known for their professionalism and the quality of their work.

Nobody here can think of a life without Filipinos, who make up around 20 percent of the world’s seafarers. There are 1.2 million Filipino sailors.

So if Filipinos decided one day to stop working or go on strike for any reason, who would transport oil, food and heavy equipment across the world? We can only imagine the disaster that would happen.

What makes Filipinos unique is their ability to speak very good English and the technical training they receive in the early stages of their education. There are several specialized training institutes in the Philippines, including those specializing in engineering and road maintenance. This training background makes them highly competent in these vital areas.

When speaking about the Philippines, we should not forget Filipino nurses. They are some 23 percent of the world’s total number of nurses. The Philippines is home to over 190 accredited nursing colleges and institutes, from which some 9,000 nurses graduate each year. Many of them work abroad in countries such as the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Singapore.

Cathy Ann, a 35-year-old Filipino nurse who has been working in the Kingdom for the last five years and before that in Singapore, said she does not feel homesick abroad because “I am surrounded by my compatriots everywhere.” Ann thinks that early training allows Filipinos to excel in nursing and other vocations. She started learning this profession at the age of four as her aunt, a nurse, used to take her to hospital and ask her to watch the work. “She used to kiss me whenever I learned a new thing. At the age of 11, I could do a lot. I began doing things like measuring my grandfather’s blood pressure and giving my mother her insulin injections,” she said.

This type of early education system is lacking in the Kingdom. Many of our children reach the university stage without learning anything except boredom.

The Philippines, which you can barely see on the map, is a very effective country thanks to its people. It has the ability to influence the entire world economy.

We should pay respect to Filipino workers, not only by employing them but also by learning from their valuable experiences.

We should learn and educate our children on how to operate and maintain ships and oil tankers, as well as planning and nursing and how to achieve perfection in our work. This is a must so that we do not become like Muhammad Al-Maghrabi who lost his interest and appetite when Filipino workers left his flower shop.

We have to remember that we are very much dependent on the Filipinos around us. We could die a slow death if they chose to leave us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life according to Star

I was cleaning up the children's things after lunch today when I found an essay written in an intermediate paper. It was Star's. Curious, I stopped to read it. It was a touching journal of what has been going through. Though simply written (she was 8 when she wrote it), I felt proud by how our family's "baby" look at life. She has always been a source of many lessons for us. Her child-like faith taught us to be stronger. She may not always understand what is happening around her but she doesn't worry. She knows many people pray for her, and for her, that is enough assurance that things will get better. With her permission, I am posting her article below. She also posted it in her blog. I hope other children who are going through a different childhood like Star will have the same positive outlook in life. Things will be better, that's for sure.

by Star Echavez

When I was born I didn't know anything. I just knew how to cry and eat. After six months, I went to school. I was always sick since I was born. I always went to the hospital. I didn't know what was happening around me. I didn't care. I grew up unhealthy (kind of) because I was always sick. I still get sick up to now. I always have blood tests. But I didn't know why. Now that I'm bigger I know the reason.

Last year when I was grade two, I always had nosebleed. I had to go to the school's clinic when I had nosebleed. My life wasn't easy for me -- always going to the hospital and always absent from my class was very hard, because I love going to school.

We have a great school. It has great teachers especially when I was grade two. I like Teacher Christine because she's always happy and she always makes us happy.

We didn't know me and my mom have a disease -- the "von Willebrand's disease." We have type 2M. I still didn't care. Now that I'm grade 3 I still don't care about the disease. I'm not better but I will be. Many people pray for me. Now I'm healthier but I still get sick. But this life (my life) gets better and better. THE END

Death from von Willebrand Disease

Ever since we found out that von Willebrand Disease runs in our family, we have been doing, though in our own little way, an awareness campaign to let people know what this disease is. I've been blogging and writing about our journey with von Willebrand. Everyone in our family -- my husband, children and siblings -- have been sharing it as well with people in their circles.

Because Star seems to be "normal" except for her frequent nosebleedings and lately, vomitting of blood, we really didn't find any urgency to be part of a bigger group. Until two weeks ago.

While we were waiting for our turn for Star's transfusion, I made chit-chat with others in the doctor's clinic. Most of the patients, I found out, were afflicted with leukemia. The parents -- about five of them -- knew each other. Apparently, they have a support group and they "borrowed" medicines from each other. "We have to order the medicines abroad," one mother told me. Fortunately, she said, the parent of one of her child's co-patients is an OFW so they can easily ask the parent to buy for the group.

Curiously, one lady came in the clinic without a child. Since the waiting room was just small, I engaged her as well. Do you have a patient? I asked her. Yes, she replied. He's in the ICU. Whoa! My mind started to run a list of people we could seek help from for the patient. So, the reporter in me started to ask questions. What's the child's case? How old is the child? Is she the mother? How can we help her?

It turned out that she was working for an orphanage and the boy she was caring for had von Willebrand disease. He was 4. He had been admitted to the ICU after bleeding profusely for many days. Like us, they had been looking for Koate and thankfully, because of the number given to me, we were able to find it. Unknown to me, another little soul needed Koate even more urgently than Star.

I was speechless. It was only then that Star's condition sank in. Suddenly, I felt so blessed. Silently I thanked God for the grace that He has given us, especially to Star.

Only by God's grace has Star been able to have a semblance of normalcy in her life. Despite her frequent bleeding, she still enjoys pretty much what children her age do. In fact, she's quite active. She's into ballet, Angklung, piano. She loves to trek. And hopefully, she'll learn to bike too.

My heart sank when I heard what the boy went through because of vWD. Very similar to Star, only more severely.

When it was our turn, I told Star's hematologist that I wanted to lobby with our government to have at least one government facility for bleeders in the country. In other countries, bleeders get free transfusion and other medical needs. Having a bleeder in the family is not easy. One transfusion can easily cost at least P25,000. The heavier the patient becomes, the more plasma she/he needs. Generally, it is more costly for women bleeders especially once they have their monthly periods. One mother of another vWD patient told me they spend at least P50,000 per month for her daughter's transfusion.

In a third world country like ours, health is the least priority. Sadly, there are no facilities for vWD patients here, not even in the best private hospitals. Let alone in government hospitals. Even for families of patients, maintaining a monthly transfusion can be prohibitive. One mother told me there are times they could do nothing but just pray for their daughter because they could no longer afford her transfusions.

A day after my encounter with the little boy's caregiver, Star's hematologist texted me that the little boy passed away. My heart broke. What a senseless death!

The boy's death jolted me. We cannot take this disease lightly anymore. We have to do something for all the bleeders. We cannot just focus on our daughter and go on with life not caring for other bleeders. Maybe God allowed this disease in our family so we can feel how others feel. There are many other bleeders out there. We have to help each other.