Stories of change come from many sources; sometimes even from the person gathering the stories.

From 1966 to 1968, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria and Tanzania. I have had itchy feet to travel ever since but I have never liked to be identified as a tourist.  So after retiring as a Nurse Practitioner in Women’s Health for 35 years, I looked for alternative ways to explore places, people and cultures.  In 2005, I took my first short-term assignment with the US Peace Corps because I believe in its core values. The Philippines would become my sixth assignment.

After volunteering for Katrina relief efforts in 2005,   I read several books on foreign aid and disaster relief that made me question the way  aid was being provided. And more so, it has made me think that I might be  part of the problem rather than  contributing to the solution. I was beginning to wonder if I should just stay home or, probably, just become a tourist.

The answer came when an opportunity in the US Peace Corps Response Program opened to be a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer assigned to Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines. Here was a chance to be a witness of the community-driven development process that can uplift the lives of poor communities in the Philippines. Intrigued, I took the challenge, applied for the post, and luckily got it.

My first assignment was to travel to barangays (or villages) in Negros Oriental in Central Visayas to meet with community leaders and volunteers who took part in choosing and building their own sub-projects. These SPs fall under the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan (Lingking Arms Against Poverty) – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (or KALAHI-CIDSS) Project, one of three poverty-reduction projects in the Philippines being supported by Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  With an interpreter, I listened to stories of empowerment, learned skills, and improvement in the lives of the community members. The enthusiasm on their faces and gestures needed no translation. They had been hooked on the experience and, at that moment, so was I. They had owned the improvement by being part of it.

In Barangay Baslay, Dauin, I was part of a group that visited a footbridge built on top of a deep gorge almost 17 storeys high. There, I met Filomina, a one of the women volunteers who contributed labor for the completion of the bridge construction.   She told me that before the construction of the footbridge, their children had to cross the gorge below and walk several miles to reach their school at the other side of the mountain. On rainy days, , the gorge would get flooded and  crossing it becomes treacherous. With the new footbridge, their children have a safer way to go to school.

In Barangay Nagbinlod in the municipality of Sta Catalina, water was not a common commodity.  Residents told me stories of not-so-long ago when their kids smelled like dried fish because there was no water to use to take a bath. But not anymore! Through KALAHI-CIDSS and the spirit of volunteerism, they were able to construct a water system that drew water from a source  15 kilometers away straight to  22 new tap stands built within the barangay. Now, not only can their kids bathe as much as they want, water has also helped improve the lives of the barangay folks. It has provided additional livelihood opportunities, improved health conditions especially of children, and enhanced cleanliness and sanitation within and around the barangay.

There are more and different stories of people and their journey to community development. As people build farm-to-market roads or simple pathways or footpaths, or school buildings or day care centers, or health stations or halfway houses for battered women, or solar dryers or rainwater collectors, the residents have their own stories to tell. Whether as a volunteer or a beneficiary, each has a story to share.

I am both humbled and proud to be travelling the roads, bumpy as they may be, to meet with community leaders and volunteers who devote their time and skills in helping build their own communities. I hope to share more stories about them through this blog. I hope their stories will serve as an inspiration to many of us who aspire to make changes in our communities and in the lives of people around us.