PLUS Project, 2005

Philippines � Learning, Understanding, and Service

 

The inaugural trip of the PLUS Project was a great success.Five students, Neneth, Jeff Jr. and I all traveled to the Philippines in May for two weeks.The program included educational, service, and recreational components, all oriented around cultural immersion in a country that the students knew almost nothing about six months before.

 

The program began with an academic course on Philippine history, culture, religion, language, and cuisine during the spring semester.In addition to writing a couple papers and passing a few tests, they read the Philippine novel � Noli Me Tangere, by Filipino national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.However, it is one thing to read about life in the Philippines, but quite another to understand it when one jumps into the culture with both feet.

 

On May 18, after a somewhat lengthy trip to the other side of the world, students were quickly thrown into life in the Philippines.Traveling around town the way the locals do, on foot and in tricycles, we spent time looking around in the market, visiting churches, eating in people�s homes, singing karaoke, and enjoying a good old-fashioned cockfight.Students stayed in the homes of various hosts where they experienced and participated in Filipino life directly.There were also lectures, trips to museums, shopping, and a tour of the island fortress of Corregidor.

 

While fun and games were part of the trip, there was work to be done.Our group did the grunt-work in creating a new bathroom for the laborers at a sugarcane plantation.In an area with no running water, that means digging a big hole.A 4�X4�X8� poso negro takes a while to dig in Filipino dirt under the Filipino sun.And there�s always the question of what to do with the dirt that is no longer in the hole.On the third day, the hole was complete and construction could begin.A cement floor and walls needed to be constructed next.Fortunately, Malcolm�s masonry skills � forged in the Nicaraguan heat on the SU-CASA program � came in handy.The steel roof was put in place after our departure.However, with the rainy season beginning as we left, it was gratifying to know that our friends at the plantation would have a clean, dry, private place to use during the coming months of rain, rain, rain.

 

 

We also learned how to weave the leaves on coconut branches into roofing material, and so we made our own modest contributions in that department as well.

 

 

A contractor was hired to dig a well.Previously, the people with whom we spent most of our time needed to walk about 300 meters to the nearest well.All water � for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes, etc. � had to be carried by hand.Our young, strong Susquehanna men thought it would be helpful to fetch some water before the well was completed.I guarantee we will never forget the feeling of laboring under a stick with two 5-gallon buckets filled with water on each end.The sight of Justin and Anthony, stumbling down the path, spilling water as they did their best is only superseded in my mind by the sight of the teenage girl who relieved them after several yards and quickly carried the water down the path without spilling a drop.The look on all of our faces must have been priceless.

 

 

In addition to the work above, we brought with us roughly 400 pounds of clothing, much of it donated by the good folks at Zion Lutheran Church, Sunbury, PA.There were also toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, detergent, stuffed animals, vitamins, Band-Aids, and other items to distribute.Some of this was carried out by us personally, while much was also given to Father Angelito Pusikit (known by the locals as �Father Angel�) who was able to distribute it to the poor with whom he works.

 

 

There were also children � 16 of them � who need medical attention but could not afford to go for care.Neneth took them all one day.(If that sounds a bit un-manageable, you have never met Filipino children.)Many had rashes, often from playing in the midst of the sugarcane plants.Others had more serious skin ailments.One child, who had been sick for two months, was diagnosed with pneumonia.Another boy had cut his finger weeks earlier with a knife.While the cut itself was not too bad, the infection that had developed was.He and the others were treated and received antibiotics and other medication.We left behind our First-Aid kit (Thank you April Black), which included antibiotic ointment, in the hope that early treatment next time might cut down on infections later.

 

 

And then there was the rice.Lots of it!Here again, we strong American men were given a lesson in humility.Each bag is 50 kilograms, about 110 pounds.After Anthony and I struggled to carry one bag, together, about 100 meters, we had to watch teenage boys put a single bag on their head and walk home.In all, we distributed roughly 3500 pounds of this all-important staple to various Filipino families.(For those of you keeping score, in the four years that Neneth and I have been doing these projects, that equals roughly 14,000 pounds of the white stuff.)

 

 

There were other items to buy and/or distribute as well.Clothing and food are the most common, but there are others, as mentioned above.There were also a few people who received a small �grant� to start a new business.

 

 

In the end, this was most definitely the most productive year we have had doing poverty-relief in the Philippines.The students, without exception, worked hard and gave of themselves in a way that made me proud.They exemplify what is best in Susquehanna students.Our university�s Mission Statement reads, �Susquehanna University educates undergraduate students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse and interconnected world.�I believe they model those qualities quite well.

 

 

And of course, we would be able to do very little if it were not for the generosity of so many of you.The financial gifts that our families and friends have given over the years to enable us to carry out this work are deeply appreciated.The number of people�s lives who are touched by such generosity has been in the hundreds.They are not able to thank you directly, but they do extend their gratitude.On their behalf, Neneth and I extend our most heartfelt thanks.

 

 

 

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