Exploring Bicol!

Today we had an unbelievably busy (but rewarding) day! We woke up super early to go to Kawa Kawa Hills for “tree planting”. (Note the air quotes). At first, I thought it seemed like the entire school had turned out. There were so many students, I could hardly remember them all. I must have met most of the teachers at Bicol Regional Science High School that day!  I later learned that everyone there was a volunteer. Some students came because their teachers offered service credit, but most came because their teachers said it would be a good way to help the environment and improve their community. The teachers that came received “service hours” as well, and could use this day in place of a sick day or a day off and still receive pay.  The city councilors and even the mayor came to plant trees in this natural area. I was especially impressed that everyone got down and dirty on the hill. They climbed down a steep slope with the rest of the kids and ripped up plants with their bare hands. they dug holes with everyone else and planted the trees. They didn’t do the the ceremonial “first shovel” or “first planting” and then spend the rest of the day schmoozing or politicking.  They were there to work, and their actions would speak louder than their words ever could.  I could see why these people were so well-respected by their constituents: they loved their community and were willing to work hard for it.

Finally, after about 10 photo-ops (most of them impromptu) with teachers and kids, we finally got to the planting site. I had expected a flat area, maybe a gradual slope because kids were working. HAH! This was a steep side of the hill that was covered in grass, and what looked like keawe and eucalyptus. The students were planting native trees in pre-dug holes while others were ripping up grass and weeds and others were watering. There was a single rope to act as a guide between a treeless stretch of grass. That was the only support and protection (oh and everyone said to be careful). It was quite entertaining to see so many people laughing and playing and teasing each other as they sipped and skidded and inched along the side of a hill to plant trees!

After, we rode ATVs down a shall streams and up to a lava wall on the slopes of Mt Mayon. The wall is a natural outcrop of rock that stopped the lava flow from the eruption in 2009. It was so much fun! Before, I’ve only seen the ecological damage ATVs cause (erosion of top soil, etc) so avoided them. But this trail wasn’t degraded at all! It was well-traveled, and clearly well-marked. You could tell the people who ran the tour company were serious about what they did, and weren’t just trying to grab a quick buck.

When we were done with ATVs, we drovedown to the Cagsawa Ruins. It’s an old church built in the late 1500s (and rebuilt in the 1700s after a fire) that has withstood storms, wars, and volcanic eruptions. Only the belfry and parts of the outer walls remain intact. The rest has been lost to the environment and time. There, amidst the ruins, we learned of a legend: Mayon had erupted, destroying much of the town and killing over two thousand people. The Franciscan monks in the church sold everything of value inside to feed and provide for the village. Even if it’s not true, it’s an amazing story, and one we can learn from. Those who have should help those who don’t. We should work together and build each other up, not strive to keep some down so we can step farther ahead. I try to teach this value in my class, as I talk with students and group them together for different assignments. I want them to focus on building and supporting each other, not their own personal accomplishments. I believe this is the way to creating a healthier and more stable and productive society where everyone works together and succeeds as much as they can.

When I go back to my classroom this fall, I will look for more ways to reinforce this value in my students. In each project that I do, I’ll look at how they’re grouped, and if the group and task are designed to support cooperation and team-building, or not. Then, I’ll make changes

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