Friday, August 18, 2006

Roles & Responsabilities

I thought I had gotten used to being conspicuous here in the Philippines. People (especially kids) call out ‘Hey Joe!’ or ‘Americana!’ all the time, but it’s all friendly. I hadn’t realized how used to the way people stare until I was in a mall in Koronadal with Lieka, my SCALA partner, and she was shocked by how everyone was staring at me while I didn’t think they were staring that much.

Still, when I rode into Malaybalay on the bus and a guy on the sidewalk stopped dead, elbowed his friend in the ribs and pointed at my window, I realiazed I might be a bit more conspicuous here than in Manila. Then a couple of weeks ago some elementary-age girls from the neighbourhood stood outside the gate watching me read. They giggled for 15 minutes before asking me to buy a ticket for their school raffle. How could I pass up the chance to win a sari-sari store? (Although it’s telling that the grand prizes are a tricycle and a small store). When I came back out of the house instead of 3 girls there were 9 plus a couple of toddlers. Lots of giggling ensued.

A while later I was back inside and heard my name being called through the open window. I went out on the porche and there were 15 kids crowded around the gate and a little girl in front waving a book and pen. “Megan, Megan!” she called, “Autograph!”

Oh man.

Later that evening my host family was still teasing me for having refused (nicely, I hope) to sign an autograph. “For them it’s like a movie star is living in their neighbourhood! They’ll remember this forever!” I think they get while I don’t’ want to act like a movie star, even if that’s the case, but that doesn’t stop them from teasing me to wave like a pageant queen out of bus windows.

This is the pretty innocuous, friendly end of the spectrum. At the other end you have the Regional SCALA Focal Person announcing, as she introduced my Filipino partner Ronaldo (a trainer from Ilo-ilo) and I to the SCALA team in Malaybalay, that they are soooo lucky because they’re the last set-up to get a Canadian volunteer and future centers will have to make do with two Filipino volunteers. Then she forgot Ronaldo’s name.

Ok, so that’s an extreme example. I was talking to Nocnoc (Ronaldo’s nickname. Filipino nicknames rock! So far I’ve met several Bongs, a Nars, a Dodong and the supremely satisfying Bonky). Anyway, I was talking to Nocnoc because it was bothering me the way the host family always asks me what I’d like to do on the weekends or what I’d like to eat but don’t ask him. I figure he’s a guest here also, but he sees himself more as my host as well. And when we got on the subject of the Focal Person’s comments and the way people address their questions to me instead of him he said that now it’s part of the culture here for a lot of people to treat Westerners like that. He also said that in some ways he thinks it’s a good thing – the fact that Canadians were pushing the SCALA project probably made it more likely to be accepted. His opinion is that it’s harder for Filipinos to refuse a Westerner suggesting a project without feeling ashamed. I don’t know how true that is here, although certainly the head of the DSWD really pushes me front and center (compared to Nocnoc) when he’s trying to sell the project to the Governor or Vice-Governor.

If it is true, I don’t know that I agree with Nocnoc that it’s a good thing. On the one hand, if as Westerners we’re supporting projects that are needed and well-thought out and our involvement makes it more likely those projects are adopted, that might be a positive thing. But how well are we really able to judge that the projects we’re supporting will have a positive impact? And furthermore – I feel it’s a big responsibility to back a project knowing it’s more likely to be accepted because we’re involved rather than based on its merit. I’ve gained a better appreciation here for how resources are finite – in South Cotabato one of the trainers had been taken off her previous job as the social worker for abused women and children to become a SCALA trainer. She thought a replacement would be found for that job but it hadn’t been found yet. Does EWB’s involvement give SCALA a higher priority than it should have based on it’s merits, and if so are we able to, willing to or aware of taking on that responsibility? (It’s a bit of a moot point as EWB has moved out of doing its own projects and into supporting existing local projects, but how does that question extend to other Western development groups?)


David Kadish said...

you "went out on the porche" Megan? well, no wonder they wanted an autograph...

great post! you definitely bring up an interesting point.

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