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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - San Pedro, Laguna, Philippines

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San Pedro, Laguna, Philippines
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Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: Pittsburgh
Posts: 1
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In May of this year, I along with twenty other engineering students and three trip advisors traveled to San Pedro, Laguna in the Philippines as leaders and representatives of Carnegie Mellon University. For our two-week stay, we rebuilt homes in the wake of the 40+ typhoons that hit the country in 2009. The typhoons left poverty stricken neighborhoods over six feet under water, mercilessly tearing the homes and hopes of thousands to the ground. We also taught engineering skills to youth. This was a critical aspect of the trip as young people are the future. Investing in their lives will help to ensure a verdant and prosperous future for the Philippines.

The Philippines branded my mind with a searing memory of calamity. I’m left with memories of life stolen from beautiful people and of splendor stolen from a beautiful land. Environmental degradation from human greed and negligence is wreaking havoc on the lush landscape and its inhabitants. This trip I took this past summer left me with a burning desire to do something to bring back that beauty. I want to use the tools I have and will pick up from studying engineering to build a beautiful world. It is becoming clearer and clearer to humanity that earth’s natural brilliance must be preserved to support life. Man’s ingenuity in rapid industrialization and leaps and bounds in technology have had adverse effects on the planet in the process of bringing; and it is ingenuity that will restore the planet’s ability to sustain us.

When my Dynamics professor approached me with the opportunity to travel to the Philippines to make a difference, I jumped at the opportunity. We made the 14-hour trip to a land that was completely new for the majority of us. What made the trip unique was that we the students were the leaders of the work. Advisors were there as chaperons for legal reasons and to aid in the logistics such as dispensing funds for materials. All the students made monetary contributions so that we could purchase the necessary materials.

Our trip embodied sustainability in a comprehensive sense. “Sustainability” means more than just caring for the environment. Not only is it how we treat trees, streams, and the air. Living sustainably in our world is interacting with nature as well as people and cultures in a manner that sustains the uniqueness of the people and environment that make up our world. As a result, my trip to the Philippines in May of this year was a trip to promote sustainability. We were sustainable in our use of building materials, in our house design, our environmental remediation, and our relationship with the Filipino people.

We did our work through a local church. The church served as our base where we ate, debriefed, and the girls slept. The boys stayed at a nearby motel. Each day, the students split into two groups. One would go into a neighborhood to rebuild homes and the other group would go into another community to work with children. The construction team worked with volunteer carpenters to build the homes. A typical site was full of toxic-looking refuse and wood shards from the collapsed home. The first work of order was to clear the site as much as possible. The lack of a proper drainage system in the area limited the extent to which liquid waste could be removed. We, however, did the best that we could to remove all that we could. Having cleared an area, we were ready to begin building. All of us were astonished at the type of houses we would be building. The surrounding homes had no resemblance to anything one would find here in the states. They typical home was about 10’ x 10’and was raised about five feet of the ground on 6” x 6” beams to protect the home from the floods. Coconut wood made up the majority of the bracing and structural support because it was a native wood, inexpensive, and strong. More expensive pine plywood was used for flooring and walls. A family of five or more would live in one of these homes.

We toiled in the blistering heat each day from 9 am to 12 pm. We then would return to the church base for a lunch break and come back to build from 1:30 pm till 5 pm. The over 100°F weather drained us and left us drenched in sweat to the point that some of the boys would sometimes take of their shirts and wring out at least a cup of water. Working with the local carpenter made the work run smoothly. He guided us in making the house according to the style that the Filipino people of this income level were used to. We wished we could have built a house like one here in the states, however, that is not always what is desired by the family. An important part of a relief effort like this is working with the people who have been affected. Our rebuilding effort was a collaborative process with the local carpenter and the family to provide what. In the end everyone was very grateful for the new home and the new hope.

A typical day with the youth involved working with 40 – 100 kids ranging from 8 – 15 years of age. We taught them how to make spaghetti bridges and mouse trap cars. The spaghetti bridges taught them about the concept of trusses. By building bridges out of the spaghetti were able to teach the children that a weak material could be made strong with a triangular truss system. The mouse trap cars taught the children about kinetic and potential energy. We used mouse traps as the energy source for the cars. The wheels were made from CD’s and the rest of the car was made from common materials such as wood blocks, straws, and shish kabob skewers. Many of the children came poorly dressed, clearly from families that had nothing. Seeing the sparkle in the children’s eyes was priceless. Our hope was that this small activity would spark an interest in the field of science and technology.

I left the Philippines with a passion for the environment and people. One of my primary interests is in developing sustainable technologies and infrastructure in developing nations. Our profit-driven society demands the siphoning of resources from third-world nations. In the process, untamed, diverse jungles are razed and replaced with uniform coffee, palm, and banana tree plantations. Mountains are leveled for coal and toxic defect-causing chemicals are released into the environment as e-waste is burned by poverty-stricken workers in search of precious metals. Places like Ghana, the Philippines, and many other developing nations have resources that can be enjoyed sustainably and should make the countries wealthy. But the truth is that a few at the top enjoy the profits from the destruction of the planet. My Ghanaian heritage and passion for people and the environment will not let me rest on my haunches as the countries’ wild beauty is burned to the ground.
Date: December 31, 2010 Views: 6951 File size: 18.2kb, 105.1kb : 478 x 719
Hours Volunteered: 1008
Volunteers: 20
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 to 21
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