IT was around 7 a.m. and the sun was already blazing above our heads.
We were en route to Burdeos, a municipality in the Polilio Group of Islands. Our purpose was to conduct Participatory Resource Assessment (PRA) workshops in three villages within the vicinity.
This aimed to assist villagers in developing methods of identifying and assessing their natural coastal resources. This was part of the initial steps of an Integrated Coastal Resource Management Plan to be carried out by Haribon Foundation in coordination with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) EDGE Project and the local government.
Traveling to the sites was not an easy endeavor. We had to brave the Pacific swells, wait several hours on dirt roads in the heat and humidity, and swerve in narrow, muddy tracks under pouring rain.
Living in the villages was not something we “city-folks” would normally be accustomed to either. There weren’t any electricity, mobile phones and the World Wide Web, luxuries that we often take for granted. To top this up, village headlines included news of decapitated heads and rumors of a minority of misfits poisoning people’s foods for leisure.
As un-idyllic as these experiences may sound and considering it was my first time in the field . . . it was great. It was an adventure. Every experience I had was an opportunity to appreciate the untapped attraction of Polilio Island, the beauty of its natural surroundings, as well as the beauty of its people.
Not having electricity and communication with the outside world encouraged us to integrate more with the locals, to listen to their stories, to taste their local delicacies and to simply slow down, relax and live the village life if only for a few days. This experience also allowed us to gain deeper understanding regarding the lifestyle and social concerns of the people that in turn assisted us in conducting more effective workshops.
The lengthy travels and frequently being stranded also allowed us to notice and experience the surrounding wild life, from the lush canopy of towering trees, the various squawks and chirps of exotic birds to saving a dehydrated baby snake crossing the road.
Traveling in the narrow, muddy beaten dirt track even gave me the opportunity to have enormous fruit bats fly above my head and to see the mighty Pacific waves bash against the rocks on the nearby reef. Waiting for hours for the tide to rise to be able to pass the “Talusan” or mangrove passage was also worth it, as the long system of diverse mangrove forest was both bewildering and enchanting to behold.
It is a fact that not many participants attended all the workshops held.
Nevertheless, those who did were very keen on understanding the goals of our workshops and what Haribon Foundation’s EDGE Project aims to achieve in the long run.
During this experience, I came to believe that like us at Haribon, the participants are aware of the significance of their natural resources and are willing to take action to protect it for the sake of their society, livelihood and future as well as for the sake of conserving its beauty.