November to June Recap

Hi hello! Yes, I’m still alive! This blog, however… just barely. Sorry! A LOT has happened in the last 7 months, but the thought of trying to eloquently synthesize it all is giving me anxiety so I’ll share pictures instead. In a nutshell, it has been busy and stressful but EXCITING (I know it always seems to be that way…). But I’ve also experienced some of my lowest lows of service and some definite summer blues, but there were several highlights sprinkled throughout to keep me going.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, as some of you may already know, I have decided to extend my service for 2 months so my new Close of Service (COS) date is November 16, 2017. September felt too soon and there’s a lot going on at site at the time that I want to be here for. Plus coming home in November gives me the holidays to look forward to. 🙂  I haven’t booked any flights yet, but I will keep you all posted details!

Some pictures!

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NOV 2016 – Vacation in Vigan City with Kat! Vigan City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the World.
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DEC 2016 to JAN 2017 – Jared visits again! He experienced Filipino Christmas celebrations and we spent NYE in beautiful Bohol with other volunteers.
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FEB 2017 – Traveled to Mindoro to help a fellow volunteer with her reading camp and visited Stairway Foundation, another child care and advocacy NGO, where some of our residents at Rehoboth came from. 
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JAN to MAR 2017 – Acquired a Small Project Assistance Grant from Peace Corps which helped build our collection of Filipino books in our library. We added 223 books and resources in a variety of genres to our library that are written in the local language or dual language. Proud to be breeding book nerds everywhere!
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ONGOING SINCE JAN 2017 – Developed my first website (almost) from scratch and made lots of videos! So many new skills learned through this process. Web development and videography is NOT EASY. HUGE thank you to my BRA for life, Nathan, for helping with troubleshooting. Check it out: http://rehobothchildrenshomeinc.ph
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APRIL 2017 – Attended the Region 3 READLANI 3-day Sports Fest
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MAY 2017 – Fulfilled a childhood dream and went to Japan!! 
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MAY 2017 – COS Conference with the best batch ever at the Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. Two years flew by!
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JUNE 2017 – Post-COS trip to our Bagac host families with my friend Emma. Our host moms are twin sisters so we spent most of our PST together. It was really special to be able to go back to visit them together. So much love for this family ❤
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JUNE 2017 – Had the opportunity to lead a team of 4 youth leaders and organize a teambuilding and leadership camp for over 70 participants from 10 agencies from across Region 3. One of my best experiences during service so far! 
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JUNE 2017 – Helped plan a half-day teambuilding retreat for our boys.
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ONGOING SINCE JUNE 2017 – In April, I submitted a grant proposal to the Peace Corps Partnership Program to repair the fishpond in our Eco-Learning Farm. We finally got the funding this month and the project is well on its way! More on this later! (They let me help for about 5 minutes before taking the shovel back >___>)

 

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Sept to Nov Recap

These past few months have been some of the most demanding, exhausting, challenging, and wonderfully rewarding months of my service so far. Balancing life at home and life here has been particularly challenging lately, especially in the aftermath of our elections at home and the start of the holiday season. I wish I had more profound thoughts to share about everything, but I’ve been having trouble putting them into words… I’ll try again another time.

Kat and I are currently on a much-needed vacation in the historic city of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage City. We are so thankful to our anniversary visitors from UK for making this trip possible for us. What a beautiful place! Will write a separate post about our trip 🙂

For now, here are some of the amazing things that I got to be a part of these last few months. Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family on all corners of the world! Sending you all hugs and love always. I have so much to be thankful for. ❤

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Sept 2016 – Was lucky enough to attend the Swearing In ceremony of Batch 275. Had the pleasure of welcoming them all during their Initial Orientation and then see them swear in as PCVs! Proud of you, Batch 275!
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Sept 2016 – Our 3rd Annual Fun Run, 35th Anniversary Edition. Over 300 runners in attendance and we met our fundraising goal of P35,000 for garden tools and a shed to store them.
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Oct 2016 – Batch 274 Mid-Servce Training. Celebrated our first year of service together; what a great first year it’s been and ready for an even better second! So much love for you all ❤
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Oct 2016 – Rehoboth celebrated its 35th anniversary with over a hundred guests from all over comprised of generations of alumni, residents, REAP students, partners, sponsors, board members, and VIP guests including one of Rehoboth’s co-founders and several sponsors from the UK. It was a very humbling experience for me as a volunteer here. What a legacy that I’m so lucky to be a part of.
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Nov 2016 – Our children performed their “Magtanim ay Di Biro” (Planting Rice is Not Easy) dance at the Region 3 Children’s Month Celebration in Pampanga.

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Nov 2016 – Became a ninang (godmother) for the first time! 🙂 A child can have many godparents in the Philippines. Honored to be one of Ayeesha’s! (She just woke up from a nap; promise I didn’t make her cry!)
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Nov 2016 – Made hand turkeys with our children and a planned a session on showing gratitude with our young people. So much to be thankful for here ❤

Birthdays

Last Friday, I celebrated my 24th birthday, my second in the Philippines and first at my site. In the Philippines, birthdays are a really big deal. Filipino birthdays almost always involve a big party – referred to here as a “blowout” or handaan (celebration). These parties will vary in grandeur, but they are usually held in the home of the celebrant and typically include videoke until the wee hours of the night and of course, lots of foods! Most common birthday foods are spaghetti, pancit, sopas (like a chicken noodle soup), buko salad, lumpia, fried chicken, and cake. Like the Chinese, Filipinos also believe that eating noodles on your birthday will give you a long life. In my experience, Filipino birthdays are celebrated on the day of the birthday regardless if it falls on a school day or workday and everybody is invited. Even families of very modest means will throw a party and invite family, friends, and neighbors to come celebrate.

I consider myself well integrated into my community and in many ways very culturally Filipino by now, but a traditional Filipino birthday party was not something I was interested in for my birthday. Not because I didn’t want to treat my community and celebrate with them, but because the social anxiety that would come with being the center of attention and entertaining for hours would have been too much for me. I never had birthday parties in the States and much more prefer a nice intimate dinner with close family and friends, which was what I decided to do this year. It made me feel a little awkward at first since birthday parties are almost expected in Filipino culture, especially if people know it’s your birthday and know you have the means to put on at least a simple party. My host mom very kindly prepared some Filipino spaghetti and sopas for merienda to fulfill Filipino birthday cultural obligations so that those Ate’s and Kuya’s who we’re friends with and knew about my birthday could come have a merienda together and take some home with them. It ended up working out very nicely because I got to chat with community friends in small groups throughout the afternoon without getting too overwhelmed and then by the evening, it was just my host family and a handful of close neighbors and friends.

This year, I’m grateful that Jared was able to visit and celebrate with me (and cook for me!). For my birthday, we decided to introduce my host family to quesadillas! Jared and I prepared an entire feast including a build-your-own quesadilla bar, garlic mashed potatoes (drool), chili cream cheese dip and chips. They loved it! Our greatest success: cooking a meal that Filipinos loved enough to go through an entire dinner WITHOUT RICE. It was a really nice evening of cultural exchange through food, family bonding, and all around good vibes.

With my Rehoboth family, we had a mini blowout the Sunday after. Jared and I made 50 servings of his delicious banana pudding recipe and brought them to Rehoboth. Kat made two cakes for the two children who also had August birthdays and the house parents made pancit. It was a really nice hour of everyone being together on the terrace and sharing yummy food.

I had a really, really nice second birthday in the Philippines. Missing my family and friends at home, but also very grateful for the ones I have here. How blessed am I to be at a site where I feel so loved and cared for? ❤ 23 was spent learning, loving, and growing in the Philippines. Looking forward to what the year of 24 will bring!

One Year Reflections: Pamilya

For the next two weeks, I will be in Cavite welcoming and helping to train the new batch of volunteers during their Initial Orientation (IO), bringing things full circle as my batch celebrates our first year in this beautiful country we get to call home. I am humbled and honored to have been chosen as one of 8 PCVs to be here as Resource Volunteers. How time FLIES – we are no longer the new batch!

The other day, a fellow PCV asked me how I feel after being here for a year. I thought for a second about how to answer and the first thing to come to mind was really how at home I feel here… and how my life and service in the Philippines has developed in such a powerfully personal way. In the Philippines, family is the most important thing in peoples’ lives; family always comes first. I am grateful to have been invited and welcomed into several families here, ones that I now truly call my own and love very much from the bottom of my heart.

As part of the IO preparations, we all went back to our old training sites to help train the new Technical and Culture Facilitators and help with host family orientation. This meant I got to go back to Bagac and visit with my first host family for the first time since I left them last September and got to meet up with some of our Tabing Ilog youth leaders. Going back to Bagac made me realize how much I’ve grown as a volunteer in the last 10 months. I felt like I was visiting as a completely new and changed person, someone who was able to connect with them better, someone who could speak to them in Tagalog now (no more nosebleeding!).  Riding in Tatay’s van again with Nanay by his side in the front seat, Ate Lara and I in the back with baby Macoy (so smart and chatty now!) nestled in between us, and wind blowing in my face was such a nostalgic, familiar feeling. Meeting with a group of youth leaders who walked 20 minutes in the rain to see me and chatting and giggling with them as if CBT was just yesterday was so heartwarming. I can’t believe I let 10 months go by before visiting. (Any Batch 274 CYFers reading this, go visit your Bagac host families ASAP!)

This week, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the various families I have in the Philippines. My host family in Bagac, my host family in Camiling, my Rehoboth family , my Peace Corps family – THANK YOU ALL for inspiring me to become the best volunteer and person I can be and for giving me the opportunity to live, learn, and love so much every day.

I’m sitting here in the oh-so familiar YBS Hall of our IIRR training site typing this post with the Theory of Everything soundtrack playing through my headphones (for all the feels!) feeling nothing but immense love and gratitude for the families and the experiences (the good and the bad) I’ve had here in the Philippines this past year.

I have no more words to describe how I feel so I will leave it at that. Happy one year anniversary to Batch 274! Also, happy 4th of July and Philippine American Friendship Day!  I can’t wait to see where the next 15 months takes us ❤

In Loving Memory

 

On Monday, May 16, 2016, Pastor Juanito “Johnny” Luzano passed away at the age of 78. He was the founder of Rehoboth Children’s Home 35 years ago along with his wife and a couple from the UK. He served as Executive Director until his daughter, our current director, took over 12 years ago. Everyone in the Rehoboth family affectionately calls Pastor Luzano “Papa” because he has been just that – a de facto father/grandfather figure to everyone that has come through Rehoboth’s doors. When I arrived, I was told that his health had been on the decline since the passing of his wife a few years earlier and a recent stroke. In my time here at Rehoboth, my interactions with Papa have been limited to greetings in passing and small talk, but I have a great deal of admiration and respect for him and for everything he’s done to make Rehoboth the incredible place that it is today. His lifework has given hope and futures to so many Filipino children. Several Rehoboth alumni attended his wake and funeral including several from the very first batch of Rehoboth residents back in 1981. It was both heartwarming and inspiring to see living proof right there in front of me of the family bond and impact that Papa and Rehoboth has had on the lives of others.

It is clear that Papa is deeply loved by both his own family and his Rehoboth family. He has made a difference in so many lives and has touched many hearts – it is there that he will continue to live on. He has left behind a legacy in Rehoboth that continues to live on through the leadership of his amazing daughter. Pastor Luzano, may you rest in peace, together with Mama again, and may the memory of you be forever. ~

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Made by a Rehoboth alum

I’ve been to two wakes prior to Papa’s, but this was the first one for someone I knew personally and in which I participated in fully. I’ve learned so much about Filipino funeral customs this past week and at the same time, about Filipino culture and values as whole. I’ve found a lot of beauty and sense in the funeral customs of the Philippines, and though it is very exhausting for family members, I think it’s a healthy way to grieve, at least in comparison to our practices in the States. Here, you have a week to sit with your deceased loved one, say your goodbyes, and grieve before he/she is buried. You are in the company of relatives, friends, and neighbors, many of whom you may not have seen for a very long time or not very often, who have come to pay their respects, share stories, and usually stay until the funeral. It’s one of many Filipinos traditions that highlight the Filipino values of family and community.

There are many different traditions and superstitions in the Philippines when it comes to funeral practices, but it all depends on where you are and who you talk to. Here are some common Filipino funeral customs I’ve learned and observed this past week (with some help from the internet):

Week-Long Wake
Filipino funeral customs involve hosting a wake prior to the funeral service that lasts for at least 5-7 days and is usually held in the home. This allows time for family and friends who live far away to travel home. For the entire week, relatives, friends, and neighbors will come to pay their respects. The open casket (with a glass covering) is placed in a spacious area in the home surrounded with candles, flowers, and pictures. Chairs are placed around the casket so people can sit, chat, and “visit” the deceased loved one. Papa was a very respected Pastor and community member and a service was held in his honor every night of the wake with a different church leading each night. Having nightly services is not practiced by all Filipinos and might be most common among the Born Again Christian community. The other wakes I’ve been to have been just socializing with family, friends, and community members. It was interesting to hear different pastors speak about God and about Pastor Luzano (even though some nights were pure Ilokano which I understood only about 10% of). And of course, there is food. At Papa’s wake, a merienda was served after the service each night, usually pancit, sopas, arroz caldo, or tambo tambong.

24-Hour Vigil
The vigil is ongoing during the wake. Someone needs to be awake and keep body company at all times because of the superstition that if left alone, an “aswang” or negative supernatural being, will steal the body and replace it with the trunk of a banana tree. Therefore, family members will take turns staying up to “guard” the body through the night and also to greet any visitors that may show up to pay their respects. . Filipinos will pass the time by playing games, watching movies, or just chatting with each other.

Giving Contributions
It is common for friends and relatives who attend the wake to give money to the family of the dead. This is viewed as a way to console and help contribute to the wake and funeral expenses.

Burning Wooden Logs
This is a tradition specific to Ilokano culture, which is mostly present in Northern Luzon and parts of Central Luzon where I am. Wood is lit and burned in front of the house throughout the wake because it is believed that the smoke assists the spirit of the dead towards heaven and also repels wicked spirits.

Funeral Service
Funerals here are referred to as “livings” (at least in my area). This morning (May 25th) was living for Papa. It started with a short service and testimonies from family and friends. Then the casket was transported to the cemetery in a parade-like fashion. The car carrying the casket leads, accompanied by a band, and then followed over a hundred family, friends, and community members on foot. We walked from Rehoboth to the cemetery in a neighboring town about 2 miles away. It is tradition to walk to the cemetery, but if the cemetery is really far, Filipinos will travel in cars or other vehicles. Once at the cemetery, we were led in prayer and the casket was opened for one last viewing before being closed and lowered into the ground. After the funeral, everyone gathered back at the house for a meal. It is tradition to perform a memorial service 9 days and 40 days after the family member’s death because the belief that the souls of the dead still wander the earth for 40 days after their death.

Elections, Standfast, and Keyhole Gardening

We just wrapped up election season in the Philippines which was a big deal because this year is a presidential election year as well. Presidents in the Philippines can only serve one term, but they are six years long. Elections in the Philippines means months of: candidates hosting campaign events in different towns,  tarpaulins with candidates faces placed ubiquitously around town, house-to-house canvassing, rise in sponsorships from and attendance of candidates at all major town events and fiestas,  jeepneys or trikes with PA systems attached driving by blasting campaign jingles advertising a candidate, campaign paraphernalia, and vote buying.  Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to be political and were discouraged from engaging in political discussions during these last few months. I won’t go too much in detail about the elections, but will instead refer you to these great posts written by other PCVs about the five presidential candidates and reviewing the results of the election if you are interested in learning more.

Instead, I want to share about my standfast period. Standfast is a 11-day period from May 4-14 (the 5 days before election day and 5 days after) where Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to travel out of site for safety and security reasons. Most PCVs work in the local government units (LGU) which are typically closed for this period so standfast for many PCVs is a very slow time. Since I work at a NGO that operates 24/7, my standfast period did not really affect my routine and I was happy to be kept busy. Some areas in the Philippines have histories of political violence and volunteers in those areas were temporarily removed for their standfast period. My batchmate, Julie, spent her standfast with me here at Rehoboth. She’s a volunteer in the Coastal Resource Management (CRM) sector and a geologist so we were really happy to have her as a resource for 10 days since our organic farm is such a big part of life at Rehoboth. My supervisor, Ate Amy, tasked us with introducing biointensive gardening to the Rehoboth farm as our main project for the period. We decided to do it through keyhole gardening which is really cool and I’m excited to share it with you all!

Biointensive gardening is a sustainable, organic agricultural system that allows for high crop productive in a small space, requires less water, builds nutrient rich soil, and is accessible to almost anyone who wants to grow food. We decided to use the Keyhole Gardening model which was introduced to us by another CRM volunteer in our batch (Thanks again, Lauren!). Keyhole Gardens are small circular gardens made of accessible materials and a “keyhole” walkway cut out for easy access to the compost basket in the middle. They were first made popular in Africa and are ideal for hot, dry climates because they hold moisture and nutrients. I’m including resources on how to build your own keyhole garden at the end of this post.

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Keyhole garden in Lesotho by Send a Cow, who first popularized keyhole gardens in Africa.

Our end goal is to be able to use our keyhole gardens as examples in order to train families in the community on how they can build productive gardens in their own homes even with just a small amount of space (2 meters in diameter is all you need!) and grow their own vegetables for consumption and even income generation if there is surplus. For many families in the Philippines, proper nutrition is inaccessible (or insufficient) because vegetables here can be very expensive. To be able to easily grow your own vegetables in your backyard would be groundbreaking. Ate Amy scheduled our first training to be with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4P’s) beneficiaries that she works with as their Family Development Session this month. That gave us one week to build three keyhole garden plots in the Rehoboth’s Eco-Learning Farm and plan a training for the 4P’s beneficiaries.

Under Julie’s direction, and with the help of staff and residents at Rehoboth, we were able to cultivate three keyhole garden plots at three different stages of completion as visuals for the 4P’s training. Most of our residents have gone home for summer vacation so there were only a few of us, but we did it despite the stifling summer heat! Here are picture of our three plots (thanks Julie for the photos):

When training day came, we had 52 4P’s beneficiaries in attendance from barangays Sta. Maria and Cabanabaan which was a really cool experience for me as a CYF volunteer. All CYF volunteers were trained to worked with 4P’s beneficiaries and most of us work with them at the LGU level. I was happy to have a chance to work with them even though I’m placed at an NGO.  We started with a modified version of the environmental education/waste segregation program we conducted with our residents before taking the group out into the garden. We handed out a flyer with translated instructions on how to build a keyhole garden so they could follow along and take home with them. The group was divided into three smaller groups and rotated between the three plots where Ate Amy, one of our residents, and I presented the steps involved in our respective plots. It was the first time I presented in Tagalog without a translator… it was painful but a good challenge.

After the training, we were able to finish the two incomplete plots before Julie left so we now have three keyhole gardens ready for planting! Will post pictures once seedlings start to appear 🙂

I don’t work in our garden much so I personally really enjoyed the opportunity to get out there and learn.  I love gardens but I don’t have much of a green thumb (RIP to every plant I’ve ever had). I’m feeling very inspired now to find little projects that I can help out with in our garden that don’t involve actually taking care of the plants themselves (for their own good, really). It was also great to have the chance to do cross-sectoral work with another PCV. Looking forward to more of those in the future!

If you have the opportunity to create a keyhole garden in your home, I highly recommend it! You can add your compostable food waste directly into the compost basket and even water with greywater (household wastewater from kitchen and washing, normally not polluted with faecal material) to conserve water.

Here are some resources that helped us: 

 

Packing for the Peace Corps

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Not my cat, but wish I could’ve brought mine.

I can’t believe that in just 2 months, my batch will have been in country for a whole year and batch 275 will be arriving (we’re all so excited for you!). Wow time flies! One of the most stressful parts about preparing for departure for me was PACKING. It helped me a lot to read the comments and different packing suggestions of current volunteers, so here’s mine for the next batch.  Knowing what I know now after nearly a year in country, here’s how I would have packed my life into two 50 lb bags if I had to do it all over again.

Disclaimer: This is from my perspective as a female volunteer in the CYF sector at a site that is inland in Central Luzon. I’m Filipino-sized so anything I need clothing-wise, I am able to find here easily. That being said, your needs will vary depending on your sector/exact job and the location of your site which you won’t know until you get here so it is impossible have perfectly packed bags so don’t stress too much packing!  Keep in mind that pretty much anything you would ever need is available in the Philippines. Use the time to spend with your family and friends instead!

Split into groups for your convenience 🙂

MUST BRINGS

Kindle
Count on having a LOT of time to read especially since Internet will not be as accessible as you’re probably used to in the States. If you’re like me and complained all through college about never having time to read for leisure, you will be one happy camper.  I usually read for about 30mins every morning over breakfast and on long bus rides (you’ll be on a ton of these). I’m on my 13th book in 10 months and it’s an awesome feeling! I have the regular Kindle and I love it, but if you’re willing to spend the extra money, I recommend the Paperwhite for the backlight, especially if you like to read before bed.

External Hard Drive
Along the same lines as the Kindle, you will have a lot of time for movies and TV shows and your fellow volunteers will have plenty to share and go around. I usually binge watch TV before bed because most days I’m too tired to do anything else. I have a 750GB hard drive, but it’s quickly filling up. Go for at least 1TB if you can afford it. You will go home with an impressive collection of entertainment.

Laptop
I had bought a new Macbook Pro a few months before departure because my old laptop battery was as good as dead, but I debated forever about whether or not to bring it or trade it for my brother’s old netbook due to horror stories about electronics dying in the humidity. 10 months later, my laptop is still in good condition and I’m so glad I brought it because I use it everyday at work and at home. Just make sure you take good care of it! I recommend this keyboard cover to keep creepy crawlies out and this dry-bag case to fight against humidity.

DivaCup
Periods are sucky. Periods in a country with that is hot and humid most of the year with essentially no waste disposal system (the solution to trash at my site is burning) is even suckier. I never used a menstrual cup until preparing to leave for the Philippines, but now I’m never going back. It’s eco-friendly and when you’re wearing it, it’s like you’re not on your period at all. While the DivaCup is the most popular and has worked really well for me, I know it’s not for everyone and there are several other menstrual cup options out there. Here’s a review of the 10 Best Menstural Cups to get you started on finding the best option for you. I also recommend New Moon Pads cloth panty liners (or make your own!) to wear with your menstrual cup in case of leaking and for your lighter days or if you prefer to go the cloth pads route. Tampons are really hard to find in country so if you insist on tampons, stock up!

Waterproof Digital Watch
I never wore watches in the States, but now I can’t leave the house without it. I got a cheap Casio one off Amazon for under $20 and it’s so so useful and convenient to not have to dig for your phone to know the time.

Croc Flats
You may have heard that Chacos are the must-have shoe for all PCVs (I have a pair too but rarely wear them), but my Croc flats are really the best pair of shoes I have in country. I never would have considered buying a pair of Crocs before Peace Corps, but now I wear them almost everyday with any outfit. They’re comfortable, durable, and most importantly, waterproof. I have the Kadee Flat which was the cheapest ($32) and best option for me. I also brought a pair of Old Navy flip flops or tsinelas (what people here wear 99% of the time), Chacos, and running shoes.

Flashlight
Brownouts happen often and randomly. The shortest one I’ve experienced was a couple minutes long and the longest was 3 days so it’s good to have a good, reliable flashlight. I have the UCO Clarus LED Lanter/Flashlight which has been really great so far – 10 months and countless brownouts later, it’s still running on the same set of batteries I put in before I left. I do wish I had brought a solar powered light so I didn’t have to worry about batteries. I’ll probably have one sent to me. Some good ones to consider are the WakaWaka Light and the Luci Light.

Bluetooth Portable Speakers
I have this Sharkk brand speaker which apparently is no longer available, but there are plenty of similar ones out there for under $30. I use it all the time for my personal entertainment, for watching movies with my host family, or for any programs I’m running where a sound system isn’t available.

Travel Backpack
In addition to two suitcases (one large, one small), I also brought a travel backpack. I have the Eagle Creek Gear Hauler and I love it. Many volunteers brought hiking backpacks, but the Gear Hauler is the perfect size for me and is great for short term travel. Eagle Creek also gives a very generous 50% discount to Peace Corps Volunteers.

Self Care/Comfort Items
By this I mean something special to you (but not so special that you would worry about losing it) that will help you get through the times you are feeling homesick. For me this was a small photo album (also great for showing your host families), half a suitcase of my favorite snacks from home, art supplies, journal, a pack of my favorite pens (I’m picky), and letters and cards from loved ones. One thing I wish I brought was my teddy bear, but I left him at home because I was worried he would be chewed up by ants and other bugs… he would have been fine. Bring your cuddly friend if you have one.

Reusable Water Bottle 
You will drink more water than you ever have in your life. I have a 32oz Nalgene and try to drink a MINIMUM of 2-3 refills a day. You can also buy a reusable bottle in country.

2 Pairs of Headphones
Mostly for calling friends and family back home or listening to music while you work in the office. Chances are that your only source of internet will be at the office, a computer shop, or coffee shop which mean no privacy. They sell headphones in country but the affordable ones are very basic in quality.

Contacts/Contact Solution
If you wear contacts that are not dailies, bring as much contact solution as you can or be prepared to have it sent to you, especially if you like a particular brand. At my site there is only one brand of contact solution available and it’s one I’ve never heard of before. I recommend Clear Care for a deep clean and get it in bulk from Costco because you’ll go through it quickly. Peace Corps doesn’t recommend contacts, but it’s so hot here that glasses can get really uncomfortable, especially during the summer months. I wear both glasses and contacts. I brought a year and a half work of biweeklies, 3 months worth of dailies, and two pairs of glasses.

Pasalubong
Pasalubong is the Filipino custom of bringing something back to your loved ones whenever you travel, whether internationally or locally. Similar to souvenirs in the States. You are expected to bring pasalubong for your two host families, but they don’t have to be expensive things. They should be things that show where you come from or something personal to you. I’m from the California San Francisco/Bay Area, so I brought Ghirardelli chocolates (although by the time they got to my second host family, they were semi-crushed/melted). I also brought postcards, instant Folgers coffee, bags of M&Ms, and coloring books/crayons for children. You can also buy things in country. There are several American products available in the Philippines but are very expensive for the average Filipino (and PCV for that matter!).

THINGS I’M GLAD I BROUGHT BUT COULD LIVE WITHOUT

Manduka eKO SuperLite Travel Yoga Mat
This was a splurge on my part even after the discount promo I used. Most volunteers have a regular roll-up yoga mat (they’re also available here), but the portability and grip of this mat has proven to be worth it so far both for yoga and for napping/sitting on the floor.

Mac VGA adaptor
For MacBook users. I’m lucky that I have access to a projector at my NGO and we use it for most programs and events. I had my boyfriend bring this to me when he visited in January. It’s been really useful and convenient to be able to give presentations in meetings and programs directly from my own computer instead of having to switch and forth between laptops.

Scrubba
This was another last minute splurge of a purchase. I hand wash my laundry every week, but my Scrubba has been great for doing small loads in between so my load is not quite so daunting when laundry day comes around. I also wash all my panties and bras in my Scrubba and hang them up to dry in my bathroom so I don’t have to hang them outside for everyone to see.

External Battery
I have a Voltaic Systems battery and it was a lifesaver during the 3-day brownout we had from Typhoon Lando. That was the only time I’ve needed to use it, but it’s comforting to know it’s there in case of an emergency. Good ones are pricey, but Voltaic gives discounts to Peace Corps Volunteers.

Pocketknife/Multitool 
One of my best friends who is serving as a PCV in Uganda got me this Gerber Gear Multitool for Christmas before my departure. I don’t use it very often, but it has come in handy a few times and I’m definitely glad I have it. I will probably use it more in the future when I do more traveling.

THINGS I WISH I LEFT AT HOME

Bike helmet, lock, and lights
This is site-specific. I had planned on biking in country and brought these from the States for quality purposes, but I live a 5 minute walk from work and there’s not really anywhere for me to bike to at my site so getting a bike wasn’t practical. (That being said, if anyone wants to buy my brand new, never used bike helmet and lock so you don’t have to lug your own over here, I’ll get it to you somehow at PST and will throw in the lights for free.)

Tagalog book
I brought one medium-sized Tagalog book with me thinking I would study on the plane, but I didn’t and I’ve used it only once since. Peace Corps will give you TONS of language study materials so leave yours at home. I do recommend, however, the Lonely Planet Filipino (Tagalog) Phrasebook and downloading the Quizlet app on your phone/tablet for more lightweight studying. A side note on language: study at home if you’re really interested and have time, but if you don’t, DON’T STRESS ABOUT IT because PC Philippines has an amazing language training program during PST.

Extra floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and toiletries in general
I pretty much brought a 2-year supply of everything because I didn’t listen when I was told that they have everything in country. THEY HAVE EVERYTHING HERE. Bring a 2-3 month supply to get you through PST and just buy the rest before you leave Manila or when you get to site.

Moneybelt
I have never used mine and I actually wouldn’t recommend it because it makes you look even more like a tourist. Just be smart about where and how you carry your money: carry only what you need, never put your wallet in your back pocket, keep your bags/purses in front when walking in a crowded area, and divide up your money in different places.

Voltage Convertor
Electricity in the Philippines is 220V, but most laptop and phone chargers nowadays will convert automatically. Check the details on your chargers and electronics to make sure before you buy a voltage convertor (they’re HEAVY). The only reason I bought one was because I brought my hair straightener, which I use as a curling iron, but I’ve only used it once for our Swearing In Ceremony. I wish I left both at home because honestly, your standards for how you look will go way, way down. It’s hard to care when you’re hot and sweaty 99% of the time.

TIPS ON CLOTHING

Clothing customs will vary from site to site, but generally speaking, err on the conservative side even though it is hot 95% of the time. Even though there are women at my site who wear tank tops and short shorts, I never do because 1) I don’t want to draw any extra attention to myself and 2) I work at a Christian children’s institution. That being said, think public high school dress code when packing clothes.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Bring your old clothes or buy from thrift stores knowing that they will likely get stretched out and ruined here from  hand washing. You will sweat through everything and can’t really get away with wearing anything more than once before washing it so don’t bother buying too much new clothes.
  • Jeans are considered dressy and formal here. People wear long pants/jeans to work despite the heat. Trust me, you will get used to it also. Nice, real, jeans are too thick and will be way too hot. My best pair of jeans are actually a thin boyfriend-fit pair I bought from Target years ago. Jeggings are great if they’re not too thick or tight. Go for more loose fitting pants.
  • Shorts should be at least mid thigh, but the longer the better. I generally hate bermudas, but they’re a good frame of reference length-wise and if you look hard enough you can find a flattering pair.
  • Wicking material shirts are great but can also be very expensive so don’t go out spending a fortune on them just for this. I found a couple for under $15 at Ross and Marshalls but the rest of my shirts are just plain lightweight cotton shirts. Honestly, wicking material or not, you will sweat through them anyway.
  • Cropped yoga pants are great. In CYF, you can get away with wearing yoga pants or leggings with a Peace Corps polo or nice shirt. Yoga pants are slightly better than regular leggings because the material of leggings can get really hot. I only brought one pair of black yoga pants and wish I brought a couple more.
  • Knee-length skirts and dresses are nice and cool, but I don’t wear them very often because at my site because they are considered super formal and usually worn only for church. Long skirts/maxi dresses aren’t much better than pants as they do trap heat.
  • Bring lots of bras and underwear. I’m particular about the comfort of my bras and underwear so it’s nice to have enough that I won’t have to worry about having shop for more in country. It is almost inevitable that your underwear will get ruined from all the handwashing.
  • Rain jacket for rainy season. I admit I haven’t actually worn mine yet, but mostly because it’s a bit bulky. I recommend one of those lightweight ones that can fold up really small in your bag. It’s still hot during rainy season so the more light and breathable the better.
  • Something dressy for your Swearing In Ceremony at the U.S. Embassy. You will have the chance to buy traditional dress, but in the event that you don’t find anything that suits you or in your price range (like me), you will having something to wear. Bring something classy and modest though, as it is at the Embassy. I brought a quarter sleeve, knee-length A-line dress.
  • Clothing is largely available here so don’t worry too much. If you’re above-average in height and shoe size, I would bring extra pants and shoes as those would be harder to find. Ukay-ukays, the local thrift stores, are also plentiful and great for finding gems imported from abroad at low, low prices.

Good luck, Batch 275! We can’t wait to meet you! 🙂