As a travel blogger, I usually get invitations to talk or write about my adventures and experiences. I once had the privilege of speaking in front of a hundred people about the risks and rewards of traveling alone as a female and I also gave viewers of a popular TV network the ultimate secret to scoring the cheapest airfare online.
But the assignment I recently received was different; something that didn’t involve airlines, hostels and backpacks. It was an invitation from the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism, and the agenda was for me to fly to the province of Iloilo to document one of their activities under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, however, there was, admittedly, a bit of uncertainty. After all, this is the Philippine government, and like most government institutions around the world, it has its fair share of hullabaloos and all that jazz.
So, for someone who’s used to blogging about drug parties in Vang Vieng or getting chased by a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, the assignment was quite challenging, to say the least, and to blog about it seemed even more daunting.
But I remembered my late father telling me years ago that “nothing is more fulfilling in life than public service,” so I thought, why not lend a hand and just see what happens? I accepted the opportunity and arrived in Iloilo City on a Sunday morning, bereft of sleep but too invigorated to withdraw.
My first task was to get acquainted with the CSR program. I found out that the initiative started in 2015 to promulgate the word “fun” in the tourism slogan, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, as something more than just a showcase of immaculate beaches and dancing flight attendants. TPB wanted to work with local communities to ensure that each Philippine tourism destination becomes a sustainable one.
Aptly themed, “Fun Goes Green”, the project has already reached areas like Banaue and Laguna where volunteers offered their time and skills to complete a number of green projects. The next stop was Iloilo where TPB members were slated to give lessons on biodiversity conservation with the help of Central Philippine University (CPU) students and environmental organization, Haribon.
During the first day of orientation, I listened intently to the exchanges between the TPB volunteers and the representatives of Haribon and CPU, hoping to catch a good angle of what I’m supposed to write for my blog. Nothing came up except for one question: what drove these TPB volunteers to go the extra mile as public servants?
It’s quite a huge task to talk about environmental responsibility to students, but it’s even a greater challenge when you know that you have tons of other problems (and paperwork?) to sort and iron out as a government employee.
So, seeing the TPB volunteers in that meeting room made me think that they must have said yes to the obligation for a good reason. And luckily, that reason unveiled itself in the following days as I observed them imparting lessons and learnings at Leganes National High School and Leonora S. Salapantan National High School.
As I went from classroom to classroom, taking notes and capturing priceless moments between teacher and student, I can only describe everything that transpired in the simplest way I know, but in true Rica’s Rucksack fashion: the TPB volunteers worked their butts off and they fucking took it seriously.
And this hard work reflected on the students’ reactions because not even the oppressive heat stopped them from raising their hands and voicing out their personal commitments for a greener future.
“I learned a lot,” said one of the students who showed me her commitment note that highlighted the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. “And the class was so fun,” she added.
For Diana Rosima, TPB’s Human Resource Management Officer 1, saying yes to this endeavor stems from her experience as a trainer. “Most schools hardly emphasize the value of biodiversity, so I feel honored to be a part of this,” she said. “And it reminds me to be more eco-conscious.”
TPB’s marketing specialist Carmela Febrio also found teaching students a good way to easily spread environmental issues and solutions because, to quote her, “these kids are the future.”
And for project officer, Janelle Borromeo, not only was she driven by passion to help others, but she summed up what I believe the rest of her teammates felt during the entire outreach. “Raising awareness creates a lasting impact. It’s fulfilling.”
Bill Bryson in his book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, wrote, “If you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job. But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is.”
Truly no one or nothing is more capable than us humans, the imperfect, obtuse and stubborn us, to heed the cries of the wild. Though it remains a gargantuan task compounded by clueless beings on the other side of the ocean who continuously deny the palpable effects of a melting earth, things can change as long as one is brave enough to make the first move.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be about stopping illegal loggers in their tracks or heading to the remotest corners of the country to plant the seed of life (though these acts are strongly recommended if one has access). It can be as simple as spending a day or two to teach the future generation, as what the TPB members did.
As Lounelle Godinez of Haribon remarked, “education is a vital part of biodiversity conservation because when one talks about the environment, those listening can conceive better and even more creative ideas and projects to save it.”
TPBs next project will see its volunteers head north of the country to further the cause of sustainable tourism. I guess there’s no stopping these folks from going the extra mile. And I’m glad to say that’s it’s all in the name of true public service.