Four things I learnt from travel to the Philippines

I am fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the top tourist spots in the Philippines: I’ve climbed Taal volcano, gazed in wonder at the Chocolate Hills, floated on the green Loboc River, rafted down the rapids of Pagsanjan River, swum from a sand bar into a warm turquoise sea and looked in awe on Mount Mayon. I discovered a country of real beauty, of dreamy beaches and dramatic mountains. But my time spent in the Philippines is much more than memories filed away in dusty photo albums. I may be thousands of miles away but the Philippines is part of my here and now. It shaped who I am today. So I’ve tried to distill it down to why it had such an impact, this is what I came up with:

The Chocolate Hills, Bohol

  1. Smile

Whilst visiting the Philippines for the first time, I was often asked “What will you take back from the Philippines?” It sounds a bit silly but my answer was always “the smiles”. As part of an exchange visit organised by Rotary Clubs in Laguna and Bicol, we visited lots of schools and community-based projects. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with beautiful smiles.

The smiles are still with me, though sometimes, I do have to remind myself to smile more.

Filipino kids smiling and laughing

  1. Biodiversity is truly diverse

The wildlife in the Philippines astounds me. I’ve been lucky enough to see wide-eyed tarsiers and swim with wide-mouthed whale sharks, but there is so much more. Although most of it I will never see, it is fascinating to discover that there are unique species of mice found on single mountain tops and to see how bleeding-heart doves have have evolved to have different plumage on different islands.

It’s also simple things that really made me stop and think: the funky centipedes, colourful beetles and the ridiculous number butterflies – I was amazed to see twenty-two different species of butterfly on one short walk!

I have worked in wildlife conservation all my working life, I know what biodiversity means but only in the Philippines did I truly witness it.

Philippine tarsier

  1. The power of community spirit

Children danced for us when we visited this school on the shores of Laguna de Bay; the next time I saw an image of the school was six months later; adults were wading through water that was up to their chests.

Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) had stuck with all its might. The moment when I heard about it on the radio, in a BBC news broadcast, is permanently etched into my mind. But it was what happened immediately after the typhoon was inspiring. My Facebook news feed and email inbox filled with updates from Filipinos I’d met. They took immediate action to help those affected, delivering food, clothing, whatever was needed in their communities.

All communities come together and support each other in times of need; it is the human spirit. But in the Philippines, there’s even a word for it bayanihan. 

(Read more about it on this blog: The Bayanihan Spirit).

School children dancing

  1. To embrace the inspiration

Spending time in the Philippines changed my perspective and sparked my imagination.

After visiting the Philippines I started drawing again (which I hadn’t done for years) and began to write stories. I didn’t set out to be an author; that some of my stories became published picture books in the Philippines is remarkable. Maybe they will help raise awareness of some of the wildlife in the Philippines, before it is too late.

Measured in miles I am a long way from these islands that continue to inspire me, sometimes it feels a little crazy, but I have decided just to carry on. To embrace the inspiration and see where the stories and pictures take me.

And I hope, in a small way, it gives something back to the children that greeted us with their smiles.

School children with picture books donated by the Rotary Club of West Bay, Laguna

 

Diwa in the community

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in Busuanga

With the help of her friends from Community Centred Conservation (C3), Diwa the Dugong has been busy raising awareness of dugongs from Busuanga and Ortigas City.

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in BusuangaC3 Philippines team conducted awareness campaign on dugong conservation in Calawit National High school and Barangay Bogtong. The team distributed Dugong-Seagrass posters and Diwa the Dugong books for teachers and community members.

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in Busuanga

 

Diwa the Dugong books were also sold during the First National Biodiversity Congress held in May at Ortigas City, Mandaluyong.

Diwa the Dugong at the First National Biodiversity Congress

Copies of the picture book Diwa the Dugong are available from Bookmark the Filipino Bookstore and Pumplepie Books & Happiness.

Happy Christmas from Pipisin the Pangolin

Pipisin the Pangolin loves Christmas! Last year he made pangolin baubles to hang on your Christmas tree, this year he has his very own pop-up Christmas card.

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To make your own pop-up pangolin card – click on the picture and download the pdf template. Print it out, colour it in, cut along the solid lines of the pangolin and the plants, and fold the dashed lines. Fold in half and place inside a second piece of paper or card.

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Click on this picture for the template without any words:

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Dugong coloring competition

diwa-coverGet the kids coloring to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Diwa the Dugong!

Simply print out and color one of the pictures of Diwa, share it with us (via my facebook page) or send to the C3 office in Busuanga (C3 Philippines, Inc., Salvacion, Busuanga, Palawan 5317 or send it through LBC Coron: C3 Philippines, Inc., Salavacion, Busuanga, Palawan, PICK-UP LBC Coron).

Don’t forget to tell us the name and age of the child who did the coloring (and your address if you post it). You can enter as many times as you like.

dugong-dollsOur favorite three entries will win a copy of Diwa the Dugong and a dugong doll handmade in Busuanga. We’ll contact the winners and send you the prizes – wherever you are in the Philippines.

Please send your entries in by Wednesday 14 December.

Happy coloring!

Click on the image to download a pdf.

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Diwa the Dugong – coming soon

My brand new picture book will be out in a few weeks. It’s published by Bookmark in the Philippines to raise awareness of dugongs. I’ve been working with Reynante ‘Rey’ Ramilo from Community Centred Conservation (C3); an NGO working on dugong conservation in Busuanga, Palawan in the Philippines.

Dugongs once grazed in their thousands on the seagrass meadows of the Philippines including in Manila Bay. But numbers have declined and Palawan is one of their last strongholds in the country. They still face many hazards including entanglement in fishing nets and in the ropes used to farm seaweed. Rey told me that dugongs have no safe haven at the moment and that C3 are advocating the establishment of a dugong sanctuary.

planting-seagrass

Dugongs are also known as sea cows because their diet consists mainly of seagrass. I’ve spent a lot of time planting seagrass to make collages for the book. Diwa’s story is about a dugong whose seagrass meadows are destroyed soil washes into the sea from nearby hillsides that have been cleared of trees.

Diwa must swim away from the place she knows and find somewhere new to live. On her journey she encounters many perils but also receives help from strangers who tell of a place with bountiful seagrasses… a place that would be a prefect sanctuary area for dugongs.

Rey shared with me a legend about dugongs from Busuanga. It’s a bleak and disturbing story but the description of the place inspired my thoughts of a sanctuary area for dugongs:

Once upon a time, there was a poor family that lived in a faraway place on a beach, located at the foot of the mountain, where the forest was wild with the tallest trees, crawling vines and shrubs covering the forest floor. Birds would sing the entire day, and when the day turned to night, the crickets would come out to serenade them.

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Dual langauage in English and Filipino, thanks to Rey for the translation.

Coming out in a few weeks at Bookmark The Filipino Bookstore
For enquiries, email or call at 895-8061 to 65.
marketing@bookmarkthefilipinobookstore.com

The premier of Danao: the live show!

Early in November, children in the mountains for the Ipo Watershed in Norzagaray, Bulacan (north-east of Manila) were treated to animated versions of Danao the Parrot and Mayumi the Forest Pig.

Volunteers from Green is Good, which represents environmental projects of the University of the Philippines Mountaineers (UPM), visited the area to plant trees and to raise awareness of the impact of illegal logging, kaingin and charcoal-making.

I was delighted that they chose my stories for their storytelling session and that they had made such fantastic costumes.

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Find out more about the books: Danao the Parrot and Mayumi the Forest Pig