Written June 25, 2010 Dear Readers, As you know I am here in Puerto Princesa for the next two months on a fellowship through the Watson Institute at Brown University to study a public health issue and document my experiences with Palawan State University students and Roots of Health, a local NGO working for better health of women and children. It has been just about three weeks since arriving in Palawan, and have I been busy! After resting from my long journey here, I ventured out into the world with Susan Evangelista, a professor of English at PSU and board member of Roots of Health. She brought me to Palawan State University to meet the president , deans, and teachers to become more acquainted with the campus community. I was well received by all heads of power, most of which are women (compared to American Universities, where men seem to rule). They were excited about my research proposal on the health seeking behaviours and health status of PSU students and hope to use the data or analysis for programming and/or policy change. Palawan State University is host to between 6-7,000 students; mostly female. When we arrived on campus, there was a lot of activity and many new students waiting in long ques in the hot and humid sun to register and pay for classes. I was thankful of my university’s computer system as I stared over empathizing with all the students standing in the unbearable sun determined to become active students. PSU’s campus is quaint and full of nice trees and gardens, sprinkled with many signs reminding you to keep the environment clean, and preserve the land. The university sits on a hill overlooking the mountains and is nestled next to the Honda bay waters. Many of the buildings are dated, and the infrastructure is poor, yet much better than I had anticipated. Students must wear uniforms to class. First year and newly registered students stood out in their street clothes, as they had not received their uniforms yet. After my meeting with deans, the president, etc., I walked with Susan to her English Literary Criticism course to meet her students and get familiar with the layout of the campus buildings. The students seemed very cheerful and eager to learn from Susan. It was evident that Susan was well liked among staff and students as she was greeted by friendly faces left and right. All in all, it was a good first visit and I am excited to be working at PSU with young people whom I may find common ground with, and to develop a connection with them where they can confine in me their narratives about health. Later that week, I joined the ROH employees including Ami, Marcus, and Susan to Pulang Lupa, a ROH program site for maternal health education and childhood nutritional support, where many of the cities poorest people live without running water, electricity, organized facilities or government programs. I shadowed Ami and Lyn Lyn as they went over with the women, some with tiny infants resting on their chests, the material they had learned over the past 12 sessions covering topics ranging from human rights to prenatal care. Staring over at Ami, I could tell she really loves what she does and has a true passion for her work. She has a way with people, the women seemed to really turn their heads and focus their attention on her for the duration of the education program, eagerly answering questions and making comments about the topics covered. Outside the hut where the mothers were huddled sat Evetha, another ROH employee, on a grass mat with about 15 young children, semi-clothed with dirt smudged on their faces, engulfing her. They were listening to her intently and gathered close while she read them a story. Afterwards, her and Jane, another ROH employee, took out pens and worksheets, distributing it out to the children perched in their tiny neon colored plastic chairs. Evetha and Jane walked around the children as they practiced writing the letters A, B, and C. After the programming was complete, we pulled out a giant vat of tapioca coconut soup as well as rice to feed the mothers and children. I had fun watching and serving the children who excitedly lined up for food, and joyously shoveled it into their little mouths. An onlooker like myself felt melancholic as I saw these women, some with so many children and others so thin they could barely walk let alone breastfeed. Many struggle to survive on so little. Yet most maintained lively personalities and infectious laughs, especially as they posed for my camera and joked about supermodels. It gave me hope for them and others in this world stuggling. Optimism and determination keep this community alive and the rest of us can really learn something from communities like Pulang Lupa. On Saturday we went back to Pulang Lupa for the community wide nutrition program, where ROH feeds 80-125 plus people (mostly women and children). There, I tried Taho, a Filipino dessert/drink made from jello type taho, tapioca, and sweet syrup. I wasn’t too fond of it, but the children seemed to really love it. After eating, many of the children, young and older, tossed footballs around, played soccer, passed a volleyball, and laughed at their reflections in front of Ami and Susan’s cars. After making friends with some curious children who wanted their photos taken, they decided to let me in on a few of the games. I played volleyball with the teenage girls who definitely kicked my butt. All in all, it was a worthwhile day. Before Ami and Marcus left last week for South Africa, Roots of Health had a staff meeting that I loosely partook in to get more acquainted with the main staff- Lyn Lyn, Evetha, Jane, and Jocylen (or Josh as they call her). Lyn Lyn works closest with Ami developing and presenting educational materials to the women at the ROH program sites. Lyn Lyn will be also working with me while Ami is away, working as my cultural broker as I try to engage with PSU students. She is such a fun person to be around, always smiling, singing under her breath and making the best out of every situation. Evetha and Jane help with the children's programs. Evetha is a mighty mouse; a small package of endless energy and liveliness. She is honestly one of the best people I have ever seen working with children. They are captivated by her. Jane is a petite pregnant gentle women also working with the children. It is fun watching her grow into her position becoming more and more confident each day. And then there is Josh, a tiny women who looks about 12 but is really around my age. Josh is the ROH nurse and she works mostly with women with immediate health concerns and dispenses the contraceptive medications. I haven’t really seen her in action at the sites yet, but while working with ROH staff, she is charismatic. She dances around and sings a lot while writing, cutting, tallying, charting or conducting any other task that is facing her. Overall, I am really enjoying the staff so far. Every woman is so welcoming and friendly to me. Each person has made a really strong impression on me. All have really positive attitudes which I feel are necessary in this line of work to get by day to day.