Combining citizen and government action
I recently took up a free course boldly titled How To Change The World offered by Wesleyan University via Coursera.org.
I wanted to see if I could make a difference, wherever I was at, and in my own way.
I was glad I took it because, while the course was full of theory and reading material, it was designed for action and application.
Power in citizen action and cooperation
I personally discovered proof that cooperation is fundamentally our human nature rather than selfishness. It started with my first assignment: to look for commons within my neighborhood, to see how the community was using these, and to make a contribution to the commons.
In my immediate neighborhood we have no public parks or gardens. But we do have a creek in common. The problem was: it stank. I pass this creek together with my kids to go from our street, Escriva Drive, to Dunkin Donuts or Family Mart along Pearl Drive. We nicknamed it “the stinky bridge.” It was full of garbage.
So, acting on my assignment, I attempted to do something about it.
I contacted an NGO, our barangay hall, and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). I wanted to see who would react first and how quickly an intervention could be planned. I was pleasantly surprised. Our barangay published its telephone numbers online and someone actually picked up the phone when I called.
I was introduced to the kagawad (village council member) in charge of the clean and green committee. I didn’t even know we had such a committee. We arranged for a meeting and things snowballed from there. I put up a call for citizen action on my Facebook wall and a couple of friends volunteered.
Our barangay kagawads went one step further. They introduced me to a company in Ortigas Center – LF (Philippines), Inc, a member of the Li & Fung Group – committed to monthly corporate social responsibility activities.
While they clarified that they were in charge of national projects rather than local ones, referring me to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the process, they were very willing to lend their resources: 10 crew members with pick poles/rakes and shovels. I wrote a message to the DPWH on their Facebook page and crossed my fingers. I really wasn’t expecting anything. After two weeks, I received a call from them.
When government and private sectors come together
We met one early Tuesday morning and our project got 20 corporate volunteers with funding to feed all the crews assisting in the clean-up. Tet Machado of LF said that they went as far as Zambales and Laguna for beach clean-ups and tree-planting activities, but they were happy to do something for their immediate community. They had to take pictures of our creek and send them off to their global headquarters because no one had a common understanding of why a creek needed to be cleaned up.
So what started out as a very small hope eventually became an actual project. One of my officemates heard about what I wanted to do and introduced me to Rina Papio of Earthventure Inc, a local company that is using EM (effective microorganism) technology for naturally cleaning up polluted bodies of water. Another meeting was scheduled and, all of a sudden, EM solution became part of the picture and a long-term plan for creek rehabilitation was hatched.
At this point, I was truly awed by what was possible.
On August 16, 7:30 am, Rina of Earthventure Inc, my friend Rochelle, the DPWH crew led by Engineer Rodel Santos, the Barangay San Antonio Search and Rescue team led by kagawads Jun Sistoso and Evan Rupisan, the LF volunteers led by Berd Alba and Tet Machado, and I all met up in front of the NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) building along Escriva Drive in our rubber boots, armed with tongs, rakes, pick poles, and shovels.
We all went down the ladder provided by Barangay San Antonio and we went to work on our polluted creek. We encountered mounds of trash ranging from plastic bags with food still in them, plastic waste from fast food joints, empty sachets and noodle cups, ATM cards, umbrellas, a dead rat, dog bones, an umbrella, and decomposing matter.
We also saw pipes sticking out of the eatery right beside the creek dumping gray water and brown matter (we didn’t want to hazard what it was) directly into the creek.
The DPWH went to work on clearing out all the rocks to unblock the flow of the water. Both the DPWH and the Barangay San Antonio crew devised a way to haul up large pieces of debris using an improvised pulley. After we had picked up most of the garbage (we had to choose just the plastic waste because the sheer amount of sludge and decay was just too much to put into garbage bags), Rina sprayed EM solution on the upstream part of the creek as well as the biodegradable waste (mostly decomposing food). After the clean up we passed around Doxycyline capsules (an antibiotic to prevent Leptospirosis) donated by Rochelle and her husband to all the people who volunteered. We all had early lunch at Buddy’s, Pearl Drive, care of LF.
Small actions, big change
This clean-up activity gave me hope. It was proof that the government and private sectors can work together to do something for the community. The activity was by no means a one-time thing. I think the creek will need some follow-up work (like continued EM treatment and maybe some bokashi ball activities with the local daycare). This was just the start.
So, is it really possible to change the world? I believe so. More than top down, policy approaches, I think the more effective method is "one village, one neighborhood at a time." When people are face-to-face and when they are united by a common cause like a shared community or resource, effective and positive changes are inevitable.
So this is my invitation to my fellow Filipinos: when you see something that needs changing, instead of complaining, try organizing something at the grassroots level. You’ll be surprised at what’s possible. – Rappler.com
Justine Camacho-Tajonera (@justine_tajo) is a poet by vocation, an avid reader, and advocate for literacy, dovetailing with her job at buqo, a Pinoy digital bookstore-newsstand-reader-app-in-one. She believes in lifelong learning. How To Change The World is the 6th course she has finished on Coursera.org.