First Days in the Philippines

 

by: Steven Wagner

Steven Wagner is working with the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at Habitat for Humanity International. Steven and his teammates, Jenna and Juanita, will conduct pre-crisis market analyses for commodities and services in the housing sector, with the ultimate goal of drafting a toolkit for guiding humanitarian actors in replicating this analysis. The team is conducting fieldwork in the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate disasters.

If you are reading this blog entry hoping to learn about my first impressions of an exotic locale, or a description of the quaint local market that I walk through each morning, or my difficulties in acclimating to a foreign language and cuisine, then you are probably going to be disappointed.

Habitat for Humanity
Jenna using any surface available to take notes.

I have only been in the Philippines for a few days as of writing this entry. To be more specific I have been staying in Makati City, the country’s financial hub located within the greater Metro Manila region. To be even more specific I have been living in a skyscraper, surrounded by more skyscrapers. Across the street from my hotel tower is an enormous complex of about nine different interconnected malls, likely occupying a few square kilometers of real estate.

MAKATAI CITY, THE FINANCIAL HUB

Habitat for Humanity
Team Habitat creates a new i-Lab in Makati

I wish I could share something that surprised me or that I found new and exciting about Makati, but to be completely honest, it’s quite similar to most financial centers around the world, what with its plethora of designer brands, wide variety of international cuisines, and looming office buildings. While the 100-degree heat and 90 percent humidity might feel unbearable, I have only had to bear it for a few minutes at a time, transitioning from the air-conditioned hotel to the air-conditioned office, both kept at a refreshing 20 degrees Celsius. In the “market” that I walk through each morning, I pass by Rolex on one side and Calvin Klein on the other. I can’t say I have been struggling without knowing the local language, because everyone I have interacted with so far speaks English. And I don’t even have to worry about getting accustomed to the local food; yesterday the Habitat staff took us out for Italian!

All in all, I feel like I’m living in luxury here, with similar access to what I could have in, say, Manhattan (though maybe the Italian food isn’t as great).

JUXTAPOSITION BEYOND MAKATAI

But while I relax in my air-conditioned skyscraper, about 350 miles away in Tacloban, Filipinos are still living without adequate housing after super-typhoon Haiyan destroyed their homes nearly five years ago.

And only about 20 miles from Makati, there are Filipinos living in abject poverty, residing in houses that would not withstand a major disaster.

Witnessing this disparity is flooring. Today, our Keough School advisor Tracy Kijewski-Correa (we were blessed to have her join us in the field for a few days) drove us out to Bulacan, a barangay (village) on the outskirts of Metro Manila, to study housing typologies typically built by and for people in the income level Habitat is targeting for its programs. We saw many examples of people clearly attempting to build structurally sound homes, but lacking the money, skills, or quality of materials to complete a shelter resilient to the types of disasters the country experiences regularly. In some cases we could actually see at what point the builder either ran out of money or simply stopped caring about structural durability: leftover and broken cinderblocks to fill gaps at the top of an otherwise well-laid wall, a high quality iron roof clumsily attached to the structure below.

When the funding runs out, builders have no choice but to take shortcuts. Unfortunately, the homeowners will pay dearly for those shortcuts, as these are the exact places where the structure will fail if a typhoon or earthquake strikes. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; a house is no different.

The disparity really shouldn’t shock me—back home in the states one similarly would not even have to leave Manhattan to find a sizeable population of (note: greatly stigmatized) people lacking adequate shelter—but it remains jarring nonetheless. I accept that no individual effort on my part can possibly narrow this enormous gap in the Philippines. But if Habitat’s work can improve access to safe and affordable housing, addressing people’s most basic needs? Well, that would be a good place to start.

First Week in Chile

by: Ikromjom Tuhtasunov

After the second semester ended with lots of sentimental hugs and long-lasting goodbyes, I found myself immediately packing for travel to the capital of a long and narrow, yet incredibly beautiful country in South America: Chile. As a part of the Integration Lab (i-Lab), with my teammates Sonia and Nnadozie, I am working with  Enseña Chile (eCh) to help implement their project “Colegios que Aprenden” (Schools that Learn). Two weeks before the start of our project, I am in Santiago to make final preparations for our field work and practice my Spanish.

ABOUT OUR GLOBAL PARTNER

Enseña Chile is an NGO that aims to prepare children for a meaningful future by providing quality educational opportunities for all students in Chile. They recruit talented teachers, based on merit and leadership, to work in schools across Chile. Their work reflects a commitment that all children in Chile, including those in low-income schools, have the ability to learn and the right to receive a quality education. A new business model, “Colegios que Aprenden”, which they established last year, assists teachers to improve their professional expertise, foster community and school-wide innovation, and enhance student learning.

Using Design Thinking, our Master of Global Affairs team will engage in classroom observations, interviews with school leaders, teachers and students, and a series of collaborative focus groups, and will develop a set of recommendations and prototypes to be deployed in Chilean schools. We are hopeful and excited that our two months in the field and further engagement with the organization will bear a result that is of a value for the children in Chile and beyond.   

WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT CHILEAN SPANISH     

Our project involves interviews and focus groups where the primary language of communication is Spanish. That’s why I’ve come to Chile early to take intensive Spanish classes—my first exposure to Spanish! While the rest of my classmates are enjoying a three-week post-semester holiday, I am enjoying my Spanish classes and my busy, yet never the same, schedule in Chile.  My host tells me Chilean Spanish is the fastest and most complicated of Spanish accents in the world: my daily conversations with my host almost always challenge my textbook Spanish knowledge. I am hopeful my current hardship will turn me into a “seco”, meaning “skillful” in Chilean Spanish, in understanding any other Spanish accents.

MY FIRST MEETINGS

On Friday I visited the office of eCh in Santiago and had a meeting with Trinidad Montes, our coordinator at eCh. The meeting was very interesting and useful as Sonia joined through Skype to talk about the organizational and substantive aspects of our project. Trinidad introduced me to the incredibly inspiring eCh staff. The work was at its peak and teams were enthusiastically collaborating with each other.  I was fortunate to meet Tomas Recart, the CEO of eCh and a dedicated educator whom I had only known through YouTube videos. His words of trust and excitement towards our team and the work we will be conducting instilled in me further motivation and passion. Meeting Tomas Vergara, our i-Lab liaison in Chile, who visited Notre Dame in March and worked with us in co-creating our project, was also a particular pleasure.       

A PLACE I’VE COME TO LOVE

My busy schedule in Santiago still leaves enough time to visit Domingo Savio, the place I have come to love through the book Santiago’s Children, by my Keough School i-Lab Professor Steve Reifenberg. The house was previously a private orphanage, and is now being used as an educational center for kids. It is situated in one of poor neighborhoods in Santiago.

Steve ReifenbergIn Santiago’s Children, Professor Reifenberg talks about his experience working for Domingo Savio in the 1980s when he visited Chile right after the college, not knowing Spanish well. The stories described in the book are so authentic that they bring you into author’s life 35 years ago and make you see it from his eyes.  How would you feel if you visited the place and the people you imagine of, having only read about it in the book? I felt very emotional and ecstatic after meeting Olga, who opened her home for orphans and children of low-income families.  I found so much love and care in her eyes.  In the meantime, Jorge, a teacher at Domingo Savio, showed me around and narrated the history of the place and how it looked before. As he described the way the rooms were divided and turned into bedrooms and living rooms for children, I would nod my head every time, subtly signaling that I knew about it.

All in all, this is just my first week in Santiago, but the city has already managed to capture my love and respect for its people.

Witness today’s global affairs with our students

Welcome to the Keough Insider blog, your first-hand look inside student life at the Keough School of Global Affairs! Follow the experiences of our Master of Global Affairs students as they travel the world to witness and help address pressing global challenges: climate change, inequitable food supply chains, limited access to surgical care, unequal access to quality education, government reform, immigration policy, and more.

Follow our journey

We’ll be posting new stories every week, so please subscribe to the blog to follow along in this exciting global journey:

Subscribe to Keough Insider by Email

Subscribe in a reader

Stories of learning, triumph, questioning, struggles

by: Tracy Kijewski-Correa and Steve Reifenberg

23 students. 13 countries. 12 months with 7 partner organizations. 2 months in the field.

As co-directors of the Keough School’s Integration Lab (i-Lab), we are thrilled to see the Master of Global Affairs students embark on their two-month field placements.

This is not study abroad. It is a truly professional experience that involves student teams working closely with an NGO, think tank, institute, or nonprofit dedicated to addressing complex, large-scale problems. We call it the Global Partner Experience.

They’ve been preparing for over nine months with their global partners. Now it’s time to put planning into practice.

Continue reading Stories of learning, triumph, questioning, struggles