From 11 to 28 December 2018, Operation Orion (a total of 24 of us!) embarked on an Overseas Community Involvement Project at the Philippines, Negros Occidental, Cauayan, Mambugsay district. We collaborated with Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, a Non-Government Organisation based in Philippines to provide a better standard of living and quality of life for those living in the rural areas. Our project encompassed two main segments—Operations and Programmes.
The population there relies on lemongrass production as their main source of income. Also, most farmers have resorted to using land at higher altitudes due to the high rents of agricultural land. However, the lack of irrigation at such altitudes and the prevalence of droughts result in frequent crop failures and rather seasonal incomes. Therefore, to ensure that they have a stable water supply all year round to secure a sustainable source of income and also a conducive environment for lemongrass production, our team set out to complete three large-scale projects.
1) Renovation of the lemongrass factory:
In the beginning, the state of the lemongrass factory was very run-down. The production of lemongrass oil is often hindered due to issues such as roof leaks that damaged the crops and a lack of space. In view of these problems, we decided to provide them with a new roof and an additional outdoor meeting area which served as an expansion of the factory. Renovation works done by us involved laying of concrete floor slab, painting of shelves and attaching of corrugated roof sheets. One of the villagers there, whom we call Tito (uncle in a Philippines dialect!) Ping Ping even gave us an overview of how lemongrass production works, where all of us got to personally experience the grinding, sacking, cooking and distilling of lemongrass.
2) Building of the reservoir and Installation of the ram-pump:
Both the reservoir and ram-pump function cohesively to pump water from a nearby stream to the storage reservoir at a higher elevation. During the dry season, the stored water becomes an important source of irrigation for the lemongrass plantations. We aided in tasks such as concrete mixing, assembling of skeletal frame with wire mesh and plastering of reservoir walls as well as laying of pipes for the ram-pump. Something memorable about working at the reservoir site was definitely having to descend extremely steep mountains to get to the house of the lovely villager who prepared our lunch for us. Not to mention ascending those mountains!
Nearing the end our Operations segment, an obstacle came our way which remained as the favourite memory of the trip for many of us. Our transport vehicle, the Canter got stuck in the wet mud due to a downpour the previous day. The only choice we had was to pull the truck up using two ropes because pushing it from behind was too dangerous. One, two, three… we ran up the hill and pulled the truck behind us. After numerous attempts, we managed to successfully pull the 2000 kg truck out. It was the perfect encapsulation of the essence of Orion—team work, hard work and everything in between.
It was certainly no easy feat, but we did it. Here are some pictures of us with our completed projects!
Thereafter, we spent the next four days interacting with the locals ranging from toddlers to young adults, via practicum and cultural immersion. Our purpose was to impart English and Science skills to them through hands-on activities such as Charades and Water Diffusion demonstration respectively. On the last day, we also organised a mini carnival to introduce our Singaporean culture to them. Beyond that, we aimed to develop greater confidence and a sense of social well-being in the locals through their self-reflections. While our programme lasted for merely four days, the mutual exchange between the locals and us where we both learnt from each other was indeed fulfilling and enriching. The personal and meaningful connections forged with the locals would be cherished and remembered by all of us.
All good things come to an end
Throughout this journey, we achieved our motto to Aspire, Inspire and Perspire. We perspired under the scorching sun to complete our projects targeted to improve the lives of the locals. We aspired to bring smiles to the faces of the locals and we did it. We inspired ourselves to take on the challenge to embark on a second project to further return to the community. Beyond that, we grew as individuals and as one entire team. The camaraderie fostered, strong bonds forged and memories formed will be etched on our hearts forever.
Last but not least, our biggest takeaway would be this quote by Tito Ping Ping:
Laughter is timeless,
Imagination has no age,
and Dreams are forever.
Feature by the Philippines newspaper: