A HOME AWAY FROM HOME

By: Mary Claire Ignacio-Geduquio, Philippines
Caretaker of the Philippine Islands
September 19,2016

“It’s been a long day without you, my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. We’ve come a long way from where we’ve began, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again… when I see you again… when I see you again…”, lines that we sang before the night ended but are still echoing in my head.

I jolted up out of my bed at 6 o’clock in the morning when my alarm rang – I remembered it’s our project presentation day. For almost four weeks, our group of five from four different countries around Southeast Asia has been working on a project proposal to help solve the waste management issues in our home countries. We are so passionate about it; I could feel that during our meetings where ideas kept flowing, to the point that we sometimes disagreed with each other. But this morning was so full of teamwork and support! How it felt so good to know that in the good things you are trying to do, there will always be someone, and a bunch of 25 brilliant people, who will always show you their thumbs up 🙂

Photo (L-R) The Green Buddies Team – Claire, Angel, Jack, Adela & Ha
Credit: Angel Tan

Then it sank into me, I have begun packing my things, so did my co-fellows, and prepared the souvenirs for our friends here. There were also some fellows who were practicing their cultural presentations in their rooms. Some even talked about what to do later at the farewell dinner. Today’s our last day in Montana too!

The Big Sky Country has been so warm since we came here due to the friendly faces we see every day yet so cool due to its chilly weather. And wow! The Mansfield team planned another outdoor dinner, one of the things that I’ll really miss. The UM FLAT (Forum for Living with Appropriate Energy) gave us a quick tour around their small yet sustainable farm where I had a taste of cherry tomatoes while waiting for our host families to arrive. It kind of felt excruciating every minute that went by, thinking that we would be living this welcoming place. Yet, we can’t end this day sad and frowning!

The fellows showcased their fullness of energy, talents, jolliness, and of course, charm during the cultural presentation. It was a variety of dances and songs, a little bit of solemnity and a lot of comedy! Our guests were all participative and joyful! Amidst the laughter and chanting, I was looking at their happy faces and thought I never imagined in my entire life that I will be part of a crowd of very friendly people on the other side of the world and contribute to their joy. Everybody danced to the Filipino Rap Song “Haypa” which said, “Lahat ay sumayaw, Sige walang titigil!”, meaning “Everybody dance and no one should stop”. It was like ecstatic! But it all ended up in drama when everyone was bidding goodbye and sharing their heartfelt messages and warm hugs. I personally was in tears when I hugged Jamie, Rod and Rosalyn; the family Ha and I had for the homestay. I will never forget how they were so close to our hearts even though we were together for just 3 days. There came more hugs with the GTAs, Shanti, Pat, Mat, and Peter, then with Dr. Nicky and Deena, Mel, Brooke, Dr. Len and some friends. Why was it so hard? At that time, I could have endured toothache but not separation anxiety.

Photo: Indonesian fellows presented a grace-to-pace cultural dance.

Photo: The fellows at the UM FLAT dinner with the UM and Missoula Community.

Tonight may be one of my most unforgettable nights. To wrap-up, the YSEALI Academic Fellowship was a blast in my life. I learned so much that have something to do with developing me intellectually, socially and emotionally. I tasted different unfamiliar foods. I received constructive feedback. I had a lot of firsts. And I met wonderful people who will be my friends forever!

I suddenly realized, I am in the United States of America, a land far away from my dear Philippines.

I suddenly realized, I am in Montana, but the past few weeks of staying here felt so much like home J

Thank you God for bringing all of this into my life!

Photo: My YSEALI Family (Insert Dr. Len, Dr. Nicky, Miss Deena and the rest of the GTAs who left earlier)

Photo: My host family 🙂

Be The One To Set Example For Others!

Borith LONG, Cambodia

How many days left do I have here? It is always the first question I ask myself when I wake up every morning. The more I count the sadder I become because every routine I have made here becomes part of my life now. I can’t imagine myself going back home and not seeing the people I met here again. This morning I also had the same question but there was a strange sensation beating on my chest as soon as I realized that I only have a few days left here in Missoula. I talked to myself that I would appreciate these last precious moments and looked forwards to having the last two sessions with Dr. Nicky.

We started the day by having the global climate change simulation which 21 fellows were divided into 6 blocs based on their CO2 emission around the world including developed countries, developing countries, China, India, the US, and the EU. Four co-fellows and I were assigned to represent the developing countries bloc to negotiate the terms and conditions on the global agreement to deal with the climate change issue. During the simulation, many contentious issues arose among the delegates on various areas such as the commitment of the developed countries to finance the CO2 emission reduction program, the commitment of the developing countries to reduce CO2 emission. We spent a lot of time to negotiate and discuss and eventually still did not make it to our target. Being global leaders always faces great dilemmas.

At the end of the simulation, we had a discussion on what we learned from the UN mock. Some of our co-fellows raised a lot of good points on how the simulation contributed to our learning experience. One of which I found it most interesting was when one started to talk what he could contribute to deal with issue instead of pointing fingers to each other. And that inspired other people to follow the trend. In addition, there was another insight that got me thinking of the definition of good standard of living and good quality of life.
Like Dr. Nicky said, "Do we need to consume more resources to be happy?".

Peter gives the introduction and instruction on the global climate change simulation to the co-fellows.

The representatives from different regions around the world discussing the terms and condition on global climate change agreement.

We had another afternoon session with Dr. Nicky focusing on the effective presentation practice. One group volunteered to present their project during the session and received a lot of good and constructive comments from the co-fellows. I found it very interesting when the co-fellows contributed a lot of inputs to help the group improve their performance. The habit of giving good comments and constructive criticism is something I want to take back home and spread it to other people in my community.

Finally, we concluded the day by having Ms. Amy Cilimburg and Mr. Bryan von Lossberg as our panelists to discuss about the community’s effort on solar energy initiatives. After the discussion, they took to us one of the houses that has solar energy installation and told us how their initiative works and functions at the community level. My co-fellows had great interests in their initiative and expressed them through asking lots of great questions. On top of that, I also learned a lot of lessons from their Q&As and one of which is having visual monitor on your mobile that indicates your energy consumption can influence your energy consumption behaviour.

The house that has a solar installation supported by Solarize Missoula.

It was indeed a productive day because I learned so many things in just one day. Can you imagine how much you will learn if you have such productive day for the whole five weeks here?

The One that Ran Away

by Dana Marie Mejia | The Philippines

“Without your language or your land, you are not who you say you are.” Loretta Afraid of Bear, Oglala Lakota

If someone were to ask me what the American image would be, I would enumerate certain iconic structures like the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and the Golden Gate Bridge. American landmarks and traditions are two distinct yet connected aspects of the nation’s cultural heritage. We value the preservation and protection of our heritage because it helps define who we are as a person.

It is a beautiful sunny day and we are heading North again to the Flathead Reservation. Though it has been a tiring week I cannot stop my body and mind from excitement. We had a chance to peek in on the session of tribal government. After that we had discussion with Mr. Robert McDonald regarding the culture and politics within the area. I found some similarity in my country, our Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) law passed on 1997 which led to the creation of the National Council for Indigenous People. And just like the Native Americans, our Indigenous People have been through a lot of trauma and persecution which resulted to the breakdown of the Native family and tribal structure and weakening of spiritual ties. Like in my country, many Natives’ children were raised with little awareness of their Native heritage and became disconnected from their tribal ways of knowing.

We also had a chance to play Native American game such as shinny and stickball. I must say that this is the highlight of my day! Because I am a big fan of traditional games. Mr. Paul discussed the connection of the Native games to their cultural preservation. The game has profound spiritual, political, and social importance. It is also so fun to play and continues to be played to this day. We were divided into two groups – girls versus boys. Who won?? Of course the girls!! J Respect and trust is a big factor in playing the game. The rule of the game was modified to avoid accidents. Yeah. Accidents! Watch an American football game or Smackdown and it is quite similar to that. Knocking down your opponent to score a point! LOL

We had a lunch at Fiesta en Jalisco, a local Mexican restaurant. The food served really tastes like home. By the way, the Philippines was ruled by Mexico until the latter obtained freedom from Spain in 1821. The galleon trade established the foundation of what became a large, cultural, religious, agricultural, and human exchange across the Pacific. Well, a lot of Filipino didn’t know about that. But yeah, past is past. *wink*

Hunger satisfied we travelled to the Selis Ksanka Qlispe Dam where we had a chance to view the hydroelectric facility which is actually managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The water flows continuously and will generate electricity. The Jocko River was once heavily impacted by years of mismanaged riparian areas. This affected the natural ecosystem, and one example is the bull trout population which is a native species in the area. And with the collaboration of tribal groups around the Flathead, it is now starting to return to its former glory. Taking into note that it is a great example of how watershed management should be.

So now, is it worth it to preserve our cultural values? Well, ABSOLUTELY!

Learning form The Mistake of Others

Sandy Jan Labarosa, Philippines

As I woke up this, I realized that we only have like less than a week here in Missoula. That makes my day somewhat a bit blue. Yeah, things come and go fast and we have to accept that.

Our first activity for the day was to visit the Milltown State Park, which is the nation’s largest superfund complex. Our speaker, Mike, discusses a comprehensive background about the state park’s history and purpose (Figure 1).

He also mentions that 100 years ago, there was a dam built here but was removed due to several environmental impacts such as contamination of drinking water due to the accumulation of contaminated sediments from copper mines, fish kills and ice jams during high flows. With government intervention and community involvement in the restoration process, the then highly contaminated confluence of Clark Fork and Blackfoot River is now slowly recovering (Figure 2).

The story of Milltown State Park strikes me very hard and my co-fellows. I’d feel like, the I want to send our decision makers here so that they can see what are the potential effects of damming a river to the community and the environment since the Philippines has a lot of damming projects too. I want them to learn from the mistakes of the past people of Montana. Also, before we leave the place I ask one of my co-fellow (Ploy) on how she will take the lesson of Milltown State Park to her home country. She said that it is the stakeholder, including the government, that should be changed because a lot of institutions and NGOs have conducted studies about the impacts of damming on the aquatic life in the Mekong river but they don’t pay too much attention instead they just focused on the economic benefit the government can get from it. The scenario in their country is quite depressing but with there’s still hope because there are still people who are really working hard to address such environmental issues in their home country.

After we learned about the Milltown State Park, we went to Missoula Food Bank to learn about how they address food insecurity in the city of Missoula. Also, how they address malnutrition among school children which don’t have access to healthier foods. It’s very heartwarming to see that these people are devoting their time and effort to help the homeless and poor household have something to put on their stomach. Even people that came from other places are welcome to their food bank! Then we got the chance to repacked raisins to be given out to kids as part of their program to provide a balance diet on primary school pupils (Figure 3).

On the afternoon session, we attended our last UM classes! For the transboundary issues class with Dr. Len, we talked about the Coral Triangle Initiative (Figure 4). This topic is somewhat significant to me since our country signed for the coral triangle initiative (CTI), a partnership between six countries which includes Malaysia and Indonesia aimed to protect and regulate the activities at the coral triangle. I realized that CTI is more effective in addressing environmental issues than the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since CTI implementation is conducted in local, national and international setting. Unlike the MRC they don’t have teeth to implement their work.

The next session with Dr. Nicky and Peter is interactive and very interesting. We played the game Climate Challenge which simulates on how the decision of political leaders affects the economy and welfare of its citizens in conjunction with the country’s carbon emission and its impression to neighboring regions (Figure 5).

I learned from this game is that it is not easy to make decisions on which law or projects to be pass. Since, every project or law has its own benefits and downsides. Also, it is very hard to balance things out like providing social services, reducing carbon emissions, maintain the economy, and maintaining the popularity to stay in the position. After the activity, we went to climate change class and learned about the effects of climate change to wildlife (Figure 6).

With the rapid change of global temperature and climate, some species of animals has only four choices to make and i.e. to move, acclimate, evolve or die. I am very interested on this topic because it tackles a little bit about conservation genetics. This is very important to us to learn the different responses of different species to climate change since this will give as cue on what conservation approach should be followed.

The day ended up in a spectacular star gazing show at NAC which we learned about the stars, constellations and planets.

There are a lot of thing I learned from this day. I would like to highlight the most important thing I learned from all the session and that is to LEARN FROM THE MISTAKE OF OTHERS.

Together, we can do more!

By Adela Zakiyatunnisa Abdullah, Indonesia

Tuesday, September 13 2016

This morning we visited Lewis and Clark Elementary school to do cultural presentations. It was 32°F outside and it’s freezing cold! But that didn’t stop us for being excited to meet the students

The principal, Mrs. Susan Anderson, welcomed us and gave brief introduction about the school.

I found out that they teach gamelan Bali which is an Indonesian traditional music instrument in this school. It’s interesting that they bring other cultures to their school to make their students embrace diversity and make them ready to be part of the world. Another thing that catch my eyes is how casually dressed the teachers are! I believe the students don’t feel afraid of the teachers since they looked really fun and approachable. It’s quite different in Indonesia where usually the teachers have to wear uniform every day and I think they look too serious in that. After the introduction and some discussions, we’re divided in groups to go to the class and do presentations.

Ploy showed some pictures about Thailand

The students were so eager to know about our countries. When we showed them pictures of tourism places, animals, and foods in our countries they went “Whooaaa, that’s cool!” I love to see their expressions and hear their questions as well as comments too. There was one girl approached me and said, “You have beautiful necklace.” Aww, that’s just sooo sweet. I see that in U.S. most of the students are active and confident to express their ideas, while in Indonesia it’s pretty rare to find. I also learned how the teachers build sense of togetherness with the students. It’s lovely. As an aspiring teacher, this experience inspired me the most. I do wish we could have longer time to stay in the school to share more about our countries.

Ploy explaining about Mekong river

Four of YSEALI participants; Steven from Myanmar, Ploy from Thailand, Cindi from Singapore, and Shikh from Malaysia gave some insights on how their countries and other southeast Asian countries affected by climate change in YSEALI Panel on Climate Change and Transboundary Collaboration. It’s an eye-opening session where we had chance to share with public about the problems that we face in our countries. Environmental issues are things that we can’t solve alone. I remember Dr. Nicky said that climate change is cross generations and cross countries issue. We need to collaborate with others in order to find the best solution in tackling these issues.

YSEALI participants wearing traditional clothes

We come from different countries and backgrounds yet we have the same goal to make changes for the better future of our communities, countries, and the world. I’m so thankful to be able to learn a lot about environment through this program. It’s indeed a meaningful experience for all of us. I hope we can always keep our friendship strong because by being together, we can always do more! See you at the top, guys!

Wastewater is not that Waste

By Chawirakan Nomai (Ploy), Thailand

Monday, September 12 2016

After spending our adventurous weekends in Glacier National Park, now it is time for us to get back to the University of Montana. This week is our last week here in Missoula and I challenge myself to do my best in everything before departing to Louisiana. I started my Monday with cereal, greek yogurt and hot strong coffee as I knew that today is gonna be a long day. Peter, Shanti and Pat waited all of us at the hotel lobby with big smiles on their faces. Our today’s activity was study tour in City of Missoula Wastewater Treatment (CMWT) and Missoula’s Hybrid Poplar Water Reclamation Project. Once we got to the CMWT, the winds blew so hard and it hit the strong bad smell on our noses. However, no one surprised about the smell because we were at the point where all the wastewater in town had ended up.

Photo 1: Shirk and Claire’s reactions to the wastewater smell

Then Mr. Starr Sullivan, superintendent of CMWT, gave us a tour around the station. He explained us about where all the water goes after we use it. So, yes, all the city waste water are sent to this treatment center and it takes about 10 – 12 hours for the treatment before it enters the Clark Fork River. Wastewater will be reused again after releasing to the Clark Fork River. This treatment increases up to 12 million gallons of water a day to Missoula’s water supply. Plus, all of the solid waste that come together with wastewater will be removed and are made into usable compost.

Photo 2: City of Missoula Wastewater Treatment tour with Mr. Sullivan

Photo 3: Wastewater treatment system

One thing that I found out more about CMWT was that their responsibility was not only the wastewater treatment, what gave them more works were the solid trash like fabric, plastic or hard papers from flushed water in the toilet disturbing their treatment system. CMWT had to break down all this trash and collect it out to the landfill. I felt good to myself that I never ever disposed any trash in the toilet. Then, Peter raised up a simple but good question to Mr. Sullivan that ‘what is the behavior that you want Missoulian to change in order to help with the wastewater treatment system?’. Mr. Sullivan said that he wants people to stop putting the trash into the toilet so that it can help CMWT to work faster and easier. Here you can see in the photo how huge the trash are. All of these trash are collected from the city wastewater by CMWT.

Photo 4: Mountains of trash collected from city wastewater

I was exploring those mountains of trash while our GTAs walked us to the forest behind CMWT and found out later that those forest is Missoula Hybrid Poplar Plantation. Mr. Mark Vander Meer, the restoration ecologist, met us in along the way to the poplar plantation and gave us some information about the importances of the poplar trees. I was very surprised when I knew how the poplar trees help recover groundwater quality and soil quality.

Photo 5: Mr. Mark Vander Meer

Mr. Meer then asked us about how was our field trip in Butte last Tuesday, we all said that it was super cold that day. He laughed and explained that he has another project there to recover the abandoned mining areas of Butte because the soil and the groundwater quality were severely damaged by mining industry. What he asked us to do was helping him to mark the willow trees that grew among poplar plantation because the bioengineer team in Butte recovery project will cut its branches this winter and grow them in Butte’s damaged areas.

Photo 6: YSEALI fellows are helping Mr. Meer to mark to willow trees

In my opinion, this activity was my favorite part of the day because I felt like we,YSEALI, have been given a lots of good thing from Montana state and this is a small thing that we can help them back in the long-term future. I wish they can recover the natural resource in historic city like Butte soon. One more impressive thing for me was when Peter as a Missoulian representative expressed his thankful feeling to us for helping Montana. 🙂

Our long day paid off by nice dinner in Kyra Jean Williams Fall Festival held at Food Zoo of UM. The event was decorated beautifully by local decoration that gave more sense of the farm life. The smell of food filled up the dining room and it even made me want to reach out to all food bars when I got in. Looking at the food, I still remember those carrots and beets that I helped PEAS farm to harvest on last Wednesday and now all those veggies all cooked for people in the city. I had a great dinner at the fair while listening to the folk live music and felt thankful to everyone who gave me a chance to be here. I love people here and more than that I love myself when I can contribute good things back to them. 🙂

Photo 7: My dinner plate at Kyra Jean Williams Fall Festival

Photo 8: Well-decorated Dining table

Thanks for reading!