Grace Quiton - Local Scholar - The Philippines
Corals, children, and mangoes—I’ll never look at them the same way after my CCC experience. Having lived in the Philippines all my life, I must have become numb to what is so ordinary to Filipinos, too engrossed in my own little concerns, or too ignorant to value what I have. For the most part, I must have just been uninspired.
Foreigners say my country is a tropical paradise of flaming sunsets and fabulous beaches. I do agree with them, sometimes. Growing up in a coastal area of rural Leyte, I have been close enough to the ocean to learn about it by experience, fortunate enough to be shielded from its brutality, and educated enough to romanticise it in books and poetry. Yet, at the same time, I have been privy to the desperate lives of people who live in these fabulous beaches. I have witnessed for myself fisher folk neighbours struggling to get food on their tables and my own relatives scrambling for their share of peso bills dangled by corrupt politicians. No matter how flaming sunsets can be, the skies of this tropical paradise sometimes seem a little too dark for me.
I don’t know when exactly that inspiring moment came but it certainly happened when I became involved as a local scholar in CCC’s expedition in Southern Leyte. Some time during underwater surveying, studying corals and fish, and doing community work, I had a change of heart. The floodgates of heaven did not exactly open before me, but the experience was inspiring enough to change my future plans.
I am a teacher by profession, and I strongly believe in the influence of a teacher in the lives of the young. However, it took CCC for me to seriously absorb this reality. In one of CCC’s community outreach activities, I helped teach children and public school teachers the importance of protecting marine life, which included teaching them to snorkel. Strangely and quite unexpectedly, it was while I was doing this usual task that life’s little ironies unusually stood out. I owned a mask and snorkel since I was six years old, but I had taken it for granted that so many other Filipino children have never owned one. How painfully ironic to see that children who grew up by the sea are so oblivious to its wonders underwater! All it takes to change this is a simple concerted effort from people willing and able to teach and give these children a better understanding of what they have. Consequently, this made me wonder—what if someone had taken the effort to teach me when I was younger? This would have changed the course of my life.
One of the things that make CCC expeditions remarkable is, of course, diving. I can not emphasise this enough. Nothing comes close to the experience of seeing for oneself the reality of thriving marine life within the depths of its own natural environment. And to see such inexplicable beauty right in my own backyard is exhilarating! I’ve dived in other places in the Philippines before I joined CCC but never in my own province and never with such intense appreciation and examination of the marine environment.
Sadly, there are still many reasons why such beauty is still undiscovered and unappreciated among most Filipinos, ranging from the most serious of Filipino socio-economic realities —diving being way too costly for the average Filipino— to the most ridiculous yet culturally significant —many Filipinos just don’t want their skin to get too dark from too much sun! It is, however, my wish that the right people who have the resources, influence and capacity to make a difference will be inspired the way I’ve been. The practical, economic rewards of marine conservation can push them to action, but inspiration derived from personal experience can be as moving as and even more persuasive than a hundred awareness campaigns.
As soon as I finished my training with CCC, I decided to enrol in marine science subjects at a university in Manila. While taking up additional courses furthered my interests and plans, it was never the same as learning from and among people who have travelled from across the world to do volunteer work. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their openness to my culture intriguing. I watched in amusement as they fussed over a tiny fish that normally would not have received such fanfare from Filipinos. Some were oddly yet interestingly in love with invertebrates, which I initially thought to be dull and sluggish! Others, I have to admit, knew about the Philippines more than I did. The most ordinary things fascinated them, and they lent me a vantage point that I never knew existed. I believe this is the best and the most important thing CCC volunteers can leave for local scholars like me. To appreciate the familiar so uniquely—this is something we Filipinos cannot easily achieve on our own.
I no longer want to be too engrossed in my own little concerns or too ignorant to value what I have. Otherwise, I just might miss opportunities that can help turn these islands from more than just a semblance of a tropical paradise. Its dire circumstances do not completely obliterate my view of sunsets that turn flamingly bright red. My country does have its brief yet real moments as a tropical paradise. I believe it can have more of these moments in the future.