Four things I learnt from travel to the Philippines

I am fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the top tourist spots in the Philippines: I’ve climbed Taal volcano, gazed in wonder at the Chocolate Hills, floated on the green Loboc River, rafted down the rapids of Pagsanjan River, swum from a sand bar into a warm turquoise sea and looked in awe on Mount Mayon. I discovered a country of real beauty, of dreamy beaches and dramatic mountains. But my time spent in the Philippines is much more than memories filed away in dusty photo albums. I may be thousands of miles away but the Philippines is part of my here and now. It shaped who I am today. So I’ve tried to distill it down to why it had such an impact, this is what I came up with:

The Chocolate Hills, Bohol

  1. Smile

Whilst visiting the Philippines for the first time, I was often asked “What will you take back from the Philippines?” It sounds a bit silly but my answer was always “the smiles”. As part of an exchange visit organised by Rotary Clubs in Laguna and Bicol, we visited lots of schools and community-based projects. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with beautiful smiles.

The smiles are still with me, though sometimes, I do have to remind myself to smile more.

Filipino kids smiling and laughing

  1. Biodiversity is truly diverse

The wildlife in the Philippines astounds me. I’ve been lucky enough to see wide-eyed tarsiers and swim with wide-mouthed whale sharks, but there is so much more. Although most of it I will never see, it is fascinating to discover that there are unique species of mice found on single mountain tops and to see how bleeding-heart doves have have evolved to have different plumage on different islands.

It’s also simple things that really made me stop and think: the funky centipedes, colourful beetles and the ridiculous number butterflies – I was amazed to see twenty-two different species of butterfly on one short walk!

I have worked in wildlife conservation all my working life, I know what biodiversity means but only in the Philippines did I truly witness it.

Philippine tarsier

  1. The power of community spirit

Children danced for us when we visited this school on the shores of Laguna de Bay; the next time I saw an image of the school was six months later; adults were wading through water that was up to their chests.

Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) had stuck with all its might. The moment when I heard about it on the radio, in a BBC news broadcast, is permanently etched into my mind. But it was what happened immediately after the typhoon was inspiring. My Facebook news feed and email inbox filled with updates from Filipinos I’d met. They took immediate action to help those affected, delivering food, clothing, whatever was needed in their communities.

All communities come together and support each other in times of need; it is the human spirit. But in the Philippines, there’s even a word for it bayanihan. 

(Read more about it on this blog: The Bayanihan Spirit).

School children dancing

  1. To embrace the inspiration

Spending time in the Philippines changed my perspective and sparked my imagination.

After visiting the Philippines I started drawing again (which I hadn’t done for years) and began to write stories. I didn’t set out to be an author; that some of my stories became published picture books in the Philippines is remarkable. Maybe they will help raise awareness of some of the wildlife in the Philippines, before it is too late.

Measured in miles I am a long way from these islands that continue to inspire me, sometimes it feels a little crazy, but I have decided just to carry on. To embrace the inspiration and see where the stories and pictures take me.

And I hope, in a small way, it gives something back to the children that greeted us with their smiles.

School children with picture books donated by the Rotary Club of West Bay, Laguna

 

“We have books in the Philippines”

“…the problem is people can’t afford to buy them.” These words still echo in my head.

I was three weeks into a month-long tour of the Philippines, hosted by Rotary Clubs. Every day, I visited another Rotary-supported school or community; schools that couldn’t afford books for their libraries and children that couldn’t afford books of their own. These visits left me wanting to do something more constructive to help. 12006363_10204518779362064_5002068080558599493_n

One idea was, once back home in the UK, to ask people to donate books then ship them over to the Philippines. “But you would have to raise money to cover the cost of shipping, if you can raise money why not just use it to buy books here.” the same voice, the same Rotarian was telling me. I knew he was right, the idea wasn’t practical.

I never anticipated that six years later, one of the clubs that hosted me, the Rotary Club of West Bay, would be distributing books to schools; books that are published and printed in the Philippines, and, written by me. I have to hold one of the books in my hands to remind myself that it is real. To believe that I am an author of children’s picture books published in the Philippines; picture books about the animals that are found only in the Philippines.

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I have worked in wildlife conservation in the UK all my adult life but the wildlife in the Philippines is something else. Whether it’s wide-eyed tarsiers or wide-mouthed whale sharks, shimmering fireflies or vibrant sunbirds; glimpsing just a little of this wildlife sparked my imagination. It began with my daydream of a parrot dreaming of sailing the seas on a pirate ship. Little does he know, as he sets off on his travelling adventure, that he will discover his true home. Along the way Danao the parrot meets some of the unique animals of the Philippines.

The word unique is often over-used but with thousands of animals that are found nowhere else in the world; the Philippines is unique. These animals, and the children I met visiting the schools, are my inspiration. I never intended to write stories but the animals became characters in my mind and I wrote down their adventures. I never intended the stories to be published but my enthusiastic Filipino friends encouraged me and the lovely people at The Bookmark, Inc. liked the stories and agreed to publish them.

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My daydreams about parrots, pigs and pangolins – species that live only in the Philippines – are now in real books beautifully illustrated by Jonathan Ranola and Ingrid Tan, and, some of my own illustrations.

Perhaps, as you read this, one of the books is being read by a child in a school in Bay in Laguna. Thanks to the Rotarians of the Rotary Club of West Bay, nine elementary schools in Bay have copies of my books ‘Danao’, ‘Mayumi’ and ‘Pipisin’. The elementary schools are: Puypuy, Tranca, Masaya, Sta Cruz, Bitin, Paciano Rizal, Putho Tuntungin, Maahas and Sto Domingo.

The books were purchased with funds from selling the books in the UK to family friends, with donations from the Rotary Club of Lindum, Lincoln (who are also donating books to schools in Lincoln) and with donations from my parents and myself.

Thank you everyone for helping children learn more about the endemic wildlife of the Philippines! And thank to the Philippines, the people and the wildlife, for being my inspiration!

The first review of my books…!

The first review of the three picturebooks about Philippine wildlife has just been published in the Business Mirror in the Philippines.  I was nervous about being reviewed but Johnny Goloyugo really understands the stories and what I’m trying to achieve. Thank you Johnny, maraming salamat.

BusinessMirror

British conservationist shows passion on PHL wildlife and environment

WILD animals can be very difficult to see in real life. Unless one is a conservationist and has a lifelong interest in exotic and endangered animals, who would venture into the green canopies of the wild just to see a Philippine bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus philippinicus), Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons), Rough-back forest frog (Platymantis corrugatus) or a Visayan spotted dear (Rusa alfredi)?

Six years ago, Rachel Louise Shaw of the Lincolnshire Wild Trust, a wildlife charity in the United Kingdom, visited the Philippines as a part of the Rotary International District 1270 Group Study Exchange team.

As a wildlife conservationist “visiting the Philippines was truly inspirational in many ways from the people I met and friends I made, to discovering the wildlife of the country. The Philippines is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. On the 7,107 islands, there are thousands of species that are found nowhere else in the world,” Shaw says.

In her childhood, Shaw recalls enjoying making up stories about animals and readingThe Tale of Peter Rabbitt (1902) by Beatrix Potter, a British writer, illustrator and conservationist and author of 22 other books, such as The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin(1903), The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904), The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904) andThe Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (1905), among others.

Shaw says: “Despite only seeing a few of these animals while I was here [in the Philippines], having a glimpse of just a little of this diversity of life sparked my imagination…they became characters in the mind…and made me start writing stories again!”

With her experience that spans writing for publications, web site content, social media and editing the charity’s magazine, the results are three excellent fully illustrated and colorful children’s books—Pipisin the Pangolin, Mayumi the Forest Pig and Danao the Parrot—all published and launched by The Bookmark Inc. recently at the posh Manila Polo Club in Makati City.

Illustrated by Shaw herself, Pipisin is about a Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), a scaly ant and termite eater with four paws, sharp claws and extra-long sticky tongue that rolls up tight when afraid and unrolls “when there’s no one there.”

Pipisin the Pangolin blurps children’s attention because of Rachel’s illustrative ability in capturing the animal’s delicate “acrobatics” for balance and survival, while being confronted by the sound of a woodpecker, a bearcat, a frog and hunters.

The book also suggests the quiet mood that children need to understand the real essence of the story.

On the other hand, Mayumi the Forest Pig and her family’s meandering through the forest in search for tasty roots and fruits brought them in wet hollows and splashed in it, a reminder of how humans would rush to a swimming pool or a beach to escape the heat of the sun. While the other pigs left in search for food, Mayumi felt enchanted by a singing bird deep inside a bush, again a reminder of how music quenches the soul in its aloneness.

Ingrid G.Tan, a digital illustrator who works as a game artist in Makati City, not only captures Mayumi’s adventures in the bush, but also illustrates the adventurism and curiosities of a child in this accucolored world.

More important, the book teaches about how animals like pigs help grow new trees by eating fruits and leaving the seeds somewhere, even in a pile of poop. By helping grow new trees, the pigs, thus, enrich the life cycle of the wilderness and our natural environment.

Meanwhile, Shaw’s third book explodes in color and tells the story of the daydreaming Danao the Parrot, translated in luxurious illustrations by Juan Nathaniel “Jonathan” G. Ranola III, a painter, graphic designer, book illustrator and art instructor at the Bulacan State University and Feati School of Fine Arts in Manila.

The book describes Danao’s confusion of living in a bustling and hustling metropolis like Manila and his longing for quietude in the vast expanse of the seven seas, coral reef, beach and strange mangrove.  In his daydreaming, Danao’s conundrum becomes further complicated by running into the rich diversity—Maputik, a little buffalo in the marsh; Mabaho, the stink badger; Palalo, the peacock peasant; Tingin, the big-eyed tarsier; and Hari, the king of all birds in the forest.

The only respite, or so it seems, is his discovery of the smelly but sweet durian, which Danao thinks is good to eat.

The book describes the rich diversity of the Philippines and of Danao’s world, like the presence of the butanding Batik along, with Maputik, Mabaho, Palalo Tingin andHari.

Shaw’s three books are not about clever tales and pure imaginings, but a cerebral approach in describing through stories the richness and diversity—yet endangered—of the unique wildlife of the Philippines. She believes that children’s imagination and knowledge should not be restricted by focusing on few species of animals or only those chosen in Disney feature films.

“Filipino children should have the opportunity to read stories about the amazing animals that live on their islands not just about tigers or penguins. There should be diversity in stories just as there is diversity in wildlife,” Shaw says.

“I hope the children’s books—Pipisin the Pangolin, Mayumi the Forest Pig andDanao the Parrot—will prove to be a lasting and tangible contribution to a country that has given me so much,” she says.

Shaw’s second visit has given Rachel more ideas in publishing children’s books on the unique Philippine wildlife.

She intends to write further adventures of Mayumi the Forest Pig and has, in fact, started a story about a tarsier after a visit to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation in Corella, Bohol, and meeting the “Tarsier Man” himself, conservationist Carlito Pizarras.

Shaw is an honorary member of the Bay, Laguna-based Rotary Club of West Bay, Rotary International District 3820. The work of Philippine Rotarians left a deep impression on her particularly after Typhoon Ondoy (international code name Ketsana) hit the country in 2009. Since the Group Study Exchange experience in 2009, she tried to raise funds for Rotary projects and disaster relief in the Philippines whenever she could.

Story & photo by Johnny F. Goloyugo

Image Credits: Johnny F. Goloyugo