Dance, come on!

This past month alone, I’ve taken about 5 overnight trips to various communities in our diocese. They’ve all been enlightening and engaging and I want to tell you about one in particular.

Two weeks ago, my co-worker Aldwin and I drove up to Balatoc for their annual barangay fiesta, or neighborhood party. Surrounding communities that may seem far away are actually still part of the neighborhood and are invited for the 4 day extravaganza. This community is basically on the top of a mountain. How does one get to a community on top of a mountain you may ask? You cross a swaying hanging bridge over a rushing river and then hike at a steep 45 degree angle for an hour, thats’s how!

Needless to say, by the time I reached the top of the hike to enter the community, my face was as red as my hair as only a ginger’s can be and I was completely exhausted. The trail ends at the school and community center and the houses are a few minutes hike more up the mountain. Lucky for me, the entire community and all of their visitors were at the school watching a basketball game when I appeared. Definitely got a few looks of concern. After chugging the rest of my water and drinking a brisk cup of coffee though, I was fine and happy to have made it. The weather for the hike was pleasant and cool so we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. I also can’t complain when these are the views you get on the hike.


View of the hike to Balatoc from the hanging bridge

After watching the basketball game for a little while, we climbed up to the junior warden’s house where we were staying. Every time we visit a community, members graciously open up their homes to us. The communities are far away enough that we have to stay somewhere overnight and hotels are typically not an option. We are often offered the one bed in the house and are welcome to stay as long as needed. While we appreciate their hospitality, we generally try to minimize our stay so as not to burden the family. If it wasn’t a fiesta with so much food already, I’m sure a pig would have been butchered because our presence, which is normally a treat and expensive! Our intended one night stay turned into two when it was too dark to leave on the second day.

The first night, I was invited to join the St. Andrew’s dance team for the cultural competition between the neighboring communities. St. Andrew’s is the parish in Balatoc. My natural response in my head was “What? I can’t dance. You don’t want me to dance” but the words that came out of my mouth were “Yes of course I would love to!

I can’t dance. I definitely can’t dance the native dance of Kalinga. The competition was in 3 hours. Oh well- let’s go!

So after dinner, I went with Meriette, the junior warden’s wife, to practice with the team. The steps are actually pretty straightforward. In this particular dance, the men play gongs and the women dance to accompany them. The steps of the women usually mirror the men’s and the lines of men and women walk parallel to each other. You have to pick up your feet to the steady beat of the gongs, hold your arms up at shoulder height, and gently push out your arms almost like the wings of a bird (My description doesn’t compare to actually seeing the dance and I mostly followed the women in front of me by the way). This dance happens at every major event here, whether a wedding, ordination, fiesta, etc. So next time it happens, I’ll be sure to get a video so you’ll have more than my description!

The competition asked each parish to choreograph their own version of this dance. I learned the basic steps and St. Andrew’s own version of it. I had so much fun!!! I was by no means the most graceful dancer in the room. I just had the best time. They lent me one of their traditional skirts to wear and shirts they had ordered from Target (you really can’t escape Target). The men wear bottoms made out of the same pattern as the skirts and are shirtless (not always, but traditionally and for this competition, they were). I loved seeing the other parishes dances as well.

Although we didn’t win, dancing in front of the community prepared me for the next night of more gongs and dancing. The second day, we had two breakfasts and two lunches, since members are excited to have us there and want to demonstrate that excitement with food! Our hosts suggested we eat only a little at each meal so we can eat more at the inevitable later meals. Sound advice, my friends. I was stuffed.

Bishop Hilary, our diocesan bishop, was also visiting so that he could consecrate the church and confirm members of the congregation. There were probably around 50 people confirmed, since the bishop’s visits aren’t frequent because of the communities remote location.

After the service, the senior warden of the church took me to the basketball games that were continued from the day before. The court doesn’t have enough lights, so when night falls, the games stop. Basketball is definitely the most popular sport here. I see NBA jerseys everywhere and even saw a Chapel Hill Michael Jordan jersey once. I think seeing a Wake Forest jersey is just way too much to ask for and I’m not even sure what I would do if I saw someone here wearing one. Scream? Hug them? Only time will tell. So I’ll somewhat willingly take the UNC jersey.

Another night of dancing followed dinner that night. Now that I was supposedly an expert, I was encouraged to dance every time someone picked up the gongs. Dancing made the night so enjoyable and brought me closer to the community. Participating in one of their traditions meant that Balatoc welcomed me and my co-workers as a part of their community, which is the Filipino way. It meant so much to me that they invited me to experience one of their dearly held traditions. I’m so thankful for their warmth and generosity, which I have found in every partner community so far.

I’ll leave you with some more of my favorite pictures from the last few weeks:


Me and my friend Manang Juliana from the last post

PS: On our way out, women were cleaning up from the fiesta and climbing up and down the arduous trail to carry poles and such. Living in Balatoc their whole lives, this is a standard climb. Women were carrying 6 feet poles on their heads across the bridge and back up to the community. Never been more impressed considering I barely made the climb.

From Santiago to Tabuk!

Hello lovely people!

These past few weeks have been super busy, but here are a few things I’ve been doing lately in Santiago, Tabuk, and surrounding communities:

As I mentioned before, I am focusing on the carbon offset program while I’m here. Lately I’ve been writing parts of a farmer’s manual while I’m in the office. It consists of best practices for rice farming and specific directions on implementing the Alternate Wetting and Drying technique that we advocate for. We hope to give the manual to our communities so that they have physical copies of practices they often are already using.

Recently I moved to Tabuk, Kalinga, but before I left Santiago, I got to plant my own tree with the bishop of the diocese. It’s a chestnut tree and has a sign that dubs it the “Caroline Tree” by it, which is depicted below. I think it will be my first successful attempt at gardening ever!! Bishop Alexander loves to plant and garden, so this was one more way to welcome me to Santiago (even though my stay was only for 2 months).

Behind the church, Bishop Alexander also planted dragonfruit and calamantzi (Filipino limes) trees for everyone to use. The calamantzi is especially useful as its a Filipino staple in sauces and recipes. There are Lani and Leia picking dragonfruit!

When I’m not in the office, I’m visiting communities with my co-workers. Our activities range from visiting members of the community in their homes to attending local church services to conducting interviews to meeting city officials. The congregations consistently welcome us with open arms and smiling faces and feed me way too much food. Here’s a look into a few of my visits.

One community in Isabela sent me home with “leftovers” after a post-church feast. They sent me home with part of the butchered local organic pig! Its tradition to send home unused parts of the animal with visitors and guests. Since I don’t have a fridge in my room and didn’t have the ingredients to cook the benguet at the time, I brought it as a gift to my neighbor Manang Joy, who kindly invited me over to dinner to share the adobo she made from it. It really is more fun in the Philippines!!

Last week, we had an orientation on our carbon offset program at a church in Quezon. We were asked to stay for lunch after the presentation. That’s where I made a bunch of friends! I tried out a bit of my Ilokano and just acted silly with the kids there while the food was cooked. They gave me some lovely stickers for my hard work and even braided my hair. Quezon is very close to Tabuk, my new home, so I will be visiting all my new BFFs very often.

Below is a picture of Manang Juliana, the CEO and owner of her own co-op, who quizzed me on my Ilokano and accompanied us on a few visits to local communities. She was part of our Receivers to Givers program that gives grants to communities to support various projects. She received a grant from E-CARE and recently paid it back. The money she gave back is now going to a new project in Talifugo, Conner where the ceremony was held, making her a “giver” in our program. Here she is looking adorable in front of a drying pavement that was also supported by E-CARE in the community of Nabotuen.

Like I said before, I recently moved to Tabuk, my home for the next 10 months! I took a selfie with Lani and Leia right before I left Santiago, even though I will definitely be back to visit since its only 2 hours away.

Below are a few more random pictures of the beautiful green landscapes of the Philippines.

I now have a new address so let me know if you want to send me anything and I’ll message it over.

Much love!!


Even more pictures

Above are some pictures from my stay in Manila: Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was a nationalist at the end of the Spanish colonial period. He advocated for reforms and goals that ultimately led to Philippine independence and was consequently executed for what the Spanish colonial regime called rebellion. We visited his fascinating museum that was in Fort Santiago, whose wall and entrance are pictured in the middle. The far right picture is the skyline of Manila that can be seen from the bay.

Here are some pictures of the Diocesan compound. Top left is a picture of the rice fields from behind my room. Top right pictures are some green sceneries around the compound. Bottom left is a painting of the provinces in our diocese (Episcopal Diocese of Santiago). Bottom right is the building where the church and my office is.

Here is a picture of me and the beautiful sunset. And finally more rice fields! So greeeen!!! I love it!

I’m here! It’s happening!

Hello everyone! I am safe and sound in Santiago, Isabela, Philippines. Stay with me on my first blog post…. Here’s a recap of the last 2-ish weeks:

A 12 hour flight, an 8 hour flight, and 5 movies later… I made it to Manila!!! Immediately after stepping out of the airport, I began to sweat and it was 10:30 PM. It’s hot here y’all. SO hot and humid.

But there is so much more to the Philippines than the heat don’t worry! After exploring Manila for a few days with some fellow YASCers (Young Adult Service Corps-ers), I traveled to Santiago. Tristan, a YASCer who’s lived in Tabuk, Kalinga, Philippines for the past 2 years, Lloyd, who works for E-CARE, and I slowly but surely drove our way up the windy and bumpy roads between Manila and Santiago. I would say the drive took 9 hours because Lloyd insisted we stop every couple of hours for food (which thankfully broke up the time on the rough roads).

We ate everything from sisig (cooked pig ears with an egg over easy), buko pie (coconut pie), goat AND pork adobo (meat cooked with garlic and soy sauce), and many other dishes that were delicious, but I have no clue what they are called. Since getting to Santiago, I’ve had lechon (pig that’s cooked on a huge grilled and chopped like the pig pickins we have in NC), some form of cooked intestines, duck soup, and everything in between. The way Filipino style of cooking means take whatever is fresh in their backyard or from the local market and cook it day of. Ilocanos especially believe that no food and no part of an animal should be wasted (hence the pig ears and intestines I have eaten).

Ilocanos are a type of Filipino people that populate a lot of Santiago and the region of Isabela. That is why I am trying to learn Ilokano, their dialect, instead of Tagalog, the more general language of the Philippines. I have the most important words down: Mabisennakon (I’m hungry) and Mangan tayon (Let’s eat!). At the moment, I’m trying to find a tutor to help me out. (UPDATE: found one!!!)

The first thing we did when we got to Santiago was… KARAOKE! Its a huge pastime here and I was asked to sing multiple times since it was my welcoming and Kellan’s farewell party. Pictured below is Kellan (a YASCer who went home but is coming back for a second year in November) and I singing!


This past week, I have been settling into my room at the diocesan center in Santiago and working. I will be working with local communities on reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released in their rice farming techniques. Here is an excerpt from our project description document: “In 2013, Philippines was ranked the world’s most vulnerable country to climate change due to fatalities and economic losses. The Philippines is contributing to climate change by emitting over 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) each year, according to the World Resource Institute. Of those emissions, 30% are from agriculture, with continuously flooded fields in rice cultivation being the largest emitter in the field.”

Most farmers flood their rice fields in order to yield a crop because typically rice is thought to be an aquatic plant. However, a technique called Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) demonstrates that farmers can grow rice without consistently flooding their fields, because rice is actually semi-aquatic. Farmers can reduce the water levels in their fields by 30% with AWD and still grow the same amount, or more, of rice. Consequently, they decrease the amount of water they use and also reduce the amount of methane released from rice farming by alternating the water level. All of this prepares farmers for the likely water scarcity in the future and reduces the large amount of greenhouse gases released from rice farming in the Philippines.

My co-workers and I go into smaller communities and communicate all of this in the hopes that the farmers will adopt AWD. We support and train them in the straightforward technique that benefits themselves and the planet. Pictured below is a beautiful slice of this planet in the province of Quirino that we visited last week.


Now, maybe you’re wondering why the Episcopal Church is involved in this environmental work that hopes to mitigate the effects of climate change ? It’s because one of the Episcopal Church’s 5 Marks of Mission ( is “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” So combating climate change on the ground is one of our callings as Episcopalians (which is pretty cool if I do say so myself).

I’m already enjoying my work on that project and the people I work with at E-CARE (The Episcopal Community Action for Renewal and Empowerment). The people here are amazingly hospitable and kind. There’s always a meal or a snack waiting to welcome you into homes. The staff at E-CARE have also been so willing to help me go grocery shopping, answer my never-ending questions, and teach me about their culture. I always feel welcome, even if I do tower over most people here. The average height for men in the Philippines is 5’3 and for women it is 4’11. AKA I’m a giant at 5’8. I’m enjoying what feels like a late late growth spurt though: everything is built lower, so I can reach things others can’t, and I pretty much can’t get separated from any of my co-workers or friends, ever, since I am one to two heads above everyone else.

This past weekend, Lani and Leia, the cooks at the diocese, took me to Rizal, their home barangay, or neighborhood. We sang SO MUCH karaoke (if you must know I sang Dancing Queen, Wagon Wheel, Party in the USA, and Amie) and ate more food than I ever thought I could fit in my body. We danced we sang we had fun! I loved spending time with them and their families. People here are not only kind, but light-hearted and fun. We are always laughing about something here in Santiago (mostly my poor attempts at Ilokano).


Anyways, that’s a lot of information BUT feel free to message me on Facebook or comment here with questions, concerns, messages, etc. If you want to send me mail, I would be happy to give you my mailing address as well!

Much love from the Philippines!!!