Green Empowerment met with the country director of the Peace Corps- Bill Bright

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, June 28, 2001 - 2:41 pm: Edit Post

Green Empowerment met with the country director of the Peace Corps- Bill Bright

Green Empowerment met with the country director of the Peace Corps- Bill Bright

Hello from Philippines and Sarawak

Dear Friends, We spent six days in Davao City, Mindanao, after a grueling flight from PDX- LA- Tokyo-Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu (Sabah)- Manila- Davao City. We had an hour in the Tokyo airport but could not leave, 5 hours in KL for a quick sleep, and a day in Manila where we saw some sights and met with the country director of the Peace Corps- Bill Bright- a very talented and committed guy who had been in the peace corps as a young man (I think in the 60s), then gone on to teach and get his doctorate in teaching, and returned three years ago to the Peace Corps. He is now Philippines country director. The PC in Philippines is concentrating now on education, placing PC volunteers as team teachers with Philippines volunteers. They have withdrawn volunteers from Mindanao because of the current conflicted situation.

Letters from Michael Royce, continued

Davao City itself is still considered safe and international aid agencies work there. The New Peoples' Army is still active in Mindanao but not the Davao City region (a large area of 800,000 in a very low-density city- at least 100 km in diameter). However, the MILF (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) is active in central Mindanao and there were several military confrontations and gunfights between the MILF and the Phillapines government in central and northern mountainous regions of Mindanao while we were here.

Our host NGO YAMOG believed it was safe for us to go to two of the communities they work with in about a 50 km range of Davao City center. YAMOG is an NGO of three engineers: civil, agricultural, and a biologist who has become the driver, construction supervisor, and watershed expert. They have a board of five and are linked to CEMFI, an NGO that does community development work and is very strong on community organizing and the involvement and development of the farmer and women's organizations. They are also have initiated with others a Mindanao Environmental Forum which involves YAMOG, CEMFI, women's organizations, academics from Davao University, and others. They also have ties with a small machine shop, which can fabricate equipment both mechanical and electric.

YAMOG and its work is very impressive and Green Empowerment will surely partner with them. Remaining issues are the scope, nature and timing of the assistance. YAMOG has 16 additional potential projects all over Mindanao with Christian settler communities (Cebuanos, Moro communities, and several different indigenous groups.

Then another arduous day travel to Sarawak. Here we have met with Jok Jau of SAM (Sahabat Alam Malaysia) and his wife Minah. We are getting some sense over the last two days of how SAM works here with the indigenous communities of the Batang Baram (Baram River District): the Kayan, the Kenyah, Iban, Penan, and other smaller groups. Today we are going further upriver to Long Keluan- the community that grew from Uma Bawang because of the initial anti-logging struggles which started in 1989.
Hello from Sarawak

Dear Friends,

We have been up the Baram River for three days into the secondary forest. We went to Keluan: a longhouse community of about 100, which is famous for its leadership role amongst the Kayan people in opposing the logging concessionaires. This protest started with human blockades on October 29, 1987, when 40 Kayan protestors were arrested. The people were fantastic. They live in traditional longhouses, long community buildings with a broad veranda where community life takes place.

The Kayan, like the Penan, are very friendly and have a tremendous sense of humor. During the day we did things like hunt with them for wild boar, fish with nets in the river, talk about plans for and see the beginning construction of their new longhouse. The evenings were amazing, although I do not think I could have survived much more than 3 days. We would eat dinner on the veranda at about 7pm- wild boar, turtle soup, rice with cassavas root- whatever the hunters killed in the forest or the men or women grew in the farms. Then after dinner the cross cultural entertainment began with the Kayan entertainment being on a consistently higher level.

Various villagers, Jok Jau, Abeh, Mujan, would make speeches describing their traditional life and how they were trying to preserve it. The speeches, in Kayan, were translated by the one or two people who spoke good English. One of our six member group - 4 Green Empowerment engineers (1 electrical, 1 renewable energy, two mechanical) and Francie and I - spoke some Kayan as he had visited four times before. Another, who had worked in the Peace Corps 35 years ago, still spoke Bahasa Malaysia which some of the villagers also knew.

Then several times the Kayan men would do the traditional Warrior Dance either a dance of general hunting and seeking or a war dance with the Penang to fight the enemy or take a head. The women's dance was a rhythmic and graceful dance with hornbill feathers on the expressive hands, much like the traditional hand gracefulness of the Indonesian dancing. Several times the women sang songs to us that are really poems of the past or their longing for the future sung in a song (lead singer) and response (chorus) fashion.

One lovely old man Anyi, born in 1912, had an almost youthful gracefulness and limberness. He did both the dance and a tremendously funny pantomime. At one time he told us of the hard times during the Japanese occupation when the Kayans and Kelabit and other indigenous people were fighting with the British commandos against the Japanese occupiers.

Our cultural contribution was various renditions of "You are my Sunshine," Amazing Grace," and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes." Skits of our flight over in the plane, which actually received a good reception, and a skit of an Orang Puti (a European) trying to wash in the river while trying not to lose her sarong, which had the Kayan rolling in the aisles. One night we managed to get to bed at 2 pm, the next night at 3 am, but always up by 7 am for coffee, rice, and boar or whatever else was still good and left over.

We are getting a better idea of how to work organizationally with the indigenous people here. Tomorrow we take off for another village in the Rajang district, Long Lawen, where we are about halfway through helping village complete the first community hydro power project in Sarawak. More later.

Best, Michael
Hello from Kuching

Dear Family and Friends,

We came back down the Rajang from Long Lawen on Sunday- Monday to meet with the electrical contractor we have hired to help with the transmission and generator wiring and training of community people in Long Lawen. Our work in Long Lawen was tremendously exhilarating and tiring because it seemed we did not get more than 4 hours sleep a night. With about 70 villagers, we sited the 70 poles of the Community Hydropower transmission system for the 12 kW capacity system. As this community has somewhat more money than some other longhouse communities, the demand in the 400 person village, 76 doors (longhouse households), already exceeds this capacity.

The Long Lawen "boss committee" is working out with the community to decide how their electrical system should be structured. Do they want this community hydro electricity source to run as a parallel system to their current private diesel one that runs lights and maybe one outlet per house? Alternatively, would they prefer a system integrated with their current one? That solution might require meters or some way for the Long Lawen Community Hydro Project to control usage so that it does not exceed supply, or so that one house does not use disproportionate electricity.

We had wonderful discussions with various community members about "demand management," a system for charging for electricity to ensure a reserve fund for sustainability. Once allowed to take charge, the Kenyah community acted quickly and decisively. The "boss committee" is made up of the headman (an older very calm and respectable Tuan, and a middle age dynamic leader named Gara, who has been arrested 4 times in blockade action against the huge logging companies which had threatened their ancestral lands. Gara spent one month in jail during one of his arrests, but seemed unfazed.

The community has temporarily halted the logging in their area and their secondary forest is richer than the surrounding area and they have even kept some primary forest. Their young men are still able to go out in the early morning and catch one or 2 Babui (Kenyah for wild boar) for the peoples' sustenance and for feasts. Under the boss committee, there is a finance committee (for billing and rate setting) of three, and an operations committee. The system will have three paid operators who will be paid by revenue from the system. GreenEmpowerment will pay for their training as part of our help to set up the system. There will also be an environmental committee to be in charge of mapping the watershed, replanting in the watershed, and protecting and preserving the watershed only for sustainable use.

This work is like an international Congress. Many of the older or middle age Kenyah men and women speak English because that was taught in schools before 1963. Younger people know Bahasa Malaysia, the mandatory language of instruction now, as well as their indigenous (Orang Ulu - people of the interior) language. One of our engineers spoke a little Kayan and Kenyah from previous visits and one engineer spoke Bahasa and Iban from his Peace Corps days 35 years ago. So we would communicate in Bahasa, Kenyah, Iban, English, pantomime, at which Joseph is a master, or pointing.

Eating was also a treat. I do not know that I can highly recommend the rice wine (tuak in Bahasa and Borok in Kenyah). The main staple of course is rice - steamed, cooked in bamboo, and in other leaves, sticky rice, etc. - and Babui (wild boar), which is a very, lean good tasting meat, Chicken, chilies, wild fiddlehead ferns, cassavas, other wild vegetables, occasional a banana or fried banana, tea, and coffee.

When we left Long Lawen it took us about a day to get to Sibu, where we negotiated with the very amiable Mr Tiong, a Chinese electrical contractor (third generation from Fukkien province) to supervise the village in installation of the electrical wiring on the poles for the transmission system, which is the section of the project we are completing now. We also were buying the electrical parts that are locally available. Mr Tiong laughed appreciatively when Don suggested we get a 50% "good customer" discount, but the price after the laughter did not change. Mr Tiong's workers will also train the villagers in basic electrical skills and maintenance of the wiring system while doing the installation as part of the deal.

Now we are in Kuching for two days trying to eat and sleep as much as possible before leaving on the long trip home. This morning we saw the Sarawak museum, which helped us, get an overview of the many artifacts and handicrafts of the indigenous people we have met on this trip - Kenyah, Kayan, Iban, Penan, and Ochit.

See you soon,

Love Michael

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Philippines; Special Interests - Green Empowerment; Special Interests - Country Directors



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