It seems like a lifetime ago that I stepped off the place into the humid night air of Manila to start my new job as Field Operations Manager in Project Cavite. In fact, it was only eight weeks ago. These past two months have been an incredible rollercoaster filled with new friends, new opportunities, new challenges, and a new language to learn!
I first heard of FIMRC in September 2016 when I was searching for a new opportunity in community global health. Having worked for the past two years in Rwanda with a residential youth community, I was eager to get more experience in public health, and continue working within community development. Scrolling the internet is usually a thankless task- but when I found FIMRC's job posting for Project Cavite, I was immediately intrigued. I was especially drawn to FIMRC's mission, including their emphasis on working with rather than for the community. During the interview process, it seemed more and more evident that FIMRC was a special organization doing some great work across the world, and so I was delighted when I was offered the job a few weeks later!
Fast forward two months, and I found myself waking up in the FIMRC Guesthouse in Mendez, Cavite, Philippines- my new home. My first day was a blur of jet lag, confusing public transportation, and names that seemed to slip out of my head the moment they were spoken. The outgoing Field Operations Manager (FOM) was extremely helpful and accommodating; she showed me around the rural health units in the two communities FIMRC works in, introduced me to our partners and key community members, and helped explain the many logistical challenges of riding a jeepny (the bus). I slipped into bed that night with flashed of the day behind me running through my mind; it had been a lot to take in but what stood out was the warm welcome I had received from everyone I had met.
Over the following weeks, I shadowed and worked with the outgoing FOM to get a handle on the operations and running of Project Cavite. I also was able to get to know some of the people I would be working with, including my Filipino colleagues- our community organizer, Mylene, and our cooke, Ate Ellen- and my counterpart, Dr. Ants, from our partner organization, the University of the Philippines. Everyone was supportive, friendly, and very willing to help me expand my Tagalog vocabulary (not without having a good laugh at my atrocious accent first though!). Every day, I felt more and more comfortable in this new place, and each day brought a deeper understanding of my role and the role of FIMRC within the community.
It was not until Christmas Day, however, that I truly felt at home. One of the staff members of the RHU invited me to Christmas lunch with his family. I spent the day baking cookies, drinking buka (coconut) juice straight from the fruit, and eating delicious Filipino food. It was extremely touching how quickly my colleague's family accepted me into their home and made me feel welcome. It was that moment that I knew I was going to enjoy living and working in the Philippines.
Since then there have been a number of milestones- including saying goodbye and thank you to the wonderful outgoing FOM Maureen, welcoming my first volunteers on site, and conducting my first ever PhilPEN screening (an intervention for non-communicable diseases). Although my Tagalog still results in a laugh (or a bemused stare!) from most of the community members, I can understand and speak a few phrases. The public transportation no longer seems like the journey through Mordor, but instead is manageable and enjoyable. And, of course, every day I am amazed at how kind and resourceful my Filipino colleagues and friends are.
Here's to the next year and a half! Salamat po!