This blog is ostensibly a diving blog, but our lives here are, by necessity, intertwined with local life and the local community so today’s entry will focus on them.
As you know if you have been here, the local community is very poor. The Philippines itself has huge problems with poverty. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few and according to international data, 44 % of the population subsist on US$2 or less a day.
One of the main contributors to poverty anywhere is population growth. In the Philippines it is the main cause of poverty, over and above even corruption. Population is growing at an alarming rate, currently 2.36% per year and is expected to increase from around 84 million in 2006 to a staggering 111 million in 2015. Reasons include a lack of family planning, lack of education, lack of access, lack of funding etc etc. And the laws in the Philippines only serve to compound this – artificial methods of contraception are strongly discouraged and abortion is illegal. Read more on this.
The Philippines is a very catholic country and the government is seemingly intent on expanding its population, at the very time in the Earth’s history when it should be cutting back. It is not unusual for women here to have up to 10 or more children, their families living on something around the equivalent of USD50 per month.
But back to Malapascua. Our staff used to be primarily men so pregnancy issues were not something that affected us. But when we opened the bar and restaurant 2 years ago, we started employing more women. Over this time we have lost many of them temporarily or permanently to pregnancy. The lucky ones have ‘supportive’ partners. The unlucky ones are barely out of adolescence and left alone to care for their child(ren). The up side is that Filipino families are communal, so there are usually relatives to help care for the child, allowing the young mother to go back to work.
But to my shock and dismay, I recently found out about a worrying trend on the island. It’s a secret, but everyone seems to know. The young women are finally fighting back at tradition and the law and saying that they are not yet ready for babies. They are not prepared to be celibate (the reasons for this open a whole other debate), contraception is not widely available, not affordable and/or not known about. So in their eyes, there is only one other horrendous path open to them: backstreet abortions by varying, often life-threatening, methods.
As soon as I found out about this, I set out on a mission to do something about it. This used to be slightly related to my field back in my old life, but I am a little rusty to say the least, and had little idea where to begin in a country where even the most basic forms of birth control are frowned upon and difficult to get.
After a ton of web research, I decided to start with a talk and discussion. Armed with a powerpoint presentation I had written, a stack of condoms, a banana and some thermometers, we met in the classroom for an afternoon of education and hilarity. If you have ever met our girls, you know that they like to giggle, so this was certain to be a fun session.
I had no idea what to expect or even if they would be interested. But they had greeted news of the session with glee and enthusiasm and everyone who could come attended. I anticipated their current education to be limited to basic biology mixed in with a few old wives tales. When I remembered the limited knowledge of many teenage girls in the west, it did make me wonder what would come up. My mind always returned to our waitress who carried a pouch of garlic in her underpants throughout her pregnancy to ward off vampires from sucking her unborn baby’s blood…
Their knowledge was indeed limited, but they listened with wide eyes, asked lots of questions, and I hope learned a great deal. Their knowledge and misconceptions were actually very similar to their Western counterparts’.
We had a lot of fun, we giggled a lot, we practiced using condoms on a banana which we gave to Dino afterwards, although failed to trick him into eating it. The girls took the used condoms afterwards to fill up with water and thrown over each other. They each took home a sheaf of condoms for their own use, a certain lady chef promising to practice that very night with her husband, our lucky compressor man. ☺
We will be running a follow up session soon and I intend it to be an ongoing program. I will personally be sponsoring contraception for all our girls and helping them use it effectively. Hopefully we can prevent a few unwanted children on Malapascua and help our girls have children when they are ready, rather than when fate dictates. Who knows, if it works out, I would love to be able to extend it to the whole island.