Returning to my roots

Rachelle Cruz and her crew from LGA and LGSP-LED document the caves of Mabini, Pangasinan
Rachelle Cruz and her crew from LGA and LGSP-LED document the caves of Mabini, Pangasinan

By Rachelle Cruz

Published at The Philippine Reporter on March 8, 2013

The title of my blog, “Strange Newness and Familiarity” describes the hazy feeling of returning to your roots, but with the sense that things, as all do, have changed.  Quite dramatically.  The country’s capital, many districts each with their own personalities and colour is both opulence and scarcity.  I saw skyscrapers and condominium complexes sprouting over the horizons.  Palm-tree lined streets that sprawled from Greenbelt, Bonifacio High Street and Eastwood Plaza glittered with luxurious boutique stores were plunked next to the nitty-gritty informal settlements peppered along the Pasig River.  And let’s not forget the now infamous “Tomas Morato Avenue” mugging incident, where the slight brush past Sampaguita-selling street-kids left me penniless on the first night out.

Fast-forward over a year later, the decks of memories shuffles back as fresh as the warm sea foam Boracay waters.  I was a knowledge management officer for a CIDA-funded project with the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI).   Embedded between the two partners, The Local Governance Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED) and the Local Government Academy (LGA), an arm’s length agency of The Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG), the program focused in promoting local economic development (LED), mainly agriculture and tourism, to benefit the community.  To put simply, a boost in economic sector means more jobs to feed the hungry.

With a journalism degree from Ryerson University, and a patchwork of valuable experience under my belt, I spearheaded several initiatives, trying not get lost in the land of acronyms.  I benchmarked the best LED practices across Asia; conducted field group discussions; and trained local staff in video production, script writing and storyboarding.  This proved useful during the video documentation of the Bird Watching program of Bangrin Marine Protected Area of Bani and the Spelunking program of Cacupangan Cave system of Mabini.

Equipped with gloves and hard hats, we slugged heavy camera equipments through the four-km slippery cave formations.  Flow stones, big columns, and groundwater seeped everywhere.  Stalactites and stalagmites formed a mosaic of mineral-rich deposits.  Knee-deep in cool water, I interviewed Rawen Balmaña, the president of the Balincaguin Conservancy.   He spoke of preserving the natural beauty of the caves, and clean-up campaigns.   His crew took us to what they called the “logging room”.  Residents have logged down some areas that took years to form because of a landscape competition.  Since then, the conservation policy was formed and sustained by the group.  Our documentary was part of promoting the emerging tourism site for private investors and officials to see through their development plans.

Between the delicate balance of activities under rapid-fire intensity, I found my zen-like calm and inspiration through newfound friendships and mentors I’ve encountered along the way.   From caving in unexplored regions, to late night deadlines at the office, or rubbing elbows with the likes of Mayor Edward Hagedorn, and the late Hon. former DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo, this journey might just be my beginner’s luck.  But as they say, It’s More Fun in the Philippines.

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