Philippines: The plastic world

I have seen many kind of things around the world, but not this.

Already beforehand I was trying to prepare myself for Philippines. I was expecting a culture shock – which once hit me in India – and thought, how I can have my education days, if it attacks me again. Above all, though, I was very excited. I would get to experience something extraordinary. This we all had been waiting for: that world would open again, that our new vessel would be ready for work. That we could start our first big cleaning project with plastic.

Already the trip from airport to hotel showed me the real face of Cebu. But in the beginning everything is just exciting. During the first week we went around the rivers of different areas and I saw the same, as in pictures: plastic and other waste. In addition swollen animal bodies and locals, who jumped to river to clean them by hands. I just stared at the river in silence, while children of the villages wandered around me in delight. I requested our representative from Philippines to ask them, what they think about the view: “They don´t care”, he replied shrugging. I was trying to image, how it feels to watch and smell those views covered with plastic and dirt, not caring a little. But no, I couldn´t do it.

In the end I came here to educate locals. I had the opportunity to educate them about recycling- and plastic things, to tell them, how we have solved these problems and what other countries are doing. I was very proud and excited about my work. I understand that not so many can have this opportunity. I have a great passion for my work and it made my trip even more difficult. I went through a step where I was thinking if I really want to do this work? Can I handle this? I could be doing something easier too. But finally I don´t know anything which would be more important for me. I don´t know why I would give up – who would then take care of the world, if we give up?

The attitude of Filipinos discouraged me first. And maybe also afterwards a little bit. It felt like they want somebody to wave a wand, so that everything will be fixed suddenly. As if they are not serious about doing anything themselves. They just kept asking, yes, but what should we do? Start working, it is something you should do! In the end of my education I emphasized that all the methods and solutions already exist. Now the only thing to do is to start working. Laws and plastic bans don´t exist only because they look good on paper. They are meant to be exercised. My faith in Filipinos was restored by the fact that in my educations the audience began to put more and more pressure on decision makers. They want things to change. I was finally thanked by hand, which is rare at my work.

A culture which is completely different from Finland´s own brings its´ own challenges to international work. It is not possible to work abroad with the attitude that things should be handled as at home. When one has the ability to adapt to different cultures, possibilities to change the world are big. And this is what we at Clewat want to do – change the world.

Picture and article: Katja Vaulio

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