Power walking, NGO style

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The image reminds me of days, the years I spent in the field, facilitating development for communities.  My look though was tomboy fare: cropped hair, jeans, cargo pants, tee shirts or long-sleeved plaid shirts (defense against sunburn, mosquitoes, and the like), sweaters, and sneakers.  A snack-laden backpack to go with.  Maybe a cap on hot days, but no umbrella, ever.  To protect my face, I brought along newspaper instead which was less conspicuous.  I still got sunburned though, through the years, and have never gotten my pre-development work color back.

The rule in the field is, blend in with the people and your surroundings.  But once, I wore heels the day I was introduced to local partners in my new area.  On entering the room, I saw folks gathered inside trying hard not to show that they were giving me a once-over.  I caught one of them – who turned out to be my local counterpart – raising her brows ever so slightly.  I was prepared to deliver a speech in defense of heels and individuality, but I realized nobody actually openly commented on my heels.

I usually go around the village along with a resident-volunteer or a village official. The local government insisted because, well, for one, the place isn’t exactly snake-free, literally and figuratively speaking.

If I were to add up the miles I walked, I would’ve probably already traversed half the map. In CAR, with villages spread out across mountainous terrain, walking was the only way to reach them. In the Metro, if only EDSA was walkable, I could walk from Cubao to Makati City.

Walking was one of the things I missed when I went to work at headquarters.  But it was good that company policy required HQ staff especially in Program to go on field a certain percentage of the time yearly.  But then when HQ staff visited the field offices we’re brought around in the company car and field personnel in charge of our itinerary preferred to bring us to areas accessible by car which to a former field worker is no fun.  HQ staff were practically delivered door to door.  It made sense though because as outsiders we weren’t very familiar with the areas and no sensible field staff would expose higher-ups to risks. Nonetheless, being in research meant I had more leeway to go around the areas on foot and local transportation and when necessary spend nights there.

These days, as an independent contractor, I could’ve supervise the work from the comfort of my private space from afar but I prefer not to. I still like walking around, like I did when I was much younger. I don’t think I’ll let go of that. To be able to experience the local landscape and listen to locals talk about their lives are for me a gift which I’m open and grateful to receive.

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