When we first start out, all I can hear is the roar of the engine and all I can feel is the torrent of warm air rushing past my face. The coastline is dotted with glistening resorts and swaying palm trees. Modest single-story buildings peer out too, reminding me of the rapid change that has befallen this coast. In the distance, I see a majestic city rising between me and the mountains. Light clouds hover here and there among the mountains.
My gaze now turns from the channel to my colleagues. As we make our commute to Gilutongan Island, we are bound to have an animated conversation. These outward-bound trips are always filled with excited anticipation so palpable it sticks to the humid air. I cling to my clipboard of maintenance sheets as we ponder the possibilities of a more sustainable future. Yes, these are the conversations I must hold on to and act upon. This is the energy that changes our world.
The bangka slows as our destination comes in to view. A long jetty juts out from the northern tip of the island, awaiting locals and foreigners alike. We walk a plank that connects us to the land and then happily make our way along a thin sand path around the island. I can smell the salt in the air, and indeed even when I stop to wash my hands, it is with saltwater. The island does not have any freshwater. This is why we are here.
We duck under a low gate and soon are greeted by the peals of youthful laughter. We have made it to the school, where a rainwater harvesting system is being installed to supply the area with year-round fresh water. Beyond the construction site, the school itself is breathtaking. The grounds come to life with painted plastic bottles everywhere and for every use. The bottles line the walkways. Large and small containers hang, lie, and stand as pots for plants. Others dot the school walls, these being cut in the shape of flowers and mushrooms. The whole place is a demonstration of how imagination can mold the possibilities of reality.
The principal makes her way towards us. Her sharp smile matching the confident ease with which she updates us on the school’s construction. We discuss schedules, trainings, and logistics in the second-floor office. Meanwhile the outside drone of a microphoned voice initiates waves of children’s laughter. Soon we are all together, going through activities. Our work continues this way until it is time to go.
We retrace our steps out the low gate and along the thin sand path. The bangka waits for us. On the ride back, the engine is just as loud, but my thoughts have traveled to a quiet place of pondering. Here on this boat, I am straddled between two worlds. I am between the second largest city in the Philippines – with all the luxuries of a modern city – and Gilutongan Island – which still struggles to satisfy local needs for freshwater.