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Cassana Kelly - Blog 1: Exciting and Tentative Beginnings

Cassana Kelly - Blog 1: Exciting and Tentative Beginnings

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Blog post
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January 30 2013 

It's difficult to write about experiences you can't quite comprehend.  That is probably why I have found myself over a month into this beautiful and exciting journey still at a loss for words and countless half-attempted and subsequently trashed blog entries.  But with time passing so quickly I am forced to conjure my half processed thoughts onto paper for the sake of my internship requirements. I know I will come to value these blog entries for my own sake as well when my current reality turns into faded memories - a circumstance which seems inconceivable now but from firsthand experience I know will come. 

I have experienced  a spectrum of emotions from bewilderment to pure joy but my 'live in the moment' attitude hasn't left much time for internal processing about my new surroundings and how I fit into my new community.  Maybe it's partly due to the fact that I don't fit in. This was a terrifying discovering I made immediately at Ninoy Aquino airport as I wandered through, blurry eyed and seeking refuge in an airport taxi from peering eyes. 

My first few weeks in Manila have been a whirlwind to say the least.  My first couple of days I spent anxiously, unsure about my surroundings. I found all the noise, traffic and curious stares incredibly intimidating.  But it didn't take long to establish a routine consisting of work, yoga, and sleeping with some hooping and socializing in between.  It's surprising how much I find myself in a similar routine to the one i maintain at home. This has certainly helped the cultural transition I have been experiencing. I speculate these ' growing pains' , as i see them, as something that must be endured through any cultural shift. As time passes I am feeling more comfortable and more open to the experiences and people whom i encounter. I am beginning to see the cities charm which was once clouded by my anxieties and overwhelmed senses. 

My welcoming has been warm from my co-workers, neighbors and passer-bys on the street.  I am coming to love the obligatory 'Good morning mam' I am greeted at least 5 times on my ten-minute foot commute to work  from where my morning tricycle drops me off.  Although dodging vehicles never ceases to make the walk exhilarating and terrifying, the friendliness of the people certainly make it more bearable.  I hate to draw generalizations,  but my experiences thus far have been harmonious with the common stereotype of Filipinos being incredibly friendly. 

I have been trying to be conscious  not draw comparisons between the city  grew up in or go to school in and my new temporary home here- an activity which seems to be a favorite among the expat community.  I refute to willingly impose judgments of my own upon a reality  don't not share. Maybe that is why I am finding the process of reflection so difficult, I haven't quite figured out how to process my new experiences without my western, middle class lens (can you ever really 'lose the lens'?) . I think it is a struggle- or rather a constant balancing act of analysis versus judgments with neither being necessarily desirable at this point in time. I prefer to maintain the approach of smiling and embracing everything that has come my way.   So I have opted to pretend I am just like the locals on the public transit in the morning and try to leave my preconceived notions and analysis at the door. 

My internship at the Center for Migrant Advocacy has gotten off to an interesting and challenging start.  CMA is involved in a vast array of advocacy and policy work and are a part of several advocacy and rights-based networks. I am fascinated by the work of the organization and its interactions as a civil society organization with government and other NGO's involved in migrant policy-advocacy and crisis assistance.  I describe the work as challenging mainly because I have been placed considerable responsibility over projects and have struggled to gain the proper information and resources to complete them.  However, I anticipate the projects to become more manageable once I become more familiar with the structure and mandate of the Philippine government, relative departments, interactions between agencies and  get more comfortable with utilizing my swiftly expanding professional network base!

I really appreciate Ellene Sana, the executive director of CMA's belief in working through the legal channels, and pushing for policy change through existing legal frameworks. CMA seeks to take government to task acknowledging its own limitations as a non-government organization attempting to tackle issues which span across international borders, cultures and governments.    This approach is a contrast from my somewhat of an anarchist attitude towards social justice and I am learning a lot from the alternative perspective for proposing and creating social and/or policy change.  Although any sort of policy change is an admittedly slow process, CMA has shown me that tenacity is a essential component for any successful NGO.

Currently I am working on two long term research projects both in response to the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR) submitted in the second state party report  to the Philippine government formulated by the UN Committee on Migrant Workers (UN CMW).  I am tasked with creating a parallel NGO report to be submitted to the UN CMW, providing a counter perspective to the responses that will be provided by the Philippine government.  I am addressing two key issues. Firstly, the transparency and accessibility of information available to foreign nationals migrating into the Philippines. As well as providing information on the measures taken by the state party to improve the vulnerable situations of Filipino migrant women.