June 2013: The heat of an oppressive tropical sun blared down on chaotic Tondo, Manila’s most densely populated district. I was facilitating a Filipino cultural enrichment program with a cohort of local students. A muddy stream, the only local waterway, meandered through block upon block of shanty huts loosely anchored to infertile soil. As I trekked toward a community center—refabricated World War II-era barracks—to start the day, I could not help picturing the lush biodiversity permeating that very region during the time of my ancestors in centuries past, and the pervasive environmental, econopolitical, and sociocultural consequences of colonial rule responsible for the impoverished barrenness lying before me. Five months later, when I became a diver, educator, and laboratory technician for the Guam Coral Reef Monitoring Program, Supertyphoon Haiyan had all but razed Tondo into rubble.
Having grown up in two equatorial island nations with deep ties to delicate ecosystems and complicated histories of colonization, I continually ponder humans’ relationship with their environment. The arrant contrast between indigenous peoples’ reverence for the nature surrounding them and their colonists’ desire to wield power over it. Coercive industrialization destroying native farming and fishing economies and subjugating once-powerful tribes to destitution and discrimination at the hands of foreign powers. Galleons wrecking coral populations, overhunting, deforestation, cash crop agriculture, river diversion, deforestation, erosion, pollution … How can we begin to tackle the prodigious ramifications wrought by such unsustainability and open dialogue about equalizing society before the ecologic window of opportunity shuts for good?
My quest to find and implement an answer motivates my interest in the Calumet Quarter. Realizing that I have some to contribute, but much to learn, in terms of competencies, goals, passions, and perspectives, I look forward to opportunities to conduct field research in and collaboratively study, discuss, and analyze policy, economics, history, and human-environment interaction of a region that both mirrors the home I have fervently worked to better and presents its own intricate set of challenges. I anticipate enlightening experiences aligned with personal objectives—fulfilling academic requirements, advancing thesis arguments about environmentalism and public health, and illuminating prospective career paths as an environmental medicine consultant at firms like the World Health Organization, where I contributed to and publicly presented on sustainability and risk factor reduction initiatives for the Western Pacific’s most vulnerable communities last summer. Most of all, I seek an immersive journey toward self-improvement, awareness, appreciation, and inspiration to craft a happier, healthier, more environmentally sound world.
The window of opportunity to make change before irrevocable, unparalleled harm befalls our precious biosphere—and civilization as we know it—is closing at an unprecedented rate. But with innovation and persistence, better paradigms and best practice approaches can be realized just in time. Sustainability does not have to be the price of development; human advancement does not necessitate another Tondo. I want to be part of this collective environmentalist revolution in the Asia-Pacific, in the Calumet region, and around the world—a revolution sparked by an idea; by an encounter; perhaps, by an exceptional Quarter.