Norala, South Cotabato

As it turns out, there are still stories that need to be told. I don't know what it is with Egypt that's making me nostalgic all of a sudden, but I was brought back to this particular time in my life. I was once a Program Officer for Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Inc. (JVPFI), an organization that sent young men and women to the most marginalized communities in the Philippines in various capacities. 

I myself was once a volunteer teacher for JVP before becoming a full time Program Officer. As PO, I was in charge of checking in on the volunteers so I got to travel a lot. And let me tell you, those were some of the happiest days of my life. Personally, from someone who's tried working corporate, nothing beats working with people on the ground. These days I've been craving for the chance to participate in some sort of volunteer or development work. But that isn't possible given the circumstances. So I turn to blogging. 

I guess it won't hurt to tell these bits and pieces of what I've encountered in the area, in the hopes that I can contribute to helping JVP or some other organization, get some more volunteer. Hell, if I could encourage one person to volunteer, through these entries, then this blog has done its job. 

One of these days I'll talk about the joys of volunteering, but let me be clear now: I do not intend to encourage anyone to volunteer simply because there is an opportunity to travel. While it certainly is wonderful that organizations such as JVP, VSO, or CRS, offer opportunities for travel, I hope that your motivation will come from somewhere more profound. What that is, though, you'll have to discover yourself. 

For now, I'd like to share with you my visit to Norala, a small barrio in the province of South Cotabato. Justin Gunnacao was sent here to help the school, Notre Dame of Norala, in their outreach programs in the community. Norala certainly isn't on the tourist map of places to visit, but it had a beauty all its own. 

1. The food was awesome. New York is lacking in good street food. I don't mean hot dogs and chips. I mean, the kind of street food that will make you salivate and worry about your health.

2. It never ceases to amaze me how one person can have such an impact on so many lives simply by being present. And this is a two way street. 

3. Here in Norala, the air is fresh and the stars are visible at night and not clouded by pollution. 

4. I really enjoy working and interacting with students. Especially when you meet a couple who are determined to rise above whatever difficult situation they are in. Of course, there are also those you'd want to hit on the head. But we have those everywhere anyway. 

5. If you're ever in Norala, you might want to visit Lake Sebu. But that's for another entry. 

6. I remember this particular visit distinctly because this is the one where I was made to judge a lechon cooking contest!! I think I tried 8 lechon (roasted pig). And you're surprised that the doctors diagnosed me with high bad cholesterol before coming to New York. True story.

7. Perya or the local version of a carnival. Sure, the bolts and screws holding the pieces of the perya rides are rusty . Yeah, you can die any time. But it's still fun. You only live once.

8. You have not truly lived if you haven't seen a local version of our beauty pageants. The costumes are wild and the answers even wilder. When I was a volunteer, I was made to judge a beauty pageant. In fact, I was the head judge. hahaha.

9. The best time to visit would be the week of the fiesta. You will never go hungry.

 10. Lastly, I miss our TSPs (Talking Sharing and Praying) which I get to do with each volunteer.

Sure, cancer's a biaatch. But chicken intestines' the bomb.

Justin's co-teachers.

There's Justin. This ride is called the octopus.

 And here's the pageant I was telling you about.

I could use one of those hats here in Egypt. 

 Some of the students.

 We also dropped by the ukay ukay, or rummage sale.

Finally the hour os judging the best lechon in time has arrived. 

 It's not fun as the eating part.

Norala, stay lovely.


  1. gina hidlaw man ko sa noralah bah damo ko da paryente halos isa ka baryo da sa purok san roque. tani maka suroy man ko da hai.

  2. hello niko...may i use some of your pictures for the norala blogweb? please thanks. email me God bless


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