Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Energy to the Youth: EDC Lets Students Experience the Summer of Their Lives

Peals of laughter and shouts bounced off the trees, echoing through the ravines and valleys of the upland sitio of Ticala in Caidiocan, Valencia, 21 kilometers west of Negros Oriental’s capital Dumaguete City. They did not disturb the moths, amazing in its variety, that thrive in the still forested and bucolic area in southeastern Negros Island, where Cuernos de Negros mountains dominate the horizon.
Clad in bright orange, 14- and 15-year-old students were cheerily competing in an Amazing Race-type race. Grouped into six teams with amusing names—Amazing Jaguars, Orange Stallions, Nightingales, etc.—48 teenagers had to make twelve pit stops where they had to tackle challenges, putting to test the survival training, such as orienteering and basic map reading, basic mountaineering, basic rope techniques and rappelling, they were taught the previous days. Almost everyone’s favorite was the Slide for Life, a zip line. The V bridge, made entirely of ropes with a single big one to walk on, made many quiver.
A few meters from the campsite, there is a view deck, which affords a panoramic view of the Southern Negros Geothermal Production Field (SNGPF) which constantly releases billows of steam like clouds that float among the jagged and verdant mountains then dissipate into the air. Somewhere, streams are gurgling through forests and villages. One stream has a high iron content that made the rocks and pebbles red in a barangay called Pulangbato.
The race was the culminating activity before graduation at the Energy Camp or E-Camp of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), the Philippines’ leading geothermal energy company.
Melanie Vineles, 15, and Jeffrey Naceg, 14, of Balugo National High School had heard many good things about E-Camp and said they were happy being part of this year’s summer youth camp. Children of farmers in Valencia, they counted discipline and being independent as the important things they learned, and the Slide for Life zip line and wall climbing as their memorable activities.
From the other side of the island, Lara Felisa Concepcion, 14, from Ramon Torres Louisiana National High School in Bago City, Negros Occidental, was equally delighted to be part of the camp. Being the associate editor of Filipino of their school paper Pagbubukang-liwayway, she said she did not get homesick because she had been away before—for a school publication conference—but the first thing she said she will do upon getting home is to hug her parents, a utility man and a canteen worker at the school she is attending.
From the same province, Nadia T. Repoyla of Minoyan National High School in Murcia, echoed the sentiments of the batch in a testament she delivered at the graduation rite: “I and my fellow campers had truly experienced the enjoyment that we haven’t felt before. We enjoyed all the activities we’ve done. And all of these made a very big impact in ourselves. It developed our socialization [skills] as teenagers. [The camp] aided us on how to improve our skills with the many different activities such as dancing and the sports activities. I had also experienced being tired, and sometimes [there were] ‘lifeless’ moments due to lack of communication with my family and friends, but still the enjoyment and excitement were there.”
Every year, the EDC hold summer camps in its five geothermal project sites in Leyte, Negros, Albay-Sorsogon and North Cotabato for the scholars it is supporting in these communities and some of the employees’ children, all incoming fourth-year high school students. Before there were two separate camps for the Northern Negros Geothermal Production Field (NNGPF) in Negros Occidental and the SNGPF in Valencia, Negros Oriental. Of recent, there is only one camp for both sites.
This year, the E-Camp, which happened from April 12 to 18, has 48 scholars—24 scholars and eight children of EDC employees of SNGPF and sixteen NNGPF. The SNGPF participants came from Pulangbato National High School, Balugo National High School, Valencia National High School and San Pedro Academy Recoletos, all in Valencia, while the NNGPF participants were from Lopez Jaena National High School in Minoyan, Murcia; and Ramon Torres Louisiana National High School in Bago City.
The E-Camp is part of the corporate social responsibility programs of EDC, which has projects in three main areas—environment, education and livelihood—mostly for the benefit of the communities around its sites.
EDC’s projects in education include scholarships, a technical-vocation school in Leyte and the E-Camp, a brainchild and pet project of former EDC president and chief executive officer Paul A. Aquino.
“We envision a program where teenagers can learn as they all have fun. Campers are asked to do simple daily tasks such as fixing their own bed, preparing breakfast, even washing their own clothes and dishes—skills that they will find useful in life. All these we hope that they will pass on to others when they go back to their families and communities,” he explained.
The seven days of the camp are packed full of activities and lectures. There are outdoor activities such as hiking, rappelling, dancing, basic martial arts and survival training. They are taught personal hygiene, fine dining and table etiquette and personality development. They are also taught the importance and benefits of geothermal energy as well as enabled to do their share in conserving the environment through tree-planting activities and making compost pits. They also get the chance to learn livelihood skills such as making beaded accessories with the help of SNGPF’s Community Partnerships team.
They also learn to get along with different people. The group from the two provinces, each with its own languages—Hiligaynon in Occidental and Cebuano in Oriental—are made to intermingle and interact through the many activities. The participants had difficulty understanding each other and used Filipino to communicate, but they got along fine, forging friendships along the way.
Aquino said that the E-Camp was born because of the threat of the leftist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA), which is present in most of the EDC sites. The camp is aimed to lure kids away from being recruited or indoctrinated by the NPA.
Aquino related that the E-Camp started in 2004 in Valencia with children of employees to find out how to do a summer camp. The following year, it was conducted in other sites and with children from the communities.
“In the first three summer camps, I was very hands-on. I wanted to make sure there were no idle moments. There cannot be an idle moment. Masisira ang summer camp ‘pag may idle moment,” Aquino said. “Maraming lecture time just to make sure there were no idle moments. Then there were sports and physical activities.”
He further said: “The camps have metamorphosed into other things and have become one of our signature corporate social responsibility programs now…It has become a community thing for us already.”
He has gone to most of the camps and said that most of them were very successful. He remembered: “The most successful camp we have was the one in Bicol after typhoon Reming, participated in by students from the whole of Albay and Sorsogon. We gathered all the potential valedictorians and salutatorians. They spoke English well and were all cooperative.”
Reming devastated the Bicol Region in November 2006. The following year EDC decided to open the Bacon-Manito E-Camp to students in the whole of Albay and Sorsogon.
On the other hand, “the least successful are those with parents who forced their kids to attend the camp…Not all kids are into camps. One kid like that can destroy a camp,” Aquino said.
The E-Camp is managed by the company’s Emergency Response Team (ERT), composed of volunteers from different departments of the company. This year, an ERT member, Julius Teves, who works at the SNGPF’s human resources office, is the camp commander for Valencia. Though involved in other aspects of camp operations in previous years, it was his first time to be camp commander.
With the help of the local Barangay Emergency Response Team (BERT), the volunteers from the ERT set up some of the facilities of the camp and ready it for the campers. Before the camp, the present site was once a parking lot. Now, there is a bungalow with 48 beds and toilets for the campers. The ERT team also mans the facilities to be used by the campers.
Since the work for the camp is voluntary, Teves said that it is getting harder for them to get volunteers because their schedule won’t allow them to leave work for a week. They don’t receive extra pay. He was not able to go home in the duration of the camp because he felt responsible to the kids.
“I act as their mother and father at the same time,” he added. “Kasi wala silang choice eh. Ako lang nandito. They are not allowed to contact their parents. Their valuables and cell phones are confiscated before the camp.”
Despite the sacrifices, seeing the impact of the camp on the students was worth it.
“I think ang pinaka-goal ng camp is to be independent,” Teves said. “They are taught to wash their own clothes, to wake up early, to be independent, disciplined, and also they have fun with fellows. What’s nice about it is that during the first two days nagkakailangan ‘yan. Medyo kasi nahihiya…Eventually, especially when we are near closing, they feel close to each other.”
At graduation, many would be crying.
“The success of the camp is gauged by the amount of tears shed during graduation,” Aquino said, who have attended many camp graduations. Like a ninong, he would banter with the campers, play games and award money to those who correctly answered his quizzes. He would inquire about the students’ crushes.
Aquino has just retired on August 2010 and is now an advisor to the company. This year’s graduation was his last. He wants to enjoy his grandchildren, he said. He is already doing that. In a sense, the happy campers have become his grandchildren.

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