Workshop Week

– Nikki Huang

Eight weeks of baselining, power outages, monkey robberies, wild karaoke nights, exploding toilets, and a case of the stomach flu that left no pillow (read: fellow) untouched: workshop day arrived with much relief.

June 13 marked the culmination of our collective efforts over the past two months. Our workshop’s name, Connect El Nido 2018, reflected our central goal for the day: To foster better connection and improved communication between all of El Nido’s stakeholders. Our strategy involved the creation of a comprehensive website called El Nido Official. Though ENO has been a labor of love for all nine fellows, website parents Kamar (resident entrepreneurial spirit and Computer Science guru from Georgetown University), and Annie C (a multi-talented Environmental Science major from Ateneo) were especially proud to see their child take its first few steps. El Nido Official gripped the attention of our workshop audience, composed of local government officials and key private sector personnel.

We’d spent the last hour anxiously setting up our venue, arranging rows of Monobloc chairs in the Legislative Building. Many questions abounded: Would everyone come? Would people find the four skills workshops useful and interesting? How would the website, which we’d labored over for weeks, be received by the LGU? Despite our immersive two months in El Nido, we were not locals, and so were there needs we hadn’t anticipated in our construction of ENO? Personally, I wondered if my meagre Tagalog skills would allow for an effective delivery of our Social Media Workshop. Whitney Houston played in the background as the nine of us stood around, digesting our goals, hopes, fears, and concerns for the day.

Much to our delight, Connect El Nido began promptly at 9 am. Sam, our International Relations major from Georgetown and designated Em Cee, greeted the crowd: His infectious energy began the morning on an eager note.  Giorgi, our Tourism specialist from University of the Philippines, fostered unity and gratitude through a prayer. Finally, Ms. Mariglo Lairirit, El Nido’s very own guardian angel, delivered opening remarks that explained who us fellows were, why we had come, and what hopes we had for El Nido. With that, the projector was uncapped, and made its official debut.

As our morning unfolded into a comprehensive website demo by Ms. Han and a thorough branding presentation by Annie C, it became evident that El Nido Official had far exceeded the expectations of the LGU. Job’s stunning photography backed each page of content, and the thoughtful expressions of our audience provided necessary reassurance.

Perhaps the most fulfilling event of the morning session was breaking up into group discussions for feedback. Finally, we had representatives of all our target stakeholders in one place. My heart swelled with excitement as I pulled a chair up to a focus group. A myriad of suggestions started us off, with remarks covering everything from the order of tabs on the website to suggestions that entire new subsections be dedicated to NGOs, pending government projects, and more.  People campaigned for transparency and volunteered to take charge of website operations with a fervor that surprised-and encouraged- us all. My focus group immediately noted that our logo, (as beautiful as it was) was not accurate. Cadlao Island faces west, and so the sunrise image us fellows had voted for as our logo was actually a sunset. I was humbled by this reminder of our reality:  Despite doing our best to engage in the El Nido local experience, we all still were outsiders looking in, and so constant dialogue with our stakeholders was the only way to succeed at crafting a communication platform.

Following a few rounds of dynamic feedback exchanges, we broke for lunch. The Legislative Office served us pork adobo, fish, and vegetables, providing ample nutrition after an involved morning. Midway through our break, thick black clouds accumulated, and rain beat down on Sam, Lin, Ms. Judith (owner of the legendary Art Café) and I faster than we could run back from Botanica, our usual haunt.  Upon reconvening with the other fellows at the workshop venue, bewilderment set in. The power had gone out, majority of our attendees were nowhere to be found, and the back-up generators hadn’t started. We were due to start the afternoon session in the next 10 minutes.  We sat in darkness, waiting.

As our phone screens flashed 1:45 pm, we found ourselves smiling in relief. The morning’s familiar faces began to return and recollect. LGU personnel were the first to trickle in, followed by Tourism Department representatives, and after that came the volley of artists, hotel and restaurant owners, and activists  Sam and I had painstakingly couriered invites across town to days before . The hope that had been dampened by our lunchbreak typhoon rekindled. For our afternoon session, we had planned a series of skills-based workshops. Annie C’s graphic design and database management sessions were engaging and well attended. Job’s photography and Presentation 101 modules elicited positive response. Mine and Giorgi’s social media management session presented Instagram and Facebook as powerful business tools, much to the intrigue of our attendees. Emboldened by the positive response, I deviated from my own script and tested out my Filipino impromptu, but not without a preemptive apology: Pasensya na po dahil masyadong masama ang aking tagalog! I’m sorry, my Tagalog is a bit poor! Let it suffice to say I am grateful for  my supportive, forgiving audience. Lin, slide deck extraordinaire and our in-house business mogul from Georgetown, also dove into a charismatic Excel presentation, her confidence unfettered by the language barrier.

By 4 pm, a slight exhaustion had settled in. This was to be expected from the day’s information overload and aggressive weather. Still, all of our interactions with the workshop attendees fueled an overarching sense of investment, excitement, and eagerness to move forward.  Sam em-ceed his way to a close, and the band of nine pillows and workshop attendees ended with a profuse exchanged gratitude for the day. Albeit somewhat drained, every GU Impacts Pillow was more than satisfied with the #connectelnido2018 ‘s  outcome. Heads were rested on hands as we gathered around Ms. Mariglo, Ms. Han, and Kuya Loyd to debrief. As we went around reflecting on the day, one particular sentiment stood out: We all recognized -and immensely appreciated- the importance of the cultural dialogue between the Filipino and American fellows. Our mesh of skillsets, perspectives, ideas and experiences had lent itself to moments of tension, our tempers thickening the air in Ten Knots Development Corp. ‘s Central Office. But all this tension had given way to a beautiful end result: A communications platform that was as ground breaking as it was culturally sensitive, as robust as it was comprehensive. El Nido Official was borne out of all of us, and within each tab, header, photo, or body of text, our DNA was to be found.

As I close off this blog post, looking past Lin’s dense bun and out the Casa Kalaw window, I cannot help but see how our experience thus far has been a microcosm of cross-cultural interaction worldwide. Our dynamic is a nuanced one, simultaneously tested by difference and strengthened by unity.  Though today’s world is rife with intercultural conflict, spending the past 8 weeks with the Pillows has left me hopeful that not only tolerance, but true appreciation and cooperation between people of differing backgrounds can be achieved.


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