Three years ago, a community-based theatre group that I’m proudly part of joined the Water Patrol Caravan to facilitate an acting workshop to different barangays around our city, with participants producing short plays focused on wastewater issues.
Our takeaway from that caravan led to the birth of the Water Benders, a Water Patrol unit dedicated to using our passion in performing arts not just to entertain, but to also inspire and educate our audiences to take a stand against toxic pollution sources and stand up for clean water.
Fast forward to 2014, we just recently concluded a meaningful and fulfilling workshop for our new members that will help us in our work as Water Patrollers. The workshop included field visits to communities near industrial facilities and along freshwater bodies.
The objective of the fieldwork was simple; however, to give it a little twist, we designed a race around it, with clues, flags, countdown and points for each challenge accomplished. This was an exercise for our new members to practice citizen investigative journalism, where they would locate certain unnamed industrial facilities in our city using the clues provided, gather as much relevant information about it as they can from the residents living in the area, then report it during the debrief.
The participating groups went out on the streets, ignoring the blazing heat of the sun to ace the tasks provided on each clue. We all had a rough start, since majority of the participants didn’t even know such facilities existed in their own backyard. Admittedly, even I didn’t know these existed. In my opinion, our city is relatively progressive and has effectively implemented several environment-related policies.
Imagine my surprise hearing the residents’ various feedback about possible pollution sources and its impacts in their areas; the evening fogs that perpetually cause zero-visibility in the road that made travelling at night very unsafe, the awful and strong offensive odour they smell on a regular basis, incidents of nausea, dizziness and chronic respiratory health issues. When asked what these were and where these came from, the common response was “I DO NOT KNOW”. Despite these conditions affecting them on a daily basis, only a few of the residents claimed to have already sought help from authorities to resolve these issues. Majority, however, preferred to remain silent due to fear of retribution.
After the exercise, it dawned on me that knowing our community really well is a good place to start as any to getting involved in environment-related issues. We need to go outside, use our senses to observe, document and gather information so we can better understand the industrial pollution issues relevant to our own community so we can effectively communicate with them in a bite-size, easily digestible and relevant way. Information regarding chemical emissions from facilities is a matter of public safety. It is essential to make it publicly accessible, to be used as leverage for us to better protect ourselves from the possible health hazards we may be exposed to.
For me along with my fellow Water Benders, ignorance and indifference are no longer an option. This exercise has helped us identify our next steps as a Water Patrol unit. We now know which specific areas in our own community we need to go to and help empower in our succeeding activities. The dance continues, until we get more people dancing to the same tune, calling for clean water and safer communities free of hazardous chemical emissions.
Rico Abayon is a facilitator and tenured member of the Water Benders, a Water Patrol unit of Teatro Marikeño since 2011.