Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be part of the crew of an advocacy ship? Sailing around the globe, braving the waves, meeting and hearing stories of impacted communities firsthand, and contributing to scientific research while campaigning for environmental and social justice.

Today, we delve into the journey of two Filipina volunteers who embarked on a voyage aboard the Greenpeace ship – the Rainbow Warrior – a journey that proved to be life-changing.

Meet Jolina and Val

Jolina Loneza, a 27-year-old architectural designer with a keen interest in environmental sustainability, hails from Candaba, Pampanga, a place that experiences deep floods almost every year. It is this very issue that made her interested in knowing more about environmental issues and helping find solutions for it, leading her to volunteer for Greenpeace. “It was a normal routine growing up: going to school, walking through floods, riding in a garbage truck, and taking a jeepney while soaked. Solutions are there! But the root problem lies within the system. I don’t want the next generation to grow up thinking that they always need to adapt to problems caused by selfishness.”

Valian Urag, known to many as Val, works in the hotel industry and is passionate about promoting sustainable practices within her community. While working in El Nido, Palawan, she was mesmerized by the beauty of our oceans but saddened whenever plastic pollution began to creep in after monsoon waves. She made an effort to educate people online but realized that something else is needed to make a significant impact. “I realized that the effort I was putting into raising awareness about single-use plastics and their effects on marine life in Palawan was not enough. The plastic waste problem is escalating by the minute, and Palawan cannot be the only part of the world affected by it. It is a global issue.”

The Journey Begins

Ignited by their passion for environmental justice, Jolina and Val seized the opportunity to volunteer aboard the Rainbow Warrior last December 2023. Fresh off from the Climate Reparations Ship Tour in the Philippines, the ship’s mission was to raise awareness about the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues, advocate for policy reform, and empower communities to enact change.

“As a volunteer, I am aware of the legendary tales of Greenpeace ships’ quests to stop nuclear bomb tests. This, along with the other tales of how Greenpeace takes action on the vast ocean against environmental crimes, is something I have always wanted to witness,” Jolina explains.

Open Boat Tour in Manila. © Chris J Ratcliffe / Greenpeace
Talks on Climate Action onboard the Rainbow Warrior in Manila, Philippines. © Chris J Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

“We were deckhands on the ship, and for a short period, I also became an assistant chef, and occasionally, a birthday card maker (voluntarily)! We also experienced becoming garbologists – a fancy name for people who sort the garbage on board and place them in the proper bins. For the three months I was there, we were lucky to experience all the things the ship does, including the maintenance period (changing all the sails, painting, chipping, making sure everything is tidy as we have daily morning cleaning), the ship tour period (we assisted in setting up the deck for events, created banners, and were stationed to give tours of the helideck and bow. This was probably my favorite part as I got to share our experiences and answer questions about the campaigns and how Greenpeace ships contribute to them), and research (we had scientists on board and helped them with their research. We learned a lot about cetaceans and did rounds observing the ocean to sight them).”

Eye-opening moments

Reflecting on their time at sea, Jolina and Val recount several eye-opening moments that left a lasting impression.

“Just being a woman on a sailing ship. Wherever we go, whichever port we dock in, the women on board never fail to turn heads. People are awestruck. It is still not very common in the shipping world to see women doing deck work. Thus, it feels like a huge honor to be side by side with such strong, willful women on the Rainbow Warrior,” Val emphasizes.

Jolina shares, “After work hours, we gather around the helideck to enjoy the sunset or have conversations about random topics. The different stories of the crew, their travels with the ship, and even how much love they have for the environment and animals made me realize why we are doing this. We also have an amazing view of the sunset and night sky that I make time to appreciate – this is what we are protecting. Moments where we can just enjoy talking to people while being in a breathtaking view, that is the life I want. A life with fewer worries, a life with fresh air, a life where everyone can be part of nature.”

Sunrise in Bohol. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace
Sunrise taken from the Rainbow Warrior as it’s anchored in Cebu Strait near Bohol, to bear witness to island and coastal communities’ experiences of climate change. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace

Societal Challenges

Despite their invaluable contributions, women still often face systemic barriers and gender-based discrimination.

“We are more vulnerable to harassment and threats. Our generation has significantly changed but we still have people who haven’t opened their minds with how women stand up for what they believe in. They take it less seriously if a woman talks and will use intimidation trying to shut us up,” Jolina observes. “Countless women are demonstrating the significance of our contributions. Women will continue to provide solutions and demonstrate their care for the environment, and we want to feel safe doing so. We are not asking for incentives; we simply seek a space where we can speak and be heard, especially in public, without worrying about our safety or facing malicious social media attacks.”

Hope for the Future

Looking ahead, Jolina and Val are optimistic about the future of environmental volunteerism. “More women are more likely to volunteer because we can empathize with the pain nature has suffered, and thus, we yearn for solutions,” Jolina asserts. “Even in other social advocacies, women volunteer driven by their experiences. We do not volunteer simply because we want to; we do it because we need to.”

Val remarks, “I carry a powerful hope and clarity for the future of the environmental movement through our youth. Every Rainbow Warrior Open Boat tour I join reinforces this realization. This generation recognizes when they’re presented with only half measures or band-aid solutions to significant problems, especially when it affects their future. They are agents of change. With determination to make their voices heard, they are highly capable of building political pressure to enact policies that shape the future of their environment, raising society’s awareness, and holding corporations accountable for moral responsibility. With strong-willed young people taking the forefront in strengthening climate justice, it is not just wishful thinking to envision a better future; it is conceivable.”

As we celebrate Earth Month, let us draw inspiration from Jolina, Val, and countless other volunteers contributing to environmental justice. By having unwavering determination and boundless passion, ordinary people like you can also sail the seas of change, inspiring more to rise up and join in the journey towards a better world.

Take action today

Whatever taking action looks like to you–from signing a petition, to being on board the Rainbow Warrior– it’s a vital part of creating the green and peaceful future we need. Begin that journey today.