TM: What kind of work do you do with climate change in the Philippines?
Naima: I am working under two different hats in the Philippines: one a policy hat, the other a private sector hat, but both hats share the same “green” color.
Under the policy hat, I work as a research fellow for the Ateneo School of Government towards collaborating with the private sector on developing policies and incentives consistent with sustainable development and climate change objectives in the Philippines.
How did you come to work internationally?
After graduating high school, I decided to take a gap year and volunteer in Guatemala, where I taught English and health to the children of migrant coffee workers. It was during that year that I was first exposed to both the challenges and excitement of living in another country. I have since become addicted to that environment.
During university, I spent a summer in Uganda working on malaria prevention. I also returned to Guatemala to carry out my thesis research. Since then, I have also lived and worked in Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, and now the Philippines, with a two-year New York City stint in between.
What are the effects of climate change on a country made up of islands?
The Philippines constantly ranks in the top three most vulnerable countries to climate change. A country made up of 7,000 islands, the Philippines is in a part of the world that gets a lot of big tropical storms. In the past few years, the Philippines has experienced some of the worst storms ever to make landfall on Earth. The mayor of Tacloban, one of the cities that was hit in 2013, continues to find cadavers around every two weeks.
As a developing country, with very little access to vital resources, the Philippines has a low ability to adapt and cope with disasters brought about by climate change impacts.
A report by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources identifies five different risk factors that contribute to its vulnerability: A rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall events, extreme heating events, increased ocean temperatures, and a disturbed water budget. Given the Philippines’ vast shorelines and built-in geographic susceptibility, any one of these could be disastrous.
Climate change will continue to affect sectors that are strategically important for economic growth, e.g. agriculture, fisheries, and water resource management.
Given the island remoteness of much of the population, many people are not connected to the main electricity grid and have to buy expensive diesel instead.
In addition, while the country is committed to reducing 70 percent of its emissions by 2030, the government is considering approving 20+ coal plants. This is clearly a big case for transitioning to renewable energy!
How does life as a non-native give you a different perspective on the country?
More than 10 percent of Filipinos are OFW (overseas foreign workers), a majority of these living in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Compared to the reputation of the U.S. among most other countries in the world, Filipinos actually adore the U.S. They fanatically follow politics, sports (especially basketball), and pop culture. Most of my colleagues here know more about the latest Kardashian update and Trump idiocy than I do. So be prepared, if you plan to visit here, to answer A LOT of questions about the U.S.
One of the most startling realizations I made here was how many Filipinos work in call centers. Because of the Philippines’ history under U.S. rule, most Filipinos speak English and learn it in school. The accent is very light compared to other call-center-heavy countries (e.g. India), so the U.S. prefers to hire them (to lessen the harassment that some rude Americans give to people who speak English with any hint of a foreign accent).
The unfortunate consequence of this outsourcing is the negative impacts of the work on the health and psyche of these mostly young employees. They work shifts ranging from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. (given the 12 hour time difference to EST). This leads to unnatural biorhythms, high HIV rates, and increasing rates of depression–thanks to the monotony of the job and abusiveness of the clients. So next time you call customer service, think about what time of night it may be for the other person on the line.
Nonetheless, no matter what difficulty Filipinos face (including probably the most annoying one of all–the inescapable traffic of Manila), they always maintain a light-hearted spirit.
I have never come across a people as sympathetic, happy, friendly, welcoming, smiley, positive, fun-loving, generous, and hospitable as the Filipinos. The vibe here feels like the exact opposite as that of New York City.
Several times, I have had an experience such as the following one: I wait forever at the bank, for an Uber driver, or at a cashier due to some technical issue, system failure, or crappy Wi-Fi connection. I am exasperated by the time I am finally attended to, and want to make some snarky remark.
But within 10 seconds, that cashier, driver, or bank teller has won me over with their smile, sincere apology, and go-lucky attitude. And I am once again feeling so happy to be here.
Born in Guatemala to Costa Rican and German parents, Naima proudly brings a global perspective to whatever she does. Previously working as a strategist to accelerate public mobilization on sustainable solutions, she has also worked with GIZ in Bangladesh, and UN Women in New York. She is now based in the Philippines. Naima earned her degree in Public Policy from Duke University and wrote her thesis on the use of efficient cookstoves in Guatemala. Alongside her work, Naima is a trained salsa dancer/acro-yogi and loves performing.