SOLACE launch at Keele University

Written by Dr Lisa Dikomitis 

November and December 2017. Although  winter in the UK, our offices at Keele University and Ateneo de Manila University were buzzing with #WeAreSolace excitement. Setting up the website, preparing the ethics application, inviting guests for the launch, sourcing good venues for the Cultural Animation workshops in Northern Samar, recruiting workshop participants, arranging field trips are only a couple of the many tasks on our long ‘to do’ lists.

We decided to keep the SOLACE launch at Keele University quite intimate, entre nous, and make the SOLACE launch in Manila a big party. One sunny November day, we had a fabulous long meeting in which we made our many SOLACE plans concrete and specific. I had a little surprise for the UK-based team members to celebrate the official start of the project: homemade SOLACE beer.

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Beer brewed by anthropologist Vassos Argyrou on the occasion of the SOLACE launch

It was a great meeting with many presentations and discussions (no, we did not taste the beer during the meeting).  Dr Ginger Ramirez and Issa Mijares-Ramos joined us via Skype and Google Hangouts, it was noon time in the UK but already pushing midnight in Manila. Ginger and Issa presented us some fine-grained ethnographic vignettes from their exploratory field trip in the Province of Northern Samar. The province is accessible, from Manila, by plane (1 hour) and via land and water transportation (between 18 and 24 hours). According to the 2015 Census the province has a population of more than 632,000. Northern Samar is on place 37 (out of 83) when it comes to size (land area) and it is the fourth poorest (out of 83) provinces in the Philippines. Northern Samar has the highest poverty incidence among the Eastern Visayas provinces.

What was great is that Ginger and Issa used their field notes to talk about everyday life in Northern Samar. They did so through the life stories of 6 locals (we would say ‘key informants’ in anthropology):

  • A driver in his mid-40s who owned two vans and offers transportation in the province
  • A barangay captain (village chief) in her early 50s, she is an elected official in the smallest administrative division in the Philippines
  • A nurse who married a Northern Samar local and settled in the province where she has been working in a Rural Health Unit for the last 10 years, she belongs to the 5.8% of the entire provincial population who completed an undergraduate degree
  • A woman who has been a midwife for 38 years in one of the remote barangays, her job is from 8 to 5 but in reality she works round the clock
  • A woman who runs her own sari-sari (mini-convenience) store and has been an accredited barangay health worker for 12 years
  • A fisherman who started faith-healing when he was 18, he holds office on Tuesdays and Fridays, tambalan (faith healer) is also referred to as pintakasi (mediator) or pabulong (energy whisperer)

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Ginger and Issa joining the Keele team via Skype 

Sue Moffat, Director of the New Vic Borderlines, and Professor Mihaela Kelemen, Director of CASIC (Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre), are both SOLACE Co-Investigators. I met Sue and Mihaela when I joined Keele University a year ago. Two very inspirational women who pioneered the innovative Cultural Animation methodology. It was great to introduce Mihaela and Sue to Ginger and Issa and start planning the Cultural Animation workshops to be held in Manila and Northern Samar in January 2018.

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Sue and Mihaela, the founding mothers and pioneers of Cultural Animation

In the meant time, we prepared the SOLACE ethics application which was submitted to the University Research Ethics Office at Ateneo de Manila University.  Thank you Ivy, in Northern Samar, for the help with the translations of the Participant Information Sheets and Consent Forms to Waray, the local language spoken in Northern Samar.

Ethics application SOLACE submitted 

The SOLACE project is well on its way now and we are all looking forward to the SOLACE launch in Manila after which the field work will start.