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Filipino family ties

This story was originally published on the MSNBC.com web site on October 12, 1998.
Peace Corps credo lives on in 30-year relationship
DAVAO, Oct. 12—Our globe-trotting correspondent, Marian Rivman, finally comes full circle in her round-the-world trip, returning to the Philippines, where her adventure began as a community volunteer 30 years ago. And the seeds she sowed then have reaped a bounty of personal rewards.
"On September 22, 1961, Congress approves legislation formally authorizing Peace Corps, giving it the mandate to Ôpromote world peace and friendship' through three goals: "(1) To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers. "(2) To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. "(3) To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans."
On Sept. 23, 1961, while still a student in high school, I announced to my family that I would join the Peace Corps when I graduated from college. No one took me seriously; they were certain I would change my mind. I never wavered from that decision. I applied for Peace Corps service my senior year in college and, much to my relief, was accepted. I was assigned to the Philippines. The day after I graduated, I started the 10-week training program. I flew to the Philippines on Sept. 12, 1966, my 21st birthday. Since its creation, 150,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps. I can't speak for the other 149,999, but I can say without question that my two years in the Peace Corps in the Philippines provided the seminal experience of my adult life. I wasn't always happy there. As a matter of fact, I was pretty miserable my first year. I was teaching in Tacurong, a small, dusty town in the center of the island of Mindanao in the southern part of the country.
Not only was the town less than the tropical paradise of my fantasies, it was dangerous. There were weeks when the local Philippine Constabulary would escort me to and from school for fear something would happen to me and cause an international incident. When the municipal judge was shot in the local church on Easter Sunday while taking communion, Peace Corps officials figured it was time to get me out of town. I was moved to Davao, the largest city in Mindanao. Davao was big stuff compared to Tacurong. The streets were paved (for the most part), there was electricity 24 hours a day (barring brown-outs), two air-conditioned movie theaters, ice cream whenever you wanted it (only one brand and limited flavors, but what the heck), a hotel, the Apo View, in the heart of the city that let Peace Corps volunteers use their swimming pool and frequent their discotheque without paying the cover charge (that's when I learned about the perks that come with having the right job) and an airport with flights to a dozen different locations, which made for easy travel whenever I had time off. I had an apartment in the center of town just blocks from the regional Peace Corps office, movie theaters and the hotel with the swimming pool. I decorated it with furniture and handicrafts I found in the market. I convinced the Peace Corps that, rather than continue as a school teacher, I should be assigned to a community-development project, Bayanihang Mangagawa, that was offering job training for displaced farmers. Best of all, I had great friends and felt connected to the Davao community.
One of the board members of Bayanihang was a man named Ding Diaz. The first time I talked to Ding, he said: "You should meet my wife; I think you two would really like each other." So started a relationship that has lasted more than 30 years. Ding, his wife Elsie, their young children Anthony, Natalie and Dana and their entire extended family (Ding's brother Bayani is married to lsie's sister Erna) became "my Filipino family." When I was living in Davao, I saw them every dd to lsie's sister Erna) became "my Filipino family." When I was living in Davao, I saw them every day. I was Tita (aunt) Marian. Ding's family were old-time Davao residents and he knew everyone in town. Whatever I needed, Ding had a connection. The Diaz family owned a businessman's hotel, The Imperial, on the main street of Davao. Whenever I had problems with my apartment (a rodent infestation, my neighbors depositing a mound of the smelly fruit durian outside my kitchen window, a flood in the bathroom etc.), I'd move into the hotel. That's also where my parents stayed when they came to the Philippines to visit me. My relationship with the Diaz family enriched my Peace Corps experience beyond measure. They are warm, loving people who took a foreigner into their home and hearts. And they have remained a part of my life all these years. I went back to Davao to spend Christmas with the Diazes in 1980. It had been 12 years since I had left. Davao had changed very little. Ding and Elsie had had two more children, Mitzi and J.B. I was welcomed back as a member of the family. In 1986, I got a call from Erna's daughter, Marites, that Ding was coordinating the campaign efforts in Davao for Corazon Aquino's bid for the presidency of the Philippines and that the family wanted me to come home to Davao and share this historic moment with them. Ferdinand Marcos had been President of the Philippines since I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I had been following the election closely. I flew to Davao to be with the Diazes. My plane was the last one to land in Manila before the airport was closed. Ding was there to meet me and we were able to catch the last plane from Manila to Davao. On the afternoon I arrived, there was a huge rally for Aquino. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Ding, Elsie and the children, tears streaming down our cheeks as we sang the Philippine national anthem. It was one of the most moving moments of my life.
When I was planning this trip, there was no question that the Philippines would be part of my itinerary. Though we had been in touch over the years and Ding, Elsie, Mitzi and J.B. had visited me in the States, a reunion in Davao with the whole family was long overdue. The Diaz family has grown. Ding and Elsie have nine grandchildren. Natalie, a dentist, lives in California; the other children all live in Davao: Dana is a doctor and runs a clinic specializing in alternative medicine, Anthony and Mitzi work in the family business and J.B. just graduated from college with a degree in engineering.
I spent a wonderful week in Davao with my friend Joan Hanrahan, who is traveling with me on the final leg of my journey. We didn't do much of anything but hang around with the family. We both had treatments at Dana's clinic—acupuncture and acupressure massages that were first-rate. We did a whole lot of eating; our favorite meals were at the small restaurant, Sarap Ulam, run by Anthony's wife, Tita. We had clothes made at Elsie and Erna's dressmaker. We went to visit my old apartment, which wasn't easy to find. Not much for the tourist books, but it fit our idea of a great time. One afternoon we invited all the children for a pool party at the Apo View, where we were staying. I had a real sense of continuity and history as I swam with Dana and Anthony's children—I had taught Anthony how to swim when he was 6 years old. Davao has changed drastically since my last visit. It's a big, bustling city complete with shopping malls, traffic and a French restaurant (which was surprisingly good). The Diazes have changed very little—they are still a warm, loving accepting family. Without a doubt, the relationship we've had over the years has fulfilled the Peace Corps' goals.
Next stop: Bali. Keep an eye on MSNBC's Travel section from now through November for Marian Rivman's e-mail dispatches from around the world. world.
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