Hula Hoops, Ping Pong Balls and Tennis Balls

The City of Iriga is located at the heart of the Bicol Economic Growth Corridor and is one of the fastest growing cities in the region. It has evolved into an eco-tourism, agro-economic and educational hub with two big universities within the city. Surrounding the area are more than thirty natural springs giving the city the name “City of Crystal Clear Springs.” Iriga is also referred to as a “Character City” and its citizens have earned the reputation of being warm, friendly, and industrious.

But that’s not why I was there …

Recently at Singapore Management University, I gave a talk about Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), their families, remittance, and BeamAndGo. After the talk, I was introduced to the Honorable Ronald Felix Y. Alfelor, the Mayor of the City of Iriga.

Turns out the Mayor and I share the same advocacy – fiscal responsibility and financial literacy. As a result, he invited me and the BeamAndGo team to a visit and speak with the Iriga’s business, education, utilities and healthcare leaders.

With the wind at our backs, Albert Go (Marketing Director), Jasmin Co (Business Development Associate) and I packed our bags and headed to Iriga for a 3 day, 2 night adventure.

On our first day in Iriga, we spent the afternoon talking with a group of city leaders and business people, discussing the social issues that OFW families are experiencing. We presented the BeamAndGo platform as an agent of positive change and spent time fielding questions and exchanging ideas.

Everybody say

The gang is all here

The merchants, schools, hospitals and utility companies provided great feedback on implementation, concerns, and adoption. It was encouraging to see both the private and public sector acknowledging the plight of OFWs and the willingness to work together on a solution. Love it!

Gawad Kalinga Character Village

On our second day, we were given a tour of Iriga’s Gawad Kalinga Character Village. This village was, and continues to be, the pet project of former Mayor Madelaine Alfelor-Gazman.

Situated along the hillside facing Mount Iriga, the Character Village was built by the poor and less fortunate. Those who participated in the building eventually became the residents. The village is clean and well-maintained. And over the years, through the hard word of the dwellers, this community has become self-sufficient. Power!!

GK Steps

The Steps of Gawad Kalinga Character Village

At the top of these steps is a wonderful vista of Mount Iriga. I have a bunch of pictures of the view, but I think it’s better if you visit it yourself and enjoy the scenery with your own eyes.

A word about Madelaine Alfelor-Gazman: she is the former Mayor of Iriga and served that position for 9 years, ending in 2013. During those years, she was responsible for much of the city’s progress. She is also a member of Kaya Natin and an avid proponent of good governance.

When there was free time, there was good food …

C’mon, this is the Philippines, you know the food is going to be delicious! We were lucky enough to have the time to enjoy 3 meals a day and each meal was yummy: crispy pata, dinuguan, corned beef hash, pancit, manok inasal, kare kare, sisig, bulalo, inihaw na posit … these are a few of my favourite things!

masarap!

masarap!

In one of our meals, we had the pleasure of tasting the Bicol speciality pinangat. I was already full before I had my first bite, but the pinangat was soooo good, that the taste of all that coconutty goodness made me hungry again.

By the end of the trip, the Mayor noticed that I had gained weight. And he was right!

So what does all that have to do with Hula Hoops, Ping Pong Balls and Tennis Balls?

On our last night in Iriga, we were invited to the surprise birthday party for the President of the University of Saint Anthony. We arrived a little late and missed the surprise part, but we didn’t miss anything else …

Highlight #1. A group of very talented singers and dancers did an Iriga version of Your Face Sounds Familiar. One word: Bondying.

Bondying relaxing

Bondying relaxing! Couldn’t find a better pic, so this will have to do. I think this is from the movie The Little Big Boy (1989)

Highlight #2. Lechon and home-made ice cream.

Highlight #3. Well-sung, really fun karaoke lead by ma’am Madelaine and Romy. While they sang, we danced.

Highlight #4. Three parlour games: the first game involved passing a set of hula hoops through 10 of us, while we were holding hands; the second game was to shoot ping pong balls into a cup, which rested on top of a person’s head; and the last game was a relay race where the participants had to run around a chair while dribbling a tennis ball.

Our visit to Iriga was productive and the party was great way to end the trip. To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger, “we’ll be back.”

Shout outs to Mayor Ronald Alfelor, former Mayor Madelaine Alfelor-Gazman, Nenet Berina, Nona Santiago, Peter Lagyap, Lilo, and everyone we met at Iriga.

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