Finding purpose in typhoon aftermath
When Rebecca Ort was studying her way through the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, her family used to joke that they could just picture her wearing a well-tailored suit, hard at work with her job at a famous banking firm or business company.
But soon after receiving her Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance in 2008, the Pickerington resident stepped away from the financial world and did something she had always wanted to do: join the Peace Corps.
“When I was in high school, Peace Corps was more of a dream. It didn’t become a reality until the summer between my junior and senior years in college,” she said.
Ort had been granted an internship at JPMorgan Chase, which is something she said she wanted since she first enrolled in college.
“As the weeks rolled by, I realized that working behind a desk would not fulfill me,” Ort said. “I wanted direct contact with the public. I wanted to feel that the work I was doing had a direct impact on individuals’ lives.
“I submitted my application to the Peace Corps that summer during the middle of that internship I thought I had wanted so badly.”
After going through an extensive application and interviewing process, along with “thick envelopes full” of medical and dental paperwork that needed to be completed in order to receive clearance, Ort received the letter she had been waiting for. It read: “You are invited to serve in the Philippines.”
“I was ecstatic,” she said.
“All I really knew of the country was that it was far away,” said Kathy, Ort’s mother.
However, her mother said she wasn’t too surprised when her daughter told the family she was joining the Peace Corps.
“She has always been someone that has had to be doing something,” she said.
While Ort was a student at Pickerington North, she was active in sports and other extracurricular activities. One thing she always had an appreciation for was doing new things and meeting new people, her mother said.
“Rebecca always finds that little shiny piece of good in everyone,” Kathy Ort said.
Since her arrival in the Philippines two years ago, Ort has been hard at work finding ways to improve the quality of life for the community she is serving.
Because of her educational, volunteer and work background, she was initially asked by the Peace Corps to be an English Education volunteer.
“I was excited about the opportunity to shape young minds, and I eagerly accepted,” she said.
But it wasn’t enough.
That mother-described ability to do something soon kicked in.
Two months before Ort came to the Philippines, Typhoon Frank swept through the Western Visayas, causing extensive damage and flooding throughout Aklan, the province where she would be staying. One of the casualties of the typhoon was the library at Batan Academy, a small public school located on Panay Island where she teaches ESL.
“This typhoon destroyed the small amount of quality books that the school had, and severely damaged the school buildings,” Ort said.
When Batan Academy’s employees and students began the library’s reparation and expansion talks, Ort felt compelled to help.
“The Peace Corps requires me to teach English, but encourages volunteers to help their schools obtain updated learning materials, so I was fully supported when I told Peace Corps that I wanted to help my school repair their library and open it to all people from Batan,” she said.
Ort wrote a Peace Corps Partnership Grant, which she describes as a “form of true partnership between American and Filipino people because at least 25 percent of the funds must come from the local Filipino community.”
She said the community was so excited and anxious to have a library that they came up with 50 percent of the cost of repairs, but are still short by $4,800.
She added that all of the funds would go toward repairing structural elements of the library, such as repairing the roof and ceiling, cementing the floor, replacing windows and doors, installing electrical wiring and plastering and painting the interior and exterior of the walls.
In addition to a sound structure, the library also needs modern books.
“The library functions entirely on paper,” said Kathy Ort, who visited her daughter and her school in February. “There is no Internet, no computers. It’s just entirely relies on books and encyclopedias – and many of those are from the 1970’s and 80’s.”
She said they recently received about 3,000 donated books from Books for Peace, Books for Asia, Darien Book Aid, and Books Across the Sea.
“It was so fun to see them with the new books,” Kathy Ort said. “The library was just full of kids reading and they seemed really excited about it. It was fun to watch.”
Despite its damage and lack of resources, the Batan Academy library remains an integral part of the learning process – both for the students and the community.
“In the U.S., many people take education for granted, and think nothing of earning a high school degree,” Rebecca Ort said. “Many of my students are the first in their families to graduate. I truly realized the significance and the weight of education when I looked out into the faces of my students and their families during my first graduation ceremony in the Philippines.”
If you are interested in helping refurbish the library, you can make tax-deductible donations toward the project by:
• Going to the website www.peacecorps.gov, and clicking on the “Donate Now” in the left menu bar. Next, search for project number 492-356 “Library Refurbishment” by Ort, R. from OH. Then enter any donation amount in the box on the right side of the screen.
• Send a check to: Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Headquarters, Peace Corps Partnership Program, OPSI, 1111 20th Street NW, Washington DC 20526.
Make it payable to the “Peace Corps Partnership Line” and write project number 492-356 Ort R. on the memo line.
• Send inquiries to Rebecca personally at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org.