(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)
Rule #1: Don’t try to understand anything.
This was Sean’s primary rule as he began his assignment at the village of Gilutongan in the Olango Islands in the Philippines. Like so many Peace Corps volunteers, he sought to make a positive impact in the world.
Though Sean was raised by a single mother in working-class Cleveland, he soon learned what real poverty was. He was to help manage the coastal resources of the village, which included a waste disposal project. Babies were dying from dengue fever which was spread by mosquitoes. This was due to poor sanitation and lack of water. Note that this was from an area where cell phones were more prevalent than toilets. Sean learned that he must prove himself to the village and develop trust among the residents. But can an outsider convince the locals to buy into such a project?
Most of the residents made a living from fishing. Some even used explosives which rapidly degraded the environment. It was therefore difficult for residents to see long-term environmental impact when their families were starving. Add to that that wealthy Filipinos along with foreign governments were taking advantage of the people and resources.
Tides Ebb as Islands Dream is a thought-provoking work of literary fiction that reveals the problems of trying to create environmental improvement in areas of abject poverty. The reader will also appreciate the predicament of Peace Corps volunteers as they try to balance their altruistic ambitions with reality. There are many potholes to avoid, such as getting involved in local politics, associating with the wrong people and unintentionally creating jealousy among the inhabitants. Author Brian J. English PhD has visited the Philippines over twenty times, and shares his knowledge and appreciation of the land, its people and culture.
It’s not all work though. We peek into Sean’s romantic and personal relationships as well. However, what makes this novel so captivating are all of the characters and their personal histories and trials that they go through.
How much of a culture does one have to understand in order to make a difference? Tides Ebb as Islands Dream answers that question and reminds us that in spite of all of the obstacles that we encounter to try to make the world a better place, it’s well worth it.