Leaving but not completely

Her mother told her to take Education. She disobeyed her and enrolled in a course she did not know. In time, she learned to love that course and found herself practicing it as a profession. Bernadette Lucas saw her life in the environment. Soon, however, she may struggle with the memories of the environmentalist that she was.
Badeth, as her friends call her, finished high school at the Belgian-owned St. Michael Academy in the cold mountains of Kalinga. Though a graduate of a Catholic school, this daring character, whose almond eyes lit up when she talked, refused to box herself. Badeth enrolled in the Benguet State University (BSU) in 1996 where her uncle was the president. There, she started to sow her dreams.
“It was BSU’s first time to offer Environmental Science (Envi Sci),” Badeth said in Filipino, her voice full of enthusiasm. “I had no idea, but I took the course because it’s new, and I didn’t want Education.”
Envi Sci brought her to places she never imagined. She trekked steep mountainsides to reach denuded forests for tree planting. She held bamboo torches to light their paths in cave and cliff explorations. She also lived in indigenous communities without electricity and learned to set primitive traps. Badeth understood how to harvest and treat poisonous root crops for dinner and drank morning dew to quench her thirst. She lived virtually away from technology to find her place in nature.
These experiences expanded Badeth's horizons beyond BSU’s four-walled classrooms to accommodate rural living, local culture and environmental appreciation.
“Envi Sci is very broad. It has a bit of engineering and architecture. It is both intellectual and physical. But because I was younger then, I saw the activities as adventures and side trips,” Badeth recalled. They were more than adventures, however, for Badeth’s experiences showed her what she wanted to do in life.
Pioneering environmental development
Ovate-leafed plants in plastic pots surrounded her table at the farthest corner of the room. She had paperwork neatly piled with different shades of green marking headings and subtitles.
Badeth was wearing a blue-green blouse that day, and her hair was neatly tied in a ponytail. She had just come from her weekend rounds at the Lorma Medical Center.
“It’s now my fifth year as environmental management specialist and agricultural technologist,” Badeth said, her eyes matching her lips’ smile. Though no longer as active on fieldworks as before, Badeth still serves the Environment and Natural Resource Office (ENRO) of San Fernando City, La Union. She takes care of program planning and monitoring, pollution, coastal resources, solid waste management, reforestation and land use planning.
“I was with the pioneer group of ENRO. Our start wasn’t easy because everything was in experimental stage—trial and error. The office was also undermanned. We studied prototype environmental projects, conducted researches on our own or with DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” the 28-year-old Badeth recalled.
Five years after, however, their office has achieved a lot. They have planted one million mahogany, gemilina and lanzones trees in urban and rural areas of the city. They have even bagged the first prize in the 2004 national search for the model barangay for their accomplishment in solid waste management in Lingsat, one of the biggest barangays in San Fernando. Aside from these, ENRO’s successful clean air program is nearing 100 percent tricycle engine conversion to mitigate ozone depletion and air pollution.
“From the time we started, San Fernando has improved a lot. For me, it is living up to its motto as a clean, green and beautiful city—the Botanical Garden City of the North,” she said. “These things, I’ll miss them a lot when I leave.”
Learning from the environment
There was silence, and for the first time, Badeth’s face distorted to tell of her struggles. She reveals that she is currently a third year Nursing student in Lorma Colleges, a provincial nursing school in La Union.
“I’m an environmentalist and I love my job, but my relatives and friends abroad are pressuring me,” she said, failing to hide the melancholy in her voice. “I have tried many times, but I just can’t finish Nursing because of my passion for the environment. But I’ve reached this far so they’re compelling me to finish the course.” When Badeth does finish her second course and gains enough experience, she will join other Filipinos working abroad to help with her family’s finances.
“My decision wasn't spontaneous. It's a product of several events; after all, everything is interconnected,” she said.
Badeth used their programs to explain what she meant. “We plant trees to prevent soil erosion, but we can't stop them from reducing air pollution and greenhouse gasses.” She said the connection exists because one action leads to another—domino effect. “We make several decision but the outcome is unknown. It can be good; it can be bad. ” she said.
How bad? Badeth used Cordilleran mines as example. She said their deep excavations caused widespread deforestation leading to landslides. These landslides destroyed natural habitats of plants and animals, ultimately causing their extinction.
“Though I’m not thinking that my decision to take Nursing will end up bad, there’s still the possibility,” Badeth confessed. “Bad, in the sense that I might find it difficult to start from nothing again. After five years of full-time environmental work, I'm wondering what’s waiting for me next.”
Still optimistic, still an environmentalist
Her five years in San Fernando’s ENRO were the most fulfilling years of her life, Badeth said. “When you see your projects materialize, wow!” She paused, her face went into transition—blank to happy to proud. “They give you strength; your achievements give you strength.”
She has barely two years to do what she enjoys best, but Badeth is optimistic. She said, “Even if my focus shifts from nature to people, I’ll still be an environmentalist because the interconnection remains.” She says the only difficult thing is making others understand that an environmentalist is not limited to nature.
Her “heart belongs to the environment” but that does not mean working for people detaches her from it. “I focus on socio-ecology. That’s Envi Sci with a social twist,” Badeth explained. She will soon shift from nature to people but Badeth says she will always be drawn back to her “first love.”
Badeth has been a part of ENRO’s environmental advocacies right from the start. She, together with her team, fought tough cases, presented pros and cons of controversial projects and highlighted negative effects of uncontrolled industrial booms. Thus, leaving an office and a group she has considered family is one difficult decision.
“I just tell myself, the connection is circular,” Badeth puts her thumb and index finger together and starts to draw a circle on the table. “If I leave at this point and continue life, continue moving, inevitably I’ll find myself where I started,” she moved her hand and traced a circle. “If that’s what happens, sooner or later, I’ll be back here, working for ENRO.”
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