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Explore My Ili

When I was a kid, my mother used to read me a book “Nothing ever happens on my block”. It’s a story about a kid who was so convinced that his neighborhood was the most boring place in the universe that he refused to see all the action that was happening—fires, robberies, kids playing, parachutes landing, and pets and people walking about.

I’m sure that has happened to all of us. We often think that the action is out there—in forests, on mountaintops, out in the ocean—in faraway places waiting to “discovered”. But what about our communities? Are they really as boring as we think they are?

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite cave, Ille. Ille is 250 million years old and she lives in the Dewil Valley, in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines with her family of limestone towers that are all archaeological sites. I’ve been part of the archaeological team excavating Ille since 2015 and excavations for over two decades have revealed thousands of years of archaeology including tiger bones, human burials, ten-thousand year old ube and millions of shells. In 2020, I was supposed to bring scientist friends over so that they could walk and explore the valley with the kids who live there–so that they can know that they’re not just the explored, they can be explorers too.

Of course, that didn’t happen. As our plans came to a screeching halt because of the pandemic, we were faced with an interesting dilemma. Our kids were still walking about in the valley, the cave was still standing, and so the only thing that was missing were the explorers. With a very small budget and poor internet access, video calls weren’t the solution for us. To bring them there, we needed to go back to pen, paper, and radio.

This is the Explore my Ili kit. Ili-means home, refuge or community, in various languages in the Philippines and this kit helps you explore your home. It features radio episodes and activities made by National Geographic explorers based on their own work, in a form fit for students studying their own communities. Talk to a fisherman to learn about fish catch, ask a grandparent to learn about your history, observe the biology of your neighborhood pond. Using the lenses of science and heritage, students can observe, know, and understand their communities a little bit better and they can see that science and history lessons aren’t just found in textbooks—they get to be part of the discoveries too.

We’re bringing exploration to our doorsteps and I hope you join us on this journey–maybe translate an activity and bring this kit to your field site, or walk around your own community and see it in a new light. and together let’s find ways to inspire and support the next generation of explorers, starting from our ilis.

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