The difference between life in Oak Harbor and life back home in the Philippines is so profound that it’s difficult for Lorena Albert to describe.
Albert grew up in Cabpangi, a small village within the rural farming town of Libungan in the Cotabato province, and didn’t come to the United States until she was 18. She’s lived in Oak Harbor on and off over the years and settled down in the city for good 16 years ago.
Albert owns a small business, has three children, one in college, and has a husband who’s an executive officer in the Navy.
She is grateful.
“I love Oak Harbor,” Albert said. “I love raising children here. There’s nowhere to get into trouble.
“I feel like I’m in the rich country. It is. We have so much opportunity here.”
Albert is president of a committee that formed a year ago to select a sister city for Oak Harbor.
Recognizing Oak Harbor’s large Filipino community and strong ties to the islands, the group selected Libungan, which is near and dear to Albert’s heart.
Bob Wall, who’s also on the committee, said the group was seeking an English-speaking town from a foreign country similar in size to Oak Harbor with as much commonality as possible. It wanted a town where residents of both towns could develop a cultural exchange.
The group looked at towns in several different countries, including the Netherlands, but couldn’t gain any traction with them, Wall said.
Finally, Wall suggested a town in the Philippines, recognizing the Filipino-American network already well established in Oak Harbor.
“I promoted it because of the natural relations with the Philippines folks,” Wall said. “She (Albert) did not promote it. She was very neutral about it. Once we started talking about it to her, it made sense. It seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Libungan, an agriculture-based town centered around rice, corn and coconuts, was picked partly of Albert’s familiarity with the culture, landscape and economics.
“I was like, ‘Wow, my prayers have come true,’ but I didn’t want to put it on the table,” Albert said. “Then, they’ll say, ‘It’s your place.’”
Albert said Libungan could use a boost from the people of Oak Harbor.
“I came from a third-world country, so I wanted to give back, especially where my native land is,” Albert said. “I see so much opportunity here. Just being here in the small town of Oak Harbor, I see a lot of wasted energy that we could use (for other causes).”
“I envision that Oak Harbor can reach out to the Philippines and really stimulate the economy and help out maybe some of the children and give them an opportunity to experience life here. Some students here, too, may want to study abroad. Mostly, it’s the economy there that needs enhancement and the children there need our help the most.”
Albert returned from an extended visit to Libungan last week and met with the mayor and vice mayor to share the news. She said they were elated and welcomed the relationship with Oak Harbor.
Her trip back home was not under optimal conditions. Her father, who lived with her in Oak Harbor, passed away recently and she returned to take her father back to Cotabato for his services.
Once back where she grew up, knowing that Libungan would now be connected to Oak Harbor, she took a long look at the area and its people. She said she was heartbroken to learn how the farming community struggled to feed itself because of water restrictions, had limited other means of income, and was virtually cut off from the rest of the world.
“There’s no internet, no computer,” Albert said.
Albert, a member of Oak Harbor’s Filipino-American Association, is now trying to get the word out in Oak Harbor about its new sister city and hoping to recruit new members who want to be involved.
In a year, she hopes cultural exchanges could begin and plans to open her home to visitors.
Oak Harbor’s sister city group meets monthly to discuss plans. Mayor Scott Dudley was instrumental in setting up the committee and meets regularly with the group.
For more information about how to be a part of the Oak Harbor’s sister city group, Albert may be contacted at 360-632-3109 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org