You must have read Julia’s blog- Julia in the Philippines and her vivid stories about her stay in this country. My story is a smaller version of that- Julia at Divine Word College of Legazpi (DWCL).
It all started in October, when our secretary informed me about a meeting with Peace Corps Country Director Karl Beck and Sector Manager Estella Gandionko to discuss possible assignment of Peace Corps volunteers to teach at DWCL. Honestly I was not very familiar with Peace Corps so I investigated and met for the first time Director Karl Beck and his adorable pets through the internet. After that was the face to face meeting.
When Director Beck offered us the services of an American teacher for free, I couldn’t believe my ears. Wow! We will have an American teacher, a native speaker of English, and for free! Of course, I couldn’t hide my excitement and happiness because I know how badly we need help in this department. It was decided that we would adopt team teaching strategy. She would be working with 3 counterparts in teaching 6 classes.
I heard the name: Julia Campbell. Cool. So it was settled. We’d just wait for her to arrive in Legazpi City from Donsol, Sorsogon.
Then the thought of teaching with an American made me feel uncomfortable. A native speaker will easily detect errors in grammar and pronunciation. I was really anxious. But there’s no turning back, so I just waited for that day.
And so after the long wait we finally met. Towering in front of me, she introduced herself, Julia Campbell. And to make sure I understood she said, “You know the canned mushroom?” That’s my name, Campbell with a silent p.” Okay, nice to meet you Ms. Campbell, canned mushroom with a silent p. With that funny first encounter, all my worries about working with an American vanished. I didn’t worry about my imperfect English anymore.
We had a good time teaching our students. She was very energetic and eager to teach our students everyday. She sometimes spoke in Tagalog and our students had fun listening to her amusing accent. It was even more fun when she brought chocolates and candies to give to students who did well in recitation and games.
Everything was perfect.
One day, she invited us all to a farewell party. It was held at the AB office, Tuesday, April 3. She had a new look. I said, nice hair, Jules. She said, ya, yellow. The food was delicious- bihon and all native delicacies. She bragged about cooking everything herself but later confessed that Elena helped her. Then, I wondered why there was a despedida party. It was too early for that.
That day, April 3, was the day I last saw Julia. That wasn’t supposed to be. She was supposed to be with us until the end of May. In June she flies back to New York to pursue graduate studies in New York University.
So, I waited for her on April 11. We all waited for her. She was supposed to be one of the ushers during our commencement exercises at the DWCL gym. Her sash was waiting for her. It would have been a spectacular sight to have a pretty lady ushering guests to their seats.
But she never came. And our worries grew stronger because it’s not her nature to come late or miss appointments. At first, it was a hushed worrying for her, but as the days passed we really couldn’t stop talking about her anymore. Calls from the Peace Corps asking her whereabouts increased our fears.
We tried calling her cell phone many times but it was dead. Friends and colleagues started wondering why she didn’t text anymore. She was in constant communication with us, even during calamities.
I remember how touched I was when Julia texted me during one of the most horrible typhoons that hit Legazpi City. She said in her text, Annie kumusta kayo diyan? Ok lang ako dito. But I know she was not ok. She must be terrified also like us. She was alone in her apartment.
So how could we not worry for this angel? It’s a terrible feeling not knowing where Julia was after days of searching and waiting. Some of us went to Julia’s apartment at Marquez St. a few blocks from the DWCL campus, to scour more information but we went home still confused about the whole thing.
Wednesday noon, April 18, Peace Corps Regional Manager Luzvi de Lumen called me. She asked if I’ve heard the news about Julia. I said, yes, she’s been missing and that we’ve been trying to locate her. Obviously, that wasn’t what she wanted to tell me. It took her a long time to tell me Julia was found dead that morning.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Something gripped my heart I couldn’t breathe for a while. It took me some time to resume talking with Luzvi. She too sounded strangely faint.
It’s terrible losing someone as precious as Julia. But her life has become a perfect example for all of us. As I have said I was not very familiar with Peace Corps. But Julia’s life defined it for me. Julia was a part of it. Peace Corps is a group of wonderful people, working for peace, desiring peace, world peace. I may not become a bona fide member of Peace Corps, but in my heart I have become one because of Julia Campbell, Peace Corps volunteer, at DWCL.