Unofficially known as the "Princess of Bohol" because of her charismatic leadership, Jammy Ungab is actually an introverted badass who saw a problem she couldn't ignore.
Several years into her career in online marketing, she decided to take a break and travel, visiting beautiful natural places. Upon returning home, she saw her island with new eyes and realized that Bohol had a plastic management problem.
After moving through her initial anger, she focused on learning how others were dealing with the problem in different places. This gave her the confidence to form a strategy and put it in motion. Just three years later, she's the force behind organizing thousands of her fellow islanders to protect their greatest resource, including 72 resorts and hotels who have pledged to reduce their plastic use.
This movement that started from nothing three years ago has created impressive change, thanks to the vision and courage of one motivated young woman
We wanted to learn how this shy young woman summoned the courage to leave a comfortable corporate life to make waves in her hometown, and how she recharges herself to keep playing the long game.
Tell us a little about you. Where are you from? What do you do for fun?
Hi! My name is Jammy from the beautiful island of Bohol in the Philippines. I love surfing and exploring hidden gems on and off of our island.
When did you become an environmentalist?
I started to become more eco conscious 5 years ago while I was traveling; I was 29 years old. But it was 3 years ago that I stepped out of my comfort zone to start a movement to raise awareness on environmental issues our island is facing.
What is the history of Plastic Free Bohol? How and when did it start? Was there any existing anti-plastic work happening already or did you start from nothing?
Plastic Free Bohol was born 3 years ago out of frustration. I guess I had enough already after seeing Alona Beach being trashed with so much plastic by irresponsible beach goers. It’s a shame because our island is a top tourist destination in our country and we are known to have pristine white sand beaches but no one was taking care of them. And at that time, no ordinances were implemented strictly to regulate or prohibit the use of single-use plastics and there were no active campaigns against plastic in our province, so I started one.
Well-read and dangerous: coming armed with knowledge gave Jammy the confidence to tackle her island's problem and stand up to the unbelievers
I remember, when I went home that day from Alona Beach, the first thing I did was log in to Facebook and create a page called “Ban Plastic Bags in Bohol” but I later changed it to Plastic Free Bohol because I don’t want to focus on plastic bags alone. I was ranting a lot online but I soon realized that ranting is never going to help solve the problem. So I started organizing beach clean-up events to get our community involved and beach clean-ups are also a good venue to raise awareness.
Did you have help from any key family members, friends or mentors?
Before Plastic Free Bohol, I joined a 100 km climate walk calling for clean/renewable energy in Bohol and there I met like minded people who are now my partners in fighting plastic pollution (and climate change) in our province. So thankful I joined that walk because I didn’t only meet good friends but I also met allies. My family is also so supportive of my advocacy. My mother even formed a group with her friends (senior citizens). They walk and pick trash along the way every morning as their exercise. 😊
What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
I am an introvert or shall we say “selectively social” so it’s always a challenge for me to meet and talk with people I don’t know or haven’t met yet. In every awareness talk that I do, I shake a little because I always feel nervous. But when I remember that I’m doing it for our future and for the planet, the nerves go away.
Whether speaking in front of a crowd or meeting with a senator, Jammy keeps her cool by focusing on what she's fighting for
But the biggest challenge really is changing people’s mindset. I mean, you cannot change them over night, so you just have to be patient and consistent, and they will finally get it.
Tell us about the brand audit you did after your recent cleanup, in which you identified the brands who made the products/packaging that ended up on the beach or in the jungle. What will you do with that information?
We did a brand audit last September 21 during the International Coastal Clean Up Day to gather evidence to hold corporations accountable for plastic that is not manageable or that may be recyclable but is ending up where it shouldn’t be. The result of our audit was forwarded to the Break Free From Plastic movement.
The brand audit helps identify the major sources of plastic pollution so that alternatives can be found and the trash can be prevented from ever reaching the ocean
You’re also involved in reducing single-use plastic waste locally in Bohol. Tell us about your approach to working with local businesses, politicians and other organizations. Have you had any breakthroughs?
Before I took a full time day job as an HR manager, I used to talk with business owners and encourage them to ban single use plastics in their establishments. I also talk with politicians sometimes. I don’t have much free time now, but every time I get an opportunity to talk with people in government or from organizations/businesses, I will never let that opportunity go. I am very fortunate as well that my boss is supportive of my advocacy, so he understands if I skip work for Plastic Free Bohol. Hehe
And in 3 years, I could say that my/our hard work is starting to pay off. More individuals/groups/businesses are now environmentally conscious. And 11 out of 47 municipalities in Bohol have already prohibited the use of plastic bags. Someone also told me recently that our new governor is planning to ban single use plastics in the entire province. If this happens, I would be the happiest person out there. 😊
Is there anything else we should know about this issue?
Plastic pollution is not only a problem in our island or in our country, this is a global problem. However, we can all do something to fight this problem. Every action, big or small, can make a difference.
You are fighting one of the biggest environmental problems of our generation. It must feel very overwhelming. What makes it worth it to you to keep up the fight? How do you stay positive? What are some of your favorite self-care practices?
I have a niece now, she was born 3 months ago (she’s very cute). She motivates me to keep on fighting for her future. I want her to see how beautiful our planet is. I want her to play on clean beaches and swim in seas with turtles and colorful fish, not with heaps of plastic.
One of Jammy's go-to self care practices is to spend quality time soaking up nature
And when it gets really stressful and exhausting, I pause and I breathe. I take some time off and go out to nature to get my life together and to remind me that this planet is worth fighting for. But sometimes, I just stay home and take a 8-10 hour sleep, or get a massage. 😊
What are some of your goals for the future?
My goal is a plastic free Bohol. This may sound impossible but I will keep on doing what I’m doing now. I will never stop. 😊
Thank you to Jammy Ungab for sharing her story with us.
Follow along with Jammy's adventures and activism on Instagram @darlingoftheorient