Feb 28, 2013

Volunteering On A Global Scale

"Why would you volunteer to another country if there are enough communities and projects in need of man power here in the Philippines?"

When I was moderating the Q&A portion of a youth congress earlier, that question particularly caught my attention, not because I'm guilty of it, but because it was asked by three different people - different structures but same idea. (Context: The audience was asked to send their questions.)

Those questions were addressed to AIESEC, the largest youth organization in the world which sends young volunteers and interns around the globe, and to the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Network which encourages and facilitates volunteerism around the region.

It is easy to see that the question points to a more practical approach to volunteerism. Oo nga naman, why spend thousands of pesos/euros to teach Italian kinds English if there is a scarcity of qualified teachers here in the country? Why waste resources and talent for those na hindi naman natin "kadugo"?

I'll answer the question based from my own experience as a former youth representative of our country to the Global Ecovillage Network for Oceania and Asia.

First of all, it's more fun to work within an international community. The Japanese, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan... volunteers that I worked with aren't very fluent when it comes to English so we laugh often and smile a lot! (Parang high lang?) Stories are exchanged in camp fires under the stars, and since music is a language that transcends all races, there are a lot of singing and dancing.

Conversations, generally, have more substance as compared to talking to a fellow country man. Most likely, you'll veer away from conversations on politics, sports or entertainment since you don't have much in common in those fields. They say that great people talk about ideas and more often than not, your conversations will revolve around ideas on leadership, community development, and making the world a better place.

Volunteering abroad gives you fresh perspectives on social issues. Your understanding of poverty may be different from those of the Japanese. Or a successful social model in Australia may not be as useful here in our country because we're an archipelago. So when you go back here, you'll be able to see corruption in a new light or you'll be able to discover new ways on how to market eco conscious living to high school students because of those differences and the hands on experiences you got from let's say from an Ashram in Thailand.

Of course, you get to travel a lot and learn about the culture of a foreign land. But more importantly, you'll get to know yourself better. There was a time when I was only with two other Filipinos surrounded by delegates from Asia and Australia, and I felt really proud of my country. I didn't know that I had it in me to be so patriotic, if only I brought a barong! Also, I did not know that I can be independent, nor that I can survive a week eating Indian vegetarian cuisine.

The work becomes more meaningful because you are in a situation dictated not by geography nor by demographics, but by choice. I want to build a self sustaining micro community and so as the people around me, that's why I'm here. Sharing a similar purpose connects you to everyone down to your core and the joy in those experiences I guess becomes more significant.

So the argument "why waste resources and talent for those na hindi naman natin kadugo?" becomes insignificant because a shared sense of purpose with those people whom you barely know widens your horizons on who your "real brothers or sisters" are. Barriers will be overlooked as you all work for the common good.

So before you are tied down because of your job or your family, try to travel with a purpose bigger than your own. Expose yourself to the unknown. You'll soon find out that if you have good intentions, people and circumstances will act favorably no matter where in the world you're in. 

Dare to move!

Feb 25, 2013


Not sure whether to

a) volunteer in a developing country

b)  work for the government

c) get a scholarship and study abroad

d) or focus on a nationwide start up business with a big foundation

While at the same time continue running ManilaKid.com, contributing in TheCrustMag.com and managing two other small businesses.

I'm confused and torn.

Feb 21, 2013

When 30% of Your Salary Goes to Your Hair

I saw Lincoln earlier. It's a story a man who dedicated the last years of his life trying to abolish slavery. The idea might not be as revolutionary now that the Unites States has an African American president, but during that time, the 13th Amendment to the USA Constitution seemed almost impossible to pass in the Congress, probably even more difficult than the passage of the RH Law here in our country. The price of standing up to one's convictions can cost a life. Lincoln was shot as he was on his way to the theater.

So then I went home after the movie, changed clothes and went to the kitchen to look for something to eat. Then I saw attached to the back of the head of our newest maid is a black shiny hair-like structure that looks so artificial I beg to not call it her hair. Two months ago, we introduced her to the mall. It was her first time to use the elevator then, and just this afternoon, she spent P1,200 of her salary for her hair.

I asked her why she did it (in the most pangongonsensyang tone I can muster). Apparently, her cousins who are also maids in our aunt's house had their hair rebonded, so gumaya. In this case, the price of standing up to one's conviction can cost 30% of one's monthly salary.

Being a half-baked economist, I wanted her to "appreciate" a pie chart of the monthly expenditure of the average Filipino family. Percentages may vary across several studies but there's no way that your hair occupies more than 30% of that pie chart. Usually, the biggest slice goes to food, rent or your kid's education, but for heaven's sake, not vanity.

"Do you know how many mouths your hair can feed in Africa? Or how many students you can send to a public school with that hair?"

Then I thought, doesn't her action reflect the bigger picture of our country with people below the poverty line spending a high percentage of whatever income they get to cigarettes and alcohol?

Eventually I got tired (and hungrier) trying to make connections and internalizing the micro economic damage she did to herself, so in the end all I said was "isusumbong kita kay mommy!"

Feb 19, 2013

We Need More Help

I had my much needed silent retreat last week. It's the perfect time to do it after resigning in my corporate job in exchange of pursuing the more challenging role of contributing to nation building partly through our online magazines. At least I like to think it that way.

I had anticipated the influx of press releases to be published, events to attend/host/speak, and organizations to be contacted, but not at this rate and this early. Aside from manilakid.com, we're also setting up another one, thecrustmag.com which intends to make volunteerism trend. I'm one of the contributing editors for The Crust and this allows me to use the influence of media to highlight and discover some issues. One of them is the very low morale of the children of Hansenite lepers staying with the Franciscan missionaries.

Giving Back Lost Morale

I visited a leprosarium in Tala, Novaliches yesterday. The lepers have children, ages 3 to 24 years old, who have very low morale because of their background. The Franciscan sisters there coordinate with Don Bosco Makati to provide vocational scholarships (around P40,000 pax for 10 months) to eligible men, but they can use more help in inspiring their youth to feel comfortable with the outside world. These kids are more isolated than the nuns! I think that's a more pressing concern.

I was thinking of maybe going there to organize an entrep seminar, just teach them how to make a profitable social enterprise, or even facilitate team building or personality development workshops. Or since most of us are "busy", maybe we can organize a fund raising event for them so they can rehabilitate their facilities.

The picture below was taken with kids who participate in the feeding program of the Franciscan sisters just outside the leprosarium. I have a special heart for the causes of the Franciscan missionaries because during my silent retreat, I met Sr. Cecille who is the administrator of this institution.

Opportunity of a Lifetime

On a more positive note, I was ambushed by a high profile businessman / social innovator earlier who made me feel like John Sculley when asked by Steve Jobs to leave Pepsi for Apple, or like Anna Wintour when asked by Si Newhouse to lead Vogue. It was a meeting "for the books!" If ever someone decides to write my biography, there should be a special chapter dedicated to that meeting, haha!

He sealed the deal with a handshake, left and all I can say while I was semi-trembling and scratching my head was "what the fuck!" In the one hour that we met, I felt so inspired that I kinda felt teary eyed at some points in the conversation. We talked about social enterprises, citizenship, sustainability, social responsibility, the generation then and now, indigenous people, human dignity, schools and where the world is going. I'd be an idiot not to follow this guy! I really feel blessed to meet him. Whew!

To cap this blog post off, I'd like to share the video interview we did early this morning. It was shot for a presentation in University of Santo Tomas and I was one of the people they interviewed. The gist of the interview: how does the election affect social involvement? And I had to talk from the point of view of the editor of ManilaKid.com.

More Apathy in UST

I learned through the brief given by the videographer that a lot of the students from the College of Science of UST (more than 80%) are not registered for the coming elections. What happened? Should we blame the institution for these students' apathy? I actually received an editorial giving a commentary on the issue. We need more help. And if these students can't even bother to take part into one of the most concrete and accessible acts to participate in nation building, what does this tell us?

Instead of looking for who to blame, maybe we can broaden their horizon. If we can show these students the likes of the Franciscan missionaries dedicating their lives for the service of the leper community, or the likes of that business magnate who's concentrating all his resources and energy to give back the dignity of indigenous people, then maybe we can give them the reason to register for the next elections and vote. It starts there. We're doing our part through manilakid.com and thecrustmag.com. How have you contributed lately?

Feb 9, 2013

Of Separate Peaces and Faults in Our Stars

Have you experienced those days when you just want to drown yourself in reading? Maybe you bought new books, you have nothing to do or you just want to be lost from the real world and be found in the company of new characters. Those days for me spelled A Separate Peace by John Knowles and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Both books have more similarities than the first names of their authors.

I find Separate Peace relatable because of its setting minus the early years of World War II. And because of the themes surrounding the novel - competition; though you might find it confusing who the main character is really competing against. "Beginning with a tiny incident among ordinary boys, it ends by being as deep and as big as evil itself." The title will sound ironic by the end of the novel because even this "separate peace" which the two best friends created will eventually be distorted. The inner war in this book is more poignant than WWII itself.

“So the more things remained the same, the more they changed after all. Nothing endures. Not love, not a tree, not even a death by violence.” Since nothing endures, we have this need to relish each fleeting moment. And that's how you will mostly feel about one of the characters.

Speaking of fleeting moments, The Fault in Our Stars is about two characters who cherished each other's company knowing that one of them will eventually die sooner that most of us are expecting. It's probably the "perks of cancer" or "side effects of dying."  

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers... But... I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.”

That quote reminded me of an interview we did with the late painter, Joey Velasco. We asked him which year in his life did he wanted to last twice as long. He said that the length doesn't matter, but the quality of life we live in those 365 days. It's how we create and treat those infinities in our given set of time frame.

Feb 4, 2013

On the Spot Rock Concert Hosting Gig

I woke up yesterday feeling indifferent that I was going to a concert with some of the biggest names in the local music scene because I haven't consciously listened to OPM for the last 3 years. The names of Silent Sanctuary, Urbandub and Up Dharma Down sounded familiar but not their music. Little did I know that in about 12 hours, I'll be hosting that concert!

Nikki Viola and I were anticipating a prom proposal from the high school portico when Marwell, the college student council president, called me up with most unexpected proposal instead - "is it alright for you to host Swere with Nikki?" And I was like, baliw ka ba? Nikki was a professional DJ from RX93.1's Radio 1 while I on the other hand haven't hosted an event for like 5 years - and those were high school interactions.

So naturally, having not listened to OPM and having not hosted (especially a rock concert) for years, I said Yes. Disclaimer: that was after several minutes of convincing from Marwell and Nikki (and I, that I could do it). Why not? If I can speak in front of students from high school to college, how different can this crowd be?

Well, it turned out light-years away from the conferences that I was used to in the air-conditioned auditoriums. This was a whole lot different! I had to perk up the crowd in the football field. Energy, energy! In the absence of vodka to loosen and energize me up, Nikki was there! Whew!

In the middle of the concert, while Silent Sanctuary was playing, I realized that although this was not in my bucket list, I'll be adding this to one of my most memorable experiences. I was very grateful for this opportunity, and it was definitely something new. I doubt if I can do this again. Haha!

Carpe diem, as they say.