In 4 days, I am finally leaving for my VSO volunteer assignment in rural Zambia. While I am excited and remain very much committed to the endeavor, I will admit to some last minute jitters.
I have no experience in grass-roots social development work. I have never lived in a rural community. While I sympathize with those suffering, I have never actively advocated for gender equality, poverty-alleviation and the rights of victims of HIV and AIDS – important issues I have to deal with in my area of placement.
I have been reassuring myself that I have my good intentions and 20 years of experience in a high-stress industry to back me up . On top of that, I have been doing a lot of studying and have been actively soliciting inputs and tips from different people.
VSO’s pre-departure trainings and expectation-setting sessions have been very helpful for my psychological and emotional conditioning. And I can’t discount all the positive juju from all the good wishes I’ve received.
But, recent events have made me realize that my best preparation is having been born and raised in the Philippines I come from a strong, resilient and generous people.
Many of the people with whom I will be working and living may not yet know of the Philippines. They will. This is what I would like to tell them :
• I left for Zambia during a difficult time for my country but I am confident that the Filipinos will overcome – even if only thru the power of sheer will and faith.
• When the system and the government fail us, we have our resourcefulness and strong sense of community and family to fall back on.
• Filipinos will find something to laugh about even under the most adverse of conditions. We laugh because we are thankful for having survived; we laugh because it is one thing we can still share when everything else has been taken from us. We laugh because life will go on.
• Filipinos are unfortunately only too familiar with the issues of crime, plunder and corruption . However, it is the heroic acts of ordinary people which tell me there is hope for my country. I will tell them about Efren Penaflorida whose organization provides basic reading and writing tutorials to street children. I will tell them about Muelmar Magallanes who saved more than 30 people from floodwaters in the Philippines before sacrificing his life while rescuing a baby girl and her mother. I will tell them about my friend Gisela Santos, who with a group of other young people, immediately harnessed and mobilized the power of technology to assist in the rescue efforts for the victims of typhoon Ondoy.I will share stories about my family and friends, whether in the Philippines or abroad, who sacrifice for those they love and who, on a daily basis, try to make a positive difference in the community around them.
• The Filipinos have shown the world that a peaceful revolution is possible if you have group of unarmed civilians united and strengthened by shared ideals, a desire to do what is right and a shared faith.
I am praying that by sharing the best of what I know from the Philippines , I can show the people in my community that great changes can come from ordinary people; that there is strength in unity and that there is always hope even in the face of adversity.
In the process of sharing what I know, I also look forward to learning a few things from my community myself. I will be open to new things. I will listen. I will ask questions. I will be humble. I will participate.
I know that this experience will be a test and a challenge. I hope to be able to come off it with a clear sense of what I can and cannot do and how I can make a longer-term contribution to society.
The Philippines will always be home. I would like to be able to make that contribution here.