When I started working with kids at a nearby elementary school, tutoring them on Science and English, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it. I thought maybe because I love kids and I enjoy the company of my friends who were also volunteering their Friday afternoons and even Saturday mornings. But more than seven years later, tens of other volunteer projects and a lot of struggles along the way, I was still doing it. Sometimes routinely and with little thought to what was right in front of me but mostly excited to work with people who you know you can make happy.
Now I do it on my own, with other volunteers, with my dad, just about anybody who shows interest and I’m still enjoying it. So it probably was not just the friends. I don’t just focus on children related projects now. I’ve been on medical missions, feeding programs, political education seminars, leadership camps and many others depending what that community I’m working for needed. Guess what? I’m still really happy so it wasn’t just about being with kids.
So what was it?
I’d like to think that it’s because I believe in and love people, not just one race, a social class or a specific group but people (or humanity) in its entirety. I have great faith that when pushed in the right direction they will always choose what is right and best for themselves and everyone or everything around them. It’s highly ideal, believe me I know. I’m obsessed with history and I face pragmatic decision making everyday of my life (considering I’m in the field of business) so I’ve had my fair share of doubts. But if there’s is one thing that I’ve also learned from all that, it’s that ideals are not a bad thing. Believing in people and trusting them no matter how cruel they may seem or how much they’ve disappointed you is the best way to show them that there is still someone who sees the value, the good in them. If no one will have the courage to start believing in something, like the good in people, no one else will. Then what will become of us?
For years, I’ve put in the work to show that I have faith in impoverished communities, forgotten or explicitly ignored by many. I made it my personal mission to show them that even if they’ve been dealt a lower hand, there is always hope to turn things around. I assured them that I was gonna be there to help them until they needed it (it was not just me though, I had a solid support system). But I always warn them that my help can only go so far so they too have to make an effort. They too have to believe in what they can do and act on it. Seeing nanay engaged in her own business she runs from home while she took care Jr., tatay finally getting the medical care he deserved, kuya landing a scholarship for college without the guilt of his parents voting for a politician come election day because they owed the scholarship to him, ate finally learning how to use a computer, those are my daily success stories. I am the happiest when I know they don’t need me anymore except when I get invited to birthdays and christenings.
It’s not just them though. My belief in people extends to those who are graced with more in life. They, too, have contributed greatly to why I enjoy doing this job so much. I get to witness first hand how people, no matter how others argue them to be greedy and self centered, can be so compassionate and open to help. Most of time we attribute poverty and the demons that come with it to apathy but mostly it’s lack of knowledge and fear. I know in my gut that people are willing to help, whether they’re aware of that willingness or not. Most of them do not know how much need there is and that they are capable enough to help. You see, these are not taught in the classrooms or echoed in malls and coffee shops. This is not a trend that we follow on twitter or a page we like on Facebook.
A lot of people feel detached because they don’t feel poverty or illiteracy or poor health services. Even if they do feel it, we have already created a stereotype of who can help and who can’t. Teenagers think that all social workers or volunteers are like Mother Therese, holy in every way. Volunteers don’t care for clothes or the new program on ETC (or Jack TV or CBS). They’re do-gooders they can’t relate to. I wish we could reshape that and show that volunteers can love fashion and photography and sports (like me). They’re diverse people. Helping out is not a CATEGORY or a STEREOTYPE, it’s a choice, one which is available to everyone. You can do it in any way too. Bake cookies and sell them for a cause. Talk to your school janitor and ask him if he’s doing fine. Take pictures of places you think are in need of help, post them on Facebook Be creative because you never know what one act can contribute to a greater change.
Many rolled their eyes and made fun of me because I often said that I’d rather work long hours in far flung communities than have a stable, high paying, 8-5 job in a nationally known company. It’s not because I hate marketing or operations or the corporate industry, I don’t. In fact, I also find it fun and challenging just not as rewarding. It’s not the career I’d be eager to tell my friends about or the job I’d be ecstatic to wake up to every morning. I’m naturally a hard worker and I put a lot in what I do so I wanna work for something that means as much to me. I care less for pay checks and cars and bonuses. I want to work on something that builds- communities, character, people. When I realized that was what I wanted, I mustered enough to pursue it and stick with it. Hopefully, I can be the person I always thought I was gonna be.