Blog, Society

2012: Not the end, but the beginning.

Wow, I haven’t updated this in almost a year. How time flies… Indeed, this supposed last year of the world has been figuratively (good thing not literally) a blast, and especially in this time of my life, I am now more than game to face 2013.

Although the seeds were sown during the last quarter of 2011, 2012 was the year where things really took off. Of all my twenty-one years of nostalgia and anamnesis, 2012 was the most influential one and, I can say, the most pivotal one in my life: the year I finally discovered my vocation.

More than a year ago, I went on exchange to immerse myself in the European languages and culture, as well as live alone and study somewhere else for a change in perspective. Two weeks before my flight, however, I was invited by several fellow exchange students to attend an exposure trip of sorts, a pabaon (baon means the food you bring with you to school or work). This took me all the way to Bulacan, in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm. There, I learned all about the new wave of social entrepreneurship in the Philippines, and these young professionals’ passion to change the country and truly lift it out of poverty. The facilitators, part of the training and development organization Frontline Social Business Development, also invited us to join them if we wished. 

With that one day, my life changed forever. With no qualms whatsoever, I joined Frontline.

After my whirlwind of an exchange trip, and living through hell that was my compressed second term for that academic year, I was terribly exhausted. But my fellow Legal Management major who had gone to the Farm with me (he, too, accepted the invitation) asked me about a follow-up to start our work in Frontline. So I contacted Miggy, the president of the enterprise, and just in good time: they were holding a facilitator’s training a short time after that.

Things were never the same again after that.

Not only did I get to finally involve myself in something outside university – I didn’t even have a church to be active in, because I don’t go to church regularly – but that something ranked quite high on the social scale. And I got to meet people who are now among my dearest friends. Since I started visiting Payatas regularly with the Ateneo CLC in mid-2010, I had always dreamed of seeing a Philippines that was on par with, or even beyond, countries like Switzerland and Japan. Now, I was actually doing something to contribute to that dream.

And I now have something more concrete to do after graduation, which is only three months away now.

When I was a child, I wanted to become a doctor so I could save others. I even pretended my family members were my own patients. But as I grew up and remained – and remain, to this day – terrified of blood, needles, and the like, I decided that medicine was not for me after all. My second big break came before my elementary school graduation when my English teacher told me I had potential as a writer. I became very inspired and wanted to become the next J.K. Rowling. Today, my fantasy novel is in its planning stages.

But I was discouraged by those around me, discouragement of which I can fully understand. They had no reservations with my being a writer, just that it shouldn’t be the only thing I do. We cannot deny that, in a country like the Philippines as it is now, income I receive from writing alone will not be enough to sustain me. So although I didn’t drop the pen like I had dropped the stethoscope, I found myself floating again. I had a wild dream, to become a multiplatinum singer, but it remains a wild dream now and I am not ready to be a recording artist just yet. But we’ll see.

A third, slightly more concrete, goal of mine materialized in high school: to work in linguistics or languages. Ever since I was young, I had always been asking what this or that meant in English; and shortly after my father died, I remember seeing his Japanese phrasebook in his room. I stole the thing and started self-studying Japanese. Unfortunately, Spanish and French came into the equation when, in my last year of high school, I chose to be active in the Spanish club over the Japanese one due to the Spanish club being handled by my favorite teacher. And my nephew (who is a year older and thus graduated a year before me) and I agreed to take French under the same teacher in our respective terms; ever since then, I have continued my French studies, and of the three foreign languages I have touched, this is my best one so far. I wanted to continue my language studies after college, which I shall do, and I wanted to work in something international that involved languages. One thing was clear: I would not be doing it in the Philippines, but in other countries I desired to be in, namely Japan or Switzerland. Why I love them is another story.

There is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin entitled The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Omelas is, at first sight, a utopia where everything is abundant, everyone is well-off and happy… until the reader discovers that this unmatched prosperity depends on the complete opposite: the poverty and misery of a child locked away in one of the basements of the many buildings that dot the island-city. Everyone who discovers this terrible dark secret is scandalized, but their reactions are not unified. Some live their lives to the fullest to “maximize” the benefits the child’s suffering yields. Others choose to walk away, and the narrator describes them as knowing what they are doing despite the way ahead being uncertain. Upon being asked in literature class if I would leave Omelas as well, I said yes. When my professor explained the implications of the answers we chose, my confidence wavered, but I still remained primarily an Omelas deserter.

This was the context I was in when I re-discovered Gawad Kalinga. And everything they said made me very guilty. Guilty of disconnection, of a lack of patriotism, of not caring. The Philippines is poor, GK teaches, because of a lack of caring and sharing among our people. We are guilty of a colonial mentality of thinking everything we buy or import from abroad is worlds better than our own. We always seek better opportunities in other countries, but in doing so, we only add to their wealth. And we actually enslave ourselves to a system of job-seeking where it is possible we might become just another employee of a company that might not even be performing ethical practices! GK, on the other hand, advocates creating wealth. We are actually empowered with the tools to create opportunities here instead of seeking them in other places.

The Omelas story serves the perfect “what-will-you-do” question to us. However, as I look back at the 2012 that has been, I have found that my answer has changed. If I walk away from Omelas, or my Philippines, I am doing nothing to help it. If I choose to “maximize the benefits” by, say, entering a profit-centered business that may compromise the rights or well-being of people around them, I am making myself part of the system, actually contributing myself to the child’s suffering, and making the whole thing worse. So, why not strive to make a change that will render unnecessary the suffering? It’s a very difficult and daunting task, but I accept the challenge. There is nothing we cannot do if our values are grounded, we stick to them, and most importantly, we pray to God for continued guidance.

For my group business-thesis, where we are auditing and implementing changes to a GK social enterprise (in my team’s case, the Enchanted Farm Café located along Commonwealth Avenue), my teammate found several articles explaining that our generation, Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, is the entrepreneurial generation. Basically, what the articles say is that our generation is the most exposed to entrepreneur role models who have been given celebrity, godlike status, even. In addition to that, we are given, more than ever, the tools and resources to be entrepreneurial, such as the Internet and entrepreneurship programs. This generation is also one that wishes to live a rather more balanced lifestyle, equally prioritizing the work and personal lives; and to do something for society. Add to that a nation-sized plethora of opportunities, and you get the perfect recipe for a social entrepreneur. What pessimists see as problems, optimists see as opportunities: it is one’s own mindset on things that can make, literally, a world of difference.

Upon reading the articles, I found myself completely agreeing to what they say. One author mentioned that we Y-ers have a so-called natural aversion to the corporate world, and he could not have said it any better. I have never, ever seen myself in the corporate setting, or even in business for that matter. Now, while I still don’t see myself in the former, I can see myself putting up my own business: business with a heart. In fact, my training and exposure thanks to Frontline is slowly but surely readying myself to start my own social enterprise(s). I already have my ideas and potential business partners; I just need more research (and that means going out there too, not just Internet or library research) and the funds. The latter, also, is a different story.

So what has 2012 brought me? Not the end, but a beginning. Well, I got the blessings I prayed for: I un-learned and re-learned what one ought to do so: how to be faithful to your own country, and to never take for granted things and places that can become the next big thing. I learned how to be optimistic and hopeful again. And as I welcome 2013 tomorrow, and my graduation and the start of a new life, I also pray for another year of more blessings that will make me flourish in the light of our Lord even more, flourishing that will also enable others to flourish where they otherwise cannot do so.

Happy New Year!

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