The mission of Josh Mahinay
PARENTIN TALK - Tintin Bersola-Babao (The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2014 - 12:00am

“All of us have something to contribute in nation-building. Nobody is too poor to give, nobody is too young to start something, nobody is too busy to serve and nobody is too ordinary to do great things” —Josh Mahinay

Being in the media industry for two decades now, I’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting many people who truly inspire me.

Recently, I’ve had that privilege again when I met a young man named Josh Mahinay.

That meeting was pivotal. Julius and I were awe-inspired as we listened to Josh tell his story and why Bag943 is so close to his heart. 

The founding of Bag943 is personal to Josh. He grew up in a poor family in Zamboanga Sibugay and came face-to-face with poverty at a very young age. In elementary, he put his school things in a striped plastic bag. He would knock almost every other day at a neighbor’s sari-sari store to ask for a new plastic bag because it would rip off. Carrying the plastic bag on a 10-kilometer walk every day to go to school became a constant reminder to him to hold on to his dreams and pursue education.

Education changed the course of his life. Bag943 is the opportunity to give back to the kids he once was. Josh wanted his story to be a source of inspiration and encouragement that there is hope in their lives, and that poverty can be overcome.

Josh tells us, “Every time I hand over a bag to a kid now, I am actually handing over a bag to myself. I want them to feel the inspiration and encouragement I felt when a distant relative gave me a bag when I was in Grade 4. The simple act of giving propelled me to dream the same kind of dreams my classmate had, or even bigger.

“Today, I see myself in the eyes of impoverished schoolkids, the struggles that they are going through, and the hopes that are dying inside of them.

“Not only that no poor kid should go to school without a bag (unfortunately, in remote places in the country, this is still shockingly true), the giving of bag is a symbolism of what is important and why it is important — education.” 

Josh’s family had health and financial problems, so he worked as an OFW in the US.

“I worked as a housekeeper, cleaning 15 rooms a day, spending 30 minutes per room in a hotel in Reno, Nevada. I remember falling asleep for a few minutes in the chute room, where you throw linens, because I was physically exhausted. But being in a foreign country, I understand that hard work is the first requirement to thrive. True enough, hard work pays off and I was able to help and provide for my family and help them start something to make them financially sustainable. 

“From cleaning rooms, I had the opportunity to move up the ladder and worked as executive assistant for a business consulting firm, then as seasonal marketing team member of Target Corporation.

“Living in the US was a bittersweet experience. I wanted to be in my country, I enjoyed the benefit of living in a first world country. Until the reason to settle back home in the Philippines presented itself. It dawned on me that my search for a greener pasture is a journey back home. That the greener pasture is not a place you go, it is a place you cultivate to grow.” 

And so the turning point came that made Josh realize that Bag943 is his life’s calling.

He says, “From having nothing to having more than enough in life, I felt that my life is meant for something more and bigger than myself. I went back to my hometown in Zamboanga and I saw a kid walking on a rice paddy dike, carrying the same plastic bag that I used to carry when I was in elementary. I knew I had to do something.

“I realized after that my life story is not just about a poor kid who overcame poverty. It is a message of hope and a story to tell. A well-orchestrated story that speaks of His goodness.

“In 2012, I took a leap of faith and decided to settle back to the Philippines and started a social enterprise that would champion education for the poor children.

“I think it is amazing that while a Bag943 giver uses his bag every day, he knows that a kid somewhere in the Philippines carries a bag, too, that he gave, trying to accomplish his dreams. In the same way, that while a kid strives every day to go to school in pursuit of education and his dreams, he knows that somebody out there actually cared and thought about him.

“The reason why I am able to give right now is because I had been given. If I think about how I succeeded in life, I am reminded of the generous people who have helped me through at given moments and situations of my life.

“There is a transforming power when we give to others. It transformed my life. It can transform the lives of so many kids out there. In the same way, it transforms the hearts of those who give.

“If we become a community of generous people, hope becomes our universal language. Dreams cease to be a monopoly of the few and the better future we dreamt of will be sweeter because it is shared.”

The journey has been life-changing, not just for Josh but also for his young army of supporters and advocates. Since Bag943 was launched, 2,000 school bags have been given out and 17 public schools have been adopted across the country.

Bag943 founder Josh Mahinay (center) with the author and her husband Julius Babao

He says, “As we grow, we hope to expand our ability to help from giving bags to awarding scholarships, building classrooms and libraries and anything in between that we think we can do to help and empower the poor children to finish school and go for their dreams.”

Through its “buy one, give one” concept, Bag943 has now become a conscious choice of many bag and backpack lovers. It has eventually created a socially-responsible buying habit in the marketplace.

He says, “Leading the team has been a humbling experience. To see the movement growing, going places and reaching out to more people is such a joy to behold.”

Josh also credits The Yellow Boat of Hope (YBH) movement led by Dr. Anton Lim as his “giving” partner. The Yellow Boat of Hope started when they discovered kids in Layag-Layag, Zamboanga City literally swimming their way to school. Heartbreaking but true. Some kids still do not have easy access to education. YBH provides boats so that kids won’t have to swim to go to school. Now, they expanded their projects to include livelihood for the parents as well as the building of classrooms, dormitories and even bridges.

They launched a project partnership called #amBAG. In the aftermath of Yolanda, they launched an initiative to help Yolanda-affected schoolchildren. With the #amBAG campaign (Ambag means “contribution”), over 280 school bags were distributed in YBH communities in Samar and Leyte.

“Through Bag943, we want to send this message out to the children: That they are not forgotten, that we think about them, that we are together with them as they try to rebuild their lives and dreams.”

This writer would like to thank all my celebrity and non-celebrity friends and cousin Apple Peji Tan, who unselfishly helped and bought bags for the children. Thank you for supporting @Bag943 and the #amBAG project. May God bless you more. Follow and support Bag943 via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To Josh, Dr. Anton of Yellow Boat Foundation and the whole team, congratulations for the success of #amBAG. This is just the beginning.

And to you, Josh, thank you for being an inspiration to many. Anybody can just sell bags for a cause. But your advocacy is special because it tells the story of your own life. I support your sustainable advocacy. You are an exemplary youth and I wish that many youths like you would follow suit and make a difference.

APPLE PEJI TAN BAG BAG943 DR. ANTON LIM JOSH JOSH MAHINAY LIFE SCHOOL YELLOW BOAT OF HOPE
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