Lifestyle Business

Volunteering, a hip and fashionable kind of heroism

Joy Angelica Subido, Joy Angelica Subido, Karla Alindahao - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - You’re only as good as your weakest link. This adage is a timely reminder that at this time when the local economy is picking up and overall prospects for the country are looking rosy, there is a heightened need to ensure that everyone will benefit. While it is right to keep an eye on the big picture, steps should be taken to make sure no one will fall through the cracks, so to speak. Recognizing that government should not be expected to work alone, volunteer organizations exist to give individuals a chance to do their share and contribute towards positive change. 

A recent gathering of Citi Philippines and its community partners allowed us to gain a better perspective on these organizations and the good work that they do. Since 2006, Citi has commemorated what it calls Citi Global Community Day (GCD) to engage its hundreds of thousands of employees in more than 100 countries to do their share in giving back to the communities where they live and work. GCD this year takes place on June 7.

In the Philippines, the enthusiasm to volunteer for noteworthy causes is particularly inspiring. Batara Sianturi, CEO of Citi Philippines shares, “For the Philippines, GCD is actually a misnomer because historically, we have been celebrating this milestone across several weekends to give our 7,000 employees many opportunities to serve and serve again.”

This year, Citi will host at least 15 events over four weekends across eight cities in Luzon and Visayas.  “We will be revitalizing public schools for the coming school year, planting trees in critical watersheds, reaching out to street children, mentoring marginalized micro-entrepreneurs, aiding social and agri-enterprises and building homes for Typhoon Yolanda survivors, among others,” Sianturi continues.

Bayan Academy: Financial Education for the Grassroots

The partnership of Citi and Bayan Academy began in 2005 for work on a financial literacy program for working mothers.  Since then, funding from Citi Foundation has helped Bayan Academy train over 1,300 high-potential microfinance clients so that they can make the leap from micro to small-sized businesses. Trainees are given intensive courses on entrepreneurship covering the topics of self-mastery, personal finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and operations management. In addition, beneficiaries have the option of attending additional coaching sessions with a pool of experts that includes Citi employee volunteers.

Raul Manikan, executive director of Bayan Academy, believes the impulse to volunteer is innate in every human being — the innate goodness that all people possess. “It is a grace to be able to do something to redress social imbalances by way of helping people improve the skills they possess,” he says. “We as civilized people would like to share and what seems to be important is that sense of fulfillment that you have been able to help others.”

Childhope: Improving the lives of street children

For the past 25 years, ChildHope Asia has been supporting children who have been completely abandoned and neglected.  Likewise, the organization helps children who live on the streets with their families and working children who still have family connections. The number of street children has greatly increased throughout the years, making the work of ChildHope even more important.

“Volunteerism benefits society at large by strengthening solidarity,” Teresita Silva, ChildHope founder and president, says. She is convinced that solidarity and reciprocity developed among the corporate world, citizens from high society, the middle-income group, and the poorest of the poor will benefit society as a whole. “It is edifying to see volunteers donating their time and talent to help others,” she says. “Volunteerism helps you learn new skills. It provides enrichment and a deepening of one’s spirit.”

On May 31, nearly 500 Citi volunteers will join Childhope Asia Philippines in teambuilding activities with its beneficiaries.

Gawad Kalinga: Building homes for Yolanda victims

“Volunteerism is the new currency for development,” says Jose Luis Oquinena, executive director of Gawad Kalinga. “It has to be incorporated in the consciousness of people. More than an economic force, it is a hip and fashionable kind of heroism.” He believes that the Filipino word ‘bayanihan’ captures the essence of what volunteerism really is. “It is really bayan, bayani, and bayanihan – it’s all about service for our country and building a sense of nationhood.”

There is still much to be done, according to Oquinena, whose organization is building homes for victims of Typhoon Yolanda. “We have to be the answer to the prayers of our countrymen in the Visayas. Identifying a no-build zone is easier than identifying safe relocation areas. While we are working to build 2,000 units in 15 municipalities, we’re building permanent homes to be able to make use of resources better.”

Gawad Kalinga is currently running a Bayani Challenge that aims to attract one million volunteers in its efforts to rebuild homes and communities for Typhoon Yolanda survivors.  Citi employees, to be led by Batara Sianturi, are expected to participate in Leyte.

Hands on Manila: Promoting, encouraging & improving volunteerism

Hands On Manila is the first Hands On affiliate in the Asia-Pacific region. It was introduced and developed by Hands On Network, an American alliance of volunteer organizations to promote, encourage and improve volunteerism. In the Philippines, it has programs focusing on education, health and nutrition, and the environment.

“The heart and soul of Hands on Manila is volunteerism,” says Atty. Gianna Montinola, the organization’s president and co-founder. “We are a 13-year-old NGO with 40 volunteer leaders. The leadership program is very important to us because our leaders help in the recruitment, training and education of volunteers. We’re a bit of a strange bird because we work with NGOs by creating programs with them and then mobilizing our volunteers. We’ve worked with about 50 NGOs and have a very active base of about 15,000 volunteers.”

Montinola believes it’s important that the work they do have social impact. “In this time of economic growth, there is still the challenge of poverty and inclusive growth. What we do is to put people together so that good things can happen.” 

Philippine Business for Social Progress: Meaningful social change

With Citi, Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) has contributed to the Typhoon Ondoy rehabilitation effort, cleaned up schools to make them ready for public school children with the Brigada Eskwela program, and donated equipment such as computers to educational institutions. Even educational visits to museums were arranged as alternative learning activities for public school children.

“PBSP is a 43-year-old corporate-led foundation with a 21-man board,” says Victoria Co, who, as PBSP’s manager for relationships, ensures the proactive participation of company members and promotes involvement of their people in projects and initiatives of the foundation.

“Volunteerism is an equalizer,” she believes. “No one can be too rich or too poor to be unable to volunteer.”

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