Zonta: More than just bazaars

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Zonta: More than just bazaars

(Seated) Zonta past vice area director Sonia Tiong-Aquino, district governor Baby Perez-Sison and past international president Livie Ferry; (standing, from left) past area director Dandy Gomez, Zonta Club of Ayala Makati president Rita Dy and past district governor Virma Vergel de Dios at the Makati Garden Club. Photo courtesy of Rita Dy

Zonta,” per se, needs no introduction. When Zonta announces that it is organizing a bazaar, you can bet that Christmas is just around the corner.

“But we are more than just a bazaar organizer!” protests Dr. Primitiva “Baby” Perez-Sison, governor of Zonta’s District 1, the biggest in Zonta International with its 74 clubs. “We just hold bazaars for fund-raising.”

So what exactly is Zonta, which was founded in 1919 as a global group of executives and professionals? “Zonta” is a Sioux Indian word that means “honest and trustworthy.”

Baby stresses that Zonta International “is a leading global organization of professionals empowering women through service and advocacy.”

Zonta is very clear and focused on its mission: women empowerment.

OliviaLivieFerry, the first and so far only Zonta International president from Asia, adds, “We are a global village, so being global means that we are in 66 countries around the world. So we work together, precisely to elevate the status of women around the world wherever they maybe in 66 countries. And we do that through service and advocacy, that’s what our mission means. We have 30,000 members around the world.”

Livie clarifies another misconception that Zonta is a women’s club, though there is absolutely nothing wrong about that.

“We are an organization of executives and professionals. Which means to say that it is really not just for the women, it is also for men. This was approved about maybe 10 years ago at the convention. We do have very few, a part of them they believe in our mission. So we work together.”

The first man to break the glass ceiling in Zonta Philippines is Harvard Uy de Baron, president of Zonta Club of Metro Ortigas for 2010-2012.


Rita Dy and Baby Perez-Sison with 19th Zonta International District 17 Conference chairperson Virma Vergel de Dios.

Why join Zonta?

I asked Rita Dy, former sales and marketing communications manager of Singapore Airlines and present president of Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club, what motivates busy women like her (she continues to serve in many other boards) to devote their time, energy and resources to Zonta.

“If you see how many people need your help, you really get committed to do it,” says Rita, president of Zonta Club of Makati Ayala.  “I was always in the corporate world. Actually, I was a charter a member of my club but I didn’t have time when I was working full-time. When they asked me to be the president I actually hesitated because it may entail too much work. But when I got into it, I felt it was so rewarding. Because you are doing a lot for people who cannot help themselves. And then once you help them, you cannot stop it because if you don’t continue, how will they get along? How do they continue? You get hooked on helping others. So it’s really a commitment.”

Virma Potenciano Vergel de Dios was once club president of Zonta Club of Mandaluyong-San Juan. She is also the president of the Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center (formerly Polymedic) along EDSA.

“I think each of us has a unique story about why we joined Zonta. In my case, I was invited by my mom, Irma. I’m already a second-generation Zontian, and my daughter is already a third-generation Zontian. So, I was the youngest member in the club, but I got so inspired because former Quezon City Mayor Adelina Rodriguez was there, Justice Leonor Luciano was there — I asked myself, what can I do if these people can already do so much?

“But they got me involved in the club affairs so I’ve been a member for the past 28 years.”

ImeldaDandyGomez was once president of the Zonta Club of Greater Rizal 1. In the district and international levels, she was vice area director, then area director then eventually, Zonta International director. At present, she is the co-chair of the Zonta International Service Committee. Dandy has a master’s in public management from the Ateneo de Manila University.

“For me it’s more of giving back time. My mom run a Puericulture center in the barrio. My mother owned it and donated it to the government. That was the start of me seeing what it was like to give back. But then in the case of my mom, it was only in the barangay. So I told myself, maybe you shouldn’t just limit yourself in one small area, you can do more but you have to join an organization. So when I got invited to join Zonta,  I said, maybe this is it! By joining Zonta, I could give more things to help more people. And that’s not just in the barangay where my mother used to help.”

But why Zonta when there are other women’s groups?

“They have a different mission,” stresses Baby, who is a doctor of optometry and the woman behind the reputable Perez Optical chain. “Zonta is really for the empowerment of women.”

Sonia Tiong-Aquino  was past club president and past vice area  director. At present, she is chairman in District 17 of the Leadership Development Committee. She is a member of the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation and a consultant in the mentoring program of the Department of Science and Technology.

“I used to work in the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Small Scale Industries and we introduced entrepreneurship in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. So I was told, what you have done, what you’re doing — you can do that in Zonta very well.”

Livie, who was the 48th International president of Zonta International (2006-2008), believes Zonta has widened her world by giving her more opportunities to give back.

“I joined Zonta in 1977. As you said you can join any organization but in my particular case, I joined Zonta because I realized that when you actually help women, the world becomes a better place. Because when you help women you achieve the double dividend of not only helping the women themselves but you also help their family, you help their children, you help the community, right? So that’s one of the reasons why I joined Zonta. Another reason why I joined is because I would be able to help women not only in my country. I wanted to cross the border and be able to help women who needed my help the most, regardless of their ethnicity, their religion, their economy, their geography, their age. So Zontians are not just local citizens, we’re not citizens of the Philippines, we are citizens of the world. But of course, the bulk of our work is in the Philippines, the bulk of our finances go to the Philippines. But if the women in another part of the world need our help we also help them.”

So, you see, an organization that is celebrating its centennial in  two years isn’t all about organizing bazaars. As Livie Ferry says, by empowering women around the world, you’re making sure even men get a good tomorrow.

(The 19th Zonta International District 17 Conference will be held at the New World Hotel in Makati City from Sept. 15 to 17. This momentous convergence will be jointly participated in by Zontians from 51 clubs in the Philippines and 25 clubs from Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The forthcoming conference is the biggest and most significant event of Zonta International District 17 this biennium.)

(You may e-mail me at [email protected].)

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