Leaders of tomorrow

Davao, Philippines — The Unilab Foundation led by the Ideas Positive team organized the Ideas Positive Youth Forum Philippines (IPYFP) in August 2019 where public health issues were discussed and a youth competition commenced. One of the highlights of the event was the Ideas Positive competition that involved the youth on making projects that would help build a healthier Philippines. The youth was composed of young professionals and students who came from various regions in the Philippines to pitch their health projects.

During the three-day forum, I’ve witnessed how the competing young adults presented the pressing health issues in their respective communities.

With their brilliant minds, they provided solutions to aid these concerns. Some of the issues that they have reported were long standing issues in the Philippines. For instance, one group shared that there was a lack of health facility among the Mangyan community that attending to simple illness is a constant challenge. The absence of health infrastructure in the Philippines, especially in the tribal communities, has been an existing and archaic issue.  People in the mountains resort to shamans or primitive healing forms instead of proper medical assistance. In doing so, illnesses remain uncured and diseases continue to spread. Ideally, it is the local government that should be responding in building health infrastructures and ensuring that health care professionals are available in his scope of territory. However, local government may be faced with various issues such as limited budget, governance, priority projects, and the like.

The absence of physical health structure in the Mangyan community allowed a youth group to initiate partnerships and setup a modest health infrastructure – this served as their entry pitch for the Ideas Positive competition. They mobilized few local barangay health workers and capacitated them by partnering with health professionals whose expertise were extensive to impart learnings. Through this setup, a health station was perceived to be the first responder of the health concerns of the Mangyans.

A group from Pangasinan came up with an innovative idea of designing a bike that carries a disaster kit so individuals can take immediate response when the ambulance is still hitting the road. The bike can also be an alternative in cases of disasters when roads become impassible using regular vehicles. The pitch of the group entitled PadyaRescue has already trained youths and adults in their barangay to provide first aid remedy.

As their entry, another youth group educated a community about high blood pressure, and educate them on ways how to prevent it.

Humanitarian work

Apart from dreaming to be a teacher, I dreamed to be a humanitarian worker responding to the plight of the refugees and people who were displaced by the war. Sounds fearless, right? Maybe I got the inspiration to pursue this line of work when I was doing my research on conflict studies. To put it into context, I studied the plight of the Maranaos who sought refuge in Quiapo, Manila due to war in Marawi.

I could have taken an NGO job related to humanitarian work given my knowledge, understanding and exposure in the field. But frankly, I was having second thoughts about it. Is my heart ready for it? Can I really do this? Isn’t it ironic that I am hoping peace for refugees but I am not giving peace of mind to my parents? Clouds of doubt filled in my head.

This lingering emotion in my heart on humanitarian related job made me root for Team Kabanatan. The group provided a modified psychosocial support for children in three schools in Maguindanao where conflicts are rife. They trained teachers on how to ask the right questions with empathy and sensitivity to children who were disturbed by wars and conflicts. They involved parents in the healing process of the children. They empowered the vulnerable ones. More than this, they made partnerships with government entities to ensure that this will be an agenda and an adopted model.

No doubt, they bagged the first place.

Youth as our hope

Zealous to put an end on the same problem over again, these young adults decided to take action and filled the gap. Based on their pitching, fixing and aiding social issues was not a relaxed task. Most of the youths were emotional. Their eyes saw realities that half of the nation do not. They were fervent to bring progress and change. I could not find the right words to describe the intensity I felt when they were delivering their speech with such passion. These were individuals who were younger than me but possess such high values.

I applauded them. I can always write and point whose responsibility it should be and how it could be addressed, but to co-exist with the issue and partake in solving it requires a lot of time, dedication, drive, and courage. As JP, Oro Youth Council stressed during the breakout session on youth governance, “We must co-exist to influence policies.”

On a side note, this should not strip the government from responsibilities. At the end of the day, it is part of their job to provide excellent service to their community in their full capacity.

Young and dumb

Some people would say that they are still young, that they are idealistic. I hated when people say that. It’s as if people are wishing to the wind to kill the dreams and aspirations of the youth. Maybe the system has gotten some of them, and they assume that everybody else will.

When we have the slightest doubt about someone’s desire for change, the least we can do is to keep it alive with our kind words.

 

 

 

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27th

The month of August is often associated with ghost month. People would speak that it is not a perfect time to spend money, setup business, get into a relationship, or change career. Worse, it is during the ghost month when disasters occur.

Contrary to what others perceive as an unwelcomed month, for me August is a month that I am looking forward to. First, it is my birth month. Second, it is Ron and I’s anniversary month. Lastly, there are so many Philippine holidays scheduled in August. Who doesn’t love holidays? Edsa is free! See, I don’t have any reasons why August should deter me to feel celebratory.

But it is ghost month!

When I was still doing my corporate job, a Chinese doctor once told me that I should not get worried of ghost month. Instead, he urged me to pray because the act is powerful above all else.  I am not a fan of religion, but I believe in prayer whether in the form of music, meditation, or silence.

27th Year

Today, I am celebrating my 27th year despite the heavy rains. Since I have started that habit of counting my blessings, it’s time to accentuate on the people, events, things, and small victories that I have been grateful for.

Finding God

There was a time when my faith was disconcerted that my connection with God stopped to nurture. Maybe because attending mass became routinely that I was not sure if it was truly nourishing my spiritual needs. It can be that the same religion that preaches love hated gays, lesbians, and trans equating individuals with sin, hell, and damnation rather than flourishing their faith. Maybe it suggested to me that mass goers should not just show up in church, but take actions where help, support, and love are needed. Perhaps I do not just see all who seek God in church as kind and compassionate people. I had my reasons, and it rattled my faith.

Then one day, I was enlightened. I cannot remember when exactly, but it struck me to focus on my personal faith with God rather than think of how others sway my faith. I guess I am grateful that I found God in many ways – not just in church. I notice God when other people extend help to me, when I randomly look at the sky’s peaceful hue, or when opportunities come in my least expected timings.      

Q Family

I have quite a loud family that makes me wonder if I were adopted, but the comparable physical features confirmed that I am not. Whenever I get home from work, I imagine myself lying peacefully on my bed, spending an hour reading a book, and softly succumbing to sleep. That is the dream. The reality is that, my mom’s frequency is at max, and my niece who I am rooming with plays computer with speakers on. Imagine the moment your eyes are shutting, then suddenly you’ll hear loud shootings and squeaks. So there, I leave the feeling of displeasure to you.

Now that I am remembering my niece I am actually starting to hear her voice in my head whenever she attempts to vlog with her “Hey guys! This is Jem, and welcome to my channel!” intro.

The noise annoyance is just one thing. At the end of the day, there are multiple reasons why I am thankful for with my family. Whenever I get home, I am greeted with mom’s appetizing dinner that I forget what diet means, really. My niece never forgets to greet me with hello. During Sundays, it always feels like a feast. My mom cooks sumptuous, and she requests that we devour the food all together. It gives us an avenue to catch up and talk about anything under the sun. Imagine putting everyone in one table!  

Fairly, not everybody is blessed with having a complete, (loud), and happy family.

The One

I could not thank Ron more for staying with me for 7 years. I’ll keep this short since I will be writing a separate post in time with our anniversary. Keso. Haha!

Master of Community Development

My ultimate goal this year is to finish my graduate studies. I told myself that by 27, I should have my master’s degree. You know when people say that life is full of surprises? It’s true. Because at 26, I already earned that degree I dreaded on. It was probably grit that allowed me to finish it, or it could be that I put in advance all my birthday wishes one moment I was wishing to the universe. Either way, this is considered done and a wish granted. Gosh, it feels victorious to type the word ‘done’. Let’s do it again – D O N E.

Advocating for education

Everything is going to plan accordingly. I’ve written in stone that after completing my graduate studies, I will transfer to another NGO / foundation. Not that I did not love Children’s Hour anymore, I just felt the need to grow professionally.

In June 2019, we had our graduation and recognition in UP, and on the following month I received a job offer from three NGOs. I chose to be with the foundation that is closer to one of my advocacies — education. Have I told you that I am a frustrated teacher?

Looking forward to

Maybe I am still breathing because I have yet to fulfill my mission in life. Whatever role I have to play in this lifetime, I hope to do it well. On top of everything else, I am committed and looking forward to gracefully finish that mission.

Carry on, my dear self.

 

Count your blessings

The rain started pouring last night, and I was observing the crowd from our car window as they fidgeted to look for a roof. A vendor who was carrying a pile of guitars on his right shoulder while holding a bundle of ukuleles on his left hand caught my attention. The man rushed to an establishment offering shade and rested his guitars and ukuleles on the wall. He brushed his wet hair, and wiped dry his instruments.

I looked at Ron and told him how blessed we were with a car that protected us from the rain and would send us home dry. While others were problematic with rain affecting how they would make ends meet for the day, I was thinking how I would protect my shoes from not drenching in flood water. It was belittling on my end, but it taught me not to complain in life and to count my blessings.

Fate is clever. Last night’s realization of abundance was not the first. Life’s blessings were obvious in moments I overlooked.

There was a time I had a pimple outbreak because I was scarce with sleep and was working double for my thesis in graduate school. For most of the time I didn’t mind how I look, but that particular night while I was waiting for a bus after class I realized how stressed my face was. I was insecure and felt a lowered self-esteem.

I hailed the approaching bus and sunk at the front row unconsciously dismissing a seat for PWD, pregnant woman, or elderly. It was only then that I realized that it was a special seat when a blind man asked me if we were nearing Starmall. I was about to transfer but I saw that the bus offered open seats. I stayed in my seat while vowing to move when it was necessary.

Honestly, nothing transcended to me instantly when he began talking given my exhaustion physically, mentally, and emotionally. But the man was a real talker so I gave in. I learned that he was a beneficiary of our foundation through one of our partner organizations. He was used to commuting alone under the tutelage of the conductor on his stop — although at times, he needed a confirmation from his seatmate to avoid conductor oversight. He shared that he can only perceive bright lights, but everything was plain white.

I knew the universe was sending me a message that night. One, that my pimple outbreak was a joke. Second, that I should be thankful that despite my rough skin, my essential senses were normal and functional.

An Act of Gratitude

An act of gratitude, like any other habit, is a muscle that must be stretched from time to time. I am teaching myself to count my blessings, to see the bigger picture, and to take a look at my better state rather than complain.

If I am standing too long I’ll think about mall employees who have to endure long hours of standing that is required of their job.

If I am overwhelmed with my job, I’ll think about the people who wish they have a job to pay for their needs and wants.

If I am annoyed by Mom’s frequency, I’ll think about the people who were longing for a mother’s love.

If I am stuck in traffic, I’ll think about the children who have to cross mountains and rivers just to get to their school and back home.

If I am tired of waking up early in the morning, I’ll think about those people who have been fighting cancer just to make sure they get to see the sun the following day.

If I am frustrated with my pay, I’ll think about those people who needed to work twice to get their stomachs filled.

If I thought that my clothes are out of fashion, I’ll think how some parents wish they could give a simple dress for their daughter’s birthday.

If I am hungry for personal space and quiet time, I’ll think about the people who were displaced due to war.

If I complain about not being able to travel, I’ll think of families who just wish they have a home where their family can settle, or think of people abroad who wish they can just stay at home to be with their family.

When I started counting my blessings, I recognized that the list is limitless. Even the simplest form of breathing, I started to be thankful for. As I type this, some people in the world are praying that they could breathe a little better just for a minute.

The next time we think about complaining, let us look at the picture as a whole. Surely, it will hit us that we are way blessed than we could ever think of.

 

 

Mothers’ Tough Love

By: Jef Warren Queyquep – @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 09:04 AM May 09, 2019

There are many moments I can recall of my mother’s love for me and our family.

In elementary, we had a competition held at the school patio. We had a full audience, but I stumbled upon a familiar face—my mom’s. Despite her responsibilities at home, she came to watch me compete.

I was so thrilled that I failed to hear the announcement of winners until a teacher started pinning a ribbon on my uniform. I waved at her and she smiled at me; she had wanted to clap, but her hands were full of grocery bags from the wet market. I could tell she was proud of me from her eyes that were filled with so much delight.

There was a heavy rainfall one time, and our home was submerged in floodwaters up to waist level. I was at home with my brother, sister-in-law and niece. My mom was out buying food and got stranded in the house of my uncle. She made a series of calls, reminding us where the canned goods were stored, instructing us to save appliances, and to switch off the main power to avoid further disaster.

There was a command in her tone despite our sense of panic on the other line. Later, she confessed that she had been shaking the whole time she was talking to us on the phone, but she had to keep her composure to assure us that everything was all right.

When we were heading to UP for my final defense in my graduate studies, she shared that she used to sell assorted items and food at the Lung Center of the Philippines when she was pregnant with my eldest brother. She worked twice as hard to ensure that she and my dad could pay expenses at home while saving enough for the anticipated hospital bills. It occurred to me she has more untold stories to tell.

Mothers will always be mothers. They are gentle as a dove, but when we are in harm’s way, they become protective as a tiger. Just like Fahira, a mother of five children, a wife and survivor of conflict whom I met in Quiapo, Manila.

When the Marawi siege began, Fahira and her family were forced to evacuate their home. She firmly instructed her family to stash their valuables in sacks and drop everything else. She said it was a shattering experience running away from her home, along with the beautiful memories that filled that house: the years they celebrated every end of Ramadan with sumptuous food on the table, the times she bonded with her children at Lake Lanao, the countless soulful moments of the family praying before bed.

They found sanctuary and aid in the house of their relatives outside the conflict area. Fahira further swallowed her pride by borrowing money from them to open a food business in Manila.

Fahira and her family relocated to Quiapo, where they rented a small room with minimal ventilation. Despite settling in a Muslim commercial community, she found the culture and environment different from Marawi. Fahira spent the first weeks in Manila sobbing in her bed at night, asking Allah to guide her family. She recalled being anxious, but had to project herself as undeterred in front of her children.

Every morning, Fahira cooked food that she would then ration to customers in Baclaran. The work was laborious—there was tight competition in the area, and there was the extreme heat to contend with. But she considered every penny she earned as a gem. She budgeted and saved to put up a small sari-sari store. While selling food in the morning, she spent afternoons inquiring in schools about her children’s education. Her unending efforts paid off when she was able to send her children to school.

One time, I messaged her to ask how she and her family were doing; she said her husband had been hospitalized and her daughter had a fever. It was a tough time for her family, but she was keeping her faith in Allah.

When I asked her what kept her strong and motivated to move forward, she said: “Ginagawa ko pong inspirasyon ang mga anak namin—ang pamilya namin. (My children and my family are my inspiration.)”

Almost two years after the Marawi siege, in April 2019, Fahira and her family were finally able to return home to Marawi through the assistance of a local NGO. There, they were assessed and eventually enrolled in the current rehabilitation program.

Before she left for Marawi, she sent me photos of her son during his recognition day in school. Her son bagged several awards in academics and sports. In the photos, her son was smiling from ear to ear. No trace of any memory of terror or trauma could be seen on his face.

All I could think of then was how Fahira had done everything to bring back her son’s joyful smile. If I were face-to-face with her at that moment, I knew I would see the same look my mother had when she saw me getting an award—proud and delighted.

Mothers will always be mothers. Just like Fahira. Just like my mom.

(Fahira is a pseudonym to ensure her and her family’s privacy. This piece is dedicated to Fahira and to all the “bakwit” or evacuees of the Marawi siege. Mabuhay kayo!)

* * *

Jef Warren Queyquep, 26, is the son of Editha Queyquep. He works in the development field as a community and humanitarian worker.

Nanay Tess

For our plane seating arrangement going to Manila via CebuPac, I was randomly separated from my officemates. I was assigned at row 2 while they occupied half of the row of 21. I did not mind this setup because our exhaustion made us want to rest than to chat.

In my row, I was seated across an old lady with one vacant seat in between us. I was flipping a magazine when she gently poked me asking for her overhead light to be switched on. She told me that it was Wednesday and she will have her short Novena prayer. I smiled granting her request.

I grabbed a bag of chips, and decided to offer some to the old lady. It was a non GMO and gluten-free chips so I knew a bite would not hurt. She offered me lanzones in exchange, but I told her I was good. Her buds were really craving for sweets so she unwrapped a box of Goldilocks polvoron. Before I even decline, she handed me a polvoron.

Food were good starters for small talks. She shared that she was going to Manila for her eye check-up since she was recovering from her cataract operation. I was curious why she was left with no companion, so I asked her.

She said, ‘’Yung asawa ko palagi kong kasama. Kaso kakamatay lang niya last month, kanser sa pantog. May mga panahon na nami-miss ko, kasi kaming dalawa lang eh. Araw-araw mong nakakasama. Pakiramdam ko nawalan ako ng isang pakpak.’ (My husband has always been my companion. But he died of  bladder cancer last month. There were times when I missed him. When he was living, we were together everyday. I felt like I had broken wings when he left.)

It was shattering, and her longing for her husband echoed to me. I uttered, ‘Kaya pala may isang bakanteng upuan dito. Para sakanya ata ‘to.’ (That’s why we have a vacant seat in between us. Maybe this is for him.)

She slid her hand to the armrest and whispered, ‘Siguro nga.’ (Maybe.), then she paused. I did not want to steal that moment from her. It was a silent poetry filled with soul. Witnessing it was enough.

As we were descending, the contrast of the night created perfect view of the city lights of Manila. Our heads were directed to the window. I was extending my neck to get a peek of the view. She observed that I was struggling. She suggested for me to take the seat next to her. I politely refused her. I knew the seat belonged to someone else.

Last night, it was a date. It was theirs.

Faith: Lost or Found?

Last year, before my fieldwork in graduate school demanded my time, I used to attend free meditation classes at Fo Guang Shan – a Buddhist temple — during the second and fourth week of Sunday. I am not really into religion, but I like the idea of meditating for self-awareness and inner peace.

Every after meditation, there’s a short sharing about Buddhist teachings led by a monk. I have less knowledge about Buddhism but I tried to digest everything and share few words. My frequent visit at the temple eventually made me appreciate the concept that Buddha is not a God, but a model for his human values. More than the faith-centeredness relative to Catholics, Buddhism teaches more of kindness for others and self-nourishment.

My faith was confused, and I needed some internal fixing to recollect everything which I found in the temple. It was my sanctuary for tranquility, perhaps my Oasis.

I was hooked in Buddhism until I started missing the classes due to my fieldwork in graduate school that consumed my weekends for one semester. Ever since my last visit, I have yet to return to the temple.

My hopes for strengthening my faith was fading once again.

Yesterday, my friend posted via Instagram an invitation on a spiritual talk. It was very random when I shared that the talk was interesting. He then requested me to join the talk that left me caught off guard. I ended committing my attendance (gee!). I put forward the premise to him that my faith is disoriented. He uttered that he respects my view.

When we arrived at Christ the King in Ortigas, we started with a worship. Followed by a breakout session. During the breakout session, a priest preached about the story of Zaccheus also known as the tax collector, and how Jesus renewed him.

After the preach, there were series of questions in a single sheet that was handed to us. It was summarizing our reflection on the story of Zaccheus and how it relates to our life. I was anxious answering the questions. It felt like reliving with my Christian Living subject back in high school more than sincerely reflecting.

The participants were asked to share their words thereafter. All throughout the sharing, I was mum and wishing nobody would point a finger on me to recite. Luckily, I was saved by the bell when I was tapped by the lady beside me.

When the priest waved goodbye, our cluster stayed feasting on the snacks that were served. Casually, the regular attendees checked our (new ones) thoughts on the session.

I shared that I respect everything that has been shared, but to be transparent I am not into religion. It was a challenge when they asked why. I protested that if there’s no religion, there would not be any war, there would not be any prejudice about gays and lesbians, and the list goes on. I also found it unfair that we were pre-labeled when we were born deprived with the freedom to make a choice without a bias from our orientation.

I was jubilant when they were nodding as if paying reverence to me, although I know that their faith would not be rattled by my heated words.

One participant expressed her response to my belief:

“I guess one thing is for sure, there is a higher being. There is God. Whether it’s Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity, if you think one of which will bring you closer to God or holiness, so be it. It’s about making a commitment with God or that higher being, and flourishing it.”

Her response struck me. It was true that above all us, there is a higher being.

Honestly, up until now I am still savoring her response. It was a snooze that keeps on waking my faith. Maybe one of these days, I will have a special encounter with that higher being, and I hope when that day arrives, I will come prepared.

Part 2: Sablay 20XX

Now we are here

Second Semester 2017 – 2018

It was a tug between thesis and comprehensive exam. If I were solely to decide – putting sideways the influence of others – I will be forever stuck in between. If I choose thesis track, finishing it would be indefinite juggling it with work and personal errands. On the other hand, if I choose comprehensive exam, I’ll have to take two more subjects, bear one more semester, and endure the straining MRT rides twice a week for five months just to get to UP from Makati, let alone the more than an hour ride going home via Ayala bus. The idea of travelling drains me, and I told myself enough with the MRT rides; Philippines is not Singapore.

Perhaps it was the trend in our batch that made me susceptible to choosing thesis, and the convenience that it offered that I would not be obliged to go to school to report. Simply, it suggested freedom. Although most of the time, this taste of freedom converts to losing momentum. Albert told me that a lot of students who opted thesis track failed to finish their proposals because of devoting more time to work and losing an air for their thesis. There were few who passed through the narrow pipe hole that took years; I presumed that they continued running or shall I say writing even at slow paced. No wonder, their hardships paved way.

(MCD Beshies is our Facebook Messenger ‘support’ group chat.)

At this point of my life, and maybe my other classmates in graduate school too, we are under pressure. I remember getting drunk while partying in La Union. My friends and I were in cloud9 until my thesis hit me. I started sobbing like a puppy being deprived of milk. It occurred to me the literatures and journals I needed to read, the uncertainty of the execution of my proposal, and the ininfite possibility of me finishing and unfinishing my thesis. I partly blame the alcohol as a form of depressant that provoked my suppressed thoughts to linger on the surface. I should have been jumping to the beat of Bruno Mar’s song, but there I was being offered more drinks while sobbing. I thanked my friends for empathizing with me. They were not road (rude).

(Members of this group motivate each other. Does it sound motivating? Haha!)

Jaz once shared during our research moment, “Papa-graduatin ka ng thesis adviser mo, kung gugustuhin mong grumaduate.” (Your thesis adviser will help you graduate, if you help yourself graduate). Her line was a bull’s-eye to the cherry. She was right, the ball is not in the hands of my adviser — I am the one holding it. I knew there’s a lot of work to do with my thesis, but I vowed to strictly set my timeline and work one page per day. I needed to graduate this year.

Funny, when Sir Mel, my thesis adviser and I were setting the date of my presentation, he asked me if I was amenable to do it on the second week of April. I insisted we do it on the first week, April 5, 2018 (yay!). My paper was not perfection; I am not 100% confident with its content. I just wanted to set an early timeline for myself so I would accelerate the pace of my writing. Just like in basketball, when it’s 4th quarter and crunch time, you double your effort to win your game.

(One of the best days of my life when Sir Mel sent me a message that my proposal has been approved.)

Fast forward to April 5, feeling determined, I defended the first part of my thesis. There were tons of revisions and comments from the beginning and end of my paper from the panel, but maybe the universe has been on my side. After the presentation, they told me I passed (yas!).

This is not a happy ending, but a beginning of a happy story. This is going to be a long journey and I know I am going to stretch myself beyond my limits while working on this thesis. To date, I am not sure if my respondents are still settling in my target area since they were displaced individuals who constantly move from one place to another — depending from their recovery due to Marawi war. I still hope for the best that my contact persons and organizations have rich networks to string me to my target respondents.


Notes

My working thesis is entitled: The Recovery of Internally Displaced Persons Outside of the Armed Conflict Community: The Case of Marawi IDPs in Quiapo, Manila. This research aims to surface the struggles of the Maranaos as migrants who settled in Quiapo, Manila due to the conflict in Marawi. A lot of the donations were sent to Marawi and Iligan City. However, reports have told that there were Maranaos who went to Cebu, Maguindanao, Misamis Occidental, and even in Luzon. These migrants were not given the same treatment as those who were identified in the evacuation centers and temporary shelters in Marawi and Iligan.