Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

Remembering My Volunteer Year

Ultimately we choose our own path, or else, others will choose it for us.

Choosing to become a social development worker has not been an easy one. There were a lot of realities, both personal and social, that I had to confront, face and settle. About a year ago, I decided to join the Year of Service Volunteer Program with much enthusiasm and a thirst to learn things outside the sheltered environment of the university. After almost a year, I got more than I expected and was never disappointed.

I was assigned at Balay Mindanaw Foundation, Inc. and was given the opportunity to explore different communities and also to explore myself in terms of my character and the determination to pursue development work. It was not clear to me at first what the task of a SIADO is, but as events unfolded, things began to crystallize as I moved along throughout the whole experience. I realized that while I was engaging social realities, I was also engaging myself. Facing the realities in the communities I work with also meant facing the realities of the self.

I was amazed at seeing and witnessing how the Barangay Development Council works. How it gave people the venue, the mechanism to discuss, debate and decide on things that matter and affect their barangay. It is through this venue that you see ordinary people articulate and expound ideas in order to lobby and engage local government units. Personally, it was an eye opener. I realized that there are still unexplored democratic spaces that need to be maximized and taken before we think of other means of effecting change in society.

During my first month, I was brought to the municipality of Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte for a local peace consultation. I had only a very little idea what a local peace consultation was. Not until I saw how it was being done did I realize its majesty and how it gives hope to the current peace talks. It is popularly known as the "the other peace process." This entirely unique peace process between the GRP and RPMM, which is mediated by BMFI, has at its core community participation and involvement as integral part the peace talks. Through the local peace consultations, I have come face to face with people who are longing to be heard, who have been waiting all the time for a long time, for basic services to reach their barangays. These are things that are unaccounted for when economists, technocrats and bureaucrats are saying the economy has grown to this and this percent because the GDP and GNP has increased to this percent therefore everything is going well.

These are but some of the highlights that have given me profound realizations and reflections throughout the year. Parallel with my external experience with the community is internal experience with the self. Both goes hand in hand. Personally as a volunteer, right at the very start, people were asking where is the wisdom behind my choice. Having just graduated and passed the board exams, people, especially relatives and family, expected "more" out of me. More meaning a high paying job. When I decided to be a volunteer and live on "modest allowance," expectations were overturned and disappointments over my decision poured in.

Then again, it has always been good to follow your heart's desire. They say it's where your treasure is. For me, it has been a source of joy and satisfaction seeing people win their own fight. Be it in accomplishing bit by bit their priority projects in their Barangay Development Plans, or be it in the efforts of the indigenous peoples' efforts to secure their ancestral domain. There is no debate whether or not to help the family; it is on the how of it. I believe that as long as I am contributing in the efforts to build a better society, I am in the long run helping my family. The experience has also taught me the value of financial management. Being a volunteer, I have always made it sure that I set aside a portion of my allowance as contribution to the family income. They say it's not the amount that matters; it is how it is given.

There would be times when the internal conflict would be so overwhelming that you would think it would tear you apart. Throughout the latter part of my volunteer year, the pressure of whether to continue in this line of work constantly hammered me, creating confusions. Those were the times when it seemed everything is stagnant and devoid of movement. The doubts cloud up the reason why I have chosen to be a volunteer in the first place. It's like forgetting the forest for the tree.

Looking back to those gloomy and confusing moments, I realized that those were just the deep breaths before the plunge. The plunge towards a deeper journey of the self, a journey towards creating a more meaningful and peaceful society. Those were the moments wherein you get wounded and broken so that more of you can be shared. The times when your intentions are purified and you will begin to see more clearly the reasons and directions of where you are heading.