Challenging the Filipino Youth
by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Times
DURING the last elections, I was pleasantly surprised by the the level of involvement among young Filipinos especially in social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Some chose to campaign for a particular candidate while others decided to engage in voters’ education by joining groups such as PPCRV and NAMFREL. Sadly, as soon as the winners in the last election was proclaimed everyone seemed to go back to their usual concerns and the spirit of social action slowly but surely diminished.
Is it because young Filipinos are really apathetic and don’t care much about the future of our nation? I don’t think so. So what gives? Here are some of my insights into this.
Elections are exciting but governance is boring
Young people always love to do exciting new things and during the elections wherein there was so much debate about the merits of each candidate, you could see them expressing their insights and opinions using Facebook and their blogs. This is also a generation that is an impatient one and their attention span is also very hard to sustain for long periods of time, thus, they want to see tangible results quickly. In an election, you can easily see the results while if you work for good governance, the results are not often tangible and they take a long time before you see change happening. Yet, the elections are just a process and the work of governance is the more important aspect in our drive to help move our country out of poverty. The challenge for non-profit organizations, government institutions and other civil society groups is to find new and innovative ways by which they can appeal to the younger generation of Filipinos.
Opportunities for young Filipinos
Another concern is that there are not just enough volunteer opportunities that are being presented to young Filipinos that appeal to them. I have talked to some dynamic young Filipinos who want to change the Philippines but they just don’t know how or where to start. This summer, I was fortunate enough to work with Stephanie Sison, an incoming second year medical school student who wanted to do something worthwhile during her summer break.
Stephanie implemented a preventive health program that taught children from urban poor communities on how to stay healthy and stay away from diseases such as diarrhea, dengue fever and the common flu. After the children are taught by college student volunteers from Ateneo de Manila University, they are given paper and coloring materials to draw what they learned. The best artworks will be made into a Preventive Health calendar to be distributed to more than 1,000 families in Brgy. Old Balara in Quezon City. This project was supported and done in partnership with Kaya Natin’s Congressman Bolet Banal of Quezon City and the Sangguniang Kabataan of Brgy. Old Balara. More than 350 children took part and Stephanie hopes to be able to bring this to other barangays in Quezon City.
Those who want to be involved or want to support the We Heart program can contact Stephanie through her email: email@example.com .
Alay Ni Ignacio (ANI)
Aside from having a strong desire to help solve social problems in our communities, it is also important that young Filipinos be given the right information about the advocacy that he or she is planning to undertake. In 2000, my sophomore college students at the Ateneo de Manila University started a summer instructional program for public high school students called Alay Ni Ignacio (ANI). This program was geared towards helping poor but deserving students prepare for the college entrance exams and be able to compete for scholarships. The program was run primarily with college student volunteers who taught enrichment classes in English, Mathematics and Science to the participants who came from Marikina and Quezon City.
Due to the success of ANI, the Ford Foundation, one of the biggest international foundations in the world, awarded it a grant that would help expand the program into what is now called, Pathways to Higher Education. Since then, Pathways has now helped more than 150 students from very poor families to graduate from college. Aside from this, Pathways has also helped train more than 8,000 public school teachers in basic computer literacy. What initially started as a youth-led summer education program has now helped change the lives of thousands of public high school students and their families all over the country.
Those who want to know more about ANI and Pathways can get in touch with them at (02) 426-6001 local 4048.
Given these concrete examples of young Filipinos who chose to make a difference, I believe that real and genuine change can happen in our country if we are able to harness the talents and skills of these young Filipinos. In my talks to colleges and universities, I always tell students that the time is now for us to take charge and go out of our way to do our own share in helping rebuild our nation. Moreover, I remind them that this is the only nation that we have and in the end, this is the kind of nation we will inherit. The choice is ours whether we want to inherit a nation beset with the same problems or a nation brimming with much hope and promise.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
I know good governance isn’t sexy but…
By: Harvey S. Keh
Ever since I’ve graduated from college in 2000, I have been very much involved with two major advocacies that I feel very passionate about, the improvement of access and quality of education in our country and the promotion of good governance. I have always believed that both of these elements should be attained by our country in order for us to eventually move out of poverty and become a first world economy.
Pathways to Higher Education
I started Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines in 2002 together with Fr. Ben Nebres, S.J. and Dr. Milwida Guevara, both of whom I look up to as mentors and as great Filipino servant leaders. Pathways helps academically-gifted but financially-disadvantaged public high school students gain access to college and eventually finish their college education. Since we started Pathways in 2002, more than a hundred students have already graduated from college many of which come from families who earn less than P 150.00 a day. Raising funds for the scholarships of our participants wasn’t very hard since many generous Filipinos were more than willing to “adopt” our scholars. Even large companies such as Universal Robina Corporation, Healthway Medical, Diamond Hotel, RCPI and Smart Communications have partnered with Pathways in helping bring opportunities to more deserving young Filipinos. Those who may want to consider helping our Pathways participants can call (02) 426-6001 local 4048.
In 2006, Mr. Hector Tagaysay and I worked together to establish the Acts of Hope for the Nation (AHON) Foundation, a corporate foundation of Filway Marketing, Inc., that aims to help build well-equipped public elementary school libraries all over the country. Since then, we have helped refurbish more than 40 libraries in Marikina, Quezon City, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, La Union and Pangasinan. Like Pathways, AHON does not find it very hard to get book donations and grants from individuals and organizations who believe in providing quality basic education to every Filipino child. Just recently, AHON got a grant from Target Sourcing Services which will allow us to provide Filipiniana storybooks and other reference materials to our beneficiaries. Two weeks ago, another multi-national company got in touch with us and committed to helping provide books to another public elementary school in Pasig. Those who may want to help AHON bring books to more Filipino children can call (02) 434-1458.
Good governance’s struggle for support
Unlike Pathways and AHON, the biggest challenge for me in terms of raising funds and support has been in Kaya Natin. The Ateneo School of Government together with Among Ed Panlilio, former Gov. Grace Padaca and DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo launched the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership in 2008 at a dinner meeting at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan. Since then, we have evolved to become not just a movement that promotes good governance but also as a leadership sanctuary that supports effective, ethical and empowering government leaders in our country. We believe that the only way for good people to prevail against graft and corruption is if they synergize their efforts and work together. Yet, despite the great need for good governance in our country given that billions of pesos are lost every year to graft and corruption, it has been quite tough for us to raise resources for our programs and activities.
One major reason for this is that many Filipinos still shun away from getting involved in anything political especially major companies which have their own interests to protect. Another reason that I see is that unlike Pathways and AHON where you can concretely see where your money goes (in the form of a scholar or a library), good governance is vague and it doesn’t yield results immediately. Finally, I discerned that by espousing good governance and ethical leadership, you are forced to take a side thus by choosing to advocate for what is right, you automatically gain enemies which are those who live and perpetuate graft and corruption in our society. Whereas in other advocacies such as education, healthcare and shelter, you don’t have to step on anyone’s interests.
Looking at the bigger picture
Yet, if you look at the bigger picture in the Philippines, isn’t it supposed to be the role of our government to ensure that quality education is provided to all? Isn’t it the role of our government to be able to provide equitable opportunities to every Filipino to be able to own a house? My point here is that if good governance is practiced by our government leaders, the impact would be greater and much felt by more Filipinos in a faster way. Yes, a movement that promotes good governance isn’t sexy but in the end, it also needs to be supported lest we want our country to be continually run by corrupt leaders.
A story comes to mind as I write this piece. There was a man who saw another man drowning in the pool so he jumps into the pool and saves the drowning man. Right after he brings the man out of the pool, he sees that there are two other men who are now drowning in the pool as well. He then jumps into the pool and saves both of them. This process happens again and again and again until the man grows tired because the man fails to see the bigger picture and address the root cause of the problem which is the presence of an evil man who continuously throws people into the pool.
Making a commitment
One could reflect on this story as a story of our country today. While there are so many good people who are doing their own share to contribute to nation-building, many Filipinos continue to still live in poverty. The greater challenge now is how we can engage our government and its leaders so that they can become champions of good governance who can effectively respond to our growing social problems. By doing so, we make our leaders accountable for their actions or inactions and in the end, better delivery of basic services to every Filipino can happen.
In conclusion, donating or volunteering for a cause is a personal choice which I hope many Filipinos especially those who live comfortably will make. Whether it’s helping provide a scholarship, donating books or supporting champions of good governance, the important thing is you have gone out of your comfort zone, made a choice and more importantly, a commitment to get involved and contribute to making our society a better place for all of us. Genuine and lasting change will only happen if every Filipino will not just stop at complaining about our present problems but also start to become a proactive changemaker in his or her own small way.
Comments are welcome at email@example.com
My mentor, my hero
by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Bulletin
MANILA, Philippines — How do you transform a university into one of the premiere academic institutions in Asia while helping rebuild the future of a nation beset by rampant poverty, corruption and illiteracy?
Ask Fr. Ben. While he has always valued the need for academic excellence, he has always said that the true worth of an academic institution in a country where more than half of the population continues to live in poverty is measured by the amount of impact it will have towards changing the lives of the poor and powerless.
Thus, it was no surprise that Fr. Ben has dedicated much of his time in working towards the improvement of the public school system and in working with Gawad Kalinga towards the provision of shelter for many homeless Filipino families.
During his talks, he has always cited the Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen in saying that the only way for Third World countries such as the Philippines to move out of poverty is to improve its public education and public health systems.
Fr. Ben has taken these words to heart and in the last 10 years, he has been instrumental towards the establishment of several successful non-profit organizations that have helped rebuild and improve our public education system.
One of these organizations is Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines which I co-founded with him and Dr. Milwida Guevara in 2002. Pathways aims to help academically-gifted but financially disadvantaged students enter college and finish their college education.
Many people fail to realize that I was only 23 years old when I started Pathways and it was the constant guidance and mentoring of Fr. Ben that helped me run the organization towards helping hundreds of public school students all over the country gain better opportunities of attaining a brighter future.
Even before Pathways, Fr. Ben had already established the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED), an institution that helps empower and train different stakeholders in the field of public education towards the improvement in the performance of public elementary school students.
Since its establishment in 1998, ACED has provided training to thousands of public school teachers and principals from all over the Philippines.
One of the more inspiring success stories of ACED happened recently when one of its pilot schools, Payatas B Elementary School, went from being in the bottom 10 of Quezon City public schools to being in the Top 20 in just a year. According to Fr. Ben, this big leap can be attributed to the concerted efforts of the community such as the parents and the barangay leaders to actively participate in the improvement of public elementary school.
Now, he has decided to tackle the growing problem of malnutrition among school children in Quezon City where he has launched a feeding program together with the local government towards addressing underweight children. Fr. Ben shares that this is a very important initiative since one of the main reasons for the high drop-out rate is our children’s poor health due to their lack of nutritious food to eat at home.
He never seems to run out of good ideas and energy when it comes to helping the poor. I am sure that as he retires from being our University President, he will now have more time to focus on ensuring that all these worthwhile initiatives will continue to grow and help more Filipinos in need.
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
As I grew up my heroes evolved from the usual Superman, Spiderman and Batman to basketball superstars such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to national leaders such as Ninoy and Cory Aquino, Jesse Robredo, Grace Padaca and Among Ed Panlilio. I realized that all of them have one thing in common, they are all ordinary people like you and me that have decided to go beyond themselves to promote and fight for something good which is often larger than life.
Heroes are people whom we look up to as bearers of hope in times of trouble and despair. When all else is lost, we look up to these extraordinary people to inspire us to believe that anything is possible if only we believe in ourselves.
Fr. Ben decided that he wanted to make it his mission to build the nation and despite the many challenges that he has faced through the years, he has emerged victorious. More importantly, he has restored hope to many less privileged Filipinos who have been neglected by our leaders through the years. Truly, the Ateneo community and the Filipino people are blessed to have a modern-day Filipino hero in Fr. Ben.
Harvey S. Keh is co-founder of Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines and AHON Foundation.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org