Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ordinary Filipinos, extraordinary difference

A plug: Tomorrow, if you have the chance, go to the launching of the book “Profiles Encourage: Ordinary Filipinos Making an Extraordinary Difference” at 5 p.m. at the PowerBooks in Greenbelt 4 in Makati.

It’s a small book with a big heart and it features 11 “ordinary” Filipinos (nine individuals and a couple) who made a difference in their little corner of the world and tells about how this difference created ripples that reached and touched the lives of many. It is also about quiet heroism and courage, doing what needed to be done despite the odds. And yes, despite the age, the young age, of some of them.

The featured ordinary Filipinos are James Aristotle Alip (“A Small Loan that has Gone a Gong Way”), Al Asuncion (“Champion, Mentor, Friend”), Josette Biyo (“A Planetary Journey in Cell Stages”), John Burtkenley Ong (“A Man for Others), India and Javier Legaspi (“Weaving Heritage and Hope”), Jika David (“Breathing Life into Dreams”), CP David (“Paradox, Friend, and Builder of Dreams”), Nereus Acosta (“Making Sense Out of Making a Difference”), Onofre Pagsanghan (“A Lesson in Life, Passion, and Hope”) and Milwida “Nene” Guevarra (“The Power of Example”).

I read the book in one sitting. As diverse as the stories of these individuals are, one thing struck me: each one of them is a teacher, a teacher of life. And while not all of them do or did stints in the classroom, each one was able to teach and stoke fires the way only great teachers could. Because they shared the essence of their lives.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s words are aptly quoted in the introductory page. “The world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease…Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change…”

The book is dedicated to the late Raul S. Roco who had once asked: “What is it in the DNA of a young boy from Bulacan that tells us the Filipino is worth dying for?” He was referring to a lad who saved lives during a disaster and in the end had to give up his own.

The 10 stories tell us that the Filipino is also worth living for.

Alip set up a mocrofinance project that would “help the poor help themselves.” He scoured the horizon for sources of microloans and set up the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD). He wanted to give hope to a sector in society that is often overlooked.

Asuncion was already a retired boxer when he found his calling to become a mentor and friend to boys who were growing up to be men. His story is told by the accomplished, successful men whom he had mentored during their boyhood, men whose character he had helped mold.

Jesuit-educated Ong lived among the Mangyans and helped them with their ancestral domain claims. A hydro-geologist, Ong also helped the Mangyans find water sources. But he was not there as a technical man, he was there to teach and also to learn “to love and to serve.”

Couple India and Javier Legaspi brought back to life a people’s fine craft of weaving and made the world notice. This not only gave communities livelihood, this restored the people’s confidence and pride in their heritage.

And there is Josette Biyo, science teacher par excellence, after whom a planet has been named, the first Asian teacher to win the Intel Excellence in Teaching Award.

Humbled by the overwhelming love, compassion and sacrifice of Christ, Jika David realized the best way to show her gratitude and appreciation for what God had given her was to be a servant herself. She left her corporate job and joined the Jesuit Volunteers Program and taught in Palawan. She later formed the DORM (Deepening Our Rural Minds) Fund to help rural kids have access to good education.

There’s more. Get the book.

“Profiles Encourage” (Anvil, Anna P. Hidalgo and Alejandra Otamendi, eds.) is a project of the pagbabago@pilipinas Foundation, a cultural-social movement founded in 2002 for the radical transformation of Philippine society. The book is easy reading but I wish the pieces were more evenly written and edited. Some parts are rather choppy. Still the project is a step in the right direction. There should be more of this for the youth.

In this age of dazzling stars and upstarts being constantly hoisted up in the media firmament as idols, there is a need for alternative models with substance and vision, courage and commitment.

As former senate president Jovito Salonga said: “This is for the youth of the land, seeking exemplary role models and guideposts for service to others, in a world grown weary and cynical about moral leadership and good governance.”

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chair and CEO of Ayala Corp. describes the special individuals as “a significant group who have sought to sue their skills, stamina and vision to mark dedicated change to addressing (the) gaps in the social development landscape…They have brought qualities like professionalism, discipline, accountability and transparency.”

I say, these are the individuals who are quietly saving this nation from ruin, the leaven that is raising us to great heights, the genes that are improving the Filipino stock. They are God’s gift to us and to the world. To quote the Bard: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful…”