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Millennial heroes: stories of service

Isabel Salvosa
Millennial heroes: stories of service
Sometimes we’re guilty of living inside bubbles. Minding our own problems can seem enough of a cross to carry. But we need to take several steps back to realize that the universe is bigger than us. The following millennials have made it their mission to help others. What can you do to make your stay in this world worthwhile?







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Julie Saurat

“Ganda mo,” a little girl tells Julie Saurat, and the twenty-eight year-old expat laughingly says it back, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar words. [“You’re beautiful.”]

Julie is a volunteer sponsorship officer for Virlanie Foundation, an NGO housing abused and abandoned children. She is in charge of maintaining strong bonds between the kids and their sponsors from France, Belgium, and Switzerland, which amount to around 700.



Her story as a volunteer began five years ago, in an orphanage in Cambodia. After a few weeks, she flew back to Paris to finish her studies, then worked as a digital content manager for the next four years.

She enjoyed her job, but kept reliving memories of volunteering. Upon seeing Virlanie’s online job post, she left Paris and came to the Philippines.

Here, she was confronted with heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect.

Julie’s childhood couldn’t be any more different. It was filled with supportive parents who hugged her every chance they got. And in France, basic needs such as food, security, and education weren’t an issue.

She longed to share the feeling of being loved.

 




Wherever you come from, whatever kind of family you’re born into, you deserve love, you deserve attention, you deserve people saying you’re special.

Even after going through so much suffering, the Virlanie kids remain positive about other people. Visitors are welcomed with laughter and open arms.

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“In the Philippines, the concept of family and community is so strong. If you come here, you’re definitely part of it. They would treat you as their ate or kuya.”

The adult figures during their childhoods may have been less than perfect. However, Julie believes that if the kids receive enough love, they’ll grow up to be different.

Their parents were unable to provide affection. But other people still can.

Wanting to further understand people and their struggles, Julie also created a video series on Filipina women and their thoughts on issues such as career, marriage, poverty, and street harassment.

Her other millennial co-workers inspire her. “They’re really happy to help those who have less. They use their education for others.”

Volunteering and mentoring take as little as two hours, but these empower the children for life.

For kids coming from tough pasts, life is better inside Virlanie. But there’s a bigger world outside of it. Experiences await, and Julie dreams of providing the kids specialized classes to broaden their horizons.

She dreams that someday, these kids would be able to find their own paths.



 

 


Nickson Alistre

 

Onlookers would assume the all-boys crew of Nickson Alistre and his Philippine Red Cross mates to be brothers, rather than friends.

No wonder — they see each other almost every day, spending more than 24 hours together in action or at the barracks. Nickson’s teammates offer him jokes, life advice, and at times, financial help.

This camaraderie is one of the reasons Nickson is passionate about volunteering.



The eighteen year-old, the youngest in a brood of four, lives alone in Manila. His siblings already have families of their own, and his parents are abroad.

Just a year ago, Nickson loitered the streets every night with ragtags, buying drugs with money his parents sent him.

He knew he wanted more to life, but felt like he was already set on the wrong path.

Things changed when an officer from the Red Cross Manila Chapter encouraged him and his friends to volunteer.  Since he lived nearby, he began helping out with disaster relief operations. 

When the same officer presented him with a bigger opportunity, he jumped at the chance. He trained as a firefighter, then as a medical volunteer in the Emergency Response Unit.

Every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, he volunteers for the PM shift, depending on his availability. On Saturday and Sunday, he’d do 24-hour shifts.




Hindi ordinaryo yung ginagawa nila, yung pagtulong. Hindi sila ordinaryong tao, pero humble lang sila.

On top of volunteering, he studies in an alternative learning system in Tayuman. Nickson’s biggest ambition is to enroll in a nautical school after graduation and help his family out once he becomes a seaman.

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“Hindi pa naman huli yung lahat para magbago.”

But in the meantime, he’s happy to have found another family at Red Cross. His brothers and fathers, as he calls them, are his main source of support.

The transition from tambay to volunteer turned Nickson’s life around. Joining Red Cross gave him purpose and direction. 

He finds fulfillment in doing something worthwhile, in taking concrete action to help the country.

For him, the ungodly hours and stress are worth it, and he plans to work hard until he becomes a senior volunteer at Red Cross himself.

After he invited his gang from Manila to join him and do the same, they agreed to go for the volunteer training.

Though they also come from shady backgrounds, he tells them second chances will be given to those who ask for it. He reassures them it’s never too late to change for the better.




Christian Guilleno

 

You’d be hard-pressed to find Christian Guilleno without his signature smile.

The twenty-six year-old’s cheerful disposition is infectious, affecting everyone he encounters.



 

Radiating good energy comes to him naturally, which is why he gravitated towards a career as a freelance dancer, zumba instructor, and host. He performs during weddings, birthdays, debuts, and municipal events.

But dancing just comes second to Christian’s true passion — helping others.

He started as a member of Sangguniang Kabataan, and in 2012, he became a volunteer.

He joined Reach Out Feed Philippines last 2016, where he leads children during prayers, assists during alternative learning system classes, buys school supplies, and helps during feeding sessions.

He believes that while hunger is a big problem in the Philippines, it’s a solvable one.

During times of bad weather and the kids couldn’t come to the feeding area, volunteers would visit the children’s homes to distribute the food.

Getting to the feeding area is no easy feat. The paths are muddy and steep, with nothing to hold on to except for grass and rocks. The children’s houses are situated precariously close to a river.

Feeding the kids proper food is a challenge in itself. Since the meals are different from the kind they usually eat, the children would refuse to eat or even spit the food out.

The challenge to solving hunger isn’t just sustenance. It involves educating the children and their families about proper nutrition.

But seeing the children’s clearer complexions, plumper cheeks, and improved appetites is worth it.


“Malaki man ang mga suliranin, mas malaki yung hangad naming makatulong sa mga ganitong komunidad.”

Life hadn’t been easy on Christian either. He and his family knitted doormats for a living just so he could make it through school. 

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“Hindi alintana yung pagod. Nakakataba kasi sa puso makatulong na walang hinihinging kapalit.”

 

But no matter the difficulty, Christian always has a smile at the ready.

Volunteering pushed him to renew his faith and values. He’s now involved in church activities such as prayer meetings, youth fellowships, and outreach programs.

He always invites his dance students to volunteer with him, and several of them are willing to contribute their time to bring smiles to the children’s faces.

Society is in need of more millennial volunteers, Christian says. Because who else can set an example for future generations?

People would often tell him to run as baranggay kagawad. But he believes that as long as you love your country, you don’t have to be in office to help.

“Yung tatlong TV station? Walang kapamilya, walang kapatid, kung wala kang puso,” he laughs. [Those three big TV stations? There’s no Kapamilya, there’s no Kapatid, if you’re not a Kapuso.”] 

And it may have been just another one of Christian’s jokes, but the words ring true.



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