Highways and slums: What I learned about the Philippines
NEW YORK—“I didn’t know that there were highways in the Philippines and where are all the slums?”
I was in shock when my friend made that comment as I flipped through my pictures on my phone during my trip to the Philippines in early July.
I began to explain that despite how the country is portrayed, the Philippines is more developed than he thought.
I wondered where he got the notion that there were no highways and that it was all slums.
Was it the media's fault or was he just misinformed? Perhaps it was personal experience.
It bugged me that all that people see is an under-developed and poverty-stricken Philippines.
Didn’t they see the expanding high rises of Makati or hear of the programs trying to help the squatters in the slums of Metro Manila?
Do not get me wrong, there is still much room for improvement, but instead of focusing on the negatives, we should focus on supporting programs that are doing solid and sustainable work.
As a Fil-Am, I constantly ask myself how I can give back to Filipinos, both in the Motherland and here in my own community.
Born and raised in Long Island, New York, I became more serious about educating and building collaboration as the current President of Pilipino American Unity for Progress Inc (UniPro).
UniPro is where I am constantly exposed to the issues that Filipinos face on a daily basis and it is what led me to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as one of the 10 delegates chosen for the 2nd Filipino Youth Leadership Program (FYLPro).
This 3-day leadership immersion program was sponsored by the Philippine ambassador to the US, Jose L. Cuisia Jr, his wife Vicky, and partner, Ayala Foundation. This program opened my eyes to the common misconceptions, the need for a stronger education system, and most importantly, the true beauty of the Philippines.
After deep discussions with other delegates, we realized that we all had similar feelings of overwhelming responsibility. This was a result of being exposed to many of the issues that Filipinos are faced with every day. I’m sure that this was an unintentional result, but there is a reason why they chose us.
Selling the Philippines
We were chosen to represent the Fil-Am community, learn about the struggles of the everyday Filipino, and were to bring back these experiences to the States so we could further engage our communities in supporting Philippine development.
What struck me the most during our meetings with the most influential people in the country is that they were all trying to “sell” the same reoccurring theme. We would hear the same mantra: to come back to the Philippines, that it is a better place now and, of course, that "it’s more fun in the Philippines!"
The Philippines that most of us know is that country that our parents knew. When we previously visited the Philippines, we were taken to visit our parents’ respective provinces, then spent days at the mall or church.
We were warned not to speak in English when we were in public or to ever take taxis alone. They told us not to give money to anyone begging. Never trust anyone.
These warnings probably stemmed from when our parents left the Philippines for a “better life” in the States. It never dawned on me before this trip that maybe I should just have common sense when I travel — just like I would be cautious in the streets of New York City.
New way of thinking
Out of all the meetings and discussions I had with the top influential leaders of the Philippines, Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm, resonated the most with me.
Since many of our parents left the Philippines when it was a land of severe corruption and social unrest, he urged us to “create a new way of thinking of the Philippines.”
We do have the best of both worlds (living in America as a US citizen and still being able to call myself a Filipina). He said the “greatest asset of America now are the immigrants. You are their connection to the rest of the world.”
This stirred something inside me and I realized that this is what I have been looking for.
From the time when I started community work at St John’s University as an undergrad, I have been making connections and building relationships within the Filipino community in the New York metropolitan area.
Now I am searching for a venue to engage Fil-Ams to physically give back to the Philippines, and Gawad Kalinga may be the ideal venue for my passion to connect my two worlds.
The two main obvious challenges for Fil-Ams to return more frequently to the Philippines is time and money, particularly 2nd gen Fil-Ams in college and transitioning into their young professional careers.
And when they do visit the Philippines, they are trapped visiting the same family members, spending time at the same malls, and if they’re lucky sightseeing for a day or two.
Why not provide a venue for Fil-Ams who are already on vacation with their families returning for about two weeks and instead of having two weeks with family and malls, they can schedule a week at GK’s Enchanted Farm (in Bulacan and soon in Bacolod, Palawan, CamSur, Samar, and Butuan) to join the day to week-long camps to help build sustainable communities?
Fostering this relationship between Fil-Ams who have the passion to make a difference in the Philippines and looking for an outlet can create a flood of goodwill that is naturally flowing in each of our veins. We have just been looking for a way to nurture it and make it a reality. This is the time and place to do it.
My hope is that more Fil-Ams realize the true beauty of the Philippines, which are the people. Filipinos are what make Philippines a beautiful country to live, visit, and thrive in.
Creating this one-week opportunity for social good will help spread the overall health of a gradually improving country, including highlighting Filipinos.
Yes, there are highways. And there is more to the Philippines than its slums—we have the best people on earth. - Rappler.com
Rachelle Peraz Ocampo is a full-time Health Educator and the President of Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro). She earned a B.S. in Health Service Administration from St. John's University and her M.S. Ed. in Science and the Public from SUNY University at Buffalo. Earlier this month, she joined 9 other community leaders from across the US for the 2nd Filipino American Youth Leadership Program which included a 3-day immersion trip to the Philippines.