Manhattan to Bulacan: A Fil-Am's journey home
MANILA, Philippines – New York City. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere, goes the song.
Vicki Cabrera was one of the lucky few who can claim to have made it in Manhattan. She had a well-paying corporate job and a comfortable life in the big city. But she left it all behind to work and live among underprivileged children in the small rural community of Angat, Bulacan – thousands of miles away from the biggest city in the world.
“I was working for the College Board, a national education organization, where I worked with schools to develop and implement college preparation programs,” Vicki told Rappler.
So why leave it? “I worked with schools to develop and implement college preparation programs. It was a comfortable and secure job but it wasn't fulfilling for me.”
She said, “I never saw any students and felt very disconnected from the mission of helping students. After 8 years with the organization, I decided corporate life wasn't for me.” That was when she left for the Philippines.
“It was something I had always wanted to do but never thought would be possible. It just felt like the next step for me and I wasn't totally sure why at the time.” But she has no regrets about leaving.
“I found work that I'm really passionate about and I feel like I this is my opportunity to help my country because even though I grew up in the States, the Philippines is my home too,” Vicki said. “And I needed to connect with that side of me that I was always curious about.”
She was planning on staying for only a few months, but she said things didn’t go according to plan. “I found my purpose and this is where I belong,” Vicki said with certainty. “I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and be able to contribute something.”
She jumped at the chance to become a school administrator at Gawad Kalinga’s School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development at the Enchanted Farm, where she is a founding staff member.
And how difficult was it for her to transition? “Believe it or not, living in the province has been a welcome change after living in New York City. I left because I was really looking to simplify my life and prioritize what's really important,” she said.
“Living in New York can be fun but it can also be very lonely. It's an individualistic culture and I was missing a sense of community and connection with other people,” she added. “I had also always wanted to live on a farm!”
She went to the Philippines despite having no support from her family. It was difficult at first, but she said they are starting to understand. “They're quite content in the US and maybe don't see a need for someone like me to go back, but they are happy for me now and are very proud of the work that I'm doing with GK.”
Being a school administrator is more hands-on than most might think. “I'm the school administrator, but my role isn't strictly formal or disciplinary,” she said. “I'm a mentor as well. I try to support them and encourage them as much as possible while holding them to high standards and always reminding them that they are capable of so much.”
She’s likely to stay at the farm. “I see myself still at the farm and growing SEED, working with more students and graduating our first batch! I think we have the opportunity to influence the education system to empower more Filipinos to be entrepreneurial.”
For other Fil-Ams searching for their identity, she encourages them to make the journey to the homeland too.
“I know it may not be easy to find the time or the means to do what I did, but for Fil-Ams looking to get in touch with their heritage I would definitely encourage them to spend more time here, even if it's just for a few weeks,” she said. “Immersing myself here has allowed me to learn so much about the history and culture, and has given me new insights about my family and myself.”
Vicki concluded, “I feel like this country welcomed me with open arms because I came back home.” – Rappler.com
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Recap the entire event AS IT HAPPENS here.