Filipino Volunteers Help the Disadvantaged

On March 6, I went to the Go Volunteer Expo in the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati in order to meet some members of the 25 participating non-profit organizations. Their aim is to improve the lives of Filipinos, particularly the underprivileged. My friend Benjie Abad was there from Mr. Urot’s Eatery or Karinderia ni Mang Urot. Benjie’s program has inspired spin-offs, and he’s expanded his activities to include donations to schools in isolated or impoverished areas. He has appeared on this website several times—listed in the index—under his pseudonym and has been the subject of television short documentaries. 

Bel Padlan onstage for iVolunteer
JB Tan (right) with Rey Bufi and Mary Grace Soriano

1. I’m JB Tan, Executive Director of Volunteer and one of the co-founders of iVolunteer. We started iVolunteer about 2009. There had just been flooding with Ondoy, also called Typhoon Ketsana. We found that so many people wanted to help but they didn’t know where to go. The media giants and foundations were already super-full of volunteers. They kept on saying on national television, “Please don’t come here anymore.” In fact there were smaller operations doing disaster relief, but people didn’t know where to find them. So we started iVolunteer Philippines. We wanted to help the smaller NGOs, promote volunteerism in the country and basically help people participate in nation-building. That’s why eventually we found Karinderia ni Mang Urot and started sending volunteers to help. Now. while one group gives out food, another teaches the children to read and write using a small blackboard.

Assorted signs spread the idea of volunteering as adventure.

At iVolunteer our main purpose is to get everybody involved. We want to put into the consciousness of all Filipinos that they can help. It doesn’t have to be a big organization. They can do something every day. We have a 21 Days of Kindness campaign, which is done online via social media. Every day we provide a small challenge: compliment your neighbor, say good morning to the security guard at your office, follow traffic rules. Hopefully these will become a habit of positivity.

Every month we do community meet-ups because we realize that volunteers have to meet other like-minded people. We bring them together and provide them with a deeper understanding of different causes they can join. On the NGO or partner side, we work to build our capability. For example, in the area of Payatas [an area in NE Quezon City with a lot of poverty and a notorious, several-acre dumpsite], there are probably 50 NGOs, but they’re not reaching out to each other. They merely focus on the community that they help. So iVolunteer is helping with that. There was so much good connection from yesterday that we are now friends. If volunteers are looking for something that doesn’t match what a particular NGO can offer, they can be referred to another NGO.

A documentary on the soup kitchen

2. I’m Benjie Abad, founder of Karinderia ni Mang Urot. iVolunteer helps with my feeding program, and so I was invited to join this expo. We started the program almost four years ago, feeding the hungry Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. We also give out supplies to public school children. Up to now we have already provided supplies to up to 12 public schools around the country. On their own initiative, some of the volunteers at the soup kitchen started teaching the children aged from about three years old to about twelve.

Malou Virata models the soup kitchen shirt

At Karinderia ni Mang Urot we will do what we can for these people. Recently we started constructing a bathroom for the marginalized because they don’t have daily access to one. The local government units and the churches don’t allow them to use their bathrooms. The officers in the barangay [the smallest government unit] admit that the homeless who are coming to my soup kitchen are not given permission to use the public toilets because they’re not voters. My solution is just to construct a bathroom for them at my home. I believe it’s essential for people to be able to wash in order to preserve their dignity and self-esteem. The soup kitchen is just about a block and a half away from my house—and also just a block and a half away from the residence of the President of the Philippines.

No, urinating on the side of the road is not legal. Some of the homeless have to pay to use public toilets. It’s quite a sad experience for them. They might be able to use the toilet at a gas station, but not as a regular thing.

Let’s see, when I was onstage I talked about the history the karinderia, how it started because I saw two children eating fried chicken that they’d retrieved from the dumpster. That led me to start my soup kitchen with just one table, and now it has grown to quite a big activity. I basically told the people that you don’t have to be rich to help the poor, that you don’t have to do great things to help. And if you can’t feed a hundred you can feed one. In closing I told them to keep love burning in their hearts for their brothers and sisters.

John Auste

3. My name is John Auste. I’m the admin officer of Cancer Warriors Foundation Inc., which helps indigent Filipino kids with cancer by giving them free medication and offering other medical assistance. We’ve been doing that for 16 years at different locations—Manila, Batangas, Cebu, Tacloban, Cabanatuan. Aside from the practical benefit of providing medicine, we have an advocacy campaign regarding children with cancer.

Lisa Bayot

4. My name is Lisa Bayot. In 2008, I founded BINHI English Literacy Foundation, an NGO to help children who have fallen through the cracks, who have difficulty in reading. So we come into a community and do an intervention. We administer a pretest to children aged four and five. Those who fail become BINHI students. In a way it’s unique because we diagnose those who are doing well in school, but we target those who aren’t. Our six-month program includes a teacher’s manual accompanied by books, flash cards and games. The English Learning Kits were developed and written by Chona Colayco-Lagoutte, a graduate of Bank Street College, Graduate School of Education in New York and currently an English teacher in the American School in Paris.

We have several communities. In Metro Manila there’s one in Baseco called the ING Learning Center. In Santa Ana we work with Tomas Earnshaw Elementary School. In Quezon City we work with the Bagumbayan Elementary School and Libis Elementary School. Then there’s the Rosalie Rendu Development Center and San Ramon Elementary School. For the 2015-16 school year we have 397 children in the program. More than 2000 children have been through the program. We’re now in our eighth year of operation.

The program is free for the children. The sponsor selects the community and funds the project—the materials, the program, the monitoring and the teachers’ time. BINHI has a Memoranda of Agreement with each school. The principal oversees that the program and makes sure it’s properly implemented. We train the public school teachers, and we have monitors who go to the site once a week. It’s low cost because we don’t build structures. The program could be run in any existing community in a covered court. In one community we held classes in a library, and in a second site we used a chapel. Then the mothers spoke to the local barangay, and they were able to get us a small room to use. The mothers did it on their own initiative.

CARA Volunteers

5. My name is Avy. I’m one of the senior volunteers of CARA, Compassion and Responsibility for Animals, a nonprofit organization. We receive animals who have been abandoned and who need medical attention, mostly cats and dogs. We rescue dogs from dog fights, particularly in Quezon. We have a cattery in Mandaluyong which houses more than 80 cats, all for adoption. So we rescue animals, bring them back to health and find homes for them.

We offer low-cost neutering, one of the cheapest services you can get around the Metro. For a female cat it would be 850 pesos [$19.30]and for 650 for a male. There’s an additional fee for pedigreed cats. For a Persian mix it would be a total of 1600 pesos. Our main advocacy is the trap-neuter-return program, which we do quarterly. We find sponsors to help. March is national spay and neuter month, so we had about 30 cats spayed.

For selected individuals who can’t afford neutering, we’ll help. People can contact us through their barangay. We get the animal to the clinic, have them spayed or neutered and then bring them back. If there’s a sponsor we offer free spaying and neutering for people who can prove they really can’t afford to pay themselves. Normally we announce any free programs on our website so the people who are selected can take advantage of that. There are also other organizations which can be found online. There are about 200 spay and neuter programs for the nearby community. We tell people that if right now you don’t have enough money, then we suggest you keep your pets indoors.

We promote adoption rather than buying, like my shirt says, “Adopt, don’t shop.” Breeders don’t care about the health of the young animals, and mother dogs and cats can be sick, weak or aged and still made to reproduce because the breeders want the money. CARA is focusing on stopping the breeding. If you buy from a breeder you’re not helping to reduce the population of cats and dogs in a shelter. Most pounds in manila don’t have enough funds to feed the strays, so every Friday the ones which have already been in the shelter for a week are euthanized.

The solution is for people to only get a pet if they’re ready for a lifetime commitment. Our local breeds have an average lifespan of up to 16 years, but I have some friends who’ve had cats living for 19 or 20 years. Of course it depends on the care—proper food, love, and veterinary needs. If you can’t provide that you shouldn’t have a pet. Pets should be considered part of the family, and they need to be included in your plans to get married, take another job or move to another location. Don’t abandon them or give them to shelters. If you really can’t take care of a pet, find them a friend or relative who will love them and give them a home. If pets were treated like family, there would be no cats and dogs on the streets of the Philippines.

Don’t let pets go outside. It’s a cruel world out there. It’s not safe. In the Philippines we have a law against animal abuse which carries a penalty of up ten years in prison, but people don’t take it seriously. Most of the animal rights groups are spreading awareness that if you catch someone abusing a dog or a cat, you should call the police. Animals have rights, but they’re voiceless. So we’re acting as the voice of the voiceless.

Derek Canavillia

6. My name is Derek Danavillia. I’ve been doing volunteer work since I was twelve years old in a school-based Philippine Red Cross program. I started as a volunteer, then participated in training programs in first aid, basic life support and swimming. After I graduated from college I became a Red Cross employee because I believed in their advocacy.

For me, volunteerism means doing it with passion and a great mind. You have to learn so many things. I believe we’re all equal. In volunteerism there is no such thing as rich, poor or middle-class because we’re all equal. I joined iVolunteer Philippines because I believe we share the same goals and the same passion. I joined other groups, like Earth Power, Greenpeace Philippines and the green earth movement.

I happened to be browsing on Facebook when a friend of mine tagged me to “like” the page for iVolunteer Philippines. So that’s why I came to this two-day event. I learned so many things. Being a volunteer requires passion and dedication. You’re unsung heroes. You’re not compensated for anything. The only return you get comes from your own perseverance in being part of it.

Rey Bufi (right) with Benjie Abad

7. My name is Rey Bufi. I’m a co-founder of The Storytelling Project. We go to remote communities around the Philippines and stay in each community for a month. We partner with the school. I tell stories to children in the second and third grades, children aged 7 to 9. My partner and co-founder, Mary Grace Soriano, teaches fifth and sixth grade students to write their own stories. After the storytelling session they have a story writing session.

But before we start the program we assess the talents of the kids because we believe learning should really start at home. We want people to embrace the experience of reading to children every day. We want the kids to read for pleasure. In the Philippines reading is always an academic activity. So we want to kids to see the fun in reading.

Before we start the storytelling session we have songs and dances to motivate the children. After the month of storytelling we do the library project. We build or renovate a library. We’ve seen in our volunteer activities many people who would like to donate books, the books may not be being used in the community. Most of the time, they’re left in dark rooms. This doesn’t mean that the kids don’t want to read books, but they still have this idea that reading is only an academic activity. After we build the library we help the kids create a book club. Later on we want to produce storytellers and story writers in the community. The goal is that in the future they can have their own reading program and they won’t need us anymore. We can leave and more on,

Super Ladandera by Mark Jim Carolino

I’m a graduate of philosophy and course development, but I don’t have units in education. We have consultant teachers who help us in putting together our modules and learning activities. My partner is by profession an IT developer. But we really love teaching kids. We met each other in a summer volunteer activity. Afterwards we decided to put up our own organization.

This book was written by one of our learners. After publishing the book, Super Labandera, we decided that half the sales would go to the foundation of Jim Mark Carolino, the author, and half of it would go to the school in his community.

Miko Mojica

8. My name us Miko Jazmine Mojica, and I’m on the staff of iVolunteer Philippines. I was the typical millennial shown in one of the iVolunteer videos, namely I had a full-time job but wasn’t satisfied. It was like I was looking for something meaningful and productive to do. I went online and typed “volunteer” and “Philippines” and found the iVolunteer website. There was an opportunity to volunteer for Mang Urot’s feeding program the next day. Immediately I signed up and then showed up at Mang Urot, where I met the staff of iVolunteer. Eventually I became a staff member myself, It all just happened very naturally.

Working in the soup kitchen was very eye-opening and also humbling. It was really inspiring. Before this I didn’t want to go to a feeding program because I thought it was just a dole-out, it was not really sustainable help that you offered, so people would become dependent on you. But when I got there, I saw that Mang Urot was just really passionate about helping anyone who was really in need. You didn’t have to have a lot to help. I saw people like you who came regularly, not only to assist in the feeding but also to interact with the people. Just because people are poor and hungry doesn’t mean that they’re different from us. They may have a different social status, but they appreciate receiving and giving help just like we do. So it’s really a simple way to make a difference in other people’s lives. It felt really meaningful for me to have that opportunity.

I was inspired to see you there with your husband or your friend, always bringing ice cream with chocolate sauce [or brownies]. It was like you were really putting effort into it. I saw how you interacted with people [taking pictures], I saw you were selfless in giving your time. These people were expecting to be fed simple food, but you made it extra-special by bringing in ice cream with chocolate syrup. It was really something amazing for me to witness. [This last bit was included to show how little it takes to make the friendly people at the soup kitchen grateful and happy.]

A reader writes:

Wonderful article about volunteers! May their tribe multiply!