Helping Communities Help Themselves.

An Editorial by Volunteer for the Visayans Associate Director Christopher L. Franks

“When I first visited the Philippines as a volunteer during the summer of 2008, I was astounded and captivated by the friendly, accommodating and optimistic nature of Pinoy culture, not to mention the unique and inspiring way that Filipino communities dealt with various day to day hardships.

I’d spent the previous year traveling throughout much of Asia, experiencing what each and every single different culture had to offer and obtaining the eye-opening opportunity to observe poverty in its many different forms and witness the ways in which it was addressed by various different cultures.

What stood out and impressed me most of all about Filipinos was their sense of community and the way that they never seemed to let the shackles of poverty get in the way of a good time. It was stirring to be in an environment where the “Bahala na” attitude was so overwhelming and to be involved with an organization that focussed so concisely on grassroots development in local communities. The Philippines and the Filipino people had won a special place in my heart and I always knew that one day I’d make a return.

Three years on and I now find myself in the privileged position to be so heavily involved with working at Volunteer for the Visayans (VFV), the registered non-government organization of which I was lucky enough to have  volunteered with in both 2008 and 2009.

For those of you who are unaware, VFV is a DSWD registered non-profit, non-government organization which operates a wide variety of projects throughout communities in Region VIII. These projects primarily focus on the provision of education, community development and public health services as a means in which to alleviate stress and develop long term solutions for low income and disadvantaged Filipino communities, families and individuals.

As of today we consider some of our major achievements to be the way in which we’ve significantly assisted close to one hundred and fifty children from low income families to be given the means to go to school, the fact that we’ve rehabilitated more than thirty children previously found scavenging in Tacloban City dump and the reality that we’ve built more than a dozen homes for families previously living in unsafe and uncomfortable living environments.

In 2011 alone, VFV has provided more than three hundred free medical services in partnership with An Waray Party List for the residents of Alang-alang, Leyte, established two six month long supplementary feeding projects for up to seventy preschool children in Tanauan, Leyte and built four brand new houses; making 2011 VFV’s most prosperous year since its official founding by U.S. benefactors in 2004.

Above everything else, VFV wants to be more than just a hand-out service for the destitute. It aims to give communities the means to be the masters of their own destiny, to momentarily lessen some burdens and to promote prosperity and self-worth. For example, VFV has just recently coordinated a six month project to provide malnourished preschool children with a daily healthy meal as a means to combat some of the immediate health related concerns in the community. Rather than just leaving it at that, VFV has also worked closely with local mothers to promote education on micro-nutrients and healthy eating all whilst at the same time preparing barangay officials to become self-efficient and to eventually have the means to finance and manage their own mass feeding projects.

With all this said and done, VFV continues to merit the cooperation from local communities who truly make it possible for projects to flourish, for if it wasn’t for the supportive nature of the said communities, it is debatable as to whether or not any of VFV’s projects could meet their anticipated goals. In line with this acceptance, the presence of VFV’s Community Center in BLISS Sagkahan has always been a positive and inspirational part of the formula, giving the necessary space and required environment for various different community demographics to come together, work together and find solutions to problems. By providing such basic necessities such as education, awareness, food and medicine, VFV hopes to loosen the bindings of poverty, not only as a way for communities to get by, but so that communities can truly start to flourish and prosper in the years to come.

Over the years, VFV has come to realize more and more how important the idea of community is and how hardships stemming from poverty can be overcome when the whole community is pulling in the same direction. As a result, this belief has been one of the major catalysts leading to the construction of a second community center in Barangay Sto. Niño, Tacloban City in May 2011. With the completion of this new center, VFV hopes to further instill positive change and empower more communities through the growth and development of long term sustainable plans. The building which includes a small multi-purpose hall, a comfort room and a kitchenette will hopefully be finished and inaugurated by July 2011 so that the children enrolled on VFV’s Dumpsite Project can have the opportunity to receive educational enhancement classes and so that various other community members will have the necessary space to work in cooperation with VFV staff to dream up and develop new community based projects.

In closing, I find myself feeling so incredibly fortunate to be working with what in my belief is one of the most multi-faceted non-government organizations in the whole of the Eastern Visayas. At the same time, I urge my Filipino friends to comprehend that whilst NGO’s like Volunteer for the Visayans may be able to help assist communities in tackling socioeconomic issues; they can never at any time take away the core responsibilities of family and community. For positive change to happen, communities need to work through organizations like VFV, drop the “Ningas Cogon” mentality and see things through to the end. There is light at the end of the tunnel and only through working together can we truly make a difference.”

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