by Enika Hernando
As YP celebrates its 10th year, it significantly coincides with the year (2005) I decided to take “the road less travelled”. So I guess it was destiny to have seen that poster about the Young Professionals Orientation and Training Program on Social Housing (YP Workshop August 2005) at the University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning (UP SURP) one afternoon as I took the detour connecting SURP to the CSWCD building where I was taking up my Masters in Community Development. It was my first semester at the College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) as I said to myself I needed the theories and academic background on development if I am to pursue it as a life work. The poster said that the YP Workshop was organized by an NGO that was TAO-Pilipinas Inc. (Technical Assistance Organization). It surely caught my attention to know there are other technical professionals (architects, engineers) out there who are in development work – and it was an all-women organization.
My first close encounter with Manila’s urban poor was actually through the YP Workshop. I was assigned in Parola Compound, Tondo. I have never been to Tondo, much less stay for two nights with a family in Tondo (along with my groupmates in the workshop. A memorable anecdote I would always share whenever I recall this experience is that the CR was directly above the river – no need for a septic tank – and we had no clean running water. Such a basic necessity yet thousands of Filipino families live without it. What I would also always remember is that the families living in these harsh conditions should not be feared nor be blamed for their situation nor be accused of being lazy as the reason for their situation… just like you and me, they have dreams and they work hard but our society sadly can be ruthless and unjust. There I realized that the call for change is imperative. We need to create an enabling environment that offer equal opportunities, one where we are be able to access our rights and fully develop our potential as a nation’s people are its best assets toward a (as best expressed in our own language) – “mapagpalaya at mapagkalingang kaunlaran”.
After the YP workshop, I continued my involvement with TAO Pilipinas as a volunteer for six (6) months working for its various projects. Among the most memorable were: the drawing workshops for the children of members of the People’s Organization Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Maralita ng Navotas (SANAGMANA); talking with families in Navotas’ houses on stilts with up to 3 floors!; sleeping by the river (since houses were built beside the river); shocked at the reality of the community having to alternately guard their houses as it might be set on fire in the middle of the night – which later on I have come to know was a common “strategy” to drive away the informal settlers. I also got to participate in the 1st Young Professionals National Camp 2005 organized by the JF Ledesma Foundation, Inc. held at San Carlos City, Negros Occidental in December 2005.
I am forever grateful for the experiences I had with TAO Pilipinas and I kept my ties with TAO even years after – there are not many technical women professionals truly dedicating themselves to development work such as the amazing ladies of TAO. I was fortunate to participate in its 2009 YP Workshop on WATSAN in Social Housing now as a facilitator. It was an exhilarating experience to have a direct hand in providing the young participants who were brimming with ideas and full of energy with new options to live a meaningful life. I always carried with me those learnings and experiences and it has contributed into shaping me into the Development Practitioner that I am now – one who values people’s meaningful participation, trusts in people’s capacities, perseveres no matter how hopeless things may seem knowing/believing that we are able to do great things not alone but by working together. As the famous old African Proverb goes “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”.
In the past 10 years I was blessed to have opportunities to work directly with communities and as well as with national organizations both government and non-government. I was given the chance to be part of the faculty of the Arts Department of the Ateneo de Manila High School – though only for a schoolyear, it was fun and enriching to teach the naughty but nice high school boys about the elements of art, principles of design and even perspective drawing. A big chunk of my ten years, a total of six (6) years, which I spent with the Aeta Mag-antsi communities of Capas, Tarlac (thru the Aeta Mission of the Holy Spirit Sisters) are the closest to my heart – fighting side by side with them for their rights to their ancestral domain, education and selfdetermination. My involvement with the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) gave me the church’s perspective as I went around visiting program sites in various parts of the Philippines. My stint with the government in 2012-2014 where I did pioneering work with the Department of Education-Indigenous Peoples Education Office (DepEd-IPsEO)was an eye opener for me on the in’s and out’s of government operations and how good governance can really bring about long-lasting changes in people’s lives and that of the country and the world.
My technical background always came as an advantage – being able to do lay outs of site plans/floor plans for indigenous groups and urban poor communities as advocacy to the local government, my eye for art enabled me to design advocacy materials that were technically sound. Most recently, I assisted an Indigenous Peoples (IP) Organization develop their logo through a participatory workshop – they were happy to be part of the logo conceptualization process – from choosing the message and then the symbols to use, even the colors. At first they thought that because they did not know how to draw it was not possible for them to take part in the logo design workshop. They were delightfully surprised when they saw the final output and found it reflective of their aspirations as a community.
For about a year now, I have been doing consultancy work that has allowed me to work with various organizations and be tapped as a trainer on development modules. I conducted a training on Community Organizing and IP Sensitivity for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Pantawid Program – in particular for its MCCT (Modified Conditional Cash Transfer) Field Implementers. Earlier this year, I conducted a training on Participatory Action Research (PAR) and on Development Planning.
My background in Art and Design has become my edge/niche in development work though I still get remarks such as “What’s an Interior Designer doing in development work?!” but the people who know me, people who have come to know me and the people and communities who I have worked with never questioned my decision rather they have been inspired by my choice. To quote two high school friends – “I only dream of doing this, Enika! You have the courage.” “I am proud of you and much prouder that you are my friend…thanks for being an inspiration.” A friend I met when I was working for an architecture firm exclaimed upon seeing a picture of me in some faraway place, “Gaano man kalayo ang nilakbay I can see so much happiness in your face…!” And my interior designer friends would always say “Idol!” whenever I would share stories of my “adventures” such as a 4-hour bamboo raft ride downstream, a ride on a habalhabal (motorcycle) with wings traversing a uphill-downhill rugged terrain, a bangka ride across the sea, trekking for hours, crossing rivers, riding a horse and carabao sled…just to get to the hard-to-reach indigenous communities. My brother would sometimes even say that he hopes someday, together with his eldest son, we would climb mountains where we are as high as the clouds. I am thankful that my family has been supportive of my decision especially my parents.
Looking back at the 10 years that have been…I was fearless, I was ready for anything, I was idealistic…and I would like to believe I still am. Despite my last year to be in the “youth” category as I turn 35 this coming October I am grateful that the fire in me has kept burning.
To all the Young Professionals out there….Make that choice – to be significant, not for self interest nor for success – but for the service of others.