Signs of Times: A Summary of My Two Decades of Experience in International Development

The world has changed since I set out to conquer it two decades ago. Progress has reached most of the countries I worked with and new challenges had risen overriding perineal problems of poverty, accessibility to basic services, human trafficking, joblessness. With the rise of populism, strongman syndrome, and complete disregard of humanity in war-stricken countries (Syria and Yemen) and man-made disasters (Plight of the Rohingya) that targets us humanitarian workers and civilians especially women and children.

We still have a lot of things to do.

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Screengrab (Link embedded in the photo)

Many airports have improved from the list of countries I visited, it was my sign of progress. I used to experience eating “fish and chips” for breakfast in a 1-hour flight in Cambodia flown by Russian pilot I was having smashing drinks the night before. Or travel 12 hours by road in the pot-riddled hi-way going to the north and only after 4 years, public buses started to ply the paved road and the 12 hours going to Siem Reap reduced to 4 hours if the driver doesn’t decide to sleep before continuing.

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Screengrabbed: Google Image

I had the exposure to life and situations I wouldn’t have known if I stayed working in the hospital in the Philippines even if the people I am helping are those that would rather buy food than to go to hospitals to seek medical attention.

I worked for a long time in the disability sector. My training in school didn’t prepare me for the training I learned in the field. I learned how disability is created and become part of the big and dynamic disability movement advocating for the rights of the vulnerable and the marginalized including people with disabilities. I was immersed in the sector when the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was launched in 2006, a significant treaty that made history – it being signed by over 100 countries when it was launched in March of that year. Many laws and treaties followed, and new goals were designed to continue to support the most marginalized sector in the global society.

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Screengrab (Link embedded in the photo)

I trained a lot of people. I told my friends I teach in classrooms with no walls. In return I learned a lot from them too, I become self-conscious that I am just one tiny person in the vast world of issues that matter.

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Community Training in Bo, Sierra Leone (Dhidhak Collection)

The problem doesn’t get solved. There are still countries willing to fund wars and fund terrorist and pretend to do actions against them. I was in France when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and the year after the issues of cluster bombs was discussed in Paris, and the Convention on Cluster Munition was launched much later. The organization I worked the longest (www.hi.org) actively advocated on banning the use of landmines and cluster munition during a war. Sad to say, some countries producing them won’t agree to stop because there is no livelihood alternative for them (Billions $ invested in producers of globally banned cluster bombs) to do. But what is sadder is the collateral lives affected by the use of cluster bombs and landmines … especially children (The human impact of cluster munitions) long after wars has ended.

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Signage like this are found all around Cambodia (Dhidhak Collection)

I was exposed to the consequences of war. I lived in the biggest outdoor prison called Gaza Strip while I enjoy the perks of drinking alcohol in the land stolen from them by their oppressor across the border. I also lived in the most reclusive country in the world that is already opening up (latest news: North Korea changes its time zone to match South). But they are not comparable.

I got stopped at checkpoints and lied to get my way out of a bind. I escaped narrow death coming down slippery slopes in places where the road is an imagination. My drivers are my best friends in all my mission, including taxi drivers.

I lived with people who otherwise I will not encounter in my life. I worked with a lot of French people but never learned the language but adapted their accent for better understanding. I sometimes return back to the American accent I am always mistaken to have, but I guess that’s just my Filipino accent muddled with all the language I have stored in my head.

I tried to impose self-gag because sometimes it is the right thing to do. My actions, my words and maybe my thoughts (out loud) can have consequences. You never know but what I do know is that Big Brother is always watching.

Join me as I continue to be an active observer in this crazy world of ours and try to be chill with it accepting that we live in an imperfect world.

The late Joy Irving, my first mentor as community worker and educator told me “we cannot change the world all at the same time but we can make a difference alone one brick at a time”

And that is what I am doing. I will continue to stack my bricks to create the foundation to support all that I and like-minded people want to achieve in our lifetime.

Harry Styles – Sign of the Times (Audio)

I Am My Own Pearl

Have you heard this quote before?

The quote made a mark in my life, especially when I decided to venture outside of the Philippines and pursue a life different from what I imagine for me.

It was the very words said to me by my very dear friend – Lolo Etoy. He’s been dead for ten years, since November 2008, but I am very sure he lived a long, fun-filled, fulfilled life for 97 years.

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The late Hector del Rosario and I met during my UHF and VHF hobbyist days back in the early 90’s.

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Lolo Etoy with white hair was being presented a plaque by another friend – Rey

It was my brother who introduced the radio to me, it being part of his equipment as a radio technician back in the days. But it was my being talkative that brought me to the radio world and their frequencies, and I was schooled on the proper use of the very high-frequency radio. Eventually, I became part of their group and joined in social and emergency activities. That was the pre-cell phone and social media days!

When I decided to accept the job being offered to work in Cambodia, he was one of the first people I mentioned it to. That’s how much respect I had for him that I considered him one of my life’s mentor.

The week before I left, Lolo Etoy shared the pearl quote.

“The world is the oyster, you are the pearl”

That was in the year 2000, my first time to travel outside of the Philippines. He told me that “working overseas would not be easy”, and it was not. He also said that “only experience will teach me to find out who am I and discover my potentials”. And I “should always be the better version of me”.

I realized over the years, that I was given pieces of advice that were full of wisdom before I even knew it. I valued all his advice including those about savings and living a frugal life but it was hard to follow and live up to it sometimes.

Until the time he passed away he was still working. He still goes to work and visits different institutions his foundation run every day even if he doesn’t need to. Without a doubt, he died a wealthy man, leaving behind more than money, he left a legacy.

They were one of the first family to give quality funeral services to the Filipino and over the years, they diversified to include schools and hospitals.

Every time we met when I return home for breaks, I get picked up by his chauffeur – Mang Romy, and we always dine in a five-star restaurant. For a young woman, earning just enough, it was very fancy but he always reminds me that he can enjoy it because he had worked hard for it. And told me I can enjoy it too someday.

He doesn’t look the part of being a wealthy man but every place we go and every people we meet knew who he was and was appropriated the respect his stature and his person deserved.

He showed me how to enjoy life and how to accept myself. He showed me that with perseverance you can achieve what you put your heart and mind into. He showed me that everybody can be good if given the chance.

He was one of the few people that left a mark in my life and will remain in my heart.

Falling in the Cracks

I thought I could resist.

Falling through the cracks.

But the loneliness,

The boredom,

Is getting to me.

I may look fine on the outside,

But inside I struggle

To fend off this feeling

Because I know I am better than this,

But I still am falling

In the trap.

I will continue to fight it off

It is not what defines me.

Thinking that one day

I am back to my old self

Once I crawl back out of the cracks.

Daily Prompt: Thwart