“Sometimes as a journalist,” Sun.Star Cebu reporter Bernadette Parco said during the payITfwd launch in Cebu, “you have to step out and do something for your community.”
For Parco, “doing something” is working with a friend, who is also a journalist, to hand out school bags to poor students to encourage them to continue going to school.
Parco was among 5 people invited to talk about their advocacies during the launch of the payITfwd program of Smart Communications Inc. in Cebu last July 5. The program is meant to support “social good” initiatives through technology.
“The goal is to support, promote, expand, enhance, reward and enable social good efforts that foster learning through technology. With payITfwd, social good advocates can scale up and even encourage the public to support their cause,” Smart Public Affairs Group head Ramon Isberto said in a press statement released during the event.
Each of the social good advocates chosen by Smart in a two-round selection process will get a technology package of five tablets, 1 Smart Bro Pocket Wi-Fi, Smart Bro load of P3,000 and a cash prize of P50,000. Details and mechanics of the program are available in its website here.
Cebu Bloggers Society Inc. president Ruben Licera Jr. said the program allows bloggers to do “the things that we love doing — social media, digital marketing, blogging — to share the stories of community heroes.”
In the Cebu launch, Parco was joined by Joselito “Boboi” Costas, Lorenzo “Insoy” NiÃ±al, Mikyu Maglasang and Dr. Narciso “Buboy” Tapia.
Costas, a writer and advocate of sustainable and community-based tourism, shared how the Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association (BAETA) was able to help other villages go into ecotourism after their own Bojo River Cruise became successful. Costas organized BAETA and serves as its consultant.
The river cruise was launched in June 2009. A year later, they recorded more than a thousand guests and almost P500,000 in gross sales. After 4 years, the cruise had 40,000 guests and a gross sales of almost P11 million. They also remitted P1 million to the local government as users’ fee, Costas said.
Costas said apart from the river cruise, the package includes components on local cuisine and mat weaving but the main objective is to educate “our guests on the importance of conservation and protection of our natural and cultural heritage.”
He said the group was able to “pass on the gift or pay it forward” to other villagers in other parts of Aloguinsan. They helped train the other groups running The Farmhouse, Hermit Cove’s Tour and OdysSea Tour. Costas said that they will soon have a marine reserve.
Costas said that because of the initiative of the local government and the residents, big corporations and groups supported .
Costas said the lessons he learned in running the project are:
1) A government project will only succeed if there is support from the grassroots; if it will be approached on a bottom-top way.
2) Social preparation is very important in any government project.
3) Empowerment of the villagers is key.
Costas said what happened in Aloguinsan “are examples of how when people are inspired, when people come together to do something good and for the good of the society, for the good of the people, it will succeed.”
The Sun.Star Cebu editor and columnist and lead of popular band Missing Filemon also serves as executive director of Tsinelas Foundation, a school-based group that gives educational assistance to poor students in mountain barangays.
Tsinelas, according to NiÃ±al, “is the story of a group that started very small, attempted to be very big and finally decided to stay very small.”
NiÃ±al and some friends started Tsinelas in 2003 when he was fresh out of the seminary. He said he sent their house help to school and some cousins and sought the help of friends. Their group of friends later realized they were doing the same thing — helping others go to school — and they decided to meet and collaborate.
They decided to form Tsinelas, picking the name “because of the very rich symbolism behind the very simple thing you are wearing now.”
Tsinelas is a school-based organization and they had chapters in St. Theresa’s College, UP, Southwestern University, Cebu Technological University and other schools.
When their chapters expanded, they group thought about “growing big.” They applied for grants. What would have been their biggest break was when JP Morgan Chase called them because they were interested in supporting their programs.
NiÃ±al said they came close to signing an agreement that involved millions of pesos.
He said they group’s officers met and discussed the offer and decided “dili mada” (we weren’t ready) based on the character of the group and its founders, which he described as “very low key.”
They returned the proposal and decided to return to their old goal of helping out people in their own small way. “Why aim for something big if we can’t handle it?”
NiÃ±al said his experience with Tsinelas taught him that “we don’t really have to be big” to help people.
We could stay “where we are comfortable, where we are effective. We can do things even in small ways. just choose the right partners, just choose the right people to work with.”
“The sense of fulfillment will be there.”
Maglasang, a software engineer, is a volunteer for Gawad Kalinga. She loves to volunteer for community outreach and did work for Tsinelas and other groups.
She started volunteering for Gawad Kalinga in 2011, right after she graduated from college.
She said Gawad Kalinga isn’t just about building houses, it’s a “movement that aims to eradicate poverty by providing homes for the poor and helping restore their dignity.”
She said the group is also about “about building communities, building relationships.”
“They also provide different programs, not just building houses. It also has programs for health, for caring about the environment,” she said. “It also provides avenues for beneficiaries to build business to sustain their community.”
She said it warms her heart to hear beneficiaries express appreciation for their effort.
Parco is a general assignments reporter covering church, health, environment and education for Sun.Star Cebu. She said she was invited to the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippine screening for Central Visayas and was inspired by the young people “who had their own projects and changed their communities in their own ways.”
Parco and her friend, journalist Cris Evert Lato, decided to gather bags no longer being used by their friends and give these away to poor students.
She thought about giving bags after seeing a young boy carry his books by tying these with a straw.
They contacted friends via Facebook and text messaging and were able to get 50 bags with school supplies in them last year.
Some of their beneficiaries are children of drug addicts. Parco, who choked up on stage upon recalling this, said these children had deformities.
She said they hoped that the bags would encourage the children to continue going to school.
Parco said they collected fewer bags these year but these were of better quality. She said they hope to give away a second batch of bags in the coming months.
The project, said Parco, “is just a little bag story. But it’s also a story of friends.”
Dr. Buboy Tapia
Tapia, a medical blogger, shared his story about suffering from polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
“Mine is a personal story. It’s a story close to my kidneys,” he said.
Tapia said technology helped him in dealing with his condition, which was diagnosed just as he finished medical school and was a post-graduate intern. He said it was hard for him to accept the diagnosis.
Tapia said he found a blog of someone who suffered from PKD but still had a positive outlook on life. He said he began to think that life could go on despite the disease.
Tapia said he decided to blog about his condition and how he copes with it in order to “provide positivity to other patients” and share his knowledge as both a doctor and patient.
He said he found the sharing and interactions online with other sufferers of the disease “therapeutic” and plans to start an online community for kidney disease patients.
He said he realized that “even if we are sick, we can still do things for the community, in the comforts of your home or from your laptop.”
After the sharing of their stories, Smart public affairs manager for education programs Stephanie Orlino said people were “enriched and inspired by their stories and that’s what payITfwd is all about.”
“What we want to do is support and reward and showcase all the good things being done by ordinary people. We want to enable more social good initiatives through technology,” she said.
Nick Wilwayco, Smart corporate communications and social innovation manager, said there was a lot of potential for “using tech for social good.”
She cited the example of Albay using the Tudlo disaster preparedness and response app that was developed in Cebu. She said tech can reach out and help “so many people.”