On Becoming a Volunteer by Chiqui Escareal-Go
 
Last May 28, 2016, I was invited to speak on women volunteerism at a youth summit organized by the Volunteer Organizations Information Coordination and Exchange Inc. (VOICE) and the Benito and Catalina Yap Foundation in Iloilo.  Since I was to speak on a woman’s journey and transformation into volunteer work, I was compelled to understand what volunteerism was truly all about as I was loosely using the term.  I would describe myself as an advocate (rather than a volunteer) of causes I believed in which are focused on education, economic enablement and gender empowerment.
 
UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Dean Grace Aguiling-Dalisay (who is also the Chair of VOICE), provided the framework of volunteerism and also helped define what it takes to be called a volunteer (which I paraphrase here): it is someone who provides service or work for a cause or to help others (outside one’s own family or household) which are non-compulsory or non-obligatory and without monetary expectations or rewards. 
 
I shared the stories of two young women advocates who came to the Philippines last September for the APEC Women and the Economy Forum.  Hannah Chou, founder of OurCityLove, created an app that would help mobility-impaired persons easily find restaurants or other places that are wheelchair-friendly.  This was an offshoot of her experience with her wheelchair-bound friends who couldn’t find a place to eat along the busiest street in Taipei.  She also hired persons with disability to work on the app, thus providing jobs as well.
 
On the other hand, Marita Cheng founded a non-profit, student organization made up of volunteers who would teach young girls in primary or secondary schools how to use robotics, to encourage them to consider going into engineering, science or technology in college.  Marita noticed that there was an underrepresentation of female students in her engineering class in Australia and thus was born Robogals.  She has since progressed to creating technology for disabled people with limited mobility when it comes to opening doors and other functions that other people take for granted.
 
In my circle of friends, I know of many who freely give time, resources and effort, yet we never call ourselves volunteers.  These people mentor new entrepreneurs in social enterprises or training bootcamps, take part in protecting the sanctity of the electoral process, or spend time with children with chronic illnesses in an art therapy program.  Others are contributing passions and commitments to advocate issues on the environment and climate change, food security and even protection of animals.  These same people give 100% in all their volunteer work, setting the standards for personal excellence and commitment when it comes to whatever it is they choose to do, to help or to make a difference.  One will never hear us say, “Oh, we’re just volunteers.  Pwede na yan.”
 
In my case, I tried to deconstruct my personal journey toward becoming an advocate of several causes.  I looked at my foundation which involved how I was raised by a strict father who respected time and valued integrity as a member of the judiciary, which was passed on to all my siblings and me.  I acknowledged my Paulinian spirituality having been raised by the sisters of St. Paul from kindergarten to high school, to whom I owe much of my values.  I explored and utilized the talents I was able to develop because of opportunities thrown my way and this is because of the outstanding mentors I had as an undergraduate student at De La Salle University and as a graduate student at the Ateneo and in UP. I am blessed with a likeminded spouse who encouraged me to pursue what makes my heart soar – like growth, independence, happiness.
 
I am actively mentoring and training women in micro and small businesses in partnership with Ahon sa Hirap Foundation, Kuya Center and DTI Rizal.  My personal challenge is how to duplicate myself since much handholding is needed for these “nanays” and I am still in the process of immersion so I can find relevant and long-lasting solutions to this kind of mentoring.  I travel to various places for this and I somehow never get tired interacting with women who work so hard for their families.  I am always the one more inspired at the end of the day.
 
Beyond the economic “savings” that volunteer work provide for the communities we help, the rewards of volunteerism are boundless.   We learn from each other, we connect with mentors, we create lifelong friends with the same commitment and passion.  Though intangible, we know how doing good makes one feel good.  After all is said and done, how we are able to make a difference in the life of others is how we are accountable for the blessed life we have. 
 
“Those who can, do.  Those who can do more, volunteer”. (Anonymous)
 
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Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (www.mansmith.net) and president of the Women’s Business Council Philippines.  She volunteers to train and mentor women in micro and small enterprises in how to grow their businesses or how to spot opportunities.  For inquiries or feedback, please email mentors@mansmith.net.