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A total of 80,000 volunteers have completed varied socio-civic projects in 37 sites of 33 provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in the recently concluded Bayani Challenge 2013. The massive number of participants and the multiple locations they served makes Bayani Challenge the biggest volunteer movement in the history of the Philippines. Organized by the governmental volunteerism movement called Pilipinas Natin, Bayani Challenge is a partnership with different government agencies, local government units, non-government organizations and the CSR foundations of local and international private corporations. These service activities include the building of houses, painting of national road signs and markers, tree-planting and coastal clean-up, school refurbishment, medical mission activities and education sessions for children. All of these were simultaneously conducted from March 23-27, 2013.
Pilipinas Natin is a special volunteerism movement of the Presidential Communications Operations Office headed by Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma. In his visit to Sta. Rosa, one of 37 Bayani Challenge sites, Secretary Coloma explained the context for Bayani Challenge: “The volunteerism movement that elected President Aquino did not end after the 2010 elections. Their love for country continued to manifest in different civic programs. All of these were unified and organized by Pilipinas Natin into one expression that is called Bayani Challenge.”
Bayanihan is the nation’s weapon of choice in the struggle to eradicate poverty. After five grueling but festive days of nation building, Bayani Challenge has successfully built and painted 1000 houses for the urban and rural poor, indigenous tribes, residents of conflict-affected areas and victims of natural calamities. The house build projects are backed-up by the refurbishment and repainting of 746 public schools and other government properties crucial for public service. A total of 40,630 trees and 20,400 mangroves were planted in highways, forests, tree nurseries, swamps and coastal areas. Bayani Challenge also served 12,410 children who were treated to games and education sessions while 8,157 residents benefited from medical missions. According to Sec. Coloma, President Noynoy Aquino believes Bayani Challenge is crucial in achieving inclusive growth, an essential component of his Philippine Development Plan. He cites the contribution of Bayani Challenge in maximizing the Filipino cultural trait of Bayanihan by holding community and civic projects in 37 localities, most of which include the farthest regions and provinces of the country. Eventually, it is the President’s vision that all communities in the Philippines may exhibit the involvement of empowered citizens so that the poor and the marginalized will immediately experience the fruits of the unprecedented economic progress being reaped by the Aquino Government.
Profile of Modern Day Heroes
The stories of the volunteers of Bayani Challenge speak of the resilience and generosity of the Filipino.
With unbridled passion and enthusiasm, the youth sector came full force and was the source of energy and vitality throughout the event. The youths and young professionals took charge in leading other volunteers to join the unity dance and participate in fellowship games like simulations of the Amazing Race and Master Chef. Their vibrant spirits were inexhaustible as they continued to celebrate well into the night with songs, dance numbers and testimonials of why they think the current era is the best time to be Filipinos.
In Calbayog, Samar, 500 young volunteers from Eastern Visayas opted to serve farming communities in the remote barangays of Amampaacang, Mabini, Rizal Dos, Lungsob and Oquendo. “This is bonding for a deeper cause,” explains Voutschel Gonzaga when asked why her friends joined Bayani Challenge.
People might wonder why young people would choose to spend their few weeks of summer vacation by carrying cement blocks and sacks of soil under the blistering heat of the summer sun. When asked if they were envious of other young kids who are currently enjoying their break, Jing of Bulacan retorted, “they are the ones who should be envious of us.” Jing traveled from Bulacan to Puerto Galera in Mindoro and helped in organizing the activities there. Jing explains why it’s more fun to volunteer: “the level or degree of happiness is radically different here. In Bayani Challenge, we get to travel and bond with our friends but help those in need at the same time.” Her friend, Skawt Maniego adds, “The first time we joined Bayani Challenge, we didn’t know that something as grand as this was happening all over the country already. Hindi kami pahuhuli (We will not allow ourselves to be left behind). His friend, Boon, added with conviction, “if before youths were known to join rallies and demonstrations, our generation believes volunteerism is the new activism. Poverty is our main enemy and we hope it will be our generation who gets to see the end of poverty.”
Meanwhile, in Cateel, Davao Oriental, Nanay Eve Baquero felt all hope was lost when her small, rural town was wiped out by the flash floods caused by Typhoon Pablo. In 2012, Cateel was visited by Gawad Kalinga, a main partner of Pilipinas Natin credited for the original conceptualization of Bayani Challenge. In place of her previous make-shift and dilapidated house, she is now a resident of an 80-square meter concrete house. While it is true that the new house was essential for the needs of her family, what was most life-changing for her was the love and sharing she felt when her community was rebuilt and organized by Gawad Kalinga. Along with the rest of her community, Nanay Eve was happy to pay forward the benefits her family is now enjoying thanks to the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan.
Many volunteers sign-up annually ever since Bayani Challenge was started in 2006. One committed volunteer is Mikyu Maglasang, a blogger from Cebu. Mikyu started volunteering in 2011 at Bantayan Island in Cebu. Last year, she enlisted in Negros Oriental and is now part of Team Bohol this year. Mikyu encouraged the followers of her blog by writing this simple message, “[Bayani Challenge] is an event that could change your life and the life of others.” Mikyu, Eve, Boon, Skawt, Voutschel and Jing are just some of the many Filipinos who have imbibed and revived the spirit of Bayanihan. In fact, as Bayani Challenge is usually held very close to Holy Week, many Catholics sign-up for the event as their panata or vows of sacrifice to God. For them, these service activities prepares their soul for holy week by expressing their repentance through noble acts of sacrifice and selflessness.
People Powered Partnership with the Government
The government agency that extended the most visible support to this event was the Armed Forces of the Philippines along with the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Fire Protection. No site was without a Team AFP , PNP or BFP which played the dual roles of building houses and ensuring the security of volunteers. The AFP also utilized its resources by lending trucks to reach mountainous areas and sea crafts to sail the outermost of islands. Major General Caesar Ordoyo of the Southern Luzon Command explained the role of the AFP in his interview with PTV-4: “It is natural for a Filipino soldier to lay down one’s life in the service of the nation. That is why the AFP will always express its strongest commitment in joining events like Bayani Challenge. We believe this is the most effective means of ensuring peace and order in all areas of our country.” Bayani Challenge also helps erase the negative perception of the public towards men and women in uniform. “Dati, takot na takot kami sa mga pulis at sundalo kapag bumibisita sa aming kabundukan, shares Romeo Magpinta, head of the Mangyan tribe in Mindoro, “pero ngayon, lubos ang pasasalamat namin sa kanila dahil sila ang nagtatayo ng aming magiging mga bagong bahay.”
The holding of volunteerism activities in 33 provinces would also not have been possible without the cooperation between the private citizens and the local government. In Iloilo, the preparation for Bayani Challenge in New Lucena started months before with the local government raising P2.5 M by holding two golf tournaments. The money raised from these were then used to buy 2.2 hectares of land where the 3,000 Bayani Challenge volunteers built an initial 25 houses for the townspeople.
In Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Toyota, one of the many multi-national companies based in the area, committed to build 160 housing units for the poor residents in their vicinity. This initiative was immediately complemented by Sta. Rosa’s local government, which acquired 2.2 hectares of land as the site of the project. Last March 27, Bayani Challenge volunteers built 48 more houses thus completing the construction of Toyota Village.
No less than the Governor of Isabela showed his enthusiasm for the potential benefits that Bayani Challenge could bring in his province. Governor Faustino Dy III’s support ensured the participation of 11,500 volunteers making Isabela the province with the highest number of enlisted volunteers. Consequently, Governor Dy declared last March 27 as Bayani Challenge Day, a holiday for all Isabelinos who labored for a cause during the 5-day event.
Finally, national government agencies also delivered in their commitments to support Bayani Challenge by offering their agencies’ resources and expertise as one of many socio-civic projects that volunteers could participate in. To cite a few, the Department of Health mobilized health caravans to different sites for medical mission and education session programs. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources provided seedlings for nurseries and mangroves for the environmental projects.
A Legacy of Volunteerism
“Kung hindi ako sino pa? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa babangon ang bayan ko?”
-- lines from Diwa ng Bayanihan! (Ngayon Na) theme song of Bayani Challenge 2013
An event that started with only one site and hundreds of volunteers has since grown exponentially after seven years. Next year, Pilipinas Natin and Gawad Kalinga, along with their partners and benefactors, set the ambitious goal of holding Bayani Challenge in 300 sites all over the country. In the Bayani Challenge website, the organizers explain, “300 sites may mean more work, more output, more activities but it also means more opportunities and possibilities.”
Such progressive mindset is completely justifiable as Bayani Challenge is truly a one of a kind experience. What a sight indeed to see volunteers work together with people of different age groups and professions. Soldiers handing-over over cement blocks to farmers. Government employees digging the soil for young students to plant small trees in. This is Pilipinas Natin, a true democratic nation of empowered citizens. This is one of the many legacies that President Benigno S. Aquino III wishes to be remembered by. PIA Director General Jose Mari Oquiñena, overall head of Bayani Challenge, elucidates the essence of the event, “We have a beautiful country, we have a wonderful people. What we are saying through the Bayani Challenge is that we will grant the wish of the poor and fulfill the dreams of every Filipino. I believe this is the real picture and story of our country. Not the violence, not the poverty, not the crises, but the solutions we are embodying today.”