On January 22, 2011, I presented this personal essay on why I’m doing this work with the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide at the US-Philippines Diaspora Partnership workshop in Manila, Philippines.
In 1964, I was born in Sampaloc, Manila. I grew up modestly in this Manila neighborhood known for local flooding even during the mildest rainstorms. When I was eight years old, I would always rejoice that school would be cancelled with the slightest hint of rain.
In 1973, my father died of lung cancer due to his heavy addiction to smoking two to three packs of unfiltered Old Gold cigarettes everyday. A few years later, my mother remarried an American and next thing I know I was going to the US with my younger brother as soon as the school year was over.
In 1986, I graduated from graduated from college and I went to work right away. In 1988, I started volunteering and tutoring immigrants to learn English. I found my calling; I found my inner reward of helping others.
In 1998, I cofounded the Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois (CAAAELII), one of the largest immigrant led coalitions in the country. In 2001, I received a Ford Foundation Leadership Award for my work helping many immigrants in Chicago.
In 2007, I received a yearlong fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust. I have traveled to the Philippines occasionally but only on short holidays. During my fellowship, I traveled to my mother’s native village in Bicol, Philippines, where I was confronted by the poverty of my distant relatives, many of them physically wanted to be inside my luggage and join me back in Chicago.
In 2007, I stayed with my cousin for the entire day; he patches tires of tricycles for a living. Many tricycle drivers opt to patch the tires and not buy new ones to save money. My cousin and I stood in the heat of the sun all day in front of the public market looking for tricycles that need their tires patched up. My cousin earned about 80 pesos, less than $2 for the entire day. His earnings were not enough to buy rice, fish and vegetables to feed his family.
During my visit, I saw the connection between my relatives’ poverty and the overwhelming number of immigrants who feel they must migrate to seek a better life. It was a turning point for me. I decided to address the root cause of migration by leveraging the financial and technical potential of the growing Filipino diaspora to improve the economic situation in the Philippines in substantive and sustainable ways. I realized that many Filipinos like myself are living abroad and that collectively we could make a difference by giving sustainably and responsibly back home.
In 2010, I established the Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide based on Filipino traditional values of community spirit, trust and helping each other. I hope you will join me in this journey of partnership of Filipinos abroad helping Filipinos at home.