“IN all the places that we’ve been to during this tour, it is here in the Philippines that I was able to feel the strongest sense of community, of helping each other out. I think that the concept of your Bayanihan is truly amazing,” so said Marita Mecke from Germany, one of the 70 new friends that I gained while traveling with the global education program Up with People.
Hearing that from Marita was like music to my ears and my heart burst with pride. Bayanihan—the Filipino concept of working together for a common goal (usually symbolized by a photo of people carrying a house to a new location) indeed is still very much alive up to this day.
For five months starting July, our group has traveled across the United States, stopping in Colorado, Arizona, California, Washington State and Nevada. We then visited European cities in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. The last month of this great adventure was spent in the Philippines. For most of the members of the group, this is the very first time that they have looked at poverty straight in the eye. It has been a shock for a lot of delegates—but most interesting for them was the warmth and steadfastness that the Filipino people exuded and the ability to still smile amid all the crises plaguing our country.
Through a comprehensive tour around Ayala Museum through the Ayala Foundation Inc. and Intramuros through the Department of Tourism, we were given a very informative walk through Philippine history. We also visited the Gawad Kalinga Baseco community in Tondo where we learned of inspiring stories about people working together to make a difference in the lives of others.
Our tour isn’t that type where we fly into a city, take a lot of pictures, buy souvenirs, and then say goodbye. Every destination was an intense, hands-on cultural immersion and educational experience. In every city that we visited, we learn about culture, history and current issues. We live with host families to experience life in its most real state. We perform community service with local nonprofit organizations and also stage a show that aims to spread messages of love, hope and peace in diversity. Throughout all these, we discuss about leadership, multicultural issues, listening and communication skills and respect for people and the environment. We were always tested on flexibility, patience and were constantly taught lessons on humility and acceptance.
After months of traveling with Up With People, it is only now that I am experiencing a stronger love and sense of pride for my country. My reaffirmed love for the Philippines did not come from my being homesick but for a strong urge to come back and serve my country again after hours of volunteering abroad. It came from knowing that we have hardworking kababayans abroad who are proud of our roots and are still planning to return to their homeland someday.
Here in Manila, the Up with People students are doing volunteer work every day for 13 days with local nonprofit organizations such as Gawad Kalinga, Habitat for Humanity, Virlanie Foundation, Kaibigan Ermita Outreach Foundation Inc., Philippine Association for Citizens with Developmental and Learning Disabilities Inc., Ortigas Foundation Inc., Assumption School, KYTHE, ERDA Tech Foundation, Makabata School Foundation Inc., and the Rotary Clubs in Valenzuela. Every day, the group is working alongside community members, other volunteers and organization staff members.
Seventy students from 19 countries make up the Up with People students. The past semester seemed like I was living within a microcosm of the world—and the program showed me that underneath all these differences, we all have a common goal and desire for a better life and future for all. The whole experience made me believe in the power of one person, whoever you are, wherever you are—to make a difference in another person’s life. Now that I am back in my country and the tour is about to end, I am all fired up and ready to make a difference in my country. I am proud to be a Filipino and I hope someday, the Filipinos will be proud of me, too.
For more information about Up with People please visit www.upwithpeople.org.