Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Witness to moving volunteerism

The International Visitors' “Volunteerism in the U.S.” was the program that I had the privilege to participate in 2001. It almost did not push through because it started just three days after 9/11. Little did I know that from that unfortunate event of 9/11 also flowed the most moving and inspiring acts of individual and collective volunteerism among Americans. It was indeed one of the best times to see volunteerism in action.

The lessons from the program and the given context within which it took place were many and unforgettable. That 90 percent of all donations in the U.S. are from individuals (the rest from corporations), and that the value of contributions through the non-profit sector is indeed a significant amount relative to the country's GDP showed proofs of not just generosity, but also dynamism and confidence in that sector. There are organizations, whose representatives I've met that pride of their ability to manage and direct to effective efforts acts of volunteerism, like donations of personal time, funds and those in-kind. I concluded, that these are among the trademarks of a strong nation; where people show concern and are willing to share the fruits of their labor with others.

In Afghanistan (2004-2005) and in Timor-Leste (2006-2008), I had the privilege to share my passion and experiences in the field of organizing and operationalizing multilaterally-supported non-partisan domestic election observer groups. This was through the U.S.-based organization, the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The Institute's work was significant and its programs were directly making positive impacts in people's lives by engaging them in the process of establishing democracy in their country. In many occasions with program partners, moved by my experience from the International Visitor Program, I would remind them that the funds that we are using to support the domestic election observation effort are fruits of labor from U.S. citizens. To bring it closer and more personal, I would add that some of them are my relatives. Through their taxes, they have entrusted a portion of their hard-earned income to contribute to the Afghan and Timorese nation building. Therefore, these funds are to be used well and accounted properly.

I believe I was chosen as a participant in the IVP because of my close to two decades of volunteer work with the Philippines' National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). Created in 1983 to thwart clear and imminent threats by government to subvert the people's will in the ballot, the movement pioneered that brand of citizen engagement in elections and was indeed first-in-the-world. The cause for clean and honest elections that are reflective of the true will of the people allowed Namfrel to inspire one million individuals to contribute time, talent and treasure in order to protect the integrity of the ballot. From the movement's success in 1986 when it exposed massive fraud in the presidential Snap Elections of February, that model had since been spread and emulated in many countries.

One thing common that founds volunteerism, be it in the Philippines, in the U.S., in Afghanistan, or in Timor Leste, and perhaps elsewhere, is the “power of the ask”. A worthy cause still has to appeal to the generosity and goodwill of people. Only when asked, and therefore made part of a worthy effort, will people's hearts truly open and share. I carry this affirmation wherever I go. Thanks to the affirmations through the International Visitor Program, the National Democratic Institute and Namfrel. It is indeed a light carry.

In Gratitude: Thank you, Lord, for making me witness to inspiring and moving acts of volunteerism. I pray, that I, too, would be able to move and inspire others in my own.

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