Volunteerism in the family
That instant I walked in to the Namfrel office in Cebu, I was asked to help pick out from a huge basket a piece of candle, a book of matches, a small notebook and a pen, and an armband. Along with other volunteers we packed these for each pollwatcher volunteer. That small pack was important so that the volunteers would be able to do their job well.
I kept the fact that I had signed up for Namfrel from my parents because I was apprehensive that they would not allow me to get involved in what then seemed like a dangerous undertaking. Elections were marred, as they still are now, with violence and intimidation. There were hired goons who were willing to harm those who got in the way of their principals, who wanted to cling on to power and needed to win at all costs. When I went home to Sibonga to see them, we were pleasantly surprised! Both my parents and my sister had volunteered for Namfrel. The entire family was involved! My dad and my sister helped organize the chapter there and trained other volunteers. They watched the voting, while my mom, who is a rural doctor, visited polling stations checking on the teachers. If they were in need of medical attention, my mom volunteered her services and with a pill or two to relieved them of minor discomforts and allowed them to carry on with their tasks.
Over the years my entire family, my wife and seven members of her family had volunteered for Namfrel; and I am so proud of them. Just as we were moved by the selflessness of others’ (in volunteering), we hope that we, too, have inspired others to volunteer.
Thankless but certainly rewarding
Except for a token of appreciation, there are no immediately tangible rewards for volunteering. But being together with your family to do something for our people and for our country is rewarding in itself. To be part of a noble task of protecting our democracy is elating. There are no small or big parts in this effort; there are only honest and sincere contributions. Volunteers past and present relate how valuable and unforgettable their time was when they spent it observing the elections. They shared these as if the experience happened only yesterday. The wonderful experience resided in their hearts and that engagement became priceless and timeless – a true measure of treasure.
Start the volunteering experience
Just before the elections in February 1986, moved by the concern that the country could deteriorate into chaos if the Snap Election was not credible, I walked into the Namfrel office then at the Patria de Cebu, to volunteer. I believe that I had to do something no matter how little that something might be. The place was bustling with activity and the people in there were held together by a common cause – of protecting the (electoral) process regardless of the (election) results.
I volunteered to watch the polls in Tabogon (Cebu), but we were not deployed until after we received training and orientation on what to do. That experience of watching people cast their votes, observing that the teachers who were manning the polls indeed did their jobs, and encouraging people, through our presence, to go out and vote, was so enlightening. That experience had never left me; and has since been replicated many times in many other places here and abroad.
One most touching moment I recall was in South Africa in 1994 at the historic election of Nelson Mandela as president. I observed with the United Nations Mission (UNOMSA) and was assigned to visit polling stations in his province of Transkei. Early on election day there were already long lines of voters expectantly and patiently waiting for their turn to cast their ballot – almost all of them for the first time (in 40 years). I could not forget one of the polling station officials repeatedly and politely explaining the process to a voter who seemed confused. It was a touching moment because it showed enfranchisement in action. I was moved to tears.
As an international election observer, we are allowed to go inside polling stations in countries where we observe elections. It is such a privilege witnessing citizens exercising their right to elect their leaders – where their choice has the same value as everyone else’s.
Observing elections is an important task that only a non-partisan volunteers would be able to do because by being neutral he or she provides credence on reports about the processes.