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Once a volunteer, always a volunteer




By Timothy Gabuna

My formal volunteer story began after graduating from college when, after three years of working with the Broadcast Media Council, then with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas national secretariat and the Pop Music Foundation of the Philippines, I resigned from work and went to Bukidnon as a Jesuit volunteer.

Barangay Malipayon in Pangantucan, Bukidnon was an upland farming village. When I got there in 1982, there was no electricity yet, so candle or kerosene lamp was my usual light—or Petromax on special occasions. (The Petromax lamp was created in 1910 in Germany by Max Graetz, who also named the brand, on the basis of a spirit lamp that was already well-known. It was a lighting system fueled by paraffin; it has a very high caloric value and could make a very hot blue flame). The barrio had yet to have a decent water system then, so I came to appreciate rain water for all my needs: drinking, bathing, cooking, washing.

Heavy rains, however, would result in deep mud all over the place. So I prayed for less rain. The heavens responded by sending El Niño. So, I bathed in dust whenever the wind blew.

Bulad (dried fish) and sardines were my staple food, with rice mixed with corn. Sometimes, when rice supply runs out, it would just be corn.

The room I occupied during my volunteering stint was at the back of an unfinished wooden chapel. There was no resident priest, but we had what we called the “KBL” Masses: wedding, baptism, funeral.

Toilet facilities were some 50 meters away from my lodging. We called it a deep hole, covered with wood with a hole in the middle.

I was the lone male teacher at San Isidro High School, a parish school put up just the year before I was deployed as a volunteer by the Assumption Sisters, and a Jesuit missionary. The school had 150 students — the eldest was 36 years old, whose daughter would have been his classmate had he not enrolled her in a school in another barangay. I taught what was then called “Modern Math” to the freshmen, Pilipino to the sophomores and Chemistry to the juniors.

There was no senior batch yet. I was also the CMT (Citizens’ Military Training) Commandant, and the Practical Arts teacher. I had to make lesson plans, check formal and informal themes, check and grade test papers. And for all that work, I would receive a monthly allowance of P350.

On Fridays after class, teachers would visit the homes of students to conduct prayer meetings. Needless to say, our “hidden agenda” was to have free supper. After some time, we had to stop the visits because we were told by the barangay chairman that even the NPAs were attending our prayer meetings, so the soldiers were suspecting us to be holding Communist-leaning teach-ins.

On Sundays, we had prayer service at the chapel with the alagad (lay minister) presiding in the absence of the priest. But the alagad would always call me to give the homily after the Gospel reading. There were even a few times when I’ve had to preside over funeral services and bless the dead because the parish priest couldn’t make it.

Believe it or not, I had night life there. On several weekends, I would get invited to the baile (village dance), which, I would later find out, were actually fund-raisers: Every time I would dance, somebody would collect 50 centavos payment for every dance.

I still consider my JVP (Jesuit Volunteers Philippines) year the best time of my life. It was, after all, just the beginning of my lifetime volunteering. Every semester hence, I would take a week-long leave from my paid work as Director of Resident Students of the Ateneo de Manila University to continue my volunteer service in Bukidnon, this time, to help manage the farmers’ cooperative and to meet my scholars and their parents who also tend the small farm I have donated for the scholarship fund.

As a volunteer manager, I have helped organize and manage during its early years the Philippine Association for Volunteer Effort (PAVE), a network of volunteer managers that offers the training course on volunteer management.

I first got to know VOICE through Grace Aguiling-Dalisay, who is also a PAVE officer. I came to love VOICE so now I am a member of its Board of Trustees.

Volunteering can be a way of life whatever your career or vocation may be. In my work place, the Ateneo Residence Halls, we have organized various volunteer groups such as the Committee on Social Awareness and Involvement that mobilizes the resident students during typhoons and floods. We also have the GK Volunteers that builds house in Payatas. I have volunteer Dorm Assistants and volunteer internet service management team.

If people are the best resources of the nation, then, the volunteers especially those working in small communities and barangays, those who help empower the basic unit of our society and strengthen the nation’s foundation, are the special resources on which the Philippine quality of life depends to a significant degree. If only everyday, thousands or millions of volunteers give freely of their time, skills and energy for the benefit of communities and the Filipino, we would be making the Philippines one of the best places in the world to live.

Somehow, development volunteers have become public servants without the guns, goons and gold. I have been telling my friends that if they want to serve the public, they can do it the cheapest way.

Tim Gabuna was the first Fiipino executive director of Jesuit Volunteers Philippines.

Editor’s Note

The Daily Tribune will run a series of Volunteer Monologues written by men and women of all ages, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds who have, at one point in their lives spent time doing volunteer work in underserved communities.
This is the first in the series.