February 13th, 2016 | by Balaod Mindanaw
In August 2010, I joined Balaod Mindanaw as a new member of its litigation team which handles cases in defense of the rights of farmers, indigenous peoples and those for environmental protection. It had already been quite a while since I last breathed the air of the NGO environment. It was almost two decades ago when, right after college, I spent my first three years of “professional” life doing work in social development with two NGOs then. Being young and enthusiastic to change and improve the world, I courageously jumped into every task our institution assigned to me: student formation, teaching, community-organizing, and livelihood training and development. It was fun and exciting, but I did not produce the kind of results I wanted in my work. I slowly realized that with the raw skills and limited knowledge that I had, it was difficult for me to effect the changes I wanted in the communities and in government. I had to further equip myself.
They said that if you want to widen your competence in a chosen field of expertise (or if you don’t know yet what to pursue in life), you should go to graduate school. I was told too that the corporate world would be a perfect environment to hone one’s expertise to professional level. And looking at my friends and classmates who immediately jumped to big corporate careers right after college, they looked much sharper, more eloquent and professional after only a few years! And so I did. I went to graduate school and, while at it, also joined the corporate world.
In the several corporations/ organizations that I went to, my jobs were essentially similar: creating development programs, improving systems and structures to further capacitate and empower corporate personnel. I found that, even in the world of graduate and post-graduate working professionals, there was also such a job as developing and empowering people in the workplace! I did not stop there. I even joined government and then later on, an international organization, so that my work can have a much more significant impact not only with the people in government, but also with the people working in the international arena. While at this, I also went to law school to acquire all the necessary arsenal I needed to go out and change the world!
Since then, I had been working with organizations that help improve the lives of the poor and marginalized. But looking at the numbers, it seemed that, more and more, their numbers kept increasing by the day; cases of injustice increased by the day; the pursuit for peace was getting more elusive by the day. The quest for a more humane and dignified life was becoming a steeper climb; environmental destruction became more frequent and evident.
Why couldn’t the world change? In spite of all the trainings, group discussions, meetings, livelihood trainings and loans extended to the communities, why hadn’t the poor changed and improved?
Looking back, I realized that I had been so pre-occupied and obsessed with getting others to do the things they needed to do to improve their condition, to make this world a better place to live in, and to get them to work hard so that their dreams could come true. Yet, I also realized that I myself had failed to do the things I needed to do to improve my own condition; to face my own inner obstacles so I can succeed in life; to face temptations of mediocrity so I can excel in my work and profession; to face the luster of money and pride so I can be truly honest in all my dealings. I had been busy getting others to change, but I had not changed myself.
Now, I am back in the NGO world where my professional world first started. I still love working with the poor and the basic communities but not because I want to help them grow and develop, but because, just like them, I also need to grow and develop. I no longer aim to change their attitudes and thinking so they can become honest, active and responsible participants in nation-building as I have a full-time job of pushing myself to become one myself. I will no longer push them to rise above their conditions and reach for their dreams as I have to push myself to fight my own obstacles in reaching for mine.
No, I no longer wish to tell and educate them what they should do. That is way too easy for me to do, yet ineffective for them. I am no longer out to change the world. I am just out to change myself so I can succeed in my own little fights against my small-thinking, my self-defeating attitudes, my impulsive handling of money; against my self-pity or victim-thinking and illiteracy; against the temptations to do mediocre job or just accept what life gives me; and against all the other obstacles to a great, dignified and honorable life.
I now strive hard to change myself and to succeed in my own little fights. It is a much smaller fight than the grand fight to change the systems, the structures, the laws and policies, or the governments in this world. But when I succeed, and I am hopeful I will, I will have shown to others that one can rise from poverty, be empowered and free regardless of one’s external circumstances. When I do, that would be my contribution to the world.
I just hope that others will look within themselves and do his/her own changes and growth too, with even more success. That may be the beginning of a truly improving, developing, just and sustainable world!