by Niquie Angelo
On March 2013, I graduated college with a degree in Psychology . I loved learning about people, but I felt unsure about what kind of career I really wanted to pursue with this.
Since I was young, I’ve always dreamt of being a doctor mainly because I wanted to be able to help other people in the community. I guess having a father who experienced poverty firsthand, it’s hard for me to simply turn the other cheek and not do anything about the situation of many Filipinos. I thought being a doctor was the only way to do so. But eventually, I learned that there were more.
I was 22 years old when I got accepted to work for one of the largest non-government organizations (NGO) in the country. The position I held was Partnerships Manager (or PG as we were each called) and the responsibilities basically revolved around raising funds while managing projects funded by different partners of the organization. Most of these were for housing, while a few were volunteer events where companies/groups wanted their members to be involved in.
What is an NGO?
An NGO is a group that’s mainly composed of passionate people who have chosen to dedicate their time and efforts (whether full-time or as a volunteer) in making the world a better place. It is not supposed to be affiliated with any arm of the government and often does not profit from the donations it receives. In the Philippines alone, there are thousands of registered NGO’s. Each has a different goal and varying methods in accomplishing them.
Apart from their own goals, these groups are usually also the first to respond during the aftermath of calamities. Some provide emotional support, but most deliver immediate physical needs to victims. Food, clothing, blankets – you see truckloads of these being delivered by different groups to areas that are affected, even those that cannot easily be accessed. This was especially evident during the rehabilitation period after Typhoon Haiyan.
Typhoon Haiyan: Working with people hit by disasters
I remember watching the news every night after November 8, 2013, the day when one of the strongest typhoons in the world had made landfall in the Philippines. Trees were blown away, houses were shattered, and thousands of lives were lost. Seeing the photos and videos, I could only imagine what those people have gone through and always ended up in tears.
In June of 2014, three months after I joined the organization, I was sent to Isabel, Leyte to assist the local team in executing a volunteer event as part of the rehabilitation efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. I landed in Tacloban where the storm surge hit and the damages were still prevalent. I never thought I’d be there and see the devastation with my own eyes.
Isabel is a municipality around 2-3 hours away from Tacloban. A fertilizer plant in the area was severely damaged causing around 1000 workers to lose their jobs. Casualties might not have been as severe compared to Tacloban, but communities there also needed help.
I slept in a classroom with other volunteers who came to participate in the event. These volunteers included students from Tacloban, army members, and civilians who flew in from different parts of the country, some even from abroad. We did mangrove planting, held games for the children, helped build a few houses, and celebrated with the members of the community through a culmination night. It was my first time joining such an event and it felt heartwarming to see people from different walks of life come together and have a good time.
Travelling with meaning
Working for an NGO is quite an adventure. I got to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and was able to visit places in the country I’ve never thought I’d go to.
I had the chance to visit communities for different projects the organization offers such as: Nueva Vizcaya, where I was able to taste cooked Iguana for the first time; Aurora, where I experienced living with no electricity; and Eastern Samar, where there was hardly any phone signal, forcing me to go around and appreciate the simplicity of life.
As I travelled, I learned that each community had their own stories to tell, and I brought these stories home with me. This was definitely the fun part about my job. But more than just satisfy my wanderlust, these trips gave me inspiration. I witnessed over and over how many lives have been bettered because of the work many of us chose to do – as a development worker. And this became the fuel that continued to fire up that passion inside of me, even in troubling times.
How I faced challenges
As PG, I spent most of my time in the office writing proposals, replying to emails, compiling reports, and making sure my projects are being implemented properly and on time.
It can be pretty tiring and discouraging, especially when you commit mistakes or encounter events that are out of your control. Whenever I feel like giving up, I remind myself on why I joined the organization – to help people affected by poverty.
Whether its the old man I pass by driving to work every day, who’s probably already in his 70’s, braving the scorching heat of Manila to sell peanuts on the streets and provide not just for his children, but his grandchildren or, that mother I once spoke with who’s willing to do everything that she can to provide a home for her children so they do not have to grow up playing on the dumpsites of Manila, risking their health each time.
I learned that by choosing to become an employee of an NGO, your work does not only affect the organization. Your work directly creates impact in lives of real people – people you’ve already met and people you might never even meet. This is what’s going to push you to keep going. I also realized that many of these people have never experienced the best things in life, and so this was my chance to at least give them something that’s best, my best.
Coming to a full circle
One of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had was when I flew to Lawaan, Eastern Samar to host a turnover event for a project I encountered a lot of problems with. This was one of the areas that were first hit by Typhoon Haiyan, but received minimal relief. Completing this project was not just to provide the families with stronger shelter, but to also show our fellow countrymen who live in the remotest of areas that they are not forgotten.
During the awarding of keys, I noticed a man running to the house he was assigned to right after receiving his keys. He couldn’t wait for us to finish, but we did not mind his excitement at all. I was trying to hold back my tears as I imagined how hard he must have worked to help our team complete this project. I don’t know how he juggled fishing during the day while rendering his work hours to qualify to become a beneficiary of a house (as part of the program, families need to fulfill a certain number of hours in order to be qualified). I also don’t know how the typhoon had affected him and his family. But I do know that he was overflowing with joy knowing the fact that he is bringing home his family to a safer place that day.
Working for an NGO has changed me. Along the way, it pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and accomplish tasks that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar. There were times when I was asked to speak in front of a lot of people. There were also times when I had to be running around making sure an event was successful. I was tasked to take photographs, write articles, emcee for several events, and dance in a concert. But apart from learning all these new skills, I left the organization knowing that I have grown into a better person as a whole.
The most important lesson this experience has taught me is that in order to help our country deal with poverty, we should be sustainable in our efforts and build on this, to allow people a sense of dignity and empowerment – a sense that we are all equal and that together, we can achieve the same great things.
With a degree in Psychology and a passion to serve, Niquie has chosen to start her career in the development sector, specifically with Gawad Kalinga. As she discovers what else the world has in store for her, she actively volunteers for GK and other organizations that aim to make the country a better place for everyone, one step at a time.