Message to the Civic Social Welfare Training Service (CWTS) Graduates
By Jillian Albert, Peace Corps Volunteer
I, Jillian Albert, am very honored to be a Peace Corps Volunteer not only in Dumaguete City, but to have my host agency be the Silliman University Extension Program. I have the opportunity to partner with hardworking individuals who deeply care about their community. I could not have asked for a better placement. I am also thankful that Dr. Elman was open to having me as his teacher’s assistant. That gave me the opportunity to work more closely with you all, the students, the future of Dumaguete City and the Philippines. I am appreciative of both his support and the support of Mercy Gigataras while I am assisting with the CWTS course. I also want to acknowledge the community leaders who are here now and work as community organizers; they exert tremendous effort towards bettering the communities in which they work and deserve acknowledgment.
Currently I am studying for my masters in social work, focusing on interpersonal practice and children, youth and families. I chose social work as a pathway for action and social justice. As a future social worker, I feel deeply passionate about making connections between systematic programs and individual struggles. Community involvement has shaped who I am and has allowed me to help and advocate for the vulnerable and underprivileged, and it has been a great honor. I want to work towards deconstructing oppressive systems in partnership with those impacted. I am currently working with the Magdalena Organization, as part of the extension program. The Magdalena Organization is a group of women who are in or survivors of prostitution. With the women, we have done trainings on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and self-awareness. We are also promoting livelihood skills as an alternate source of income for the women.
Being a part of CWTS has made me so proud and thankful that young people are taking initiative to serve their communities. I, too, see the importance of going out into communities; to work hands on with others to help promote change. The basketball events you took part in is a perfect opportunity to not only encourage healthy lifestyles but for you to serve as a role model for the children. It makes me feel hopeful of the future of these children, knowing that effective role models, like you, have not forgotten about them and are helping them through educational activities.
One thing that is special about working with youth and students is that you are eager to learn and are open minded to what you experience. I am confident I can challenge you, knowing that you will accept the challenge and apply it to your lives. What I want to challenge you to think about your “Why;” Why are you studying at Silliman University? What made you choose CWTS? Why are you in college?
Since coming to the Philippines, I've been asked so many times why I am here; Why am I working and volunteering for wala'y sweldo? People often tell me that I could be making more money in the States than here. However, I am thankful to be placed in the Philippines because the Filipinos are incredibly resilient and motivate me to work hard. I am honored to have this opportunity with such kind and welcoming people. The reason I chose to be a volunteer is because I want to help promote change and help others help themselves. I see the potential this world has, and I want to be a part of reaching this potential. The Philippines is not the first country I have volunteered in: I have volunteered my time in the United States, India, Venezuela and Haiti. I think of all I have been privileged to experience both in my home country and in different parts of the world. My experiences have allowed me to see the incredible beauty of this world, but also the extreme brokenness. For example, there is an estimated total of more than 21 million victims of modern day slavery that exists in the form of human trafficking. Human trafficking involves exploitation in many forms, including forced labor, involuntary servitude, and sex slavery. Human trafficking exists everywhere, including the United States. The extreme brokenness and injustice is my “Why.” Knowing that this exists, I can't ignore it. I want to take every opportunity I can to organize communities and individuals to educate and empower them. I use my “why” with the extension program. I work with women in prostitution to help them help themselves with livelihood skills; I am also working to promote volunteerism amongst young people so they can take control of their future and lead their country to a healthier and promising future.
Why is knowing your “why” important? Because when we are clear of our “why,” any barriers or challenges can’t stop us. When I am feeling homesick or when I feel that I don’t belong in a community where I so clearly stand out, I remember why I am here. Remembering my “why” helps me to stay balanced and determined.
I was really inspired by an interview of a young Pakistani woman, Malala Yousafzai. She was targeted by the Taliban after speaking out against them when they invaded her hometown and were attacked girls’ schools, denying girls of their right to education. The title of one of her speeches was “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” She raised her voice against them in every way that she could. When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Later on, she was shot by the Taliban in the face, and was left in critical condition, yet she survived. Even now she continues to speak out against the Taliban and those who deny girls their basic rights. Her “why” is rooted in the belief that all people should have the right to education. In honor of her peaceful and brave efforts, she is now the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I hope that you are encouraged by this story because you all of the strength and courage inside of you to make change for the betterment of mankind. We all have a “why” but some may not have explored it as much as others.
As you continue on after this graduation ceremony, remember that you have so much to offer to your community and to the world. Take small steps, everyday, to achieve your “why”. I also encourage you to learn about yourself. Learn about what you have to offer to your community. Focus on your strengths and manage around weaknesses. We all have them.
If you have a strength in a certain activity, it makes you feel effective, focused, fulfilled and in control; its something you look forward to doing. A weakness is an activity that weakens you or drains you. However, you can perceive an activity that weakens you through the lens of a strength. For example, homework can be a weakness in that you hate to do it because it brings down your moral and takes up your free time. However, lets say you are strengthened in having an eagerness to learn and ask questions; you can manage this weakness by viewing homework as a strength. Knowing that if you complete your homework, you’re expanding your mind, asking yourself questions of why the answer is what it is, while also teaching yourself discipline to complete your tasks.
When you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, you can do the same technique with communities you work with. You can assist communities in realizing that their perceived weaknesses can be strengths. Your job can be to have them view weaknesses in the lens of their strengths to then empower them and build on what they have in order to move forward. You learned how to work with communities, you have these skills; don’t forget these experiences as you move on.
Throughout the rest of your college experience, don’t be afraid to take risks and seize new opportunities, you never know where it could lead you. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be ashamed to put yourself out there or speak against the status quo. Live selflessly and give to those who are less fortunate. You are very privileged to have this opportunity to study in a prestigious university; remember to reach out to those who do not have an equal opportunity because we are all children of this world and must help each other move forward.
You are consumers of your education and should be active participants in your educational experience. Both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. There is no shortage of what you can learn from and do for your community. I hope to partner with some of you as well because you are the hope for the future and your drive and determination is what this world needs.