A Milestone Worth Spreading

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“What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination… and our task is to educate that whole being so that they can fix this future, by the way, we may not see this future but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.” – Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talks at Monterey, California, USA (February 2006)

Sometime in 2012, a Korean friend who volunteered for a religious mission here in Manila introduced me to a mobile phone application that helped him to learn English. He showed me an app in his phone called “TED”. It’s like a YouTube app where lots of videos are being uploaded from different conferences around the world. He asked me to watch a particular video by an American professor and help him comprehend the essence of the talk. Since then, watching TED videos became a bonding moment with my Korean friend for a while until he went back to his home country months later. I never thought about TED after he left the Philippines.

Fast forward to 2013, while browsing my Facebook news feed, I saw my college friend posted a TED video by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “do schools kill creativity”. Curiosity got me. I watched that 20-minute video that tackles the way parents educate children and challenges everyone to create an education system that shall further cultivate creativity among students. I was amazed by Robinson’s talk and looked for more TED videos. It’s just after I watched almost a hundred videos in TED’s YouTube playlist for days when I learned the very purpose of TED in producing and sharing thousands of talks to the world.

When I took Mass Communication in college, what I only wanted was to work behind the camera. I had no guts of joining theater guilds or student debate groups; instead, I became an editor of the student publication and a member of the college’s technical production guild. I am more effective in manning DSLRs, writing scripts or conducting on-the-spot interviews, but being interviewed or speaking in front of a crowd were indeed a no-no. But fate opened my circle and urged me to go outside and explore beyond my comfort zone.

Since I entered youth development service for Manila city government in 2011, I’ve maximized my ability to create a difference for my fellow young Manilans. I’ve learned how to educate out-of-school youth, students and even non-Manila citizens and foreign friends about the capital city. I’ve fought for my dignity as a youth leader and a volunteer. I stood in front of many people to address the rights of my fellow Manileños. I even joined the cultural heritage sector to continue my mission of serving Manila, particularly with the preservation of the city’s historical sites like Escolta.

I walked the historic business strip and other important city streets frequently to find the missing piece of Manila’s lost identity. I’ve talked to strangers, reached out street children and vagrants, and approached government officials to hear their stories and sentiments about the present plight of Manila. I never got tired of roaming around Manila and capture the stories of this city through taking photos.

I volunteer my talents and skills, my voice and my fear of lime light because I know that’s how I can help my birthplace, my hometown – my city that I sincerely love.

For the past five years, I had attended countless events where I became a speaker or a resource person. From a room as small as a barangay hall to a venue as big as a sports complex, and in front of either the masses or the elites, I was able to evangelize the idea of loving Manila, youth leadership and volunteerism as instruments of progress.

I am basically always ready to talk about Manila in any place at anytime. I am used to receiving invitations from different groups to speak before their participants about my advocacies. But one day, an unusual opportunity came to challenge me – a test that can probably change my life as a public speaker.

It was 29th of October 2015 when I saw TEDxADMU’s Facebook page posted a photo about their partner TEDx event, TEDxXavierSchool, who are looking for speakers for its next edition. My confidence pushed me to visit the speaker application link. There’s no harm in trying, right? I answered the form straightforwardly, closed the tab and never thought of it again.

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(Grabbed from TEDxXavierSchool Facebook page)

There came November 18, I’ve received an email from a certain Leonard Lim with a subject: “TEDxXavierSchool 2016 Speaker Audition”. I’ve decided to open it the following day, presuming that I didn’t pass the screening. But lo and behold! I’ve passed the screening and they asked me to go to XS on November 24th for a 5-minute actual audition!

I prepared for the presentation very well but I forgot to brace myself with Metro Manila’s rush hour traffic. I was late for 30 minutes! It could be forgivable but still, I felt it was a negative score against me. Nonetheless, I entered the audition room with confidence and discussed the importance of volunteerism in reviving Manila’s cultural identity. The audition went very well and by the looks of the panelists’ faces, it seemed that they looked satisfied with my presentation and my answers.

I had to forget that audition and went back to normal as I need to consolidate some office works for a turnover before my work tenure ends on December 31, 2015. Days later, amidst my excitement with Teatro Tomasino’s theatrical adaptation of my favorite Ricky Lee novel “Para Kay B” on December 5th, an email dated December 3rd was sent to me, again by Leonard, telling me that I’ve passed the audition and invited me to take the final audition schedule on the afternoon of the same day of the play! Good thing that Para Kay B would start in the evening, but still, I panicked and scanned all my collections to grab inspiration for my final audition piece. I just finished finalizing my presentation on the date itself, at 4:00 in the morning and I had to go to the office early to prepare my slides. I asked some friends, Florence and Cherry to join me in the audition before going to UST for the stage play. I arrived late again.

The 15-minute presentation went well but I felt it was not that better. I could have said more inspiring words about my topic. I left my hopes outside the audition room, and like the previous audition, I set it down in the darkest edge of my memory and tried not to remember what I did anymore… until a month later, when I opened my GMail account on the first day of 2016.

My first and, probably, my most important email this year was sent by Leonard and it was entitled “TEDxXavierSchool 2016 Acceptance Letter”.

“We are proud to inform you that you have been accepted to speak in this year’s TEDxXavierSchool event,” the letter said in its opening paragraph. “After intensive deliberations, we have agreed to invest in your idea’s importance and your ability to express the said idea.”

I was surprised after reading the message. The excitement and tension began to rise in my head and pump in my heart. Yes, tension. TEDx is not the usual kind of speaking conference and only people with great ideas are honored by the opportunity to speak on its stage. I never envisioned myself standing and talking about something over that TEDx stage, but I championed my way to this rare moment, so who am I to refuse, right?

The preparation became thrilling and, at the same, intense and mind-blowing. I experienced some downs, lost my focus while composing the final version of my talk, and almost quit because I lacked enough motivation. I neither had stage fright nor said “wait, I’m not fully ready” in my past speaking engagements. But because this is TEDx, I felt quite afraid. At that moment, I learned to say that I am not ready yet to rehearse my piece.

But then again, fate reminded me of my purpose, of my very reason in taking this prominent responsibility – I am doing this not for myself but for Manila. Positive signs started to appear in many forms, pushing me to just be myself while telling those inspiring stories and sharing striking photos that I took around the city. Also, with help and words by some friends, most especially by a new friend, my fellow speaker Joddi Edwards Chua, I was able to raise myself from momentary pressure, to stand proud not just as a speaker but an ambassador of Manila to this well-known conference.

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After-event selfie moment with my closest fellow TEDxXavierSchool speaker, Joddi Chua.

I woke up in the morning of January 23rd. With just few hours of sleep, I opened my eyes and finally said – yes, I am ready to become a TEDx speaker! Let’s get it on!

Attended by selected students of XS and guests from neighboring schools and some schools affiliated to XS, this year’s TEDxXavierSchool, held last January 23rd is their fifth TED event since Xavier School got its license in 2012. The Jesuit-run educational institution is the “first local basic education institution in the Asia-Pacific to be granted a license, have a full event, be featured on TED.com, and have its license renewed”. Some of notable speakers in their roster were Gawad Kalinga chairman Tony Meloto, award-winning rapper Gloc 9, legendary singer-songwriter Gary Valenciano and 2013 Miss World Megan Young.

For the very first time, TEDxXavierSchool expanded their time to seven hours to accommodate nine speakers who exemplify the spirit of this year’s theme “Rethink Change”. From student leadership, communication, dealing with Metro traffic, poetry and appreciating Philippine cinema to cooking, visual arts, facing life with full of confidence and rediscovering a city’s culture, this year’s TEDxXavierSchool challenged everyone, especially the youth to “be bold in being innovative, undogmatic, and out-of-the-box thinkers”. Its lineup of speakers include XS class president and origami artist Joddi Chua, debater Nina Tomas, Uber country manager Lawrence Cua, Spoken Word poet Verlin Santos, film critic Philbert Dy, culinary chef Sharwin Tee, visual artist Jinggoy Buensuceso, actor/educator Ramon Bautista and yours truly as volunteer and culture advocate.

The event started at 1:00 in the afternoon. The venue was jam packed and cameras, smart phones and video cameras were all facing the stage. The bit of pressure inside me went back but I had my college friends Diane and Kat, and fellow Escolta volunteers Ivana and Yuni to supply me moral support before my stint. The stage with big red letters of TEDxXavierSchool is already set and more than ready to commence the much-awaited variety show of the mind.

This is it! After five speakers, I went up the stage and felt the ambiance of the venue in my first 30 seconds. While savoring my introductory words, I looked around the entire Multi-Purpose Hall and realized that the atmosphere was not new to me, since I conducted a couple of talks to high school students then. I delivered the message using both Tagalog and English to accommodate some participants who may not understand the native dialect.

For 15 minutes of speaking and flashing pictures and videos on screen, I was able to ‘tour’ the crowd to some of my most favorite parts in Manila and shared them some of the stories behind those images. I am not used to give talks with time limit, but I guess I consumed my time wisely, enough to provide the audience important insights and reasons of visiting or revisiting their capital city. With that short span, I was certain that I catered them the idea of loving Manila and reviving its lost cultural identity through volunteerism, or in this new age, through #volunteerism.

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I’ve received more than a handful of applause after the talk. When the program ended, I was approached by some young ones who never visited Manila and those old ones who suddenly miss Manila, thanking me for introducing the city to them. Plus, as much as I want to avoid them because of my being semi-introvert, I had to fulfill my tasks as a one-hit wonder such as signing autographs in participants’ loot bags, join them in selfies and photo-ops, and quick chat with people who ask personal questions about my talk.

I concluded my TEDx talk by welcoming them to the city of Manila. More than the praise and compliments, I can say that I’ve succeeded in giving my best talk ever because I shared Manila to those potential people who can contribute significantly to the future of this nation.

The idea of #volunteerism for the revival of Manila doesn’t end inside Xavier School. The event might be over but the eventual success of this idea may be seen days, weeks, months or even years after that special day. It is true that Manila is currently besieged by mismanaged politics, extreme poverty and social inequities. However, these challenges can actually be an avenue of inspiration and outlet of human imagination that will teach us how to look at things in a different and more creative perspective; thus will help us rethink change.

One of my hopes after TEDxXavierSchool 2016 is to encourage the participants to visit, capture and share Manila to the world. But more than that, I wish is to see them use the tools and utilize their skills to revive Manila and bring back the glory that it deserves – the stature as the “Pearl of the Orient”. The internet and social media are considered most accessible ways for everyone to commence this idea.

If we can champion #volunteerism to help change Manila, our city will not just be a trending topic in our laptops, smart phones and all our social media accounts. Manila and its much awaited revival is indeed an idea worth spreading and we as Manileños and Filipinos are being called to act now and share the beauty, mystery and creativity that our historic capital city can offer to the world.

“The essence of change doesn’t mean that we need to change everything. Sometimes, we need to create and empower change to bring back something that was lost.” – Santiago, TEDxXavierSchool, San Juan, Philippines (January 23, 2016)

 

 

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