On The Other Side

Upon joining WYBerniceA, I was challenged to really think about how I understood human dignity. Coming from a relatively-privileged background, I was taught from a young age that I should respect everybody around me because they, in turn, respect me. At the same time, I should love others, show compassion and charity to everyone, especially those in need, because God has given me enough blessings to share.

Growing up, I didn’t really see anything problematic with following these teachings because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be a good person. However, the more I ventured out of my comfort zone and met new people from other walks of life who carried with them their own stories and values, the more I realized that this idealistic notion of goodness that had been ingrained in me was more complicated than I thought. It was becoming mechanical, as though I am only being good to others because that was what I was taught was right and proper, but not because I really wanted to be. I realized that half the time, I went through the motions of donating to charity, praying for the sick, and helping those in need because they were expected of me.

In the end, did I really understand the people I was helping? Or did I just do the things I do because I was so used to the motions?

One of the main manifestations of human dignity, as we learned in WYA, is solidarity. Solidarity is important in the affirmation of human dignity because it is rooted in compassion and love for others, regardless of whether or not we know them personally or even share anything in common. While thinking about how to understand human dignity, I was drawn back to this idea. Solidarity was what moved me to join WYA in the first place, even if I couldn’t fully articulate it yet or comprehend it myself, but it was there. Reflecting back on my experience in World Youth Alliance, there was one particular moment I felt closer to piecing together my understanding of solidarity.

It was a bit early in the afternoon and I was in the WYAAP office. All of the interns were busy preparing for the Ubuchindami Film Night. When I put down my backpack, I heard my fellow interns asking each other questions about how to clean the bathroom properly. I told my co-intern that I didn’t really mind cleaning the bathroom in her behalf so she could work on the other preparations. I told my co-interns often that I liked cleaning and found it relaxing. I wondered what it was like to do this every day. I thought about doing the same thing, cleaning the bathroom, for a living. It seemed easy enough once you get used to it, but I still couldn’t imagine cleaning the bathroom every day even if I did earn money from it. Then I remembered our household help.

Living far away from my parents so that I can study in Manila, I grew up with the household help being my surrogate parents. I’ve had different helpers over the years, each being there with me as I experienced specific parts of my life – from taking care of me when I was sick to waiting for me to get home while watching their nightly primetime shows. Squatting on the bathroom floor, face too close to the toilet, I pictured my Ate Gina laughing at me for doing something wrong or telling me that I wasn’t cleaning the toilet properly before offering to do it in my stead. She had always been like that.

Ate Gina has been living with me and my sisters here in Manila for more than four years now, having been in our employ since I was in third year high school. She has been there in numerous major parts of my life—when I was choosing a degree for college, applying for universities and staying up to study for tests, and the succeeding challenges and triumphs in my college life. In many ways, she is my second mother.

Last June, her daughter, Geralie, came to live with us so that she could study here in Manila. However, because her grandmother missed her, Ate Gina opted to send her daughter back to the province last September to continue her education there. I didn’t really understand the rationale of that decision. My parents didn’t mind Geralie living with us because she was a nice, friendly and polite kid. But in the end, Ate Gina told me that it was very difficult for her to take care of her daughter and perform her job well at the same time. To me, it seemed like an unnecessary decision because Geralie wasn’t getting into trouble in our house and we were all getting along very well. I thought that it would be better for them both if they were closer to each other because they would see each other more often.

Filling the bucket with water from the sink, I thought about her predicament. Would distance really fix their problems with their strange living arrangement? I imagined being Ate Gina. Could I handle taking care of my child and raising her properly, with good values, morals and work ethics, while I was busy managing an entire household that wasn’t even my own? What if my daughter causes trouble for my employers? What if I still didn’t have time to be a good mother even if my daughter lived with me? What would she think of me?

I felt torn while thinking about this. Ate Gina was—and still is—one of the most important people in my life. If she didn’t look out for me, I would probably neglect my health and fail to sleep and eat properly. I couldn’t imagine a life without her because I was so used to her being there. Just like this school, its students, professors and administration—they all belonged to my comfort zone. It was easier for me to be in solidarity with them because they were a part of my world. But I never really thought about it from the other side. How many of us really take the time to understand the people on the other side of any exchange and try to see the world from where they are?

To me, that is solidarity. It is more than being generous, charitable and caring for their causes because you know that it is good and right to care about these things; that these things will lead to more good things. It is trying to understand the person on the other side. Without trying to understand the person on the other side, will our acts still remain in the spirit of compassion and empathy or will they simply be mechanical because we are programmed to act a certain way because it is the expected way to act?

By Bernice Violago, current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office. Solidarity is one of the foundations of the work of the World Youth Alliance. To learn more about it and the other principles that WYA would like to impart to its members, you may want to undergo the Track A Training. To participate in the regional internship program, click here.