What Makes a Hero?

Rescuers from Philippine Navy carry victim of flash floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy at Provident Village in Marikina City

Source: www.reuters.com. “Rescuers from the Philippines Navy carry a victim of flash floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy.” Cherly Ravelo. 9/27/2009.

September 2009—Manila, Philippines

Torrential flooding sweeps through the country, eventually leaving half a million people homeless with an official death toll of 165 people dead in 24 hours of the worst tropical storm the country has seen in seventy years. It is in times like these that a particular brand of heroism comes out in the most unlikely of people. Muelmar Magallanes was one of them.

18-year-old Muelmar became an international superstar when word of his heroic acts reached reporters from CNN. The international news programs tend to converge in areas of disaster and the Philippines was no exception. Amidst the emphasis on the flooding and the horrible damage, the news showed one or two stories of hope to break the monotony of suffering. Muelmar’s was one such story.

Muelmar saved thirty people from drowning.

Muelmar was swept away by exhaustion after swimming back to help a mother and baby get closer to the shore. His body was later found 200 meters away along with twenty eight others.

Muelmar is a hero.

His brand of heroism is the dictionary definition, but there is a problem that arises. We tend to equate heroism with grand acts and ultimately, the greatest self-sacrifice. But even if this is heroism, is that all there is to being a hero? Is it the only way to make a difference?

For an 18-year-old like myself, heroism seems like such a far away notion. I want to change the world, to make a difference, but I will probably never face a life-or-death situation. I will probably never have the lives of other people in my hands. I want to change the world but I don’t know if I am prepared to die to do that. Does that make me or any other person like me any less important?

No; making a difference does not have to mean the ultimate sacrifice. Making a difference does not have to mean death. Sometimes making a difference means sacrificing less than your life—but that doesn’t mean it’s less important. Sometimes, the biggest change we can effect is where we are most effective. This is a memo to myself and to everyone else like me. We can be heroes in our own right. We can make a difference in our own way. It has been said time and time again but it remains true.

Maybe the difference we make is not measured by hours of pain and suffering but rather in the hours we give for our passion. Perhaps the difference we bring to the world consists in the minutes we spend with others, or maybe in the seconds that pass as we get ready in the morning.

Perhaps the difference we make is still in the making.

By Isabel Bertillo, a regional intern at the WYA Asia Pacific Office

What defines acts of courage, solidarity, and integrity?  The Track A Program provides training on the key philosophical underpinnings necessary to understand and substantiate the claim that every human person, regardless of circumstance, possesses intrinsic dignity.  The deadline for the next Asia Pacific Track A Training Batch is July 28. Learn more here.