Since graduating from university, I told myself I would dedicate my life to others. Like many idealistic fresh graduates who spend their free time volunteering in organizations, I dreamt of making the world a better place. Images of creating “positive change” were so vivid in my head–demanding just wages, providing quality education, proper health care, access to clean water, community empowerment and so on. But, two years after graduation and after a few short work stints with some disappointing results here and there, reality caught up to me; I realized creating positive change was easier said than done.
Failure after failure, after failure, I saw that vision fading as I started to throw questions at myself like, ‘why does this keep happening to me?’ or, ‘what did I do wrong?’ I feared I was beginning to give up.
I entertained the idea of giving up that vision I once had but just as I was persistent to achieve it, so was the idealistic image persistent in persuading me otherwise. Then I remembered the people I encountered and helped through the work I had done. I thought of Grace, Tita Sarah, Tita Nenet, Tito Romy, Nanay Susan, Nanay Baby, Tito Mamer, Tita Yolly, and more names and faces of friends who welcomed me as their family. They were the people who became a part of my life since I started to volunteer in the development sector. I offered my time and my skills to help them, and I gained new friendships from those simple and sometimes challenging experiences.
At the internship I am currently taking in the World Youth Alliance (WYA), we were required to read an article by the philosopher, Martin Buber, entitled, “I-Thou.” It articulated in poetic fashion the concept of building relationships based on encounters instead of merely experiences; an “I-Thou” or “I-You” relationship is one where the person chooses to encounter a person as an equal instead of merely experiencing them as you would experience (or exploit) an object. As Buber beautifully articulates, the “I” can never be separated from the “You” for when we say “I,” we acknowledge that there is a “You,” and we realize that one becomes part of the other through encounters such as shared bonds of friendship.
These people I have encountered in my humble work in social enterprises and development projects gave me unique I-You relationships. My encounters with them, I would say, gave both of us an opportunity to become a part of dreams bigger than our own and that idea alone gave me hope. I realized, this is why I do what I once chose to do. These people are my reason for pushing forward.
Currently, I am volunteering for the World Youth Alliance, a youth non-profit that advocates respect for dignity. So far as a volunteer, I have learned about the importance of valuing dignity and acknowledging this as the foundation of human rights. We often think of dignity as something abstract and hard to grasp. Yet as I remember these people, I start to see their dignity as vividly as I saw my vision to help people like them. Each of them has immeasurable, intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and I feel their worth so strongly as I reflect on how much they mean to me and how much they, too, have changed and in a way, helped my life.
Reality still bites me, but through this renewed vision, I choose to continue walking the road of service for others. Due to my encounters with the oppressed, the marginalized, and the suffering, and even with people like myself, I now know that there is more to be done and that giving up is not an option. I have a responsibility to protect the dignity of all and this “why” is enough for me to keep me going.
Written by Louie Cudo, an intern and volunteer for WYA Asia Pacific
Edited by Mary Imbong, WYA Asia Pacific Regional Director