Note from the editor: This text was originally delivered as a speech to the UniPro staff at April's staff meeting as written and performed by UniPro Vice President, Iris Zalun. For more information about UniPro's third annual Summit, or to purchase early bird admission (offer valid until 4/30), visit the event's Facebook event page.
Scarily enough, Summit 2013 is quickly approaching. Even though it’s stressful, even though I’m losing sleep over it, even though Gecile and I spend hours and hours every week in meetings talking about logistics, speakers, the itinerary … I still love this shit.
But I didn’t always. Last year, as most of you already know, I was the Summit speaker chair. Which means I was in direct contact with almost 39 community figures and had to make sure they would actually show up on June 2nd. THAT is stressful. The emails, the meetings, the late hours … I asked myself, “Why? Why am I even doing this?” I wasn’t getting paid for what was essentially a second full time job. No one was. How was planning a small conference for a bunch of Filipino kids going to help me at all?
But I realized during last year’s Summit, it wasn’t about just helping myself. Last year, through all that hard work, through my bugging speakers for their bios, photos, magazine responses, and for their commitment to come to Summit at all, through the hard work of our co-chairs Rachelle and Judy, and our entire staff … we contributed to something bigger than ourselves, to the “Renaissance” of our people. It was a day to celebrate the successes of individuals from our community, from Tony Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga, which builds sustainable communities in slum areas, to Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant, fighting for immigration reform, to Ayesha Vera Yu, who worked as an investment banker then used her business knowledge to found Advancement for Rural Kids, investing in poor, malnourished children in rural areas of the Philippines to help them climb out of poverty. It was a day to celebrate these individuals and to recognize the progress of the community due to their work, but also to acknowledge that more needs to be done. It was a day to inspire the eager delegates like us, the passionate leaders like us, the ambitious young lawmakers, nurses, and writers like us, who will take up the struggles of our community and the unfinished work of Tony Meloto, Jose Vargas, and Ayesha Yu, to make positive and tangible change.
Being in UniPro, to be sure, is damn hard work. Once in a while, all I want to do is just go home, not talk to anyone, and watch The Walking Dead in my bed. But I can’t b/c more often than not, I’m Google hanging out with at least three of you. Do I really care about watching Rick kill zombies? I mean, a little bit, but mostly no, because at the end of the day, I care about our development as leaders for the ultimate purpose of helping our community.
Filipino historian Renato Constantino said, and I’ve quoted him before, “Leadership is the opportunity to learn.” One reason why we are in UniPro is because in order to solve issues, we have to learn about the issues. Did you know that one in ten Filipina women aged 15-49 has experienced sexual violence? That the voter turnout rate among Fil Ams in ‘04 and ‘08 was at less than 10%? That the Philippines still adheres to laws set in place during the Spanish era? This, and so much more, is the kind of information our peers need to know, and which I learned because of UniPro.
Learn from our own events and from the amazing work of other community organizations. BAYAN-USA and its many chapters confront problems such as the trafficking of Filipino migrants. PAGASA provides programming for our senior citizens. FALDEF, AF3IRM, FACE, Kalusugan Coalition, Leviathan Lab … they all have worthy causes and it is our job as UniPro to provide a platform for them to reach the community.
The “community.” We always talk about the “community.” Who are the faceless and nameless members of the “community” that we are working so hard for? They are our peers - the youth who are curious about the issues, or who feel passionate about certain campaigns but may not have the knowledge or tools to take action. They are the disenfranchised and the underrepresented. They are the undocumented immigrants, hiding and afraid, whose families brought them here to pursue a dream, but whose “illegal” status is preventing them from following their own dreams. They are the migrant workers, vulnerable and eager for jobs, who are tricked into being trafficked. They are the hungry children who drop out of school to sell dried flowers in the streets, already broken by a system that has failed them. We cannot pass up this opportunity to help those whom opportunity has passed over. UniPro is that opportunity. Rise and grab it.