The Concept of Community
When Yempo was launched, our core values were defined as Commitment, Excellence and Community. The last one represents the most significant difference for me, between living in Australia and living in the Philippines.
I grew up in Adelaide, lived and completed my university studies in Melbourne, then moved to Sydney, which I called home for 16 years. While this is hardly a transient residential history, as a consequence my childhood friends, high school friends and college friends were never integrated nor were they a regular or reliable source of companionship. And as we age, it becomes more difficult to form friendships. After the age of about 30, only the “transients” are in the market for new friends. An extrovert will use extra-curricular activities to develop contacts and a social life, but those introverts amongst us get stuck in a home-transit-work-transit-home routine with seemingly little opportunity for social enrichment.
When I first moved to the Philippines, it felt like someone had turned on the lights from a social perspective. Not only was I suddenly a member of the “ANZ” community, I was part of the broader community of expats who actively worked with the local community in a charitable capacity. In hindsight, I can’t even define what “community” meant to me in Australia. It seems, in my memory, like a vague concept involving neighbourhood watch, council matters or my sporadic participation at a Starlight Foundation event. I’m sure many Australians reading this have a much richer relationship with their community than I did, but my experience is not dissimilar to that of my friends and neighbours.
My expat friends in the Philippines are mostly transient and it can be painful forming friendships only to say goodbye when their gig comes to an end. Those who have spent a long time on the expat circuit seem to have lived glamourous lives, with friends and experiences that span wealthy, historic cities in Europe, struggling economic regions in Africa and the Pacific, and busy, cosmopolitan cities in Asia. Behind the glamour however, I know these families have their own challenges; feeling “rootless”, constantly saying farewell to good friends, and raising children now known as “Third Culture Kids”.
However, I learned more about Community from my Filipino friends than anyone else. To see people with little money themselves donate to those less fortunate is humbling. The gracious acceptance of clothes, food, household goods and toys comes with no concept of pride. I no longer throw anything out – if the people around me have no need for my excess goods, they will know someone who does. One of my staff worked as a volunteer in the aftermath of the devastating Yolanda typhoon for a full year, without income; just meals and transportation provided by the church. Even those living themselves on the poverty line might have a “live-in helper” who is likely to be a poor relative needing shelter and meals in return for basic domestic chores.
The ability to make a meaningful contribution in such a needy and grateful environment gives me more satisfaction and fulfilment than I ever imagined possible. In addition to supporting a young child in an orphanage, I sponsored a young Filipina through her high school years and university, where she is now in her final year of a Bachelor of Diplomatic and Consular Affairs. Sharing with her my views that she can repay me by paying it forward is a concept that she understood immediately – Filipinos are naturally generous and caring.
At Yempo, we are active in our community efforts even though we are still not big enough to make a significant difference. We have aspirations to start “The Yempo Foundation” and positively touch the lives of 1 million children in the Philippines. We hope to support disadvantaged Australian youth in completing International Aid studies; helping our own to help others. We are not quite there yet.
Our small efforts give me proud moments, such as in December at an orphanage visit. We held an official Office Opening on a Friday afternoon in Cebu, followed by a Christmas Dinner in the evening. After an exhausting day and evening and way too much tequila, there were sore heads and sunglasses in abundance the following day when we visited a local orphanage with food, toys, clothes and shoes. To see almost 100% staff attendance at this completely voluntary weekend event almost choked me up with pride for my own staff, and for this island nation, with such a community spirited culture, that I now call home.