80,000 volunteers join ‘Bayani Challenge’

MANILA, Philippines --- A total of 80,000 volunteers completed varied socio-civic projects in 37 sites of 33 provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in the recently-concluded Bayani Challenge 2013. The massive number of participants and the multiple locations they served made Bayani Challenge the biggest volunteer movement in the history of the Philippines. Organized by governmental volunteerism movement called Pilipinas Natin, Bayani Challenge is a partnership with government agencies, local government units, nongovernment organizations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) foundations of local and international private corporations. The service activities include the building of houses, painting of national road signs and markers, tree-planting and coastal clean-up, upgrading of schools, medical missions and education sessions for children, simultaneously conducted from March 23-27, 2013.

Pilipinas Natin is a special volunteerism movement of the Presidential Communications Operations Office headed by Secretary Herminio ''Sonny'' Coloma. In his visit to Sta. Rosa, one of 37 Bayani Challenge sites, Coloma explained the context for Bayani Challenge: ''The volunteerism movement that elected President Aquino did not end after the 2010 elections. Their love for country continued to manifest in different civic programs. All of these were unified and organized by Pilipinas Natin into one expression that is called Bayani Challenge.''

Bayanihan is the nation's weapon in the struggle to eradicate poverty. Bayani Challenge built and painted 1,000 houses for urban and rural poor, indigenous tribes, residents of conflict-affected areas and victims of natural calamities. The housing projects are backed-up by refurbishment and repainting of 746 public schools and government properties. A total of 40,630 trees and 20,400 mangroves were planted in highways, forests, tree nurseries, swamps and coastal areas. Bayani Challenge also served 12,410 children who were treated to games and education sessions while 8,157 residents benefited from medical missions. Coloma said President Noynoy Aquino believes Bayani Challenge is crucial in achieving inclusive growth, an essential component of his Philippine Development Plan. He cites the contribution of Bayani Challenge in maximizing the Filipino cultural trait of Bayanihan by holding community and civic projects in 37 localities, mostly in the farthest regions. It is the President's vision that all communities in the Philippines may exhibit the involvement of empowered citizens so that the poor and the marginalized will experience the fruits of economic progress being reaped by the Aquino government.

Profiles of Volunteers

The stories of the volunteers of Bayani Challenge speak of the resilience and generosity of the Filipino.

With passion and enthusiasm, the youth sector came full force and was the source of energy and vitality throughout the event. Youths and young professionals took charge in leading volunteers to join the unity dance and participate in fellowship games like simulations of Amazing Race and Master Chef.

In Calbayog, Samar, 500 young volunteers from Eastern Visayas opted to serve farming communities in remote barangays of Amampaacang, Mabini, Rizal Dos, Lungsob and Oquendo. ''This is bonding for a deeper cause,'' explained Voutschel Gonzaga when asked why her friends joined Bayani Challenge.

When asked if they were envious of other young kids who are currently enjoying their break, Jing of Bulacan said, ''they are the ones who should be envious of us.'' Jing traveled from Bulacan to Puerto Galera in Mindoro and helped in organizing the activities there. Jing explained why it's more fun to volunteer: ''The level or degree of happiness is radically different here. In Bayani Challenge, we get to travel and bond with our friends but help those in need at the same time.'' Her friend, Skawt Maniego added, ''the first time we joined Bayani Challenge, we didn't know that something as grand as this was happening all over the country already. Hindi kami pahuhuli (We will not allow ourselves to be left behind). His friend, Boon, added, ''if before youths were known to join rallies and demonstrations, our generation believes volunteerism is the new activism.''

In Cateel, Davao Oriental, Nanay Eve Baquero felt all hope was lost when her small, rural town was wiped out by the flash floods caused by typhoon Pablo. In 2012, Cateel was visited by Gawad Kalinga, a main partner of Pilipinas Natin credited for the original conceptualization of Bayani Challenge. In place of her makeshift and dilapidated house, she is now a resident of an 80-square meter concrete house.