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Blogs / Professional Fellows Exchange Program / The Oxygen of Life

The Oxygen of Life


Philip Robert "Bob" Flores is a YSEALI Professional Fellow for Legislative process and governance assigned in Mission Hills, Kansas State.

Philip Robert Flores, Philippines

Organizing Grantee: ICMA

YSEALI Theme: Legislative Process and Governance 

Host: Mission Hills, Kansas State

Meet Philip Robert Flores but his friends call him “Bob or Bobby” and he lives in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. He works in Xavier Ecoville Project. It is the recovery, rehabilitation and resettlement project of Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan for the survivors of the tropical storm “Washi” in Cagayan de Oro City. He hold a Master’s degree in Business Administration and currently earning his Doctorate degree in Public Administration. Bob's favorite pastime includes reading novels, playing the guitar, writing a poem and people watching. The 3 things he is most passionabte about are the following: 

Volunteerism

 At a young age, he have been immersed in different volunteer activities from feeding, gift giving, and many others that have shaped and changed his perspective towards social inequalities. When he was 16 years old, he have always noticed street children sniffing solvent every time he walked on a busy street near his school. He believes that Hunger is the reason and solvent temporarily makes them think that they are full. He saw the need to help them and that is why he invited his friends to help him planned a feeding activity on his 17th birthday. A day before the celebration, he went to the street just to finalize everything and to make sure that he won’t miss out any important details. While he was sitting at the foot of the statue of a Filipino hero, a street child; ragged and barefooted came to him and asked for a peso. His instinct was to give a coin because the child looks hungry, but one of his friend stop him and told the child that if he can recite the numbers from 1 to 10, then they will give him a peso coin each.He looked at them with confusion and started opening his mouth and said “waaaaaannn” then he stuttered severely and continued “treeee ahhhmmmm waaaan ahhh fiiiiveee?”  Bob and his friend's hearts were broken from what they've heard, then theyimmediately gave him the peso that he have asked from them. They have realized that children should be playing not worrying what to eat, learning not worrying what to wear and dreaming not worrying where to sleep. From then on they thought of having a street tutorial before they conduct the feeding activity. The celebration had turned out well and they saw the need to continue the tutorial and the feeding. For the first month they were having a hard time because there were only three of them providing the tutorial activity for more than 20 street children and they were using their own money to buy bread and juice every after the session. They tried inviting several people, but most of them turned them down because they cannot take going near the children because they were stinky and they might cause them harm. They did not listen to the cynics and naysayers and continued what they have started because the children were already progressing. Until such time a lot of people saw the importance of their advocacy and joined them. They have been doing the tutorial for almost 7 years now and they have formally registered their group as an organization.They are proud of the result of the advocacy and how it has changed the perspective of the children towards their future. Most of them went back to school and their family. Although a number of children are still on the streets and there is more to be done, but they strongly believe that if a lot of people will make initiatives to help them; one day all of these children will not worry about food, shelter, clothing and care. 

Street tutorial

Street children learning the basic literacy and numeracy (Photo: Jett Torres)

 

After obtaining his bachelors degree he was thinking of taking a different path; not the usual of finding a job or enroll in a graduate studies. He thought of becoming a full-time volunteer in an undermanned non-profit organization. And so he did. He applied in a volunteer program and was assigned in a foundation that helps the incarcerated individuals and their families in the national penitentiary of the Philippines. For a year he have worked with the convicted inmates and help them with their rehabilitation. At first he was having a hard time working with them because he has his biases and notion,but eventually he have realized that they needed his help. One of his primary tasks is to help them develop their product and market it outside. Amazingly, they have skills in painting, handicrafts and candle making that created a state of the art products which they have developed for years inside in the prison. He have organized exhibits and joined several bazaars to sell their products. He did not expect that at the end of the year they were able to reach a gross profit of PHP 1.3 Million ($28,200.00). The proceeds went to the scholarship of their children from primary till they obtain their bachelors degree.

inmates

Jim, the JVP volunteer, implements the values formation program for the inmates. (Photo: PJ Mariano-Capistrano)

 

He have been and will always be a fan of what Sherry Anderson said that “Volunteers don’t get paid not because they worthless but because they’re priceless”. Even though he is already working, he always feel a different feeling of fulfillment every time he volunteers. As they say once a volunteer, always a volunteer. 

Social Entrepreneurship

Owning and managing a business is one of my dreams, who doesn’t? But as time goes by and as Bob has experienced community development works, he feel a sense of joy every time he help a community establish and sustain their own enterprises. Making profit for him has changed its meaning, it has changed to sustainability. It's not just about money, but it’s more importantly, how to sustain the enterprises in order to continue the economic development of the community. In business, people are more concern about the only bottom line which is profit, but in social entrepreneurship people are concerned with the triple bottom-line which are the people, profit and planet. Enterprises, established in the community must not just earn but also be able to help the people and protect the environment.

Easy said than done. After a year of volunteering, Bob joined a team that manages a resettlement community. He started as a livelihood officer and his core task is to help the community establish an enterprise.  He did a couple of needs assessment to know what the community really wants to venture. One of the results is they want to have sewing enterprise for the housewives to gain extra income. The Xavier Ecoville team started their work and developed a framework. They started capacitating the women and provided them with adequate skills training; after months of training they started developing their products and started showing it to people for feedback. Months later, they received orders and started the production. They encountered a lot of problems with the workmanship, team dynamics and demotivation. They shifted their management style and develop a more community-based approach. Bob have been hit by his own business theories which he thought will work in different environmentsAnd so they did well and delivered their deliverables. But as profit grows, it does not reflect on the economic growth of the sewers. Most of them have increased their debt and they have been asking for an increase all the time. The team conducted a survey through individual consultation and they found out that as their income grow, their wants have increased significantly. They have purchased things that are beyond their paychecks. And since bag orders are seasonal, their debt has grown. In order to help them, they have provided them with financial literacy seminars in order for them to develop the habit of savings, financial decision makings and delayed gratification. Since then most of them have started saving their money in the cooperative and has received dividends and patronage refund at the end of the fiscal year. Several months have passed, they started making bags out of used tarpaulins. Bob wrote letters to companies and he was fortunate that they have accepted his request and gave him used tarpaulin bags. As a result one of the clients ordered hundreds of tarpaulin bag to donate it to public school students. 

tarpaulin bag

Tarpaulin bag sewn by the typhoon survivors

 

As they continue sustaining their venture, the typhoon survivors have not forgotten to help other survivors. They have donated a portion of their profit to typhoon survivors who have recently experienced a disaster. Social entrepreneurship taught Bob not just to focus on profit, but most importantly the social development. Many would argue, but for him social should always come first before profit when it comes to community development.

  

Community development

Now that Bob is leading the team that manages a university-led resettlement community, He  have faced complex challenges that he thought couldn’t handle. To give you a background about how the project started:

 

Xavier Ecoville Project is a special project of a Jesuit-run school; Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan. Typhoon “Washi” severely devastated Cagayan de oro and Iligan City; It has damaged a lot of infrastructures and plantations, more than 1,500 lives were taken, more than 15,000 families were displaced and until now more than 1,000 are still missing. During the aftermath of the typhoon, several organizations have helped the survivors and one of those organizations is Xavier University. It has established an operation that organizesvolunteers, mobilize resources and opened the school to shelter the survivors. After a week of operation the leaders of the university have thought what is more to be done and what is more that the survivors need in the future. They need a safe and permanent shelter because their previous abode is already considered as a danger zone. That is why the school decided to donate 5 hectares of land to the city government to be used as a resettlement community. But since the government is still doing a lot of work during the emergency mode, the school took the initiative to spearhead the building and managing of the community. And that’s how Xavier Ecoville Project was established. To build a model community that provides its beneficiaries the right to a life with dignity.

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The Xavier Ecoville Commuity

Managing a resettlement community includes several aspects like physical development, basic services development, organizational development, livelihood development and values formation in order to attain our goal of a  self-governing, self-sufficient and value-laden community. As the time goes by, since managing is not permanent; the role of developing and sustaining the community lies in the hands of the community members. The Xavier Ecoville Project team's challenge right now is to avoid dependency and help them become the front-liners for development. 

Volunteerism, social entrepreneurship and community development are the things that Bob is most passionate about. Passion is the oxygen of life and it provides air of inspiration that is very essential in achieving life's goal. During his journey he have met a lot of people who challenged and inspired him to continue to be an agent of change and to help those people who are in need. While he understand that small things done collectively can create an impact in his society. He realized and learned that if one wants to create significant impact, then one must help affect positive legislative changes in their areas. That is one of the reasons why he have applied for the Professional Fellows Program in Legislative and Governance Process to learn more about the process of legislation and to push for policies that can leverage or mainstream technologies for disaster resiliency in post-disaster communities in my country.

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*Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines; It is the capital of Misamis Oriental in Mindanao and it is considered as highly urbanized. The population has an approximate of more than 700,000 people making it the 10th most populous city in the country. The city's economic venture is largely based on industry, commerce, trade, service and tourism. And if you are an adventure junkie, one of the must tries is the white water rafting, kayaking and zip-line. To know more about my place you can search it on google and message me for verifications.