Building a healthier Philippines

Serendipity. I think that’s the best word to describe how I found my way to Unilab Foundation (ULF).

It was late in 2015 when I got a message through LinkedIn, inquiring about my interest and availability. To this day, I am incredibly thankful that I decided to pursue the application.

It was initially just a six-month contract, to work as Media Relations Officer. There was an excellent communications team in place, but they needed someone to focus on media coverage.

It was the first time I would ever work for a corporate foundation. In my interview, I said I was glad that the opening was for the foundation, because I wasn’t really interested in working for the corporate side. I was told later, that was one of the things that stood out in my favor.

(That’s not bullshit, though! I didn’t and I still don’t have any interest in working for corporate, no offense to friends in the private sector.)

What started out as six months stretched into three years. During this time, I met amazing people with passions that move the world, and together we did our best to build a healthier Philippines.


Teamwork

It will be no surprise to anybody who knows ULF that its people are its greatest resource. I knew that our team at Mulat Pinoy-Kabataan News Network was amazing, and I did not expect to find another group of people so passionately committed, so creative and determined, so accepting and proactive.

I think I could write a blog post about each program team I worked with in ULF, from the Admin Momshies to each program’s officers to the colorful executive directors. There are so many stories, so many fiery discussions and impassioned pleas. But it will come as no surprise that the team I love the most is our team, Comms and Partnerships: Roanne, Judy and Maia, as well as Carl and Kyllie.

In the three years I worked with different iterations of this team, I learned and shared so much. We worked on campaigns that broke our hearts and made our spirits soar. We wrote and wrote, we shot videos and photos, we told stories, about young people and their profound desire to change the world, about persons with disabilities and their intense hope for acceptance and opportunities, about children, about families, about scientists, about students.

Together we mapped audiences and planned strategies. We navigated crises and wiped away each other’s tears. We celebrated victories and counseled each other through tragedies. We planned and conceptualized and brainstormed. Every member of the team was talented and brilliant, but what I love most was how we held each other up and motivated each other, and we just worked so well together. #GalingTalagaNgComms #CommsIsGreat, we joked so often.

But of course the CAPRI team did not exist in a vacuum. We worked with amazing humans who taught us to understand the importance of vulnerability, who showed us how to empower others, who exemplified respect of individual capability, who demonstrated how to enable others to advocate for themselves.

These amazing humans accepted us and our loud laughter, our crazy ideas, our wild stories, our “whatif???”. They sang their hearts out with us, danced with us, drank and ate and shared our sorrows and joys. We had breakfast and lunch and dinner. We cared for each other, and each other’s children too!

It is no exaggeration to say I really do love these people, and I would welcome any chance to work with them again. I would be there for weddings and baptisms, celebrations and parties, as I would also be there in their times of trouble and trepidation.

Project Inclusion

I have no shame or hesitation in saying that I truly loved all the programs of ULF, but this is my favorite of all.

I said, in my job interview, what is there to not love about this program? Persons with disability get recognized for what they can do, not their perceived limitations. Their families are relieved and overjoyed that their children, siblings, are able to find work and fulfillment, in conditions that respect their boundaries while recognizing their talents. Their coworkers learn to be more accommodating, accepting, conscientious. There is virtually no angle where this is a bad story.

Project Inclusion led to many amazing media stories, with the journalists and producers and news anchors touched by the stories of the persons with disabilities, inspired by the business case, and moved to action. Project Inclusion motivated so many business owners and corporate executives to put their money and power to action, building ramps–literal and physical–to make workplace empowerment possible for all, regardless of ability, or disability. Project Inclusion showed so many that disability can take many forms, not just crutches and amputated limbs, and that these may prove to be difficult, but are not impossible to live with, overcome, and herald as a symbol of hope.

Project Inclusion was and continues to be a lesson in empathy, pragmatism, hope, equity, and this is in no small part to the lovely people running the program. I am so proud of this program and the team that has built the Project Inclusion Network. I am so honored to have been able to tell their stories.

Ideas Positive

My work at MP-KNN showed me the value and power of working with the youth: equipping them with skills and knowledge, listening to and sharing their stories, and motivating them to pursue their dreams. My work at Ideas Positive showed me how much further you can take all of that.

Ideas Positive found determined, competent youth with brilliant ideas that served communities, and helped them turn those ideas into reality, teaching them project management, community building and communications along the way. Ideas Positive showed me in greater scale something I learned at MP-KNN: that the youth see things differently, and given the chance, the resources and the skills, they can do so much. Through Ideas Positive, I met young people from nearly every region of the country, and I learned so many innovative ways of solving various health problems, and I was blown away by their creativity and perseverance every single time.

I am so honored to have been part of Ideas Positive in my own little way. With the amazing CAPRI team, we equipped them with communications skills. We showed them that it’s not enough to have passion and brilliant ideas, that they can make a bigger impact if they know how to tell their story and if they know how to inspire others. We showed them the importance of language, the value of knowing your audience.

One of my favorite Ideas Positive moments happened in Iloilo. A team I had been rooting for won as Grand Champion during the finals. There was much celebration, so many tears, excited screaming. For some reason I was on one side of the hall, away from the rest of the ULF team, and it happened to be the side where the youth team descended from the stage. One of them, tears still streaking down her face, saw me, and came over. “Congraaaaaaats!” I told her.

“Miss Rej! Thank you talaga sa comms workshop!” she said to me, her face full of emotion. “Nag-work talaga yung comms plan! Thank you, Miss Rej, thank you!”

I was already in tears. After that, I just cried harder. It was mind-boggling and heartwarming and overwhelming to think that our comms workshops had made such an impact, not just on the teams, but on the communities they serve.

I am so honored to have been able to tell their stories.

My contract with Unilab Foundation ended in 2019, and I was so sad to leave my wonderful co-workers. But things did not end when my contract did. I came back once in a while, for editing projects, to cover a press conference, to attend a workshop.

To this day, the teams at Positive Youth Development Network and Project Inclusion Network can always message me to ask for help, and they know I won’t say no. Because we’re all part of the #bestULFteamever

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