Saturday, March 07, 2009

Front row to an epidemic

I CAUGHT a virus, but there’s better news.

I’m not taking the antidote.

Last Mar. 4, I attended the first Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) Triennial Awards Summit at the Sacred Heart Center.

Billed as the “Leaders of Change Forum,” the summit gathered for the first time some of the finalists and awardees from the first to the fourth Triennial Awards. Since 1996, Rafi has recognized individuals and institutions that changed and improved the lives of the less privileged in Visayas and Mindanao.

The chance to listen and interact with singular development workers won over end-of-term checking and overdue deadlines.

Yet I wondered how presentations and discussions lasting an hour and a half each could make any difference for age-old problems and challenges in poverty alleviation and peace, among others.

My skepticism got its first antidote during the 8 a.m. registration. That early, the lobby of the Sacred Heart Center was crowded.

With surprise and a deepening sense of satisfaction, I observed the pronounced number of young faces. Many came in their school uniforms and with their advisors. Students of different schools greeted each other, splintering the air with hearty “ate!” and “kuya, kumusta!”

It’s a not unusual scene witnessed around school “tambayan” and watering holes. I did not expect such familiarity preceding a heavy morning agenda tackling the global meltdown and sexual trafficking. Was it possible, though incredible, that this turnout of young people stemmed from common interest, not mere compliance?

I got more confirmation when I observed the unobtrusive but salient involvement of youth volunteers. Handling tasks from registration to co-moderation and documentation, many in the summit secretariat were scholars of the Young Minds Academy (YMA), a Rafi program to guide and mentor emerging leaders.

Aside from March being always hectic for students due to end-of-term requirements, many of the YMA scholars, like City Hall employee Delight Baratbate and school worker Marlon Perilla, had to take a leave from jobs to pursue their “advocacy.” Reporter Beth Baumgart was covering the summit for Sun.Star Cebu, but she also was keen on the day’s agenda due to personal advocacies sustained beyond the campus.

Finding these two rarities—youthful idealism and participation—set to right my initial hangover of skepticism.

Near the end of the summit, I finally identified the buzzing that was hovering around this motley gathering.

Youth did come in full force. But steely will and unvanquished perseverance was manifest, too, in the individuals and organizations that have track records to prove that their commitment to the community is for the long haul.

While the Rafi Triennial Awardees were outstanding, other signs made me think it is possible to will change in this country, with or without a Filipino Obama.

Low-key individuals asserting with passion that no poverty of goods or spirit can justify taking advantage of the vulnerable among us. The openness and commitment to dialogue that elevated harangues and monologues to learning, proving we are at our best when we listen first. Creativity without ceilings, governance without ego.

The unblinking belief that there’s trouble massed ahead of us and baying at our backs—but that a people united by codes of mortal decency and a Supreme Good is more than equal to it.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell ruminated when do slight changes become “tipping points.” He coined this term to refer to the critical mass determining the threshold of social change.

In the book, “The Tipping Point,” he said that ideas spread like “viruses,” following three rules: the power of context in shaping change, the “stickiness factor” of message dissemination, and the “law of the few.”

The last rule recognizes that 20 percent of the participants will work to realize 80 percent of the job. Change then is in the hands of the “salesmen” (who can negotiate with and persuade the fence-sitters), the mavens (who will connect people to crucial information), and the connectors (who are the linkers, the “people with a special gift for bringing the world together”).

Last Mar. 4, was I glad to be contaminated. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s "Matamata" column in its Mar. 8, 2009 issue

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