Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LEONORA “NORIE” GARCIA - Executive Director of Hands On Manila

Author: admin
Category: Volunteer, Women leaders

Norie Garcia, executive director of Hands On Manila, holds more than a decade of rural and social development experience, working in remote regions in China and three South Pacific island nations.

Norie poses as a strong voice and staunch advocate of the marginalized rural sector, having realized the under-representation of rural communities in the country.

In this interview, she talks about her sad bid of goodbye to colleagues in China during the onset of SARS, and her experiences as a social worker in the island nation of Vanuatu.

Read more and find out why she chose to serve the community rather than pursue a financially rewarding career, conveying a message of finding purpose and dedicating one’s self to this life-long objective.

Jay-r Patron: What is Hands On Manila and what is special about this organization?

Norie Garcia: Hands On is a private, non-profit, non-sectarian organization and it is focused on providing volunteer opportunities. We want to build a community where volunteerism prevails. What we are doing is: one, we provide opportunities for people like you, in general people in Metro Manila, hopefully young professionals who want to volunteer and then we also provide NGOs access to our volunteer system. What’s so special about HOM, I think, is that this is the only volunteering organization that really has a very clear structure and mechanism on how to volunteer in a flexible manner; meaning, I can give three hours of my week, that is fine. 10 hours even better. 40 hours is very good. It doesn’t require you too much commitment. Again, you will have that sense that “my time, my talent, my skills will not be marginalized” because what we do is we partner with NGOs and then our volunteer programs, our projects are anchored on actual, grounded programs of these NGOs. We provide volunteers that create impact to life because we want to… for example, hindi ganun ka yaman yung Pangarap (Foundation) to get these additional people who are interested, who really have the heart for the kids. So… kahit three hours lang yung dinevote that really helps in giving the child access to care or the need to be touched or interact with others. It is really anchored on good corporate ethics. It’s really a partnership process that we continually enhance.

Jay-R Patron: How is an ordinary day at work to you like?

Norie Garcia: An ordinary day would mean having a lot of meetings because especially in our organization six lang yung staff but we have 75 NGO partners, then we have about 6000 volunteers in our database, and volunteer leaders of about 70. Iba yung how we manage the leaders, how we give them training, or how we want to (____) is another thing. So in a given day it could mean representing volunteer opportunities for the corporate sector. We also carry a lot of corporate employees as volunteers. It’s a very substantial aspect of our program because these corporations provide us grants in order for their employees to do volunteer work with us. I do presentations with corporations. For example, Ayala Land, we manage their corporate volunteerism program, that’s one. In the afternoon, it could mean going to a public school talking with the principal. What are the needs of this school, checking on the program updates. At any given day, it’s also doing a lot of communication with the partners both corporate and NGO… and even some government institutions.

Jay-R Patron: What’s your role as executive director?

Norie Garcia: As an executive director I am in charge of managing the staff, in charge of the whole leadership and strategic plan… also having a meeting with the board members quarterly, plus a lot of board sub-committee. The board has a lot of sub-committees; one in charge of fund raising, one in charge of programs, one in charge of finance. Sometimes we get invitations from the universities. I am in charge of the overall direction of the organization.

Jay-R Patron: Let us talk about your profession. You’ve worked in China and the South Pacific. How did that come about?

Norie Garcia: I started working in the development sector, NGO sector when I was 21. I have worked seven years in the development work. When I learned about this program, a voluntary service, the head office is in London and then they started the recruitment of volunteers in the Philippines for a pilot program called South-to-South. They’re usually from London, Germany, Western Europe and Canada. During that time there was a south to south thing meaning, “Why don’t we get people from the developing countries to work in another developing country and see if this will work?” I was part of that pilot group. I had a lot of options then but I chose China, because, one…

Jay-R Patron: …closer to home?

Norie Garcia: Not really. I have been working in the rural development sector for seven years around that time. Sa tingin ko (I reckon) China was growing in such a way that is very very interesting. I wanted to see China from within so I worked there. Stayed for more than two years but I had to leave China because of SARS. SARS happened when I was there. When I got back, I did some graduate studies and then another opportunity came in. This time it’s a placement in a regional program, meaning three countries yung operation. So I was based in Vanuatu, a country in the South Pacific. But I did a lot of traveling in other countries like Kiribati. I led a team of researchers doing studies. I stayed there for a year. I got back and then there was Hands On.

Jay-R Patron: How was it working in the South Pacific? How different is their non-profit community?

Norie Garcia: Very different. They only got their independence in the late 70s, early 80s period, right? Vanuatu, where I stayed mostly, had a joint governance from the British and French. So it’s a very hard thing. Some portions British influence, some portions French incfluence. And the government is very young. Everything inside was in constant transition, for example Vanuatu… it’s a small country of 200,000. It’s very young, practically parang wala pang masyadong business sector. The leadership of development agencies from Australia, European Union, and New Zealand provide assistance. Of course the government is there as well as the customary government, meaning chieftains, kasi tribal eh. So there’s the parliament and the national group of chiefs. They govern together - both customary and Western style of governance. If you’re an NGO working along that setup, you try to be more open in learning on how to work with that kind of set up, very different from China with its very strong government. From this big country going to this tiny country, it’s a very interesting experience.

Jay-R Patron: Why did you choose to work for an NGO instead of a private company?

Norie Garcia: Why work for NGO? I did… my first job was with a private group. I stayed there for a year. But I found development work more fulfilling because I really want to see… to apply what I have learned. I was trained to be in the development sector so I want my principles to be applied and see how it works. It is something that… I also like the culture of this sector—providing help to marginalized communities. From a personal psychic benefit perspective, a lot of that. But of course the trade off is that you don’t earn as much. For example, my batch mates are probably earning so much compared to what I earn in NGO. Life is a series of trade-off.

Jay-r Patron: Where did you grow up? How was childhood to you like?

Norie Garcia: I grew up in the province. It’s really a rural community that’s why I have a certain bias for rural development. My grandparents, they were both farmers. I grew up playing in the farm. That was when the moon was out, we play patintero.

Jay-R Patron: How huge a role do you think has your family played in molding you as a person?

Norie Garcia: Of course… I need to pause… I think because I was the first apo (grandchild), and my mother is the eldest. My eldest cousin was nine years younger, so I grew up practically alone as a child in the midst of a lot of adults. I grew up in the martial law days, martial law years. How old are you?

Jay-R Patron: 24.

Norie Garcia: 24. So you’ve experienced that, Voltes V and all that. So, 70s, early 80s I grew up around adults. I joined political rallies, I listened to political speeches. I think that kind of environment has made me more aware. Hindi ako mahilig manuod ng TV, though I like Sesame Street.

Jay-R Patron: Where did you get your sense of helping other people or your predilection towards rural development? Saan mo nakuha yung ganung frame of mind?

Norie Garcia: As I said, it’s because I grew up in a rural community… it’s being given priority as well, and of course having a background in development. There’s a historical trend naman talaga in our country that most of the policies are urban-biased in nature. You put infrastructure, you build it in Metro Manila, you build it in Metro Cebu. And it has been like that for many decades now. That’s why I think there’s a need to be the voice of the marginalized, providing them opportunities to be heard in a lot of policy venues. Seven years of work before when I went to China, I did a lot of policy researches that could advocate for general policies that could positively affect the rural areas. Hands On Manila is urban based and we are dealing with a lot of issues of urban poverty, crucial problems. But then, when you look at them in our way, there’s also the urban biased side. There’s a lot of informal settlers because they leave Mindanao because they are being displaced by the government. A lot of people had to leave their town in Leyte because nawasak ng bagyo (typhoon). Many people are going to Metro Manila but they don’t want to be here. They’re being displaced. I think what Hands On does is really to address what is urgent. There’s this connection between the rural and the urban problem. Even though Hands On is based in Metro Manila I can still see the relevant contributions in addressing rural and urban proverty in the way we implement our programs.

Jay-R Patron: Throughout your professional career, has there been an experience that has touched you?

Norie Garcia: A lot. Touching meaning in a very joyful or sad way?

Jay-R Patron: You can go both ways.

Norie Garcia: When I was in China. SARS broke out. It was being kept by the government for a long time and then suddenly they can’t contain it any more. Beijing announced that, “Yeah we have SARS.” I was in another province that time attending a training, and I was told by the head office in Beijing that I had to leave China because my insurance policy did not cover SARS… because there was no SARS before. It was really urgent otherwise kasi baka wala nang flight to go out of China. So my province was 13 hours from where I was. There was no flight na makuha, so I had to take the train that was 14 hours of travel, because I had to leave in two days. So I took the train and wore three layers of mask. Dangerous daw yung SARS. So I was thinking that night that I would die from suffocation and not from SARS. Anyway, I survived. I was doing a center advising which is advising this NGO on how to manage rural development projects. They were there. They knew that I was arriving, and that I would be preparing to leave. In such a short time, they were able to, in a day, they made it all… say good bye, appreciating what I have done, the leadership that I gave to the academy. So they were all at the airport, and it seemed like I was the only one there. Parang movie. There was this movie called Outbreak with all the military. It’s weird because I stayed for more than two years and I had to leave in two days all of a sudden. And then when I arrived here nobody wanted to talk to me, nobody wanted to see me. I had to be isolated because I came from China, for like two weeks. So imagine all the stress, all those things. I still have a lot of friends in China, same in Vanuatu. There are a lot of touching experiences throughout my work.

Jay-R Patron: What do you think are the most pressing problems that our society is facing?

Norie Garcia: Dami (A lot). I would say, especially that my background is in economics, I would like to see our country to have more investment for spending in these sectors na talagang may need…

Jay-R Patron: And what are these sectors?

Norie Garcia: Education. That’s why Hands On Manila is really keen on doing education programs. I’ve been to a lot of poor areas in China, the most remote, and even in those remote areas, I saw schools, public schools. And I did a study here in the Philippines on rural children, talagang it takes them three hours to go to school, cross a river, walk three hours. I think it’s a basic right for a child to learn, to go to school. So that’s one, education. And of course, corruption. A lot of structural problems.

Jay-R Patron: How do you think can ordinary citizens, blue collar workers, white collar workers, help in solving these problems? Or at least do their part?

Norie Garcia: I think what’s very doable, it won’t cost any one much, is having to change the way we look at things. Be more hopeful, especially the young professionals, or even the urban poor sector. Kasi parang apathetic na. It’s not empowering eh. Pag feeling mo, “I cannot do anything”, wala ka na talagang gagawin. If you have the attitude that “in my own way I can do some thing”, because all small things put together can be a big thing. That’s why we say in Hands On that being the change can make a difference. Yun na nga, sabi ko, the way is to be flexible about it. We have a volunteer na editor ng Inquirer, and he manages a project for six years now, and you don’t tell me na as an editor he does not have time. No, he still got time.

Jay-R Patron: And who is this person?

Norie Garcia: Chito Dela Vega, he is one of the editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. So yun nga, it’s always finding time to do things. Yun na nga, you tell us what’s the best time for you and we’ll tell you what’s the best program for your volunteer work.

Jay-R Patron: At present, who or what stands as your greatest motivation or inspiration? Why do you wake up everyday and go to work and do what you do? What gives you that energy?

Norie Garcia: Many, many things. Off the top of my head, one is the belief about a higher being who is responsible for all these. Of course, my loved ones, my parents, my friends. I have a lot of friends who work in the same sector and we fuel each others’ motivation. Everyday gives us the challenge. Along EDSA is already a challenge. When I was in the South Pacific, I live five minutes away from my office and on my ways to work I see a family of chickens. Today, I spend about an hour in traffic so that’s not really motivating. I have to be more flexible, find ways to manage the stress.

Jay-R Patron: Do you have any mentors who taught you the ways?

Norie Garcia: Yes, of course. I think having professors who really inspired me. Professors in college who are so inspiring and even after this time, they still get in touch, invite me to a conference and also fellow development workers. Perhaps, a bit of an understanding aunt, supportive mother. A little competition makes you more, gives you the dimension like being more opening to learning, being more understanding of others.

Jay-R Patron: Why is volunteerism and giving back important?

Norie Garcia: It’s very important because it is something that benefits not just the recipient but the giver as well, and it’s very important in having that good flow. Volunteerism can make you healthy. There’s a whole set of benefits if you volunteer but the other side, when you see the outcome; your beneficiary, the smile of a child, you help the child to realize or parang let out what’s inside him, express himself…

Jay-R Patron: I had the same experience. The first time I went to Pangarap Shelter. Nagkukwentuhan lang kami nung mga bata but then kala ko tinutulungan ko sila, pero mas malaki yung nakuha ko sa kanila kaysa dun sa nabigay ko sa kanila…

Norie Garcia: I get a lot of feedbacks like that na, “You know what Norie, after doing this, I thought I would give but actually I received a lot for doing volunteer work.” And that’s one big motivating thing for me, when I see the eyes of a person who went to a volunteer project and came out with a different look in his eyes. I got another motivating thing. It is important because it is a thing that causes so much ripple effect with just a small pebble. And we need a lot of this in our society right now. There’s a study that if you start volunteering, chances are you’ll do more volunteer work. And if you start volunteering as a child, you’ll end up volunteering all your life, kasi makikita mo that you get something out of it.

Jay-R Patron: What is your greatest accomplishment in life so far?

Norie Garcia: Accomplishment… the fact that I can share my skills, my talents, my knowledge, in such a way that it can be replicated. I learned that an ordinary person can influence two million in his or her life time. What if you were someone who intentionally go out of you way to share the skills that you have? As I said there is a ripple effect. But then, how many years na ba ako sa development work? 14 years. But my… the Philippines is still poor. But yun na nga, may mga moments na ganun. But then you always go back to this perspective that is inspiring. It is human nature to feel low about certain things.

Jay-R Patron: What is your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Norie Garcia: Ang dami eh. Living in Metro Manila.

Jay-R Patron: How different is Metro Manila to what you were accustomed to as a child?

Norie Garcia: I’m a nature lover. In China I used to live in a mountainous part near Tibet, about 95 percent mountain. In my free time I walk a lot. The thing in China is, “this is your work unit, you stay here”. I live five minutes from work. Then I told you about Vanuatu. My house is about five minutes away from my office and the the nearest beach. It was a reverse culture shock adjusting in the Metro.

Jay-R Patron: How do you deal with the lifestyle?

Norie Garcia: I try to go out, recharge. It’s not just the traffic, not just the heat, not just the pollution but also the energy of the people. Some people can take your energy out because maybe they’re also tired as well. I used to see a lot of people in the streets smiling eh, and they greet you, “Hello, how are you?” But here, when you go to Glorietta, people are rushing and have no time to smile. But smiling does not take time, di ba? But I guess it’s the stress of living in Metro Manila. But I’m still hopeful.

Jay-R Patron: Do you think you’re a lucky person?

Norie Garcia: Yes.

Jay-R Patron: And if there’s one message you would like to give to the people who would read this interview, what would that message be?

Norie Garcia: Who are the general readers or listeners?

Jay-R Patron: Professionals.

Norie Garcia: I think know one’s self and learn how to appreciate others; appreciate the community, appreciate your fellow workers. Because if you know yourself, you have a room to know others. Kasi alam mong kilala mo sarili mo. It’s how you see the world along this line, what lens you use to see the world. All these years, maybe because I have done a lot of solitary traveling because of my work, all over the country and outside, so I have time to be alone.

Jay-R Patron: What can we look forward to?

Norie Garcia: Very good question. Hands On for the past two years, we have developed flagship programs. One is Hands On School. As I’ve said, we really want to influence, and give champion to the education sector. Hands On School is a mentoring project for the immediate level pupils from public elementary schools. Why this program? Many of the assistance is focusing on the non-readers, low readers, malnourished kids, and we try to say with these programs, what about the high-achieving ones, the fast learners? The classroom to student ratio is what? One is to 80, one is to 60, better na kung one is to 50. What if you’re a smart kid in that kind of environment? We give the necessary environment to enhance your potential. Hands On School provide smart and high-achieving kids a venue to enhance their potential as leaders. The mentors will be volunteers and we usually get volunteers from corporate; bankers, lawyers, accountants, who also serve as role models to these kids. There’s a rigorous selection of kids, not just on academic standing. Can they write well? Are they helpful with their classmates? Are they socially responsible? From these criteria we ranked them and we chose 10 from each pilot school. We just recently concluded the first year of mentoring. We are in the process of selecting the second batch, so we will be needing more mentors. We are looking for mentors who love children, who are willing to share their Saturday mornings, at least five times. Why? Kasi it takes time to build rapport with the kids. It’s an opportunity rin for mentors to share this module kasi the module is standard, which is prepared by educators and professionals. All you have to do is get the module every Saturday and go to the project and mentor the kids. Most of our mentors are really help with their involvement. We would be needing at least 50 more mentors.

Jay-R Patron: For those interested, where can they go and who can they contact?

Norie Garcia: They contact Hands On Manila and look for Carmela David, 843-7044.

Please visit www.handsonmanila.org for more information.

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