People of my year 2012

It feels so surreal that a year had already passed since I wrote the ‘People of my year 2011’. Actually it’s still almost a year if I base it on the date the entry was published. Even so, it reminds me how fast time flies and before I knew it, here I am again going down memory lane; reminiscing what had transpired this year.

It had been a busy year for me with so much traveling and more responsibilities at work. The saddest part is having to bid farewell to friends I hold very dear as they embark on a new journey. But the best part is being home twice, seeing friends I have not seen for ages, and my –what they call Youtubic — engagement.

To continue the tradition I started last year (inspired by Bianca Gonzales’ blog), now is the time to pay tribute to the people who have made significant difference in my life in 2012.

They are a group of different individuals bound by their love for mountain climbing. They showed me that true friendship can also develop in the workplace where office politics normally thrives. I have always admired their friendship even if I only hear their stories from Omar. I finally met them in June when they surprised me with a well-choreographed proposal. I was embarrassed at the thought that they all did it –spent their time practicing, preparing the props , making sure the event is well-documented, editing the video – but I was more in awe at how far they can go for a friend. It’s amazing how they organize activities not just recreational but also to help those in need such as cleaning and arranging the house of a friend who just moved in. I just love them all to bits.

Olesya Kochkina
She is my Russian colleague who joined our organization in July. The silly bit is that she’s the only one who had me eat a bowl of vegetable salad which I liked. I hardly eat vegetables but the one she made was really delicious I keep craving for it everytime I want to eat something healthy. What I admire about her is her strong fighting spirit and optimism in overcoming challenges. She taught me not to dwell too much on a certain situation but rather look at the bigger picture and see what really matters in the grand scheme of things.

Clara Capala and Jonah Lyn Soliva
They are among my best college buddies. I have many close friends but the three of us developed this special bond that stayed strong through the years. We had our petty quarrels but at the end of the day our love for each other prevailed. They taught me how to be a true friend; through forgiveness and acceptance of each other’s weaknesses. No matter what happens and where life takes us, we will always be a part of each one’s life. Early this year I had a heart to heart talk with Jytjyt where I saw the beauty of her heart and the inner strength she possesses in facing life’s trials. I was able to see Clara after 3 years when she came to visit me in Bohol. Clara is the one who taught me how to be a friend not just in words but more in action. One of the best part of my vacation was being with her. And these cute little pugs represent the happy trio who endured the test of friendship 🙂

Cute pugs

Charivic Abello
She is my younger sister. I remember she once told me she got too much pressure from being compared to us, her elder siblings in terms of academic achievements. She got it from either family members telling her to do well in school like us or my former professors telling her “ask your sister how she did it”. I worried that she would carry this pressure with her and negatively affect her studies and morale. She wanted to become a policewoman but we did not allow her. Instead, we asked her to take Agribusiness. She did not want to let go of her passion so she took the ROTC training to become an officer and went up to convincing us to let her join the firing camp where she was able to use an M16 rifle and hit the target. Now she ranked third in command of the Corp group. This little sissy taught me not to lose sight of my passion and to never let other people’s expectations hinder me from doing what I really love to do. Proud of you always CLTC Charivic H. Abello 1CL.

Chamika Angeles
She is the daughter of a very dear friend Ate Weng. Mika had been bedridden even before I knew them. She left us this month to be with our Creator in heaven. Her death is our biggest lose this year. We’ve lost the angel who had been a great part of our journey because despite being ill most of her life, we can still feel that she’s there praying for us. May you rest in peace in heaven little angel. We love you very much.

My former boss
I have worked with him for 2 years and in those years he has molded me to become a strong woman. He may not be that famous among his staff as evinced by the high turnover rate but I did not give up on him. Many staff didn’t like him because he was tough but I tried to show him compassion because I didn’t know what he has gone through in life and what painful experiences he has to endure in his past. I do not have the right to judge him of what he has become. I cannot do anything about his past but I believe that simple acts of kindness would remind him of the goodness in his heart. Through him, I was able to test myself on how far I can show love to the most unlovable person. Through him I learned how not to dwell on the bad side of a person but rather see the wounded heart inside. Through him I learned not to give up on love and believe that love and compassion can change even the stone hearted.

Avash K.C.
As early as the start of the year, I already knew Avash will make it to this list. But little did I know he will take up this place; the one who has made the most impact in me this year. It is rather strange because our only verbal conversation was when he asked me for a copy of the audio file I was recording. He added me on Facebook so we got to talk once in a while. This year had been challenging for me because work was very hectic and there were many changes in both my work and personal life I had to cope up with. But his mails to me, although seldom but long, sustained me with inspiration to get going. While many youth parrot about how they want to make a difference, Avash was out there making the real difference that others can only utter in the wind. He is a very smart and talented young man and has all the chances to go abroad. But he chose to stay and serve his country, worked with the youth sector and reached out to the poor children and marginalized groups. While other youth brag about the little things they did, Avash remained silent and humble in his accomplishments. Instead of lurking online or resorting to vices, he spends his time and energy in far-flung communities –talking to deviant youth who had been rebels but are in the process of starting a new life, celebrating his birthday with poor children – or in school doing his MBA or producing TV shows that discuss various societal issues particularly those affecting the youth. He showed me that making a difference just takes a spark that will be illuminated by our actions. But above all, he taught me that genuine service must come from the heart.

Up close and personal with Dame Carol Kidu

It is a great honour for me to be able to write about a woman I deeply admire, Dame Carol Kidu.

Dame Carol Kidu is the former Minister for Community Development and Member of Parliament of Papua New Guinea. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in January 2005. In February 2009, she was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur by France, “for her dedication to helping women, young girls, children, the physically and mentally impaired and her commitment to fighting discrimination“. She was the first citizen of Papua New Guinea ever to receive this award. She accepted the award on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea. In 2007, the magazine Islands Business named her “Pacific Person of the Year”, in recognition of her efforts towards poverty alleviation, against domestic violence and child abuse, against HIV and AIDS and in favour of women’s empowerment. She was also the recipient of the PNG International Woman of Courage Award from the Secretary of State of the United States of America in 2007. Dame Carol has also received honorary doctorates from Vudal University (Madang, PNG), University of Queensland (Australia) and the University of Papua New Guinea in recognition of her services to the people of Papua New Guinea.

Below is the article I wrote for our newsletter as a tribute to a woman whose passion and drive made significant contributions not just in PNG but also in the region.

Up close and personal with Dame Carol Kidu
A tribute to a remarkable woman

The political landscape of Asia and the Pacific in the past decade had seen very few women parliamentarians making a difference and still thriving against the canopy of male dominance. Women’s participation in decision-making and involvement in politics remain a challenge in the region where most countries are still tide in the traditional notion of patriarchal society influenced by both religion and culture.

One of them is Dame Carol Kidu, a remarkable woman who sailed against the tides for 15 years of dedicated service, both as a parliamentarian and Minister, to improve the welfare and development of the people in her country particularly the children, women and marginalized groups.

Dame Carol Kidu gave up a comfortable Australian life to live in Papua New Guinea with her late husband Sir Buri Kidu, PNG’s first Indigenous Chief Justice. The political environment in PNG had not been good particularly for women.

The political and cultural challenges did not stop Dame Kidu from running for a seat in parliament in 1997 where she won and became a representative for Moresby South constituency. Her decision was motivated by her husband’s sudden death. “I can’t be him and I can’t be as good as him but maybe I can do something because with his death I felt that the people were robbed of a very good leader.” Her decision was also fueled by anger from seeing social injustices in her country.

Most of the challenges she faced as an MP were at the electorate level because it is a poor urban electorate where people don’t have gardens to feed them. “In the end it becomes draining emotionally and financially. And because I was very accessible quite often I had people in my office who are destitute, who literally had no food to feed their children. It can get very depressing because we don’t have any system to help them in the urban area. There’s no social security of any sort so there’s no way you can tell them to go to this office and you’ll be able to get some help. I found that very difficult because you feel so powerless.

A lot of women commended her for being strong and powerful but for her she hasn’t felt so powerless in her life than when she was a politician. “I’d seen injustice. I’d seen some innocent youth in my electorate being shot dead by police without the chance of a trial. You would feel so powerless because you wouldn’t be able to help their parents. You don’t have the money to help them to go to court and help them bring justice to their child.” Despite having been seen as strong by fellow women, often people attribute her failures from being a woman. “When a man doesn’t achieve something they do not say oh he’s only a man.

When asked about her strengths she said, “I’m a very determined person if I believe in what I’m doing. Sheer determination and never ever give up type of determination.” Being the wife of a highly respected man gave her the advantage over other women and helped her win the first election but she had to work hard to stay there.

Dame Kidu has achieved a lot in the last 15 years. She is more proud of the invisible things she has left behind in her constituency. She started an NGO called Ginigoada Business Development Foundation – Ginigoada means stand up strong – which gives income-generating  skills and basic business training to marginalized youth and women particularly those who had no education at all, and looks at job placements for them after their training. “I also introduced early childhood training and introducing pre-schools to communities, community-based pre-schools and parenting training. For me building people is far more significant than building buildings.

At the national level she led many policy and legislative reforms. Under the umbrella of  an Integrated Community Development policy, she led the formulation of the community-based policy for disability, early childhood care and development policy when she was a Minister. She also reviewed the women’s policy to become gender policy and did the informal economy policy to help the empowerment of people who are vending on the streets.

In terms of legislation, she introduced major reforms to the criminal code in  areas of sexual offenses including  rape (making the offence of rape  gender neutral and removing the marital defence for rape) and new laws on various forms of child sexual exploitation. The package of legislation also amended the evidence act to make it not so difficult to bring a case to court because it was almost impossible to win a rape case as the evidence requirements were too difficult for PNG. Later on she passed the Informal Economy Development and Control Act and developed an Informal Economy policy.  She also passed  the Lukautim Pikinini Act or Child Protection Act which replaced the old colonial Child Welfare Act 1967.

Dame Kidu said the ICPD agenda is very important in PNG since one of the most pressing issues in the country is related to sexual and reproductive health. “Most of our politicians don’t know anything about ICPD and that’s one of my aims now, to work with UNFPA to help raise awareness.” The country faces issues on unsafe abortions, unmet needs for family planning, young teenage pregnancies, sex workers and abused sex workers, homosexual criminalisation. “We’ve seen serious abuse of sex workers, some of whom are just doing sex work because they don’t have any alternative to feed their children or maybe there are alternatives but they don’t see them. People may say they can do something else but unless the person herself can see there’s opportunity it’s very hard.

Seeing abuse against the homosexual community, Dame Kidu worked on issues concerning the criminalization of homosexual  behaviours in her last term for which she received much criticism. “If people criticized me I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done because I believe that everyone has rights no matter what their sexual orientation as long as it is adult, consensual behaviours.  The same as I always supported the prisoners from my electorate. They were serving their time in prison but to me they were still my constituents so every Christmas I would make sure that they had something in prison. Sometimes they would say no, give parcels of food to our family instead. I tend to look at the marginalized who are often the majority of people. The poor are the majority.

She sponsored a major piece of legislation called the “Equality and Participation Bill” trying to get reserved seats for women in parliament. It did not succeed so it was not implemented in the recent 2012 election. With strong support from women’s groups she lobbied for women’s political participation which brought the issue to a high public profile which it had never been before. Their relentless lobbying in the last five years brought three women in parliament in the country’s recent election.

Dame Kidu sees the election of three women in parliament as a sign that there is a change in attitude coming. “It’s really critical now that we don’t just say we’ve done it. It’s really critical to say that we’ve got the first step on the ladder and now we need to  focus on supporting those women. We’ve got to make sure that we keep strengthening them so they don’t just get 5 years and then will be thrown out. We really got to support them to stay there and we’ve got to keep working with political parties, keep working on the idea of affirmative action to try to get more women to join them.

As a Minister, she felt she had the opportunity to influence policy and legislation. “I had to put my full self in the Ministerial portfolio.” Now that she has retired, she feels she can contribute more by becoming part of the lobbying force outside to keep pushing on issues such as justice and human rights, sexual and reproductive and health laws. She hopes to be used regionally not in permanent jobs but being an advocate and resource person. She is also in the process of setting up a small consulting company which will be called CK Consultants that will be based in and focused on PNG. She will be working at community level and giving strategic advice about community engagement.

Despite what Dame Carol Kidu has achieved locally, nationally and internationally she remains humble and simple. “I’m just an ordinary lady. I really am. I struggle like everyone else.” Her message to the three women MPs would be, “Know that it is extremely hard work particularly for women. Being a politician is not easy. It’s a very difficult task in PNG. You have unrealistic  expectations from your constituency. People expect you to deliver far more than you can possibly  deliver. Be humble and  remember that we’re there to work with people not for people. Keep working hard, be humble and move forward”. And her message to other women MPs, “never ever give up.

Indeed, we need more women leaders like Dame Carol Kidu in the region who are bold in facing difficult challenges and tasks and who will put the interest of the poor and marginalized as a priority.

A digital copy of the newsletter can be accessed here.

Withering plants and relationships taken for granted


My weekend was spent mostly cleaning my room, doing the laundry and reorganizing some stuff. Little did I know it will lead me to a more profound lesson.

While mopping my veranda, I noticed that one of my potted plants died. The other three were wilting. It must be because they don’t have enough soil and the weather is too hot these days. To keep the rest from dying, I uprooted the dead one and put its soil unto the other pots then watered the plants.

This is not the first time I had a plant die because I did not have time to nurture them. I always forget to water them even if I can see them every time I go out of my room. Whenever I remember, I just pour water on them without really giving it extra care like sprinkling the water and cultivating the soil.

While I was filling the other plants with soil, I realized that it is actually a good analogy of how we sometimes treat our relationships be it with a lover, family or friends.

Sometimes, we take people and relationships for granted because we know they are just there. Sometimes we don’t make that extra effort to reach out to them because we are too busy with other things. And when we do, we do it just for the sake of doing it — talk for the sake of talking — without really giving our all. And we may not be aware but they do notice it. They know when we are not paying attention or we are distracted.

Like plants, relationships should be nurtured and cared for it to thrive. If we continue to take it for granted, it will gradually wither and eventually die. If you see it withering you are lucky, you still have the chance to save it. But what if it’s already dead?