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Hope for South-East Asia

According to the news from the United Nations, “over 600 people have died and more than eight million others  – in Thailand 700,000 of them are children – are affected by flooding and typhoon, with the situation expected to worsen”.

I am in sorrow for the loss of lives in Thailand, the country that has been my home for over two years but I grieve more for my country, the Philippines, that was severely hit by typhoon. And how can I lose sight of the other South-East Asian countries that were equally damaged?

These catastrophes are not something that come unexpected knowing how we exploit our natural resources and live an environmentally unfriendly lifestyle.

Anywhere in the world, the revenge of mother nature can be felt. Very sadly, those who suffer the most are the least, if not at all, accountable!

It is very disheartening to see photos of people struggling for survival. But it is very heartwarming to see that a lot of people braved the flood and rain just to lend a helping hand.

Although I was devastated, I found hope from the one huge bright star I saw the other night. I was reminded of our slogan at the Youth Engagement Summit in Malaysia, “South-East Asia YES we can!” Yes, I believe we can.

Let’s not let the rain wash away hope and courage. Let it sprinkle kindness and overflowing love. Let’s not let the storm break our spirits and dreams for a brighter future. Let it break the walls that divided people and nations.

Nuggets of wisdom for the youngsters

Last week I visited Fr. Bonnie Mendes. He was the Regional Director of Caritas Asia and had retired recently to stay for good in his native land, Pakistan.

I met Fr. Bonnie over a year ago. Ever since, I always admire his simplicity and humility. As an expert veteran of this sojourn called life, he imparted many lessons to us. His sense of humor had not concealed the profound wisdom he has.

He used to offer mass in his office with me and Neil. Those were memorable moments I will forever cherish. Since he is going back to his country, I grabbed the chance to see him. Over dinner, I threw him two questions that I wanted to share to my fellow youngsters.

Question: If there is one advice that you want to give to the youth, what is it?

Answer: Relax

Very brief answer isn’t it? This is what I like about Fr. Bonnie, his simple outlook manifests on his simplified approach to life’s complexities. With that answer, various interpretations crossed my mind. Maybe he meant we should try to relax and not worry so much on things that we can actually live without. Maybe he meant we should stop pressuring ourselves on attaining the set of goals and standards we’ve laid before us and just let it unfold at the right time, without taking it for granted of course. Maybe he meant we should stop trying to live up to others’ or the societies’ expectations.

Did he just say “relax”? So why was I too busy trying to find depth on such simple advice and allowed myself to wander, almost leaving the present moment? Oh well, relax, relax.

He added, “The youth nowadays doesn’t know how to relax. “It is good to spend a few minutes, even just 15 minutes, each day to just relax, without mobile phones, internet, just be still and be amazed at the difference it can make.” And yes, it does make a lot of difference not just to our state of mind but also to our physical and emotional health.

Neil Rusia, Fr. Bonnie Mendes and Omar Jayag

Question: What do you think is the one thing the youth have ignored these days?

Answer: Silence

This time, I will not over-analyse. The answer is silence, literally and figuratively, full stop.

We talked about different things under the sky. He taught me to manage my time, prioritise, multi-task and focus so that I will be more productive and efficient in my work. As a young professional, I always value every advice I can get from my seniors.

We also talked about how other people have so much while others struggle to survive. The queen of England for instance has 586 rooms (minus the offices, staterooms and bathrooms) in Buckingham Palace alone whilst many sleep on the streets, not to mention the millions of homeless children!

My work in AFPPD exposed me to gender issues such as gender-based violence. I am particularly concerned with women in South Asia where GBV is very rampant. Although there have been quite a lot of progress in both the private and government sectors’ efforts to address these issues, more still need to be done. As a South Asian, I asked his thoughts and what the situation really is in their region. He said, “the legislations are there but they are not well-implemented.” This is a very sad reality.

He taught me not to regret on the things that I failed to do in the past. He reminded me how pointless it is to say, “I should have”. Things as silly as “I should have bought that” bother us when after some time we will actually forget we had wanted it or at some point we will realize we don’t really need it. He said, “let bygones be bygones.”

Before I went on the train, I told him I’m sorry I had so many questions. He said, “It’s good because it means you are learning”.

I got published in Youngblood!

I love writing but I’m no way a writer. I couldn’t remember when did I start to write. But, I can still recall when I was 8 years old I wrote a tagalog novel which I never get to finish.

It’s ironic though how I love writing but is also too lazy to write. I just couldn’t force myself to write just for the sake of having an article done. I have to wait ’til inspiration strikes – sometimes in the middle of a conversation over a cup of coffee where I have to run to the nearest office depot to grab a pen and use a table napkin as a paper or at 2am while I’m struggling to fight insomnia.

One day, I asked my American colleague to read one of my articles. After reading she told me, “Why don’t you try submitting your articles to magazines?” Knowing that she is a writing critique and a wide reader, encouraging me to try submitting my articles is already a great compliment, but getting published? I don’t think my confidence and capabilities would allow me just yet.

Since then, I started to think of what to write and submit to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Youngblood. But then again, my laziness overpowered me.

Finally, I was able to come up with something for Holy Week. It was only after I emailed the article to the editors that I thought of consulting Mr. G (google) on how to submit articles to Youngblood. And to my horror, there was a set of guidelines which of course I failed to follow. Not only that, one blogger also wrote that if you wish to write something related to an event or occasion, you should submit it at least 2 months in advance. I submitted mine after Palm Sunday.

So, I told myself, there goes your clumsiness. But then I thought, even if I lose my chance of getting published, the article has already served its purpose – of making me realize a lot of things.

Life has showered me with lots of surprises and they usually come when I least expect them.


I just woke up and grumpily opened my computer. I received a message from my cousin Carmela Hilot straight from Los Angeles airport. She was on her way to the Philippines and was browsing the Philippine Daily Inquirer May 10 edition when she saw my article. Her news just made my day. It was so surreal ‘coz I thought I’ll encounter many rejections first before really making it.

I posted the link on facebook and was overwhelmed at how my friends reacted – by liking, commenting, sharing, sending me personal message or through chat. Then it gradually sunk on me that the real happiness comes from not really getting published; it is the thought that people felt better about themselves, found healing and hope – some of them even said they cried – after reading.

Indeed, the real joy of a writer is knowing that you are able to touch other people’s hearts and lives through your writing. Nothing can be more satisfying than that.

Click here to read my article.