Monday, February 25, 2008

From Batlaw to Kusog: A journey to empowerment

This is a story that, however vainglorious, needed to be told.

As a person, I never had interest in holding any position of leadership chiefly for a personal reason: I am impatient. I always wanted to act on a problem at once. Most leaders are into making decisions for a group, not acting on group decisions. I decide mostly only for myself.

I also hate meetings. Leaders, to me, needed to attend—and stay alert in—meetings after meetings that eat a lot of time and often require mediation skills. To me, discussions are fine, but when these degenerate into debates, out I am. I am short in temper when discussing generalities. I want specifics.

This is why, when I was elected class mayor in my high school class of 1980, the first thing I did was to resign, which my teacher, I remember, Pepe Ferriol, did not accept.

In the university, I never accepted any position in school organizations except that of a member. I had no time then to lead, for I was working at the same time that I was studying.

When after graduation people invited me to head or lead this or that group, I politely declined, offering various reasons why leadership is not my cup of tea. I am clumsy in being a leader. In our alumni class organization, I remain a member up to this day.

All this have changed though. Today, I preside as chairman of Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc., a mutual benefit, self-help group which I organized from scratch in January this year.

Kusog SibalenhonSibalenhon strength in English—before it came into being, was a basketball team with a strange but catchy name—Batlaw sa Lim-aw. Non-Asi readers will not understand what Batlaw sa Lim-aw means, so I will explain.

Lim-aw is pool of water, nature’s impounding system formed by the terrain in a stream in the mountain. Thus, lim-aw in my island of Sibale is a water catch-basin, where the women wash clothes and the men bathe. It’s the place where children sail their play boats, pretending the lim-aw to be an open sea. Lim-aw is a noun.

Batlaw is another Asi term. It is an adjective meaning “light of load”. A ship or boat that is batlaw sails fast, although a batlaw is makilis, meaning it is easily tossed by strong current or treacherous waves. At sea, it is preferable to sail batlaw when the sea is calm, and a little bit heavy-loaded—kargado—when the waters are rough.

Enough for this brief education in the Asi language.

As I was saying, Batlaw sa Lim-aw was a basketball team, and a champion at that. Vision, organizational unity, and strong commitment to achievable goals made that possible.

When in December 2007 I brought up the idea to transform the team into a formal non-government organization that will promote the interest of its members, not a few raised their eyebrows in disbelief.

You see, many Sibalenhon organizations have come and go, but very few ever make it past their registration stage. Many die a natural death, unable to accomplish what they set out to do in the first place.

A simple diagnostics of organizations tell me that without a vision and a common goal, without commitment and clear idea of where to go, organizations die as quickly as the moon fades after full moon. This has something to do with organizational leaders as well as members. In setting up an organization—whatever type it is—it must be very clear among members of a group what do they really want. The late Sen. Blas F. Ople, my mentor, used to tell me this in eloquent Tagalog: “Sa mundo, ang daming ipinapanganak at namamatay na hindi alam kung ano ang gusto sa buhay.” I have always lived by this tenet in all my life activities.

In organizing Kusog Sibalenhon, the members and I spent endless hours in debating what we really want to come out, to happen, to accomplish, after the basketball games. Having made it clear to everyone that there is much we can do if we stick together and utilize the productive, not destructive, values of the Sibalenhon, we decided to elevate the team to a higher level.

The championship game was the first test. Going to the last game as a heavy underdog, Batlaw sa Lim-aw beat the favorites by a huge margin. Focus, teammanship, resolve, hard work, belief in ourselves, and of course, sheer luck, enabled us to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal.

It is these values—plus a lot more—that we brought into Kusog. Last February 15, the organization conducted a successful fund-raising benefit dance at the social hall of the Lions Club in Lipa City. It was also an occasion for Kusog’s new officers to take their oath before a very successful Romblomanon, Manong Tiquio Famatigan, the first Bantonanon to establish a public accountancy office in the province of Batangas.

Kusog earned from the event a little over P10,000. With the championship prize money of P10,000 still intact, Kusog Sibalenhon is off to a good start. Our funds will be used to train members in practical skills that they could use to increase their employability and income. We have a lot of upcoming plans and we are encouraging other Sibalenhons to join us. The only requirement is a day of training on the values that every Kusog Sibalenhon members must imbibe.

As a community organizer, I have helped set-up many self-help groups in various provinces and towns in the Philippines. But helping organize your own kasimanwa—and Kusog Sibalenhon is my first organizational baby in Sibale which I have agreed to lead—is more satisfying and vastly different. The feeling is captured in the refrain of our theme song, Batlaw sa Lim-aw, which I composed:

Batlaw sa lim-aw, batlaw sa lim-aw
Ka Sibalenhon’y perming yutaw
Batlaw sa lim-aw sa pagyagadaw
Makusog ag a-usa ka ukaw

Gis-ak sa lip-ak, gis-ak sa lip-ak
Ka Sibalenhon ay nasupak
Miskan makusog sa kalalawran
Sa ato kina’y nupa’y kilis yang.

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