A Return to the Philippines

(The above photos are courtesy of my friend Dyan Pascual, Boston: The Big PictureFlickr, BBC and the Definitely Filipino group on Facebook)

I came across the first picture in the above photo gallery a couple of weeks ago when my friend Dyan Pascual in the Philippines posted it on Facebook in the direct aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana (also known as Ondoy in the Philippines). And since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about what happened to the little boy attempting to float in a bucket in the flooded waters.

In case you missed it, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Ketsana towards the end of September, and no sooner had the rains cleared leaving a warpath of large flooded areas, destroyed homes, thousands stranded, hundreds dead and millions of dollars worth of damage, did Typhoon Parma make its way to the Philippines shortly thereafter. Entire villages were flooded triggering deadly landslides, the worst it has ever been in the Philippines in over forty years. In total, over 600 people have been killed and according to government officials, an estimated 300,000 people remain displaced or in shelters. It seems that in the weeks following the floods, fears of water-borne diseases are growing due to the stagnant, rancid and infested water left behind.

The use of social media tools such as TwitterFacebookFlickr and Youtube played a big role in keeping communication lines open, as communication by telephone was rendered impossible due to the floods. Google has set up a resource page for the victims of Typhoon Ketsana, and students from Ateneo de Manila University have set up a Wiki allowing people to post information on missing persons as well. Suffice to say, social media has played a critical role in documenting the impact and extent of the floods and landslides, as well as helping to rally people together to help their fellow countrymen affected by Mother Nature’s fury.

It seems that parts of Asia and the South Pacific were not spared either, as an earthquake rocked Indonesia around the same time period, a tsunami devastated American Samoa, and southern India saw the worst rain and floods in more than a century.

A return to the Philippines. But what would it take?

There is a reason why I decided to write a blog post on the state of calamity in the Philippines. A part of it has to do with the sympathy vote. Of course, if you are moved and are able, please feel free to donate both online as well as in-kind using the resources page listed on Google.

However, a larger part of it has to do with my wrestling with the notion of returning to the Philippines. With the advent of Typhoons Ketsana and Parma in recent weeks, I am beginning to seriously consider taking the leap and moving to the Philippines within the next year or so. And yet, the sticking point always revolves around the notion of impact, and what “good” can I really do for the Philippines when I am there?

I have friends who upon graduating from university in Canada as recently as this past year, decided to move to Hong Kong or mainland China to live and work, as a result of lower costs of living, a surging economy and to pursue opportunities that were simply not found in North America. And many of them were of Chinese descent as well.

Given all of this, the one question that comes to mind when put into context is,

“What would it take for young Filipino graduates/professionals who grew up and studied abroad, to go back to the Philippines to contribute to ensuring a robust economy and a resilient society?”

It certainly may be a lack of perceived opportunities in the country. However, there is the example of Filipino social entrepreneur, Efren Penaflorida, recently recognized by CNN Heroes for his work with Dynamic Teen Company in providing Filipino youth in slum areas an alternative to gang membership through education programs, that has convinced me that there is no shortage of opportunities in the country to make a difference.

On a side note, please take a moment to vote for Efren Penaflorida for the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year

But is making a difference enough? What about the practical and financial aspects of moving to the Philippines?

Sadly, I don’t have the answers to the questions posed above just yet. However, I have always imagined what it would be like if my fellow (young) Filipino peers, who lived, grew up and studied abroad as a result of the Filipino Diaspora, and are now young professionals in a wide range of sectors and industries, returned in massive numbers to the country of our parents’ homeland.I know that this is not as simple as it may seem, given the economics of the situation as outlined by Bong Amora in his brilliant blog post on the Filipino Diaspora (the blog post is a bit dated, but still brilliant nonetheless)

I know that there has to be a solution.

Returning to the Philippines.

What would it take? Hmm…

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims affected by the natural disasters, not only in the Philippines, but across Asia and the south pacific as well.

Posted via email from Renjie Butalid