At 27 and ambitious, I have sketched my life’s plan in the next 5 years.
I guess soon after you hit the quarter life, that’s when you start to seriously rethink about your life and make a mental note reflecting circumspectly about your direction both personally and professionally.
I have arrived in the United States last January to join an 18-month professional fellowship program. This has been part of my ‘5-year plan’ and being able to tick it out in my list excites me more than anybody. It was also a sweet bonus to learn that I will be serving with Operation Smile International as one of their Program Coordinators. The organization works in more than 60 countries and brings free medical surgeries to children with facial deformities especially those with cleft lips and cleft palates. Another box is set to be marked off – trip around the world! I went on my first mission last month in San Cristobal, Mexico and had a real awesome time with some of the most amazing in-country and international volunteers. It was incredible to see an unmatched level of professional skills coupled with passion and dedication to serve the children in that part of the world that otherwise may not have had the opportunity to have a normal smile and life if not for Operation Smile. Without a doubt, I more convinced that I made the right decision to volunteer. The happiness I felt to be there was simply irreplaceable.
In my quite times, I muse on the fact that the plan I have started building in my head 2 years back is finally coming into reality. I aimed to be in an international fellowship program, travel the world to gain more international development perspective, and once again be a volunteer.
My interest in humanitarian and development work started 7 years ago when I also had the opportunity to join an international volunteer network called Global Xchange Program. I was fresh from college and while my mom was not particularly agreeable to the idea that I will be spending some months in Mindanao which has generally been portrayed with unstable security situation I fearlessly embarked on the journey living and volunteering in the communities of Bansalan, Davao del Sur, Philippines and Luton, UK with 17 other young people with diverse backgrounds for a period of 6 months. It was such a fulfilling experience that has inspired me to pursue a career in the non-profit.
My first ‘paid’ job was with a livelihood project grant from Asian Development Bank to poor families in the southern part of the country with high poverty incidence. This allowed me to work with various local NGOs and foundations in the Visayas and Mindanao – an excellent transition after my six-month volunteering. After the project, I joined an international NGO operating in the country focused on addressing children’s wellbeing by developing and implementing development projects with various stakeholders in a community. It was also a humanitarian relief organization and so I easily found myself later going in the floods, packing and distributing relief goods. It’s a heartwarming experience. I feel that I am making real sense and use of my life for being able to make a direct impact on the lives of many disadvantaged groups in our society. I get to travel a lot in the country and occasional trips abroad for training or conferences which ensembles the desire of any young person eager to see new places. It was also fun to realize that all my high school and college friends are in government or business (for profit) organizations which means I get to tell a unique experience during reunions or simple get together.
But like any person trying to create a work-life balance, mine wasn’t exceptional. I struggled with a 3.5 year-long relationship which ended almost 2 years ago. It was my ‘first love’ which has deeply made an impact in my life. Like any other romantic relationship, we had our shares of highs and downs. But the breakup was the most horrendous feeling I have ever experienced. I had sleepless nights, poor concentration at work, loss of appetite, and absolute disregard to being alive. I thought it was the end of me. I reeled in the abyss of depression for a long time that I thought recovery can only happen through medical professional support or paranormal interference. Describing the breakup experience as terrible was an understatement. There’s just no word that can express what I was going through that time. My emotional state was very vulnerable that I frequently find myself weeping in a taxi, or during breaks in a conference I am facilitating, while on a flight, or any other mundane activity. Dog-tired, I have decided one day to start picking my broken pieces back together. I knew I was at the losing end. I knew I should do something. New life at 25, I thought to myself nearing my birthday.
I started to set high goals for myself again and this time actively seeking for opportunities and activities that will make them happen. I enrolled to a Masters program at the University of the Philippines. While the breakup experience was the greatest bottleneck in my life, it was also an opportune time to have a fresh start in life. This time I am equipped with healthier awareness and lessons in life. Lessons after all spring from the most painful experience of our lives and in my case motivated me to think relatively long-term. I am definitely looking forward to sharing my journey again with someone but while that may be in the sticks at this time, I relish being alive and think highly of my 5-year plan.