The day I decided to go MAD

The day I decided to go MAD

Story by Paula, one of our first MAD Chief Experience Officers

“Yes, 2 hours before my shift ends!”

I used to work in the BPO industry, and for the past 7 years, those words were my light at the end of the tunnel. I had a mundane routine, and work became a part of it. I go to work, eat, go home, eat, sleep, and repeat. I do that 5 or 6 times a week. I was bored, and at 26 years old, I was also depressed.

To get me out of my depressed state, I started looking for volunteer activities. I saw Gawad Kalinga’s Kusina ng Kalinga (care kitchen) in Baesa, Quezon City, and without second thought, I braved commuting to a place I don’t know where and what to expect.

I go to work, eat, go home, eat, sleep, and repeat. I do that 5 or 6 times a week. I was bored, and at 26 years old, I was also depressed.

At 4am, it took me 1 jeepney, 1 bus, and 1 tricycle ride to reach the location. There I was greeted with smiles from 3 Filipinos and 1 Australian guy who were already starting the day. One of the volunteers started talking to me about joining a trek to an ancestral domain of some of the Aetas in Zambales, and what their plans are for the community there. I was so interested that I said “Yes! Okay!” in a heartbeat.

Fast forward to Febuary 18, 2016, we started our trek at 7am. I was with a group of French Senior Citizens who were all professionals. We walked for what seems like 10kms, on hot volcanic ashes, under the heat of the sun. Being used to sitting all day in an airconditioned office, I was already regretting the trek. Thoughts like “It’s so hot”, “What did I get myself into?”, “My skin will be uneven for months after this”, “Are we there yet?” played non-stop in my mind while the other guests were happily chatting about walking on ashes.

When we got to the community, the people welcomed us with open arms. They offered chairs under the shade for us to sit on, shared stories, and bread and fruits. There I found out they don’t have electricity, there aren’t any assurance that they will eat the following days, they don’t have access to medical facilities, they have to walk on the the volcanic ashes we walked on everyday just to go to school or market, and during rainy season they get stuck with little or no food for weeks. It was an eye opener. Here I am, collecting Pandora charms or complaining when it’s too hot. What’s wrong with me?

Walking back, I had mixed feelings. Confused, amazed and fulfilled.

Confused because there weren’t more Filipinos visiting the community or even aware that there is an indigenous tribe somewhere in San Felipe, Zambales. Amazed because a group of foreigners just decided to donate a carabao to the community. They gave money to someone who isn’t from their country. A foreigner to them. Fulfilled because I got to see and experience something special. Being a complete stranger and being welcomed to someones community like you are a long lost family member. Everything was sad and amazing at the same time.

I realized like there’s a lot more to me and to what I can do. I want to help people believe in themselves and push them in becoming the best that they can be. I want to work towards helping everyone feel assured that they have something to eat the next day just like how my parents assured me of the same thing. I want to share the experience of how I felt the first time I visited the Yangil community – like family.

A week after the trek, I decided to quit my job.

18 months have gone by, I’m now a full time Chief Experience Officer of Make a Difference Travel. I’m proud to say that I’m now part of the Yangil family as a godmother to one of the kids there. I’ve never been more happy with what I’m doing. And yes, my skin color never went back to its original color and I love it.

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