Creativity amidst ambiguity

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I’m very proud to be working with our nanays at Alexa Mira Society (AMSI).

For the past weeks, we’ve organized several workshops in our livelihood program where we taught them positive self-image, business planning, and personal finance, among others. Looking into their eyes when I was observing the workshops — I can see a glimmer of hope. Our nanays want change, and they want it fast.

Recently, our nanays have finalized their livelihood project with that of making handmade products from crochet. They already found a supplier for their cloth. Since then, they have been experimenting on different designs and talking about their next steps forward.

What I appreciate the most is the amount of creativity and resourcefulness they’re investing into this project and the entire program of AMSI. I’m happy to know that the lessons we’re sharing with them bore fruit along the way.

This is where creativity becomes a big asset and tool in local communities.

On creativity and community building

People underestimate creativity and intuition. As human beings, I think one of our most important assets is to — at proper times — act based on our gut feel or what we sense to be right. Sometimes, our intuition tells us more about our analytical and overthinking mind.

Imagine if we build that into the community.

I believe communities are powerful. In our own community, the nanays have a voice. They use this to power through every day. They use this to fuel their creativity and resourcefulness. We ideate with them, and they execute. They move when they’re provided the proper autonomy and direction.

Everyone is creative. They just have to be given the proper chance.

Teaching ‘how to fish’

It’s common knowledge and practice that non-profit organizations spoonfeed or simply give donations to their beneficiaries. But this is not what we aim to be in AMSI.

By teaching the nanays personal and business skills, we want them to move forward on their own once we ourselves in the team are gone later down the road.

Because in life, it’s like a grand game of autonomy and just striving to be good people.

Exploring coffee shops in Intramuros

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For the past weeks, I’ve been working in coffee shops in Intramuros while exploring places in the afternoon with my loyal and trustworthy friend Google Maps. Recently, I’ve expanded my base of operations to Binondo. Before that, however, I want to share a thing or two about the coffee shops and bars I’ve encountered in Intramuros.

Barbara’s Coffee Shop

Barbara’s Coffee Shop, I would say, is like an introduction to me of what Intramuros could offer. When I first came in, I wasn’t that comfortable yet on working with my laptop in a coffee shop. I was used to working in the office and anywhere that’s not, well, a coffee shop — because I had this notion that it’s going to be costly for me to work in such places. Well, I made the right decision, and now I’m practically working in any coffee shop I can find. (Pro tip: All I had to keep doing was buy the cheapest coffee.)

So this is why Barbara’s was a memorable coffee shop to me. I went there during the latter part of August, and since then I’ve been roaring to visit unique and independent cafes like them.

Cafe Janealo

This cafe was a pleasant surprise to me. I didn’t plan on going here. I was supposed to go to another cafe, but realized that they’re closed already. Lo and behold, when I went in Cafe Janealo, it was the fanciest cafe I’ve been to in Intramuros. For starters, I ordered their brewed coffee which comes with suman (perfect combination!). I worked there for the rest of the morning while sipping my coffee and dipping the suman into it, before I went ahead and devour the sticky rice.

Come noon, it was time for lunch. I got myself some chicken skewers. It was rather expensive, but I thought, it’s only seldom that I come to this place. People also slowly started coming in for lunch. Luckily, I was about to finish my own. I managed to fix my things, stand up, and give the table to a group of people waiting for me.

La Cathedral Cafe

This cafe is yet again another pleasant surprise. You have to see it to believe it. Recently, they announced that their balcony will be opened soon. From the balcony, you get a good view of Intramuros, most especially the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion. As usual, I bought brewed coffee and worked for the rest of the morning. During the afternoon, I had some really spicy and delicious Bicol Express. In these types of cafes, the ambiance and aura are what matter to me most.

Cioccolata Churros Cafe

Not gonna lie — this cafe didn’t really impress me that much. Maybe because I prefer dimly lit cafes, haha. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to work in because it’s well-lit and they have a good selection in the menu. Like how I usually do, I bought brewed coffee and stayed there for the rest of the morning. They didn’t serve lunch though, so I looked for nearby food stalls. Luckily, I found one place where they sell bento meals for less than P50. Quite a good deal if you ask me.

Batala Bar

This is the bar I’ve been to most recently, and probably one of my favorites. They serve mostly local craft beer, coffee, and ice cream, as well as some products from social enterprises. I gotta say, they have an awesome vibe going on in the bar. The view from the balcony of the Plaza San Luis Complex is priceless. I sat on the table near the balcony. It was one of the most peaceful working environments I’ve been to (well, as long as you’re the only one there — luckily, I was).

That’s it so far for my coffee shop/bar escapades in Intramuros. There’s more to come for sure! (I just found out a new cafe opened up in the Plaza San Luis Complex!)

Working one year into Alexa Mira Society

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Since 2018, I’ve been working part-time in a non-profit organization (NPO) called Alexa Mira Society (AMSI). We hold our programs every Saturday of the week, and focus on the kids and nanays (mothers). The tatays (fathers), unfortunately, cannot join us because in Filipino culture, the fathers work even on Saturdays to tend to their families’ needs. There is also the notion that only the nanays and kids should engage with non-profit organizations.

When I first started in AMSI, I was quite reluctant. I had typical questions going on in my mind such as “is there money here?“, “will this be worth my time?“, and “will this be fulfilling?“, among others. Looking back, I realized it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Working in a non-profit

AMSI is relatively new, so my team and I had to construct an organizational structure. It’s not yet as seamless and relatively efficient as other NPOs, but it’s been a good start so far.

I volunteered to be the project manager this year, and initially began setting our respective roles and positions. It’s been months since then, and we’re slowly learning and getting the hang of our respective tasks.

In this working environment, I learned that if you are going to build a structure in an organization, you’re going to have to work together a lot in an unstructured way. Like how you build anything in life, it starts with ambiguity and unstructured processes.

Amid this building-up process, we’ve made really good friends with each other. Today, it’s more like a siblinghood. We remain professional with the tasks, while at the same time maintaining our friendships (and having heart-to-heart conversations here and there). There’s also a strong feeling of family, and that’s something really nice to have.

Working with the community

We work with a community in Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City. One thing I learned and realized with our community is their potential and skills.

For the past weeks, we have been exposing them to a series of seminars and workshops in the livelihood program. We are doing these so that in the latter parts of the program, the nanays would be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to jump-start their own livelihood project.

The good thing is that the nanays already have an entrepreneurial mindset. My team and I were just really there to help them realize this further. Along the way, they have been conceptualizing and thinking of ways to start their next livelihood project.

The kids in our community are another unique story. Apart from being very makulit and rowdy, the kids have a lot of potential in them that we help nurture through the kids’ program. We’ve exposed them to a number of mini workshops such as urban gardening, personal finance, and arts and crafts, to name a few.

Ultimately, our goal is to help the community stand up on their own feet and earn a living for themselves. We continually instill an entrepreneurial mindset in the nanays and a creative mindset for the kids.

Much of our work has been experimental. We think that to better address the needs of our community, we need to apply a lot of creative approaches. We’re able to see the impact that we’re doing for the community, and I think that’s what matters the most.

Lifelong search for social impact

Social impact is, indeed, a complex subject to dwell upon. When we first started forming programs for AMSI, social impact is one of our main concerns.

Will the activities bring actual change in the lives of our communities? How should we measure our social impact? Are our programs tailored to their needs?

These were just some of the questions we asked. Since human development is a complex topic, what we focused on are what we are currently capable of. We started with simple social impact metrics through feedback forms and attendance sheets, among others.

There is an article by the World Economic Forum that provides a unique perspective on this topic. It tries to ask questions on who should be defining poverty and social impact, among other things, in the first place.

At the end of the day, bringing change into other people’s lives can have multiple meanings. It could be the joy you feel when you see the smile in a child, or even the increase in family income of your beneficiaries with the help of the livelihood project that your organization helped them start. Again, what matters is there is something that positively changed, because in this world, the only ever thing that’s constant (or should be constant) is change.

Struggles of a digital nomad

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For this particular post, I’m going to be real with you.

While being a digital nomad in the metro sounds like a pretty neat gig, it’s not that easy.

Intermittent connection

I guess this is no surprise already? What I usually do when I visit cafes is to check out the area’s signal on my phone and if it at least says “4G,” then probably the signal in that place would be fast enough for me to perform some online tasks. It pays to be observant if the signal in a particular area is decent enough.

Sometimes even 4G+ can be deceiving because it doesn’t actually provide upload or download speeds equivalent to the signal indicated.

Moreover, it also depends on your job if it would require a really fast internet connection.

I think in places like Metro Manila, the best place to go digital nomad-ing is through a work-from-home setup. This way, you somehow have an assurance that your internet connection would be stable. The reason why I go to cafes and explore from time to time is because I don’t like getting glued just to one particular place all the time.

Traffic, traffic

Digital nomads aren’t spared from the typical daily traffic that we all experience. It can be just as frustrating.

I guess the only thing I can say about this particular issue is — let’s try to keep our sanity in check with all the stressors caused by traffic problems.

A leeway to explore

Okay — something a little more positive.

When you’re a digital nomad, you have more time to explore places. For the past weeks, I’ve been working during the morning in cafes at Intramuros, and in the afternoon, I explore the old sites and museums. I haven’t thoroughly seen all the sides and corners of Intramuros, and this is absolutely something I want to continue doing along the way.

By exploring, I also mean going beyond your usual tasks. I’m also able to do volunteer work thanks to the flexibility of my regular work. Last May 2019, I was able to go to Mindanao for a volunteer engagement in peacebuilding. During down times, I was still able to perform some tasks in my regular work.

I have another volunteer engagement every Saturday in a non-profit where we execute programs in a community. These are all possible through a flexible working schedule.

I think the infrastructure and systems are still far-off for Metro Manila to become digital nomad-friendly. Internet connection is terrible, transportation system is like chopsuey, and the general work environment hasn’t really come into terms with the word ‘digital’.

Nonetheless, we’re building that up. I won’t be surprised that someday we’re also going to be a “smart” city. But we have to dig deep for our inner voices and potential.

The value of ‘baby steps’

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I’ve had this personal motto of doing things one a time. I don’t like doing several things at one moment because it ruins the quality of my work. So I do one ordinary task one at a time, with the hopes that it builds up to something relevant and impactful.

Taking your steps

Baby steps is a term that we probably hear quite often. In my own definition, it’s the habit of doing things one at a time and not overstretching yourself. It’s also a term that reminds us of our younger days when we were still trying to walk. Like a baby taking their steps, it’s akin to how we want to build up our own lives.

Our peers advice or tell us to rush and get that master’s degree, promotion, salary increase, special someone, family — what have you. But why the rush? Is it the ever-existent rat race? I think these are rubbish advice. I don’t understand the underlying motivation in those words.

So I looked onto taking baby steps. No more rushing and unhealthily pressuring ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, life is not something linear where you go a straight path. It’s an interconnected web of existence and personal discovery, loss, and rediscovery.

Taking your time

Like they say, time is our most valuable asset. When you refer to an asset, it’s something that you own and that it gives value to your life. And when you say something gives value, you hold on to that dearly. Which means — time is really the only thing we ever have.

I’ve been trying my best to manage my time wisely. I’m not an expert (is anyone really, ever an expert on time management?). I seek help whenever I have tasks that seem difficult to accomplish.

And the most important thing — it’s never really too late. Society gives us the illusion that you need to accomplish this or that at a particular age. But again, what are the underlying motivations for these words? We see so many people fulfilling their dreams at a very old age. It’s never really too late.

Taking your sanity

And of course — our sanity. We can accomplish so much in life and excel in virtually anything we put our minds into. But we also have to take care of our mental health. I think our mental health should be one of our biggest investments in life. We should nurture and make it grow in a positive light. We should ask for help whenever we can.

Whoever said life is easy? The fact that it’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous makes it exciting. But we have to find our safe space, search for our personal mission, and sustain our mental health along the way.

Defining a digital nomad

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It’s interesting when people ask me what I do for a living. Since I’m what you could call a ‘digital nomad‘, I work remotely and my office can be everywhere. But essentially, what I do includes research, writing, projects, social media, non-profit work, and volunteer engagements. Typically, I introduce myself as a researcher and writer, among other things.

Working, exploring

For the past weeks, I’ve been going back and forth the walled city of Intramuros, working in coffee shops during the morning, then exploring different sites during the afternoon. It has been a fun, educational, and ‘old soul’ type of experience so far. According to recent news, around 2.12 million tourists visited Intramuros during the first semester of 2019.

Last May 2019, I was able to go to a one-month volunteer engagement in Mindanao, where I was a class documenter for their annual peacebuilding training. This kind of engagement wouldn’t be possible without the flexible work schedule that I have.

Afterwards, I had many other volunteer engagements. So far, I was able to explore places in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao just this year. It truly is something to be thankful for. I’m learning more about our diversity and culture as a nation.

What you need

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you essentially just need the following things in your work life: a laptop, your hands, head, internet connection, power outlet, and a place to work in. Of course, this would vary on the nature of the job, but you get what I mean.

Whenever I look for places to work in Manila, I want to make sure that either (1) the place has good WiFi or (2) my mobile data connection is strong in that particular area. Because obviously, an internet connection is essential for a digital nomad.

Independence

The good thing about being a digital nomad is that you handle your own time. You impose your own work hours. You create your own workflow. You sometimes even list down your own job description. It’s a good training for independence and developing your personal work philosophy.

The digital nomad life is not for everyone though. It also depends on the career you want. Regardless, it’s something to take note of if you prefer flexible working hours that give you a considerate time to explore and do other things you’re passionate about.

Can work from home help solve Metro Manila’s traffic problem?

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That’s a rather simplistic question, but let’s think about this for a moment.

For one, work from home is obviously not for every type of job. It works well for certain jobs on digital marketing, social media, project management, and many others that require just your hands, head, laptop, and internet connection. But it won’t work well with jobs that require labor-intensive or human-to-human interactions like therapy or behavioral counseling.

Working from home, on the other hand, would eliminate the need to ride everyday a vehicle or public transportation to go to work. It would help reduce traffic, air pollution, and transportation expenses, among others. By working from home, people can also decide to just use mobile apps for their groceries, food, and delivery concerns, among others.

There could be many factors that determine whether working from home would actually help lessen traffic in Metro Manila. But from experience, here’s why I think working from home would remove a ton of headaches for us.

More independent time

Working from home means that you control the time when you want to work. It’s either output-based or a job that requires you to log in at certain times of the day.

In my case, I’ve been working on a remote research and project-based job since 2016. Since it is output-based, I’m free to decide how to spend my time for the most part. All I have to do is get the work done. For the past weeks, I’ve been going back and forth the coffee shops and sites in Intramuros, and it’s been amazing.

Since I work independently, I also usually learn the ropes of the work myself. There’s not much supervision, because I’m the one supervising my own work for majority of the time. I basically create my own job description and workflow. My office can be anywhere. This is what I meant by having ‘more independent time‘.

Since I work remotely, I’m also able to find time for passion projects and sidelines. I volunteer for a number of non-profit organizations and I’m able to spare time to write blog posts.

Zero to low workplace politics

I’m not sure if this is an advantage (because workplace politics can strangely give life to people sometimes), but yes, zero to low workplace politics is a reality in remote work. In my work, there’s virtually very, very low or most of the time, no workplace politics.

And when I say zero to low workplace politics, you’re also free from toxic people (most of the time).

The downsides

It can get lonely. To fill some social voids, I result to dating apps to meet up with people and just talk about anything interesting. I think pretty much any kind of work can get lonely at some point, but remote work is different because I practically work independently most of the time.

I also find it difficult to find a common time to meet up with old friends who work on regular nine-to-five-jobs. These are the downsides I can see so far on working with remote jobs. It can get longer (I can probably write a book about it!).

Simply put, working from home is not for everyone. It will depend. But in my opinion, it will, indeed, help lessen traffic when more people would just work from home.