Non-profit insights: 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.

Non-profit insights: For the families of Barangay Palatiw

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Last July 5, my team and I at Alexa Mira Society finally got completed in a meeting. We discussed current plans and developments in our project for Barangay Palatiw consisting of four programs: livelihood, urban farming, feeding, and kids’ programs.

One would notice that these programs seem a lot, considering that they would be implemented in just around five to six months. But I think what’s more important here are the lessons we’re going to leave behind to the families and encouraging them to act in their own initiative and free will rather than depending on assistance all the time. Ultimately, what we want to leave behind with them is the drive and independence to lift themselves up.

One of the children in the families is named Alexa, a tribute to the non-government organization we’re working with. If we can provide a better, enabling environment for children like Alexa to thrive, this can help them develop and grow as individuals. And we do these through the programs that we’ve obligated ourselves to push through with.

On being entrepreneurial

The livelihood program ultimately aims to equip the mothers and fathers of the community with the business and entrepreneurial skills to jumpstart their own micro businesses. From selling dishwashing liquid, fish balls, and the produce through the urban farming program, these can serve as additional income streams for their families. This also means better education, food, and health for them and their children.

What I would say the social impact here is the ability of the families to spend more than what they previously spent, thereby giving them the knowledge and belief that they have the potential to upgrade their current living status if they have enough drive and willpower to do so. I think this is a very powerful lesson for the families, because through it they begin to gradually break the stigma and stereotypes with regard to being labeled as “poor.” We want to teach them to become entrepreneurial and discover the value of growing their families through business.

Subsistence and entrepreneurial urban farming

The urban farming program has two main goals: help the families become subsistent and self-sustaining by producing their own crops, and help them have even more additional income through the surplus crops that they’re going to get. That’s essentially how simple it is, because practically anyone can go into urban farming regardless of lack in experience or none at all.

The impact that we want to present to the families is that they can grow various crops through the urban farming program. From pechay to tomatoes, they can experiment on different kinds of vegetables. These crops will also help their families have a healthier lifestyle and nutrition.

Hunger and nutrition

Our feeding program will essentially be for the kids themselves. We want to bring healthy and nutricious food for them. Throughout 30 days in the entire program, the families will be preparing food using the ingredients and materials that we will be providing to them. Hopefully, we also get to use the produce from the urban farming program as ingredients for the feeding program.

For the kids

The kids’ program will be divided into four different sets of activities throughout a month. What we aim here is for the kids to simply have fun and learn different kinds of new things. Some of them are already going to school, and we wanted to augment that learning experience through new amd exciting activities. One of those potential sessions is a session where the kids learn about space and the solar system. Awesome, right?

We still have a long way to go, but this is all going quite well. In the long run, this is for all the families getting left behind, starting with those in Barangay Palatiw.

Non-profit insights: The value of teaching independence in advocacy programs

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My team and I at Alexa Mira Society visited our community at Barangay Palatiw, Pasig today. We talked to our community members and oriented them with the program that we planned for them. So far, they mentioned that they’re willing to take part and devote their time to make it successful. It’s a sigh of relief, because now we have a better gauge of what they think about the program and if this will be truly helpful to them in the long term. Our program essentially has three main parts: a livelihood, urban farming, and feeding program.

But I want to share more of the biggest observations and takeaways I have from today’s visit.

Several of the families know how to maintain a vegetable garden

This tells us a lot about what the families know to do. Since they know some basic farming, we might as well help them further by introducing new and low-cost urban farming methods.

This is why, through the urban farming program that makes use of hydroponics and aquaponics, we aim to augment the produce being grown by the families. Hopefully, this reaches a point wherein apart from addressing their daily sustenance needs, they can also sell excess vegetables to the nearby market. Therefore, it becomes an entrepreneurial endeavor apart from just subsistence farming. The good thing is that the families are open to the idea and would also like to increase the number of vegetables they’re producing.

Some of them earn additional income by selling biscuits and managing a sari-sari store

They don’t know it, but the families are very entrepreneurial because they went to these means to address their needs. Simply put, the circumstances of their lives forced them to go into these additional income sources, but at the same time, in it’s essence, they are also being entrepreneurs. This is very good news, because we get an idea of what the families know to do.

Through the livelihood program, the families will be taught other ways to earn money. In this particular program, we will be teaching them how to make and sell dishwashing liquid and fishballs. They can sell these to their community, and, when their income grows bigger, they can expand into other kinds of livelihood.

Some of the families still haven’t received their benefits from the government’s 4Ps program

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the Philippine government mainly aims to do one thing: help poor Filipino families if they help themselves first. The idea is that if the families follow a set of conditions such as the following:

  • Pregnant women avail of natal care
  • Parents attend family development sessions
  • Children ages 0 to 5 receive regular health check-ups and vaccines
  • Children ages 6 to 14 receive deworming pills twice a year
  • Children beneficiaries aged 3 to 18 must attend schools

…then they will recieve corresponding cash benefits. However, some of the families haven’t recieved theirs yet.

The land that they currently and indefinitely live in is owned by a rich family in Pasig

Big lands owned by big, rich families in the country have been an issue for a long time now. Since the land where the families in Barangay Palatiw currently live in is owned by a big family, we can only do so much in terms of setting up basic infrastructure like the improvement of their houses.

Palatiw, as well as other nearby areas, are lesser known areas in Pasig that need to be exposed

The Pasig you know is a rich place–one that they call a “green city.” But what about areas like Palatiw? It’s still part of Pasig, isn’t it? People need to be more aware of these places.

Personally, I’m not a fan of people saying “Grabe may mga lugar pala na ganito. Hindi ako makapaniwalang malapit lang dito yung mayaman na lugar ng Pasig.

It’s a passive statement that doesn’t spark movement and mindset change. What we need to realize is that yes, these places do exist. As Filipinos, I think we’ve already established that. It’s just that many Filipinos still tend to be devoid of the truth and stay in their comfort zones and bubbles. Yes, guys, these places are real, and we have to find a way to help the people in them.

We hope to bring better days ahead for these families through the program

At the end of the day, we just want to bring hope to these people that they can have better lives. We’re not forcing them into anything. We want to make sure that they themselves are willing to change to improve their lives.

Because in the long term, it’s not about us staying in their community to attend to their needs all the time and make them dependent on us. It’s about teaching them to lift themselves up and look towards better days through their individual efforts and actions. I think this should be the essence of advocacy projects.