Being Santa: My 15 minutes as a celebrity
During the past couple of weeks, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), IT-BPO industry sponsors and volunteers, and TeamAsia have worked together in an attempt to bring a small measure of Christmas joy to young children. These children typically live in informal communities. Their parents struggle to feed and clothe them. Many are from broken homes.
It is not unusual for these children to exhibit signs suggesting they are emotionally distressed. In a country in which at least a third of the population live in poverty according to the National Statistics Office, and 20% of the population accounts for 90% of consumption, addressing the plight of these children is an alarming imperative. Aside from the human tragedy they represent, the chances these children will ever become productive is stunningly slim.
About 35% of the Philippines’ population-or about 32 million Filipinos-is below the age of 14. More than 10 million of those young people are desperately poor, and chances are they will remain poor throughout their lifetimes without access to education and its empowering influence. Ironically, the fast-growing IT-BPO industry has shown that while the Philippines has a large population, it will run out of employable individuals as early as 2012.
The sad reality that so many people are poor in the Philippines isn’t the only factor accounting for the nation’s dwindling employable human resource pool for the IT-BPO sector. About 10% of Filipinos choose to work overseas. Poor educational infrastructure leaves many otherwise financially capable Filipinos without the quality of education they require to clinch high-paying jobs. Others have backgrounds they believe are unsuitable for work in the IT-BPO sector-an assumption more myth than reality as the Philippines rapidly expands into non-voice IT-BPO.
This reality makes every individual count all the more. And at a more fundamental level, no country can achieve broad prosperity sans a mostly productive population. In this age, productivity doesn’t equate with being able-bodied nearly so much as it does being ably educated. It’s for these reasons that BPAP, IT-BPO industry sponsors and volunteers, and TeamAsia found themselves at the Ladislao Diwa Elementary School in Cavite City December 20th.
As I wrote earlier this month, the “My Dream in a Shoebox” initiative is meant primarily to support the work of the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC). The mission of DTC is to ensure access to educational opportunity for youth living in poverty in Cavite City and other areas. The target this year was to collect 1,000 shoeboxes filled with school supplies and raise P400,000 to contribute to the construction, operation, and maintenance of a DTC educational facility.
Thanks to the generosity of the industry, both objectives were achieved, and more. Close to 3,000 shoeboxes were collected and distributed to beneficiaries of DTC and other worthy volunteer organizations. In Cavite City 200 children were selected to attend a special program based on their performance at school. Following the singing, games, and storytelling (by Mrs. Claus), Santa Claus was introduced and handed each of the excited children their shoeboxes. The experience was repeated last Monday with almost 1,000 children at the Ascension of the Lord Parish in Paranaque.
For some pretty obvious reasons, I was selected to play the role of Santa Claus. Mrs. Claus unbeknown to Santa conspired to have a special red suit prepared so that the gift-giving saint would look “authentic.” It apparently worked. As I walked into the elementary school in Cavite, the children’s eyes lit up, huge smiles appeared and chants of “Santa, Santa” filled the room. When given the chance, the children jockeyed for a position near Santa, held his hands, and slung their arms around his neck.
Clearly, dreams were coming true for these children. While it is bizarre in the extreme to be treated like a celebrity while playing the role of a long-passed, kindly saint who has taken on mythical magical powers, it was a tremendously rewarding 15 minutes of visibility. Naturally, I wonder if playing the role of Santa is really a constructive lesson for these children. But I’ve concluded that it was.
The school supplies each child received will make the financial burden on their parents a bit easier, I suppose. In a small way, an important lesson has perhaps also been conveyed, that among the greatest gifts one can receive is access to education. Hopefully, that will be a lasting lesson, and will create within these children a determination to in fact see themselves educated. I got to play the star in these efforts, but the real and obvious credit goes to BPAP, the IT-BPO industry sponsors and volunteers, and TeamAsia’s wonderful team.
(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2010 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)