What does it take for a person to become extraordinary? The people behind Akbayanihan know the answer to this question by heart. Initiated in 2007 by Akbayan Party during the onslaught of Ondoy to help the victims of the massive typhoon, the group has since become a dynamic volunteer organization bringing together “ordinary people” committed to doing “extraordinary” things.
From donating and distributing ready-to-eat food and clothing to typhoon victims to braving chest-deep floods to assisting in search-and-rescue operations, Akbayanihan is one of the very few volunteer organizations from civil society which has swiftly and consistently answered the people's call for assistance in times of dire need.
Barely five years in existence hundreds of people, mostly from the youth, have signed up as Akbayanihan volunteers. They have assisted close to 100,000 victims of Typhoons Ondoy and Sendong, and recently, by the Habagat floods. They have distributed 73,000 food packs and provided medicines to 5,000 people.
Even in the absence of calamities, the group's volunteerism never wavers. For the last two years, the group has conducted hundreds of medical missions which benefited 12,000 people from poor and far-flung barangays and organized several disaster management trainings to capacitate people to effectively respond to disasters.
Akbayanihan also actively involved itself in fund raising, advocacy and other community activities. It has organized creative events to raise awareness on pressing environmental issues such as climate change and the need for people especially the youth to volunteer to serve their respective communities.
The group is also a venue for people to develop their skills, meet new friends or simply have fun. With the youth as its primary constituency, Akbayanihan has promoted volunteerism as one of the new forms of meaningful participation in society combining academic life and adventure with real-life experiences to gain insight about important issues. Whether it is a beach-cleanup, virtual volunteering using social media to raise funds and awareness on a particular cause or a medical mission involving medical students, Akbayanihan teaches young people to creatively find ways to effectively contribute in solving the country's problems where the problems are clearly seen.
But what makes Akbayanihan different from many other volunteer organizations is that it's not only about charity but also policy. Being witnesses to how flawed public policies impact on the lives of ordinary people, the group became active in policy advocacy such as the passage of the National Land Use and Management bill which seeks to protect the public's right to resource access. Akbayanihan volunteers are also active in persuading local government units in crafting policies directly related to climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk management.
However, the best thing about Akbayanihan is that its core is comprised of young and dedicated volunteers, many of whom are still in college. Being a volunteer-run organization, these young people have demonstrated their leadership skills when they impeccably ran and managed the group's Ondoy and Habagat relief operations. From the consolidation of donations, preparation of ready-to-eat food to mobilizing volunteers to flooded areas, Akbayanihan was essentially powered and led by the youth.
At a time when today's youth are expected to be docile and ordinary, obediently and silently pursuing their studies, and oblivious to what is happening around them, these young volunteers, “ordinary” and inexperienced they may be to some, have proven that their generation, indeed, is capable of being extraordinary.
For the Akbayanihan volunteers, anyone can
be extraordinary because everyone can serve.