STORIES OF HOPE: A chain of volunteerism and positivity in Bicol
By Emelyn M. Salgado ISTORYA NIN PAG-ASA (INP) or Stories of Hope in English is a travelling photo exhibit that features success stories of the ordinary people. It intends to revert from the negativity that we usually encounter through various media. Hence, the triumphs of the ordinary people as they face their own struggles and challenges are highlighted. It aims to inspire and encourage the mass of Filipino people who are already weary of the negative news they often see and hear. In Bicol, this special project of the Office of the Vice-President was initially started through Ms. Leanne Montemayor Zuniga who was selected as the Lead Convenor for Camarines Sur and eventually for the whole Bicol region. “When the Office of the Vice-President requested me to be the Lead Convenor of the INP Project of Camarines Sur, I was so honored and overwhelmed that our beloved Vice-President would think of entrusting me with a project that is close to her heart. I accepted without reservations as I knew it was an opportunity for me to give back to our community, by showing them that a simple person can be an inspiration to our nation, such as VP Leni.” The popular marketing and Events Specialist of Naga said. Thereafter, she pooled her trusted colleagues for this project. The core committee was formed with Nemesia “Bebot”Perez, a veteran UN volunteer and human advocate, power couple Andy and Ning Ning Belmonte, who are also into events production, writer and events organizer Emi M. Salgado, whom Leanne Zuniga-Montemayor has worked with for some special events, Sieg Borromeo, a social advocate and a dependable consultant for such project, and Zalrian Zuniga-Sayat, a photo correspondent of no less than the European Pressphoto Agency. The JCI Senate Malu Bonita, and the incoming President of JCI Carinosa, Russel Pua-Tan and President Domar Sara, also helped in the conception of the exhibit and its launching. The groups and organizations which assisted the Core Committee included the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Avenue Plaza Hotel, SM City Naga, Robinson’s Place Naga, ZY-NERGYNITY Events Management, Images by Ryan Studio, Biggs Diner, JCI Carinosa Jaycees, JCI Pili Isarog. Overall, the INP Committee from the Office of the Vice-President, headed by Michael Galvez, guided the Cam Sur Group for the initial exhibition in Naga City. Hence, the project had a soft launch at the SM City Naga on March, 2017. The forerunner of the story owners was Supt. Errol Garchitorena, a stow-away who turned into a high-ranking CIDG officer in Bicol. Then, the gathering of stories began. The INP Core Committee set up a list of criteria and procedures to screen the stories. Around ten to twelve stories were gathered for the Pledge of Commitment signing between the story owners and the Lead Convenor of CamSur. It was attended by VP Leni Robredo. Stories of Hope came to life. Gathered for this inspiring event were: a janitor who turned into a CPA-Lawyer, another lawyer who graduated at 60 years old, a Naga City street sweeper who completed a Psychology degree at USI, a laundrywoman who was able to send all her children to college, a Binondo peddler from Magarao turned millionaire, a head teacher who left his secure post to become a mobile teacher to the far-flung islands, among others. It took the Core Committee another month or so to complete a final series of twenty stories, all filled with positivity and triumph amidst all the struggles life has offered. It also gave them a lead time to solicit for sponsors and other logistics needed for their grand project launching. The formal exhibit was opened in August 18 at the Activity area of Robinson’s Place Naga. Coinciding the death anniversary of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo and the opening of his museum at the Civic Center, the INP Exhibit opening was graced by VP Leni and Sen. Bam Aquino, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, and Sen. Rissa Hontiveros. Lead Convenor of Kaya Natin, Harvey Keh, was also present. “This is our answer to the blanket of negativity that is around us…” As VP Leni spoke, a significant mass of Bicolanos were encircled around the Robinson’s Place atrium from the ground floor up to the third. The event was overwhelmingly welcomed by the public. Twenty two large canvass with inspiring sepia images of the INP story-owners (who were called the INP Champs) and their corresponding life stories filled the Atrium’s exhibit spaces. The 100 voices sang a heartwarming song of being a proud Nagueno, as if Secretary Jesse Robredo’s civic spirit was suddenly alive. Most were teary-eyed at the height of the program, especially the INP Champs. They attended the event full of pride and humility, altogether. They brought with them their families to cherish the moment to stand next to the country’s Vice-President and be recognized for their life’s achievements. Apart from the exhibit, there has also been an outpour of volunteerism to keep the project going. One has already donated to make the canvasses as a coffee table book. INP champs themselves are inquiring on how they can help sustain this advocacy work. The INP caravan has just began. Next is the gathering of the stories from Albay, then Sorsogon, Catanduanes, and so on, until all of the inspiring stories of the Bicolanos from all its provinces are heard and appreciated by many. The INP Committee intends to make this project a beacon of light in times of hopelessness and pessimism. So far, the rays of positivity are showing off.