By Kayla Lapiz, former Linking, Learning, and Amplifier Officer of Voice in The Philippines
This article reflects the experiences of the Voice Philippines Team as they transitioned to a blended approach of doing monitoring visits and conversation-based reporting (CBR). After lockdowns and mobility restrictions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, what has changed? What are their key takeaways and realisations?
Take a few minutes to breathe in and breathe out while recapping all that you can remember from 2022. Can you believe you managed to give space for all of that last year? After boxing ourselves from the physical outside world and making the digital space our everyday lives, here we are trying to navigate and shift gears (yet again) as we try to merge both spaces and put a balance on what could work for us.
One of the many things that proved this shift to be challenging yet enriching is the opportunity for Voice in the Philippines to start conducting small face-to-face (F2F) gatherings after two years of having everything fully online. Of the ten Voice-focus countries, the Philippines has had one of the strictest mobility measures. Lockdowns began happening March of 2020 which continued and gradually eased starting end of 2021. For Voice in the Philippines, given the volatility of the situation and the utmost priority towards health safety, the digital space remained to be its nest until the team felt comfortable enough to conduct F2F meetings and activities in small groups.
This started during the latter part of 2021 when we joined the #ShareTheRoadWithHer bike event, a campaign commemorating the 18-Day campaign against Violence Against Women. It may have been what helped us decide to try doing F2F conversation-based reportings and monitoring visits with grantee partners. Starting easy, we tried to test the waters by conducting it with Luzon-based grantee partners and keeping online meetings with those who are based in areas we would need to fly out to.
Our first (thrilling and exciting and energy-pumping!) visit was with Babaylanes, Inc., an Influencing grantee-partner focused on building bridges between Rainbow communities in urban and rural areas. They are based in Manila and have project partners in Bataan and Catarman. Since Bataan is a four-hour drive away from Metro Manila, we scheduled a visit with their community partner where we observed a SOGIESC 101 Educational Session. We also did a small group dialogue with them to ask about their experiences, among others. It was an amazing, refreshing experience to hear them in person, to capture their non-verbal cues, to understand their humor more fully, and to smile all together, side-by-side, for a group photo.
It was followed by a visit with the Center for Youth Action Network, another Influencing grantee-partner working with young farmers. Apart from doing a CBR with them, we also visited one of the youth farmer coalitions they are supporting in Nueva Ecija, which is also a four- to five-hour drive from Metro Manila. What made this visit extra special is getting to experience harvesting onions, eggplants, and other vegetables with them!
Those were the two visits that jumpstarted the series of F2F reporting and monitoring visits that definitely made our team’s year more enriching and inspiring. I would not say that the rest is history, as each has etched a meaningful feeling to our team and we are quite sure this will continue in the months to come. Perhaps that is for me the most fitting word to describe our visits with them: meaningful. I have always found this word beautiful, maybe sometimes overused, but most of the time I would like to believe its essence is captured. At the same time, I also believe that within this word is a challenge to actually find its essence.
While the resumption of F2F engagements, especially in visiting grantee partners, had been a huge factor in increasing our drive and energy as a team, it was also a source of challenge and exhaustion. We may have had more than twenty visits last 2022, and from all those, here are what I have taken away and to heart:
We are not the same as before
This might be the biggest understatement of the year, but to expound: that four- to five-hour ride and F2F visit I was so excited to have? It felt like an obstacle course. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time and was very happy to finally meet community partners! However, while my mind was excited and up for it, it felt like my body can’t keep up like it used to. Have you also had this unsettling feeling? And this change is just the physical part. I used to have so much energy to socialise with who are in the room, but I have noticed that my social battery drains quite faster now. If you have observed this too, it might be that we have just been in the box for too long and it will take some time to regain our energies. Though I also have a strong feeling that things inevitably change and given the shifts we have experienced, we just have to re-navigate our spaces in ways that works for us.
At the same time a part of these changes are good changes. I observed how people listen better (after months and months of muting and unmuting). I have also seen how people became more appreciative of each other’s presence, shown either verbally or through actions (e.g. filling a whole table of fresh harvest as guests gather). People have been more mindful of not taking things, people, and togetherness for granted.
During an afternoon conversation with the community partners of ORKALEFF
We continue to be in an extra uncomfortable space and time
Let us cut ourselves some slack. Not just because the world has ‘continued its operations’, we go back to the same old systems, routines and habits. We at Voice Philippines are still adjusting to the changes happening. We may have been as agile as we can be when the pandemic emerged (thanks to a fantastic support system), but that agility is required until now. This is probably the same for our grantee partners, and might even require a more complex navigation and resourcefulness. What matters now is while we continue to be in this uncomfortable space and time, there is that knowledge and feeling that we are here for each other. This may mean extending our patience, our understanding, and most importantly, our space to empathise.
We are capable of finding meaning in small, ordinary things
In relation to not taking things, people, and togetherness for granted, what I have embraced better is the joy in experiencing small, ordinary things. Of course this is relative, but an example might be in eating boiled corn while casually chatting with a youth farmer and discovering that he has every intention to keep their family farm afloat amidst the farming crisis. Or it can be like seeing a hand-drawn map hung on the wall and realising it maps out how they have grown as a community-based LGBTI ogranisation in the Mindanao region. Another may be unexpectedly meeting a Moro woman leader again after two years and having a catch-up that could later turn into a feature article. How about you? Can you think about a small, ordinary thing or encounter that made you think about who and what matters to you as a person?
We are not an island
After all this time, the “no man is an island” saying proves to be true and needs to be used more often as an Instagram bio. Being with people online, being with people F2F— one thing is for sure: it is that sense of community and belonging that keeps us going. While we rightfully enjoy our personal space and alone time, it is also a comfort knowing that out there is a community we can hold space with. We have our personal struggles and successes and it makes sense to go through it both alone and with our (chosen) families. I hope that those we have engaged with the past year have found it as meaningful as we did; that it has unraveled that deeper sense of community as we continue to understand better what inclusive spaces look like and and co-create it.
As seasons continue to change, so will we. Being quite inevitable, let us make the most out of it by engaging with ourselves, with people who matter, and new discoveries waiting for us. ‘Tis the season for the next chapter!