Sunday, May 05, 2008
THE FILIPINO CHAMPION
Community service advocate Darwin Flores
The positive activist
Dedicating most of his life to community service, Darwin Flores has successfully established a number of programs for education.
Born to public-school teachers in Alaminos, Laguna, he won COCOFED scholarship grant; but his parents forbade him to go to the University of the Philippines, fearing he would become an activist.
Thankfully his parents’ fears came true. As a student of Industrial Management at the De La Salle University, he became a student leader at the height of the Marcos dictatorship’s suppression of activism. Consequently, he lost his scholarship.
He then joined in the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace as a human rights advocate and helped organize and lead fact-finding missions in the provinces.
After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, he found himself working as a legislative staff officer in the Senate under Sen. Wigberto Tañada.
He then worked for Oxfam Trading UK-Ireland as programme officer for the Philippines as well as country representative for Thailand and Laos. He involved himself with community craft producer groups among the hill tribes and AIDS affected communities of Thailand, farmers of Laos and the Philippines, and Karen refugees of Burma. It was in Oxfam Trading that he imbibed the concept of fair trade as opposed to aid.
While based in Chiangmai, Thailand, Flores was then recruited by an international headhunter for Conservation International (CI), a Washington-based environment NGO to assume the role of Regional Manager for Conservation Enterprise Programs in Asia Pacific and given the responsibility to support livelihood projects of forest and coastal communities in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
“Working with CI was a turning point for me. All the time I have harbored the idea that business, with its greed for profit, is the problem [causing inequality, environmental degradation, exploitation, and other societal ills]. With 10 years at CI and Oxfam, I really learned that business is part of the solution. It must be… to become sustainable and to continue doing business. Or else business ends.” he said.
With the experiences all over the world, he finally settled down in his country thinking that before he goes “all global, start local.”
Smart Communications hired him as a consultant after deciding that with their success, they should find ways to give something back to the people. “I was thinking, together with my team, of a way to help the nation, and what we noticed is that the problem here in Makati [where the Smart Communications office is located] is the same as that of in Jolo, Lack of learning materials. But we don’t want to do the usual donation of computers and books alone. We thought of something that would help them long term,” he narrates.
Appointed as the senior manager for community partnership, Flores initiated many programs such as the Smart Schools Program with Roberto Isberto as head and Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program headed by Rolando Peña.
“It is actually one of my crazy ideas coming from an old folk song ‘Doon po sa amin,’” he said with a chuckle. “I was in charge of developing and implementing the projects and bring in my NGO experience to enrich it’s context.” With the Smart Schools Program he wanted to make use of the prime resource of today’s world—the Internet. He wanted each school to be able to showcase itself nationwide through cyberspace.
In partnership with the Philippine Business for Social Progress and support of the Department of Education and Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Program, Flores’ plan finally came to life.
Working with DepEd, they utilized an adopt-a-school base advocacy, but with a different kind of attack. “I thought that instead on focusing on the students, we would train the teachers. Because they are the ones who stays in the school, so they would be the one to educate more students in the future,” Flores explained.
Public-high schools chosen for the program would have a year of free Internet access, a Smart Teachers Learning Resource Center and free web hosting services.
Besides basic and technological education, Flores is also a lover of art. Dap-ayan Sa Banglos allows community-based art groups to be trained by some of the country’s renowned artists. “I want to retain the youthful idealism and activism that I hope to carry forward in my work and passion to continue to learn and to make a difference in the world we live in,” he beams.
— Angelique P. Manalad