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Sign up and be counted

Manila, Philippines – It is a fervor that is spreading like wildfire, capturing the hearts of the young and firing up the imagination of more mature minds. For years nurtured in the deepest trenches of countryside developmental work, it has, over the last two decades, made its presence felt in the boardrooms of multi-billion dollar private corporations and the sitting rooms of the richest families in the world.

In societies where poverty stalk more than two-thirds of the population, it has served as the ray of hope at the end of a long and tortuous, dark tunnel. In one word: VOLUNTARISM – something old, and yet, also new for those who embrace and espouse it.

Voluntarism has a long, rich and diverse cultural tradition in the Philippines. It is a Filipino trait engrained in our practice of helping.

We are perhaps, one of the few countries in the world where voluntarism assumes many names: “Bayanihan,” “Damayan,” “Kawanggawa,” and “Pahinungod.”

Perhaps, it is this mindset that has sparked the volunteer efforts of organizations that provide housing for the underprivileged, like Gawad Kalinga, and individuals who go out of their way to educate children in slum areas, like Efren Peñaflorida.

And while these endeavors gladden the heart, it is still not enough for a nation burdened by a huge population (estimated to cross the hundred million mark at the beginning of 2012) and plagued by killer typhoons, droughts, and other forms of natural disasters.

In light of catastrophic Sendong that has reduced into portraits of human suffering the provinces of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Mindanao, as well as Negros province in the Visayas, there is urgent need for humanitarian actions. And the only way humanitarian efforts can be sustained is through voluntarism.

True, the national and local governments have been active in pursuing this track of humanitarian work propelled by voluntarism. The Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), for one, is the government agency mandated with the promotion of volunteerism in the country.

Still, considering the magnitude of the problems we need to address as a people in the long and short terms, we need to convince more citizens to volunteer. The challenge is there for all of us: Sign up and be counted.