FYLPro 2015 delegate Jessica Caloza shared her immersion experience via Washington D.C. newspaper Manila Mail. Here she described the Philippines’ economic boom with leaders wanting to collaborate and fight corruption.
Maybe you have a similar story like Jessica – leaving the Philippines at a young age to move to the United States. What are your expectations of the country? Perhaps it’s also time you visit the motherland and rediscover yourself.
Rediscovering my roots as a FYLPro Delegate
Originally published in Manila Mail, Washington D.C.
By Jessica Caloza
As I boarded my flight to the Philippines earlier this month, I had thousands of expectations and preconceived notions about what kind of country I was about to confront at the end of my 21-hour flight to Manila. Even though I was born in Quezon City, I grew up in Southern California and had not been back to the Philippines in over five years. This very dilemma of being disconnected from my country was what prompted me to apply to the Filipino Youth Leadership Program (FYLPro).
Established in 2012 by Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. and his wife, Mrs. Victoria J. Cuisia, FYLPro was developed to reach the next generation of young Filipino Americans and strengthen their connection to the Philippines by giving them an opportunity to interact with various government, business, and industry leaders and get hands-on experience by engaging in cultural and historical activities.
Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the ten delegates of the 2015 FYLPro class. Even though the program was only seven days long, it reopened my eyes to how beautiful the Philippines is and how much promise our country has. It also helped me connect the dots between who I am today as a Filipina American and who I was when I first left the Philippines as a young girl. When my parents filed our petition to immigrate to U.S. in 1976, they mailed the most important papers of our lives. Eighteen years and six children later, we were standing at the airport about to depart the country we called home. We were the lucky ones, my parents kept telling us growing up, because we were able to move to a country where we could pursue our dreams, and more importantly, where we would have the opportunities to see them realized.
Through the program, I was reintroduced to a Philippines that was different from the one that I left as a little girl. The country had a sense of vitality, brought on by an economic boom that is only second to China’s in Asia. Signs of extreme poverty and educational inequality were still there, but I met so many inspiring Filipinos and Filipino Americans working tirelessly to drive progress and help rebuild hope.
The government officials we met with described their efforts to fight corruption and improve transparency and accountability. We met with numerous business leaders who are working to find innovative ways to invest and capitalize on the natural resources in the Philippines while also working to preserve them. We also learned of the efforts of many nonprofit organizations that are working to help the most vulnerable children and families by expanding their educational opportunities.
Most importantly, everyone I met had the same eye towards progress and a desire to collaborate, knowing that rebuilding a country and the Filipino dream requires everyone’s help.
One of the most memorable parts of the program was meeting several single mothers who were displaced by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, one of the most devastating tropical storms to hit the Philippines. With the support of the Ayala Foundation and other partners, they eventually relocated to Calauan, Laguna and are working to support their children through farming even though they owned small businesses before they lost everything in the typhoon.
Their stories of resilience and strength made me remember my own family’s story and how all Filipino families want the same thing: a better life for their children and their children’s children. More than ever, we need to support each other’s success and work together to make the Philippines a place where all children will have the opportunity to realize their dreams, like I did mine.
Our pasts and our futures are tied together in our Filipino identity. I am proud to be Filipino and am so thankful that I had the opportunity to be a FYLPro delegate. It was through my journey this past month that I was able to see firsthand the amazing work that is being done to make our dreams for a better Philippines a reality.
2015 FYLPro Delegates listed below:
Freddy Anzures (San Francisco, CA)
Carnegie Mellon University
Designer for Apple; part of team who designed Mac OS X Dashboard, iPhone, iPad and Apple watch
Jessica Caloza (Washington, D.C.)
University of California at San Diego
President Obama Political Appointee; Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Education
Jennifer Acosta Coliflores (Boston, MA)
Roger Williams University Law School
Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Public Defender Division
Anna Marie Cruz (Los Angeles, CA)
University of Michigan
Financial planner, managing firm’s community outreach and social media engagement
Ty Johnathan Cullen (Honolulu, HI)
University of Hawaii
Hawaii State Representative, District 39
Kevin Nuesa Gabayan (San Francisco, CA)
Engineer for Google Inc.
Angelo de Guzman Ignacio (Seattle, WA)
Loyola Marymount University
Social Media Specialist at World Vision
Mark Jimenez (Washington, D.C.)
University of California at Los Angeles
Legislative Aide, Representative Ami Bera of California
Nicole Adrienne Ponseca (New York, NY)
University of San Francisco
Proprietor of Jeepney and Maharlika restaurants
Lakhi Mangharam Siap (Chicago, IL)
William Harper College
Founder & Communications Director, Asian Scene Chicago
For more information, please visit http://www.fylpro.org/