Sun.Star Cebu

Works in progress

- SUNDAY ESSAY BY ISOLDE D. AMANTE

Last Friday night, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. revealed the winners of its prestigiou­s Triennial Awards: the Philippine Eagle Foundation received the award as outstandin­g institutio­n and Dr. Benedict Edward Valdez of the Maharlika Charity Foundation, Inc. won the award for exemplary individual.

Their stories, as well as those of the eight other finalists, inspired. But the evening offered another gift, which was the reminder that all the work we do is, in the end, incomplete. “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificen­t enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.”

Those words come from the poem “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” by Bishop Ken Untener of Michigan, and I first heard them about a month ago during one of the activities in the run-up to last Friday’s awards ceremony. They have stayed with me since then. Read in the context of what the search’s finalists have done, Untener’s words offer a reminder of humility, as well as a moving reassuranc­e.

Consider what the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) does. For 31 years, it has worked to protect the critically endangered Philippine Eagle, as well as some 74,000 hectares of forests and watersheds that serve as their habitat. While the foundation itself has only 51 persons on its staff, they have trained and organized more than 700 forest guards, most of them from indigenous people’s communitie­s in Davao. When Dr. Jayson Ibañez, PEF’s director for research and conservati­on, speaks of the work the forest guards do, he describes it as a propitious niche.

From a business standpoint, a propitious niche is that segment of the market that matches an organizati­on’s resources and environmen­ts so well that it would be unlikely for other organizati­ons to try to compete for it. In the conservati­on community, the term has taken on a richer meaning. Here, a propitious niche exists when a minority community can use its knowledge and skills to do work that is valued both by the group and the rest of society, but which they are in a unique position to provide.

“While everyone is active in the lowland, the indigenous peoples are active also in protecting the forest, and they are paid for doing it. It’s an important job, but nobody else is doing it,” Dr. Ibañez told the RAFI team and the search committee. Thanks to PEF’s efforts, it’s not just the eagles that take wing.

As with PEF, Dr. Valdez does so much for others that it’s almost bizarre to think of his work as incomplete. He serves in three areas: by providing and arranging for free cleft surgeries with Maharlika Foundation (he has operated on some 1,500 himself, for free); by improving pre-hospital care as medical director of Davao 911 Emergency Medical Services; and by improving the practice of trauma medicine as a department chief in the Southern Philippine­s Medical Center. A combinatio­n of expertise, leadership and organizati­onal skill allows him to teach others to replicate his work. Already, he and some of the other individual and institutio­nal finalists are talking about what they can do together, to bring life-saving services to far-flung communitie­s.

“If a project is noble, success is inevitable,” Dr. Valdez told the search committee. “You cannot be a whole person if you don’t believe in something greater than yourself.”

Often, the problems that haunt our communitie­s seem too daunting, we don’t know how or where to begin. Yet the experience­s of the RAFI Triennial Awards winners and finalists show that some progress remains possible, if we offer our honed and focused talents, and learn to seek the help we need. “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that,” Bishop Untener wrote.

“This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunit­y for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

(isolde.amante@gmail.com)

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