The Decision to Make A Difference

By Joana Mesina | Posted on August 26, 2023

I remember during the early onset of the pandemic in 2020, as the world grappled with rising cases of covid-19 and overwhelming grief, I found myself feeling so helpless and disconnected from the broader society. Until an opportunity presented itself to me when a close friend invited me to volunteer at a local non-government organization called Rotaract. To be perfectly honest, I was unsure of it at first, as I was completely unfamiliar with the organization and what it stands for, not to mention I was also facing a lot of personal challenges at that time. But eager to make a difference and contribute positively to my community, I leaped, unaware of the profound effect it would have on my life. 

This photo shows the resiliency of the children, they smile and play as they should despite the difficulties they face in life. We were inspired by them to continue creating a better community for the generations yet to come.

My first day as a volunteer applicant was a mixture of nerves and excitement. As a newcomer to the organization, I initially felt like an outsider, unsure of how I could be of help and afraid that one might think I do not have the skills nor the experience to contribute meaningfully. But the members greeted us (applicants) with big smiles and words of encouragement, and the welcoming atmosphere was felt even in a virtual orientation. During the orientation, I was introduced to like-minded individuals who were determined to bring about change despite the trying circumstances. While the presiding officer was going about the mission, vision, and core values of the club, as well as the past projects they successfully administered, a rapid sense of responsibility and pressure overtook me. I thought to myself ‘I am no hero, so how could I make an impact on the lives of others?’. But that thought instantly went off when one member told us (non-verbatim) that being a full-fledged Rotaractor is not about becoming heroes, it is about making an effort to be even of little significance to the world. That alone solidified my decision to be one of them and that resonates with me up until this day. 

My first year in the club was eventful even though we were not allowed to conduct physical projects, activities, or small gatherings due to the strict pandemic restrictions. Despite this, we were able to maximize our only available resource at that time–the internet. Our projects revolved around online pandemic campaigns, webinars, and even fun Zoomustahans. We attended virtual district events and made meaningful connections with other Rotaract Clubs inside and outside our district. Then, fast forward to my becoming the President of the Club. I never asked for it, I was hesitant about taking on such a demanding role as someone who joined the club just a year ago. I was flooded with doubt and I questioned whether I was capable of leading the club and the members effectively. But they had shown their full support and confidence in me, so after much contemplation, I accepted the challenge and saw it as an opportunity to further contribute to the causes we were passionate about.

My year as a President was no easy feat, as most of the time, it required me to go over my limit. I realized that leadership goes beyond merely organizing projects, it is also about empowering others–fostering an environment that is inclusive of everyone’s voices and opinions. We may not have always agreed on some things, but we made sure that no one was left feeling discomfort at the end of the day. Just three or four months into the new Rotary year, we already made improvements and conducted meaningful projects. This was also the time when the pandemic restrictions were slowly being lifted. So, some of our projects were administered physically, and one of them was our project for Basic Education and Literacy titled “Paths of Learning”. It was a project drafted and taken on by one of our passionate members, to help equip children with substantial knowledge. The children that we have chosen to benefit from the project were those out of school because their parents did not have the resources to provide for their education, which was made worse by the pandemic. We taught them basic knowledge including reading the “abaca” and counting numbers, and gave them books and other important school supplies. We instilled in them the importance of good morals at such a young age. The project lasted for four months, about 1 to 2 sessions a month. This may sound cliche, but right after we wrapped up the project, we realized that it was not us who taught the children, it was them who taught us to become more empathic and grounded individuals. And more than that, it was an eye-opener for us, to call for an accessible quality education for everyone. I have never felt more connected and aware of my surroundings since. It was a humbling experience and an unforgettable one at that. 

May this serve as a reminder of our social responsibility to advocate for more inclusive and equitable access to quality education for everyone and ensure that our government is held accountable for it.

To conclude, I would like to remind every Rotaractor around the world that the most rewarding aspect of our job is not the good deal of projects we orchestrate, the funds we raise, or the accolades we receive. While these are undoubtedly valuable, true reward lies in the impact we made on the lives of others, and how we were able to learn and grow from them. Every individual we reach out to, support, and uplift is a testament to our mission to serve above self. It is in their smiles of gratitude and expression of appreciation that we find the true meaning of our success. I also would want to reiterate that as Rotaractors, we should not be afraid of taking on difficult tasks, like accepting a demanding position or spearheading a community project, if it means uplifting the lives of other people. And now that we have entered another Rotary year, I hope that what we did for the past years was not the end of it, but a means to do more for the betterment of our respective communities–to create hope amidst uncertainties. After all, we decided to make a difference and become of service to others more than to ourselves. 

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