HOM is where the heart is

Hands on Manila’s Lizette Cojuangco, Gianna Montinola and Marilu Batchelor.
Photos by Maica Frances Maglipon

By Alex Y. Vergara, PhilStar Global
MANILA, Philippines

There’s definitely strength in numbers. Over a thousand volunteers from more than 30 private companies are out to prove this age-old truism anew, as they participate in Hands on Manila’s (HOM’s) forthcoming Servathon slated Sept. 28 at the Philippine International Convention Center tent. Co-chaired by Lizette Cojuangco and Marilu Batchelor, the project’s objective seems simple enough: to produce as many mabuhay or bokashi balls as possible in one morning to help mitigate water pollution and revive a number of Metro Manila’s dying waterways.

A product of Japanese technology, the golf-size bokashi ball is made from a mixture of microorganism-rich soil and liquid. Every 350 grams of the mixture is said to clean one cubic meter of water. For this project, HOM is partnering with Asian Social Institute, which will guide volunteers on how to make proper bokashi balls during the Servathon.

After giving them enough time to ferment, the bokashi balls would be released in batches every three months along waterways in Paco and Sta. Ana, Manila. In keeping with its current thrust to help save the environment, HOM, led by president Gianna Montinola, has also chosen to help revive bigger bodies of water in Cainta and Angono, Rizal.

(From left) Michelle Batungbacal, Maricris Olbes, Ginny de Guzman, Dondon Marquez, Patty Pineda, Gina Aboitiz, Alice Cruz and Junie del Mundo.

“The mixture is totally natural and all organic,” said Gianna, one of the founders of the 18-year-old NGO. “Once released in the water, the balls produce planktons. The planktons, in turn, become good bacteria, which fish eventually feed on.”

It’s a “process,” she added, the success of which depends on two factors: the number of bokashi balls dropped in the water, and how clean or dirty the water is. Whereas HOM’s thrust during the last two years was understandably focused on Marawi and the devastation its inhabitants suffered after months of conflict, its focus saw a shift this year towards the environment. Not only is the organization inclusive, it has, over the years, proven to be dynamic and responsive, as well.

“It’s just one of the projects on that day,” said Marilu, who, after being based abroad, joined the group in the early 2000s as a volunteer in an orphanage. “We’re also partnering with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) by putting together educational kits for them.”

Apart from packing the kits with books and various relevant information, volunteers will be adding a personal touch by painting the bags themselves. Although it’s an NGO itself, WWF, like various private companies, including such leading BPOs and IT companies as Zendesk, Convergys and Concentrix, has chosen to partner with HOM over the years.

Before the year draws to a close, Lizette, who hosted a dinner at the family home in Makati for current and past officers as well as supporters (the informal gathering also doubled as a send-off party for former HOM executive director Dondon Marquez), informed Allure that HOM has also lined up a third environment-related project, this time aimed at reviving the soil to help the country’s beleaguered farmers.

Lawyer Reggie Puno, Dondon Marquez and Gianna Montinola.

“The soil booster is again a mixture of all these organic materials, including compost fertilizers, which we will be distributing to farmers,” she explained. “Because of all the flooding, it has eroded the soil, compromising the quality.”

Like in most of its projects, HOM has again tapped a partner company tasked to distribute the organic fertilizers. In fact, part of its strength as an NGO, apart from tapping volunteers to do pro bono work (the three ladies themselves, like HOM’s past officers, are rendering their time, talents and services pro bono), is partnering with private and public organizations and fellow NGOs to get more work done. Therein also lies its beauty.

Gianna explained HOM’s genesis as such: When it was founded in 2001, “Hands on Manila was essentially a board of like-minded people who wanted to get together to push for the advocacy of volunteerism.”

“Essentially,” she added, “what we have done over the years is recruit and train people for volunteerism while developing programs with other NGOs.”

On a personal note, Gianna finds personal fulfillment doing volunteer work. “I find joy in volunteering and being able to give back and make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

For her part, Lizette was initially drawn to HOM since “the spirit of volunteerism has always been something I’m passionate about. I also like it because you can do so many things in different ways. And, in the process, you also learn doing these things, which we also want to pass on to our children.”

Marilu concurred with her friends. “I also find my involvement very fulfilling,” she noted. “This is my way of giving back. When I returned to the Philippines from abroad, I wanted to help in some way, but I didn’t know how. Hands on Manila came at the right time.”

Guided and defined by its four pillars — environment, education, livelihood and health care — HOM acts like a broker of sorts, putting together volunteers and placing them in volunteer programs, which benefit either the community or other NGOs. The bulk of these volunteers come from private companies, most of which sought HOM’s assistance in helping them create “bespoke” programs in their efforts to develop their own CSR efforts.

As for funding, HOM gets grants from private institutions as well as individuals. In fact, one of the measures they do to keep the organization afloat is to create ideal CSR programs for particular companies that have sought its advice. The fees HOM charges these companies are plowed back to help it buy materials in its efforts to develop new programs. A portion of the money, of course, also goes to administrative fees.

At HOM, as seen in almost all its projects, it’s all about volunteerism and sustainability.

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item Philippines: HOM is where the heart is
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