Tough Questions: My Volunteer Story

Hi! Im JB Tan, one of the co-founders and currently a volunteer & the Executive Director of iVolunteer Philippines. I am a graduate of Computer Science and have full time day job as a Project Management Professional in a multinational company.

When asked what I do during my spare time.. I answer  “I volunteer!”.. I used to be shy about it as it is always followed by a tough question on why I “waste” time in volunteering and it is not always easy to get people understand. Overtime I realized these tough questions are a channel of advocating and inspiring individuals to participate in my cause. Today I am energized with such doubt as it confirms that iVolunteer Philippines has a place where we are really needed.

My drive has evolved over time. When my volunteer journey started in 1997 with YEAST (a church ministry in school.. forgot what the acronym stood for), my focus was more on myself. As a kid, I am extremely timid, zero confidence in public speaking and would literally have shaking legs when asked to stand in front. And this was my sole agenda in joining the group – build my self-esteem as a commentator/reader which would require me to stand infront of the entire school population. And I found this effective so I volunteered from one organization to another with a simple intent to develop my opportunities. Some people may question my personal motive.. but looking back it was fine as it didn’t hurt anyone rather it helped me grow and fulfill the volunteer opportunities needed.

Change started in 2000 when I volunteered to be part of FCCY – Filipino Chinese Catholic Youth where I led several ministries. My stay in the group transformed my view from focusing on my development to ensuring growth for the entire organization and its individual members. Eventually it evolved to cascading the growth outside of our organization as we focused on catechism and reaching out to less fortunate around the church community. As I invest more and more time in volunteering, people around me including my family questioned what I get out of these and that I should be spending more time in studying..  the lessons you get here are not found in a formal classroom space, and the growth was exponential as the learning became a cycle of sharing and learning back in return.


a2003: Overcoming fear of public speaking and facilitating an FCCY orientation

I started seeking sustainability when I took responsibility and turned around the least popular committee of my college batch – Catch2t6 Socio-civic. During this engagement, I wanted to start making bigger and longer-lasting impact rather than just attending one-off activities. And so we partnered with Open Heart Foundation and developed a program that would holistically make an impact to their communities. We faced a big cross road in 2006 as the members graduate and enter a new life stage. However, with the overflowing collective passion from the team, we overcame and formalized our organization as CLAY – Computer Literacy Advocates for the Youth and proved that such work can continue beyond school.

I have been volunteering for around 18 years and now with iVolunteer Philippines. We were looking on how to bring the old practice of “bayanihan” into the modern times. I could have easily volunteered in another organization but there is a whitespace that no one was attending to.. ie to holistically advocate volunteerism and make the interconnections amongst the disorganized volunteer bodies. Initiating such organization is not an easy part-time role but hearing testimonials such as in my recent encounter with volunteers from a tree planting event organized by our partner MMDA saying that “iVolunteer is encouraging them to volunteer more as it has become easier” makes every minute spent on the behind-the-scene operations of iVolunteer worthwhile.

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2015: iVolunteer team’s radio guesting at Radio Veritas

iVolunteer’s challenge remains to address those questions on “why volunteer?”…  definitely it is not wasting time, but it is building a better future not only for others but also for each one of us as our lives are interlinked. The kid that you help today can be the fireman who will help your kid in the future. Volunteerism doesn’t have to wait until you are “stable”; it can be one hour of your month, it can be a portion of your salary, it can be a small bit of your expertise. By combining our collective resources we can definitely build a better Philippines!

by JB Tan, Volunteer & Executive Director of iVolunteer Philippines

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