Volunteer champions are ordinary individuals who make extraordinary contributions in their advocacies. The search for Volunteer Champions—now on its second year—is an annual event organized by iVolunteer Philippines. It’s an avenue to recognize and appreciate volunteers who exemplify the organization’s core values: Integrity, Professionalism, Inclusivity, Nationalism and Change Leadership.
John Mauro Manuel, a 30-year-old teacher from Cagayan Valley, was awarded as the 2021 Volunteer Champion for Professionalism. Volunteers who champion professionalism are those who go beyond what is expected of their given role, and exceptionally deliver their duties and commitments, all while showing respect for their advocacy, their peers and the community that they serve. They volunteer with the mindset of delivering the best.
In Mauro’s case, he isn’t just a teacher by profession; he is someone who understands the power of education, and hopes to bring education closer to the marginalized communities. He went above and beyond his call of duty when he established I-SAVED, an organization that empowers the vulnerable community to pursue their education and dreams. At the core, I-SAVED aims to save students from dropping out of school for various economic reasons.
This organization was founded in 2016, with Mauro as the founder and his two siblings as the founding members. To date, I-SAVED has more than 600 active members. Its survival and growth are primarily anchored on sustainable entrepreneurship and grassroot partnerships within Cagayan.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Coming from humble beginnings, life was also hard for him as a student. But Mauro and his siblings were blessed with the help of a missionary who sponsored their studies when they were in college.
Even in his teens, Mauro was already active in parish activities and in community services. But the educational sponsorship that he received in college transformed his passion for service, and turned it into a lifelong commitment to make a difference, an impact that lasts. He promised to himself that he would use his profession to give back, to save just as he was saved.
In his early years as a teacher and prior to establishing I-SAVED, he noticed that some of his students were having a hard time attending classes. This observation, paired with genuine concern for his students, compelled him to conduct home visits to better understand their situations.
The reality was that there were deserving students who needed support, but Mauro had limited resources to offer. With just his and his siblings’ funds, he couldn’t help as much as he would have wanted to.
It was then that I-SAVED was born. The desire to make an impact on these students’ lives and to watch that impact grow and multiply over time, pushed him to create an organization anchored on entrepreneurship but geared towards education. Mauro, through I-SAVED, organized income-generating activities and partnered with universities, local governments and businesses to fund their programs.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Even with a full-time teaching career, Mauro continuously leads I-SAVED as it expands and thrives. To better understand the impact that they make, let’s take a closer look at a few of their ongoing programs.
- Sponsor an I-SAVED Child
Established in 2019, this program supports poor but deserving students in Kalinga and Cagayan. Scholars are chosen through community visits, house-to-house validations, and background checks with the captain. Currently, they have 26 college scholars, with courses ranging from IT to Engineering to Criminology. Mauro takes pride in seeing that this scholarship program is not only inspiring at-risk students but is also changing their parents’ mindset about the value of a good education.
- Pandemic Programs
Since the pandemic started, I-SAVED has already spearheaded various initiatives to buffer the impact of this prolonged crisis. The organization has provided load allowance to more than 300 students to help them transition to virtual learning, has set up community pantries to provide necessities, has organized learners’ community pantry to offer much-needed school supplies and has donated printers and papers to 23 schools, among so many other initiatives.
Mauro fondly recounts that many of these programs were initiated and organized by their volunteers, with only minimal supervision from him. It makes him happy to see them step up and grow as volunteers.
This is the main income-generating project of I-SAVED where they recycle old bottles and sell them as lamps, fueled by vegetable oil. The entire process, from bottle collection to lamp selling, is made possible through partnerships. Partner universities collect the bottles, youth councils turn them into lamps and I-SAVED sells the lamps. To sell, they utilize Facebook’s live selling feature and partner with local stores who are willing to display their lamps for free.
- Shop and Share Auction
Apart from the lamps, I-SAVED also collects pre-loved items from their vast networks of volunteers, and diligently sells these items through Facebook live selling.
WHERE WILL THEY GO FROM HERE
In 2021, I-SAVED was among the 20 finalists for the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) Award, besting more than 900 other organizations. The awards and recognitions that they receive along the way will further pave the way to increase their credibility and expand their reach as an organization. Mauro believes that I-SAVED will continuously grow as more volunteers and partners come in to share their resources.
Mauro shares that he is currently helping a Bulacan youth group to benchmark from I-SAVED. He intends to impart with them his best practices and to help them start their own programs. When asked what his defining moment is, given all that he has accomplished so far, his answer was in seeing his scholars grow into active volunteers.
MAURO AS A VOLUNTEER CHAMPION
Indeed, Mauro is a deserving Volunteer Champion. Through I-SAVED, he is turning at-risk students into passionate volunteers, encouraging local businesses to be part of nation-building, expanding the reach and impact of schools and local government, and showing all of us the power of volunteerism.
But he couldn’t have done all of these on his own. I-SAVED’s achievements were made possible through the collective efforts of ordinary individuals, people who continuously recognize and grab every opportunity to help and make a difference.
As the founder of I-SAVED, Mauro’s contributions are truly extraordinary because he isn’t just saving lives, he is also changing mindsets.
“Let’s pray to God to send more volunteers into the volunteering field. That through activities like these, leaders would be developed, small groups would eventually start and orgs would sprung up.”~ John Mauro Manuel, 2020
Written by: Lorraine Rañoa, iVolunteer Philippines
Photos from: John Mauro Manuel, I-SAVED