Saving the world is not a one woman thing. But these ladies spread their advocacy in the hopes of affecting other people to do the same.
Isa Garcia, 28, @isabadisa
Teacher at Mint College
Teacher Isa Garcia of The Better Story Project strongly felt the need to build a community where young women can be empowered with their personal stories. Over the last few years, The Better Story Project deviated from its original form and became more workshop driven and less of a mentorship program. In a culture that is often centralized on pro-poor projects, the general population deems self-help advocacies selfish and unnecessary. Isa emphasizes that by surrounding one’s self with a tribe that will bring the best in you, they’ll be able to make the world a lot better in the process. Through their project, women are encouraged to express themselves more freely with their preferred medium, converse about women’s issues more intellectually, and better understand what it means to be a brave woman in this day and age. — IJ (Photos by Arabella Paner)
How’s the mentorship at The Better Story Project going?
Well I guess it’s very fitting that we call this The Better Story Project because over the course of the last few years, it kind of deviated from its original form. So originally, it was supposed to be a mentorship program, where we would actually personally mentor younger women. But then over the course of the last few years it has become very workshop driven and very big on the social commentary of what it means to be a woman in this day and age. We’ve been playing around with different formats. Aside from workshops, we’ve had camps, we’ve had conferences, and we’ve even tried partnering with other “Girls Gangs”. We’re also trying to start a podcast for The Better Story Project so that it can go along the context and culture of the world and the Philippines today.
You’ve mentioned workshops. I’ve seen a lot of art workshop events spearheaded by your advocacy; can you tell us how these workshops directly go in line with TBSP?
Few of the people I cofounded TBSP with are either inclined towards the arts or are enthusiasts. We started a whole lot of art workshops just because we noticed that when it comes to people, but I think specifically young women, they really need a space where they are encouraged to flourish in their art. There’s a TED Talk, that was given recently where the speaker was saying that girls are raised in a culture of perfectionism and not taught to be brave, so we were thinking that art is such a good mode and medium to share the message. If you can empower young women [specifically], to share their art, or to embrace their art, we felt it was a good step towards I guess empowering the youth. I mean it’s a medium but it’s also not the only medium that we’re looking at. I think if anything we really kind of want to spark more intellectual conversations talking about misogyny in this day and age, or rape culture, slut shaming, or like all of those things, those are the things we want to tackle, that’s why we’re trying to format it into a podcast, it’s more conversational, and you can join the conversation.
“It’s important to find your ‘tribe’—find the people who will pull out the best of you and who will challenge you to make the world, your world, better.”
As an organization, what was the biggest struggle you’ve encounter since you’ve started your advocacy?
We haven’t met a lot of opposition in terms of misogyny. The biggest problem I think we’ve encountered as an organization is what people feel towards “self-help” or “self-improvement” is selfish. People have messaged us saying that “You know, what you’re doing doesn’t help the poor,” etc. I understand where their frustration is coming from given that we are a third world country with poverty issues. And of course, anything anyone can do to alleviate that could be great but I think that by helping people, he or she should start with themselves first. By empowering their self, they can find an avenue to help the disenfranchised in their own way.
What can be your advice to every woman who’s going to read your “story”?
I think my parting advice to any woman who reads this article is to not be afraid of who you are fully. For me, it’s important to find your “tribe”–find the people who will pull out the best of you and who will challenge you to make the world, your world, better.
Meggie Ochoa, 26, @meggie_ochoa
Brazilian jiujitsu gold medalist
When it comes to martial arts, women are almost always second priority. We’ve seen Filipino men dominate boxing and taekwondo, but in jiujitsu, a woman stands triumphant. Meggie Ochoa is a three-time jiujitsu gold medalist. After dabbling into different sports, she finally gave martial arts a go in 2013. And only a year after, she won her first gold medal. “I didn’t do it on my own. It wasn’t all me. It was a shared victory, ” she says. Her three-peat win totally earns her full bragging rights, but her humility and compassion are just as admirable. Along with other MMA fighters, Meggie is part of the Fight Like A Girl campaign. Started by Dojo Drifter, one of the biggest MMA blogs in the country, the group helps girls defend themselves physically and gain confidence in their ability and strength. If there’s one thing that she wants to change about how people see girls, it’s the misconception that we are weak. — MM (Photos by Arabella Paner)
How did your training differ, like from your training for your first medal and then now you actually won and then training for your third medal?
The training’s actually pretty much the same because the training camp’s the same. It develops based on what the head coaches want to make it, not based on how you want to progress. It will only differ from the way you approach it. The techniques that you will be focusing on, the techniques that you’ll do on your own time outside of the training camp for competitions, or the training that you do outside of the actual training sessions, dun siya mag-iiba. As you go higher sa belt colors –– there’s white, blue, purple, brown and black –– the more you have to work, the harder you have to work. Pahirap rin ng pahirap yung mga kalaban.
Are there any differences in competitions for males and females?
To be honest, here in the Philippines, may pagka-marespeto sa babae compared to other nations. Minsan nga mas okay pa kung babae ka dito kasi mas aalagaan ka nung mga teammates mo. Pero di ka rin nila pagbibigyan to the point na di ka ma-woworkout dun sa training mo.
Yung males mas malakas physically eh. If everything else is equal, yung mga babae, mapipilitan gumamit ng techniques so ma-pupush yung technical level, yung diskarte. You’ll find ways to beat the males, even if they’re heavier or physically stronger than you.
Most of my training partners are actually males.In competitions, I would say mas madali mag-excel sa international competitions kung babae ka kasi it’s a little bit newer to the females so di pa kasing- init yung labanan. Although siyempre may disadvantages din pero ako, I like to focus more on the advantages than the disadvantages.
“Pag inisip mo na weak ka, na di mo kaya, dun nag-uumpisa ang lahat. Dun pumapasok yung idea na papayagan mong gumawa ng masamang bagay yung mga ibang tao and then downhill road na yun. I want to disprove that we’re the weaker gender, cause we’re not. Hello, we give birth!”
You’re already showing that martial arts is a good sport for women, but do you have any advocacies to promote it?
Yes. Actually, nung nanalo kasi ako ng first world championship, I was more focused on the goal and the people who helped me. When I won the second time, that was when I realized na parang di sapat kung mananalo ako. What you do with that victory will matter more with the actual victory.
I was reading articles on CNN when I found an article about this 12-year old girl from Mexico got into a relationship with a 20-year-old man. Since then, nalaman niya na pimp pala yung guy. She was exploited. Imagine, 12-years old! Since I read that article, may nabuhay sa loob ko. Dun ko lang nalaman na nangyayari yun sa mundo. I mean, alam ko may sexual exploitation all over the world, but I didn’t know the details of it and how it happens. Since then, I started researching more about it and then grabe sobrang lala. Sa Pilipinas, lalo na yung mga bata, mas malala yung mga ginagawa sa kanila.
I realized that there is a bigger reason ba’t ako pinanalo ng world championship at kung bakit ko ito pagpapatuloy. I’m part of the Fight Like A Girl campaign. Dojo Drifter, one the biggest MMA blogs in the Philippines, started it. What they do basically is feature the stories of women who are empowered and also teach them martial arts or the self-defense aspect of martial arts. It was launched last September and then it’ll be ongoing until March of next year.
If there’s one common misconception about girls that you want to prove wrong, what is it?
Common misconception about girls? Na weak tayo. Dun nag- uumpisa lahat eh. Pag inisip mo na weak ka, na di mo kaya, dun nag-uumpisa ang lahat. Dun pumapasok yung idea na papayagan mong gumawa ng masamang bagay yung mga ibang tao and then downhill road na yun. I want to disprove that we’re the weaker gender, cause we’re not. Hello, we give birth!
Manna Vargas, 25, @mannavargas
Project Coordinator, Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation Inc.
From childhood family trips around the country, Manna Vargas’ passion for the environment just grew organically. After studying environmental development in Australia, she came back to the Philippines and focused on climate change — an issue that brings her passion for both the environment and social justice together. But don’t be fooled. Manna admits that, much like the rest of us, she finds the hard sciences difficult to understand, too. That’s the very reason why as a project coordinator, she makes the research more digestible for the common person, who’ll probably benefit from it the most. Outside of work, she lives out her values by sustaining a more conscious lifestyle. “I think it’s important to communicate to people that it’s okay that you don’t do a complete 360. It’s a success in itself just to be more conscious.” We all still have a long way to go but with people like Manna Vargas making discussions about the environment “cool and sexy”, the future of the next generation seems to be greener. — TS (Photo by JL Javier)
Have you always been into nature?
As a kid I was really exposed to saving the environment. It started with my lola and lolo. They were very much into hiking. We spent a lot of time in the water, travelling around PH. I guess that’s where my love for PH environemtn started. It wasn’t any trigger moment but it just grew organically. I actually wanted to be a marine biologist at first. The more that I started studying about it, I realized that there’s only so much conserving an animal you can do but unless you change people’s perceptions and values towards the environment. Also, the fact that I was really bad at math. (laughs) The hard physical sciences weren’t really suited to me. I decided to focus more on the social side of it. So when I moved to Australia, I took environmental development.
“My personal advocacy, aside from environment, is social justice and ensuring the equity of the way people live. Climate change [discussion] tackles both of that. I feel like with my job, though I don’t directly uplift the lives of these people, the bigger picture eventually of the work that I do will do that in a more sustainable way. In one way or another, I will help uplift people somehow.”
What do you like the most about what you do?
Personally, I love the fact that I’m just continuously just learning. My day-to-day job involves a lot of reading and talking to scientists. It tackles a specific issue close to me, which is social justice. My personal advocacy, aside from environment, is social justice and ensuring the equity of the way people live. Climate change [discussion] tackles both of that. I feel like with my job, though I don’t directly uplift the lives of these people, the bigger picture eventually of the work that I do will do that in a more sustainable way. In one way or another, I will help uplift people somehow.
How do you live out your advocacy?
In my daily life, I can say that I live consciously. I’ll be careful to say that I don’t eat meat because I do. But I am conscious of how I consume things especially how I used to be an intense shopper. I think it’s important to communicate to people that it’s okay that you don’t do a complete 360. It’s a success in itself just to be more conscious. Even just as simple as saying no to a straw, it’s a conscious effort. You can have this super naturalism environmentalists who make you guilty. What I realized, especially what I studied about people’s perception of the environment, [is that] you can’t necessarily shove it down people’s throats. The value for the environment has to genuinely come from them. You can just do these small little things and you’ll notice that your consciousness will just grow naturally. I feel like part of why people can’t do anything about it is that they have to make a complete shift in the way they live. The faster that they do it is better. But even in your own little ways, you’re making a difference because that way, people can feel like they’re part of the solution.