As the 10th anniversary of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International fast approaches, its founder Marissa Torres Langseth has wasted no time trying to meet with friends, Scholars and HAPI volunteers throughout the country. It was on one such occasion that she visited HAPI-Cagayan De Oro for a very brief but meaningful time from November 20 to November 21, 2023.
Planning for this trip began months before she arrived in the Philippines. As the HAPI Junior Ambassador and travel companion of Ms. M on this trip, I coordinated with the lead convenor, Johnny Denden, over several months with the plan of conducting an Anti-Human Trafficking Seminar and distribution of school supplies. One thing led to another and it snowballed into a series of events; a seminar for 60 senior high school students, the distribution of 110 books for the HAPI Book Drive to other high school students for Reading Month, the distribution of school supplies to 50 elementary school children, and serving arroz caldo to approximately 70 residents in the area of the chapter’s headquarters.
It is important to note that the seminar and book distribution were conducted at Indahag National High School thanks to the support of the school principal Ma’am Maurita Donasco, PhD and senior high school teacher Ma’am Marie Jane Monroyo.
“We were a little anxious but also excited to show Ms. M the things we do at most of our events and show her how our volunteers contribute to our efforts. Their work is crucial to [our] success,” stated Johnny Denden, HAPI-CDO’s lead convenor. “It made me feel good to demonstrate what our chapter and I are capable of doing as we become more involved in the community,” he continued.
Denden expressed gratitude for Ms. M’s presence and the positive impact she has had on the people she helps. Her visit boosted morale within the CDO chapter.
After the events, everyone headed out to a buffet dinner. While waiting to be seated, Ms. M and I had the opportunity to get to know the volunteers a little better. It was clear that they felt shy at first, but breaking the ice was quite easy. Assistant Lead Convenor Lilweyn Apdian admits to being nervous and shy when she finally came face to face with the founder of HAPI. “I fought my fears because I wanted to make her feel welcome in CDO. [I expected] that maybe she would be a little bit strict or serious. What if she will get mad if we do things wrong during the events? I was nervous to meet her because she is an empowered woman who does things that others can’t.”
After finally spending time with Ms. M, Lilweyn realized that her expectations were wrong. Ms. M’s kindness and generosity towards the volunteers made a lasting impression on her. “She’s smart, kind, and even though we only talked for a short time, she is nice. I adore her because of her passion to help with all her heart. We’re so glad we [met] her in person and grateful that she visited us.”
The next morning, we were invited to visit the Philippine Red Cross-CDO Chapter with Johnny and HAPI Scholar Maria Louizza Fugoso so they could donate blood. Then we were off to lunch to continue conversations about the chapter’s development and further nurturing the leadership skills of the volunteers, most of whom are still students. This also gave Ms. M the opportunity to spend some extra time with her Scholar, Maria.
“When I learned that Ms. M Was coming to CDO, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I had high expectations for her visit, hoping it would be an inspiring and insightful experience for everyone involved. The prospect of learning from her was truly exciting,” Maria explained. “After meeting Ms. M in person, my impression of her was overwhelmingly positive. She exudes warmth, intelligence, and a genuine passion for her work. Interacting with her left me feeling motivated and grateful to be a part of HAPI. Ms. M’s visit exceeded my expectations, and it was a truly fulfilling experience.”
The energy and passion of the volunteers was admirable. Their ability to function and coordinate like a fine-tuned machine, even when preparing for multiple events at two different locations, amazed us. As awe-inspired as the team may have been while getting to know Ms. M, they may not have realized that the feeling was very mutual. One thing our founder appreciates is dedication, and this is something the Cagayan De Oro volunteers truly have.