July 11, 2012
Last June 30th I was invited to give a short talk at the Social Media Day celebration at Ayala Tower One. It was organized by TweetUp Manila and was spearheaded globally by Mashable. The theme was “Social Media Capital” as there are over 35 million Filipino netizens who made it possible to capture that new title for the country.
Over 27 million Filipinos regularly log in to Facebook while a couple of million have made Twitter a popular go-to site for trends, news and information. Since 2008, Filipino netizens have led the world in video and photo uploads. The growing numbers have made pundits name the Philippines the world’s social media capital since 2010.
I accepted the invite even though it was a weekend (family time) because I felt it was the right forum to share my story on how social media helped me get the support of the Canadian group Global Medic last December 2011. They responded to my request to come and help restore water and public health issues in Cagayan de Oro in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong. The value of their assistance was over USD 150,000. Because of my constant pleas in Facebook and Twitter, I got to the right people in Philippine Air Lines, Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy who all sponsored the transport of volunteer Canadian medics and water purification tabs and equipment.
I haven’t really told the story in full. On a personal level, it was the biggest thing I’d ever accomplished without actually doing anything myself. I mean, I just made phone calls and requests. But the responsibility was enormous. I am so grateful to the Canadian men and women medics who volunteered to help our country and flew here on Christmas Eve. I have to tell this story again now because I really have to honour and give thanks to everyone who helped. This is a real case of moving mountains.
I remember being extremely frustrated and feeling helpless when I heard news of bodies being washed up and communities being wiped out because of Typhoon Washi (Sendong). I was about to bitch on Twitter and Facebook that not enough was being done when I remembered that my brother was a big supporter of Global Medic in Canada. So I thought, why not ask them to come here. They said yes in an instant. But between my brother and me we had to raise $50,000 USD to fund the mission’s initial stages. Of course we didn’t have that money. So my brother asked me to a) solicit for funds [not possible given the short time] or b) find a way to get the team and equipment to fly for free. That started my week of crazy begging and praying.
This was the earliest response. 48 hours after the flood, I got two of Global Medics’ local trucks on board this Philippine Navy ship. Thank you to Admiral Alex Pama of Philippine Navy and Col. Boy Santiago of Philippine Air Force for facilitating this request.
Right after the mission of the Canadian volunteer medics in CDO, I met them in Manila. We went to the corporate headquarters of Philippine Air Lines and gave thanks to Special Assistant to the Chairman & CEO on Special Projects Emilio Yu and PAL Foundation’s Menchu Sarmiento. It took a few phone calls before I got to the right people. I have to say thanks to Vivienne Tan and Joel Santos for supporting my request. PAL flew all the equipment, supplies (water purification tablets) and volunteer medics free of charge from Vancouver to Manila.
My childhood friend and fellow Air Force Brat, Col Miko Okol gave me access to the Air Force C-130 with no major questions asked. Through this whole feat, no one even met anyone face to face. We communicated by phone, text, email, Facebook. At the courtesy call, I expressed my gratitude to the Philippine Navy and Air Force but they replied by saying no thanks was needed. They did this to serve and help the Filipino people. Everyone was a hero. (Must mention Lt Col Ali who also assisted in the transfer of goods).
Back to the Social Media Day event, it also served as the launching date for Project 140, which seeks to identify and support 140 prospective scholars from the country’s poorest provinces, through the cooperation and sponsorship of social media users, big and small.
I am all for using social media as a tool for spreading goodness and connecting people who are in need. Sometimes I’m guilty of tweeting inane things – like my lunch, stuck in traffic updates, my cable digibox acting up. But really, social media is whatever you want to make of it. And what happened last December really proved to me that it can move mountains and help thousands of people.
Congratulations to Ros Juan and Tonyo Cruz for a very successful Social Media Day. It reminded me of how truly connected we can all be. And how we can use this tool to make a positive difference.
By the way, a few days after we had successfully sent the Sendong relief mission to CDO, I got a tweet from the BCC in London. They invited me to participate in a discussion about emergency response and the need to be prepared. My angle was, if one person can do this (organize a relief mission over Facebook and Twitter), imagine what a government can do in setting up its city to be prepared for emergencies and disasters. I learned that the UN won’t have enough funds to respond to every environmental emergency in the future, that each country has a maximum allowable amount of assistance. It made me nervous about our country.
It is storm season again. Are we even prepared?