You hear it all the time – One person can’t really make a difference. When it is election time, a lot of people don’t vote, and when you ask why they say… One vote can’t change anything. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good habit to get into having that kind of attitude.
How does this apply to the subject of this site, living in the Philippines? Well, just keep reading, and you will understand.
The fact is that as a foreigner living in the Philippines, you are part of a very small minority. Yes, there are tens of thousands of foreigners here in the Philippines, but on a local scale, you are often a very small part of the population, less than 1%, I suppose. If you go to an upscale type of place, like, for instance, SM Mall in any of their locations in the country, you will see plenty of other foreigners there too. I would guess that whenever I go to a nice mall I probably see at least a half dozen other foreigners shopping there, sometimes more. Sometimes I have gotten a very strange feeling when I have been somewhere where foreigners were actually the majority there. For example, a while back I was in a Davao coffee shop and there were about a half dozen customers there. All of the customers were foreigners! It felt a bit strange to me.
However, if you go into other areas, even in a big city like Davao, which has a lot of foreign residents, you may be the only foreigner they see there over the space of a year or more. I mean, in poor areas where foreigners don’t normally go. So, when you do happen to go there, for whatever reason, it is an “event” in the area, a time when people remember. When you go to a place like that, your actions will be remembered, and will be a reflection on all foreigners. That’s not really fair, but it is a fact.
For example, let’s say you are invited to a birthday party of a kid in a very poor neighborhood. Most residents there have really never seen a foreigner right there in the neighborhood. Let’s say that your actions are really exemplary, the residents will think things like “oh, foreigners are such nice people, just look how nice of a man he is!” However, let’s say something goes wrong there and you get mad, throw a fit, use bad language and such. It will leave a very negative impression of foreigners with the people who see your temper tantrum, and also to those whom they tell about it. Suddenly, they will start thinking things like “foreigners are so arrogant, they are mean to Filipinos” and things like that.
What I am saying is that you are an Ambassador when you are here. If you are a Frenchman, you are not only an Ambassador of France, either, because people will only know that you are a foreigner, and they will associate your actions with all foreigners.
For many years, I used to travel Mindanao pretty extensively. Over the past 3 years or so, I have cut my travel down quite a bit, although I don’t really know why for sure. But, when I traveled Mindanao, I visited a lot of areas where very few foreigners set foot. I went to Basilan, I went to Tawi Tawi, I went all over the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), to places that are considered “no-go” zones for foreigners. I never had a problem in any of these places either. I always tried to carry myself in a way that would make people happy to know me, and have a positive feeling about me and other foreigners.
I took a trip in 2007 to Davao Oriental, specifically to Mati City. That was my first time to visit Davao Oriental Province. On the drive there, we came upon a very large Mosque along the highway. I was quite surprised to see it, because the Muslim population of Davao Oriental Province is not large. When we saw the Mosque, I decided to stop and take a photo there.
I posted the photo on my Mindanao Magazine website after we got back. Over the past few years, since posting this photo, a number of people have left comments about the photo. Just last week, though, a comment about the photo was left in another location, and it really got me thinking about how we foreigners are really Ambassadors here.
Auharon Lamaran Abdulcarim commented:
Hi Bob, thanks for appreciating our Mosque. We are the residence of that Mosque in Davao Oriental. And because of your help, our Mosque is now one of the tourist spot of Davao Oriental.
Thanks Bob.. All of the residence in that mosque regards to u.
I responded to Auharon with the following:
Hi Auharon – Wow! I am glad to know that I played a small part in helping your Mosque gain tourist attraction status in Davao Oriental! I was really surprised when I saw that Mosque, because I travel in the ARMM a lot, and of course see lots of Mosques there, but I never expected to see one in Davao Oriental! That’s why when I saw it, I had to stop for a photo! Maybe next time I am passing through, I’ll try to stop off and meet you! Hope you won’t mind a visitor!
Actually, this is kind of normal, though. I get a lot of communications from people in areas where I visit, and they are almost always very nice comments, and many really appreciate it when I visit their place. It always makes me feel good when somebody says something like that.
You know, I don’t believe the old apathetic saying that one person can’t make a difference. I have seen it in my own life that when I go to a somewhat remote place and meet the people there, I can make a big impact on how they think about foreigners. I have had a number of times when people have told me that they always heard that foreigners were not very nice, but after meeting me they changed their minds. Hearing something like that really makes me feel good too. I am not trying to brag, or claim that I have done super great things here. I am only pointing out that all of us really are Ambassadors when we travel around the Philippines. How we act, and how we treat people has a big impact on how the people think of us and how they think of other foreigners.
Hey, let me also say that I am not perfect. I have blown up and gotten angry in public places here in the Philippines. When I do that, it feels good to let off steam, until about five minutes later when I am embarrassed by my actions, and wish that I could go back in time and change my behavior. I have learned that it’s best to avoid doing such things in the first place, and I have gotten much better in avoiding getting into such embarrassing situations.
Try to act in a way that would make you proud. Try to act in a way that it will make people think that foreigners are good people. It will make a big difference, even just the actions of one person – you.