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[Y-SPACE] Lessons from uprooting

By Lei Azarcon

Heroism is way outside of my comfort zone. OFWs, farmers, teachers, healthcare and frontline workers are some of our modern-day heroes. What makes them courageous is their altruism – their desire to care and help others despite their acts bringing them little to no merit. By lack of merit, I mean that it doesn’t put them in a position of economic, societal or political power. The smiles and gratitude from the people whom they’ve helped are priceless; monetarily speaking though, these are thankless jobs despite the truth that they carry society on their backs. As Bertolt Brecht put it, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.”

I was taking my lunch break in the pantry when my colleague Mikey told me about this volunteer program, an opportunity to teach in France. France Volontaires offers various civic service projects: assisting people with disabilities, teaching children and young adults, migration missions etc. It was something that piqued my interest, but uprooting myself and settling in a foreign place, was an act I thought I didn’t have the guts for. I know that a lot of people would jump at this opportunity to leave the country, but I was hesitant and not ready. I thought, that just because you are unhappy where you are, does not guarantee that you’d be happy somewhere else. As the old saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side” but for me, the grass in the Philippines was already, quite literally, a vibrant green.

You know what? I decided to do it anyway. There is growth in staying inside your comfort zone, and there are also some painful (but crucial) factors to be done outside of it. I was unsure of myself throughout the application process. They chose me and four other co-volunteers out of the numerous applicants. I got the project that I applied for, and I was assigned to an agricultural school in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It was a civic service volunteer program that paid less than what I was earning then. They provided roundtrip plane tickets, lodging, and an allowance for meals. I had nothing to complain about because as long as I have the basics covered, I already feel absolutely fortunate. Being content in a world that always asks for more, to me, means success.

I stayed for eight months which became a year due to the pandemic. Throughout my séjour in France, I’ve encountered people of all ages and from different backgrounds. I taught theater, English, and arts to students from nine to 22 years old. Some of the students had difficult family/living situations, some were dyslexic (but France provides special assistants to these students during class), and some had behavioral problems, but they had equity in learning. There was this boy, who was around 13 years old, who started the school year not knowing how to read or write. He was mild-mannered and played nicely with others. He had different practical skills, but he was not literate when the school year started. He progressed quite well and now knows how to do both.

There is beauty and hope in trying. From everyone I have spent time with, I learned. From the drunk man at the subway in Paris, yelling at people to shut up, and telling me to go back to China, to the sweet, elderly ladies who devoted their lives to God, and the school, there is so much to understand and learn from each and every one. Fear and courage are not mutually exclusive. Bravery sometimes looks like taking a step forward even though you are afraid and unsure of what lies ahead.

Lei Azarcon is a sales representative for a multinational science and research company. She likes food, reading books, binge-watching anime and other shows & playing Studio Ghibli songs on the harp.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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