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From Our Executive Director, Rossella De Leon

Mountains and seas cradle the Filipino people -- in them we find our home, our shelter, our abundance, and sometimes, our terror.

As a child growing up in a fishing community in Laguna and Pampanga, Philippines, I couldn’t explain the 80 mile long earthquake ground rupture that sounded like thunder, or why my Mom was crying and screaming in the streets while looking for me. I couldn’t explain why I had to move schools as a first grader while tin roofs flew through the air and why my neighbors’ houses were covered in volcanic ash. I couldn’t explain the endless typhoons that hit the Philippines every year. I couldn’t explain why my friends would trade sex for food or suffer in one of the Philippines’ countless sweatshops.

Indeed, none of these are things children should have to explain. But when you grow up in a country like the Philippines, you’ll find children often understand tragedy and struggle the most. I met one of these children, TJ, in 2013 during a relief mission several years after my family had moved to the United States. After Typhoon Haiyan, TJ awoke to find his friends dead in the streets. When TJ told me his story, he said he was happy -- happy for his friends who died, happy they didn’t have to suffer like him and the other survivors who were then starving while waiting for relief.

As a university administrator at the time, I had planned on building a career in the academia. But in meeting TJ and knowing there are millions like him, I no longer wanted the relief and rehabilitation of my homeland to be something I did after my “real” day job. I realized that my childhood experiences, and the experience of TJ and his friends, don’t have to be the experience of the Filipino children. I wanted to see a world where Filipinos had access to basic health, education and human rights, and the idea for the Foundation for Philippine Progress was born.

I didn’t just find terror in the Philippines, but it’s also where I found courage: on that same relief mission after Typhoon Haiyan, I met the most selfless people I’ve ever known. Nuns who treck the mountains to volunteer at indigenous people’s schools; teachers who give up the comfort of a good salary to volunteer in community schools in far-flung areas; doctors who give up the security of a hospital salary to volunteer in rural areas that need medical support. The people I met in the Philippines laid the groundwork for the Foundation to form partnerships with already thriving community initiatives in the Philippines that ensure that the poor and suffering have access to basic health, education, and human rights.

What I’ve found between the mountains and seas of the Philippines is a people full of hope -- neither typhoons nor volcanic eruptions can hide the selflessness or dreams of my people. We have the vision and will for a full life for every Filipino -- we invite you to join us in our exciting venture to come see, hear, and touch that reality.

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