The Alliance of Philippine Community Organisations (APCO) last Saturday conducted a Public Consultation for Community Development forum at a community centre in Auburn, one of Sydney’s hubs of migrant communities.
The forum had two segments, a group workshop early in the day with focus on analysing community needs, resources and opportunities under the theme “My Ideal Community”, and a group work in the afternoon where participants put together their action plans on how to build their “ideal community” under the theme “Reaching for the Dream.”
There were two resource persons invited to speak in the forum. Former director of Philippine General Hospital Dr Gabriel Carreon spoke in the morning session. I was the other one, and I had the afternoon session.
From my knowledge of the forum participants, I knew that they are all community leaders who I consider community resources as they are experts in their respective fields.
I considered my role in the forum only as a sharer of our experiences in social integration, politics, and multiculturalism using our involvement in multicultural and community media as our platform.
The other topics covered by the forum included Community living, facilities and organisations; Health, housing, child care, social services and other settlement issues; Community arts and culture, youth and sports; Education, employment and enterprises, and access to government services.
The forum was organised by APCO President Jhun Salazar and APCO founding president Dr Cen Amores with Prof. Ruben Amores, one of the recently appointed members of the Filipino Ministerial Consultative Committee, as the forum facilitator.
Here is the message I shared with the participants which I want to share with you also:
Good afternoon to everyone. Isang magandang hapon po.
I have gathered from earlier sessions that you have set out the parameters of an ideal community.
I also understand that at the end of today, this workshop will have drawn up a roadmap on how to reach that ideal community which is the groupâ€™s dream.
Thank you for giving me these few minutes to dream with you. After this short talk, I hope you will consider my dream as part of your dream too.
Since the first Filipino community groupings set foot in Australia more than 40 years ago, our community has no doubt achieved a lot of things that we can be proud of.
In my observation as one who has called Australia a second home for 30 years, foremost of these achievements is the growth of our community — in numerical terms.
Today, our community belongs to one of the largest migrant communities in Australia — with more than 220,000 Australian resident population that are of Philippine origin or of Filipino parentage being quoted by government leaders.
And Filipino / Tagalog is considered as one of the top languages in Australia spoken at home other than English.
And in other districts like Blacktown, it is considered the second language.
In those 40 years, our community has also had some of our fellow Filipino Australians recognized in various fields â€“ in education, arts and letters, entertainment, technology, science, business, politics, media, and community and social services.
Lately, we also saw the government, especially those charged with multiculturalism, giving representation to our community as part of ministerial consultative bodies.
Yes, we have heard acknowledgment and seen recognition from the local, state, and federal levels of government.
But perhaps, those achievements and recognition are not enough to create a big impact to the wider community.
My observation is that, compared to other cultural groups, or migrant communities, we as a community may be short-selling ourselves â€“ knowingly or unknowingly â€“ on the way we treat each other in the community or how we at times downgrade Philippine products or services.
Which leads us to believe that perhaps this is why we have less kababayans in elective positions than those from other migrant communities.
Or perhaps, despite our many years of residency in our adoptive country, we have not found the most effective way of integrating ourselves to Australian society.
There may still be some sectors in our community whose practices run on â€œexclusivityâ€ principles.
Or perhaps, for others who, after finding the way to integrate, tend to forget the Filipino community once integrated.
Against these realities, others would probably say that the youth will carry on our dream.
But, sad to say — judging from attendance in community functions — the youth in general may be shifting towards that other end — that end of being fully integrated and in the process forgetting their heritage.
And I think you are also aware of this sad reality â€“ which this workshop may also be addressing in building an ideal community.
Without considering youth in a community development agenda, no community can consider itself ideal. Or, if it can, it will be short-lived and will not be sustained.
I must admit that I do not have the complete solution on how to reach for our dream of an ideal community.
But I can share with you some experiences in community media in relation to what I believe are three essential requirements in community development in an Australian multicultural setting.
Essential Requirement #1 : Relevance to the Wider Community
When I founded our main websites, emanila and The Filipino Australian, my dream was to broadcast to the world how we are doing here in Australia, and how we live our lives as Filipinos.
In addition, I also made sure that we have mechanisms established in our online publications to showcase to the world how we inter-act with the rest of Australia and how we influence Australia.
It is not therefore surprising that one of our taglines for The Filipino Australian is â€œFilipino influence in Australiaâ€.
Records will bear me out that in news coverage, we meet the standards of mainstream media of timeliness, completeness, and accuracy of reporting.
Australia winning a Security Council seat. We covered this on the same day Australia won the seat. But we also related the news to the Philippine role in the United Nations – that of General Carlos P Romulo being the first president of the General Assembly. That way, we are raising the profile of the Filipino community which is our way of influencing the collective thoughts of the wider community.
Asian Century white paper â€“ We published news and analysis on the impact of the Asian Century white paper in relation to migration and foreign affairs and trade — almost at the same with major news providers.
Local Elections â€“ We ran news and analysed trends of the recent local elections. We shared news and photos of elections in Blacktown, Campbelltown, Ashfield, Parramatta or in areas where there were Filipino candidates or where there is known concentration of Filipinos. Again, this is an approach that we have deliberately adopted in order to help the Filipino community “influence” the collective thinking of the wider community towards the Filipino Australians.
Essential Requirement #2: Connection with Other Cultural Groups and Migrant Communities
As early as 1982 when I arrived in Australia, and in 1998 when we established emanila, our publications and websites have recognized that the Filipino community is part of multicultural Australia.
Our publications have focused on content to demonstrate that our websites — and by extension, the Filipino community — embrace multiculturalism. These included community festivals, civic activities and other events participated in by other migrant communities.
But being immersed in multiculturalism does not mean we should lose our own unique identity.
Where opportunities to lead other groups present to our publications, then we take up the leadership challenge.
I would like to believe that this strategy is the same strategy that some of us here in this gathering have adopted.
Essential Requirement # 3: Engaging the Youth
Of the more than 220,000 Australians of Philippine origin, or of Filipino parentage, I would like to venture a guess that a bulk of this belongs to the 25 and below age group.
In our publications at The Filipino Australian, we have made it our policy to publish content which also caters to the youth or their preferences.
We also make sure that the design of our websites and publications are contemporary, and are â€œyouthâ€ friendly.
By this, I mean our websites cater to users of Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites who would like to share their thoughts and preferences especially with â€œLikesâ€.
I believe we have successfully engaged the youth in this regard.
In fact, one of our websites, PinoyJokes.net, has 159,800 fans or likes which modesty aside has more fans than more popular brands.
These three essential components I recommend to the group in building an ideal community, namely (a) relevance to the wider community, (b) connection with other migrant communities, and (c) engaging the youth.
I sincerely hope that you can draw some parallelism in our experiences from running our community media websites and publications to reaching for our dream of an ideal community.
But I must note that our dream for an ideal website is a continuing and evolving one. We innovate, but we also follow the flow of events, adjusting our dream to changing market conditions, and changing our roadmap in reaching our dream.
And I welcome you all to use our techniques if you find them applicable to your needs.
I thank you all for your patience.
Here are some photos taken yesterday afternoon: