patricia non started a community pantry bayanihan

Bayanihan: When Ordinary Filipinos Become Heroes

Bayanihan is the antidote to kanya-kanya and tayo-tayo.1 We separate ourselves from others for an infinite number of reasons. The most debilitating reason, of course, is greed. Though we are a nation, some Filipinos still think of themselves based on ethnicity, regionalism2 Some of us still think they belong in tribes. Regionalism is the enemy of nationalism., and faith. That though we are a nation, we are still divided by the very things that should unite us.

For example, during elections, we still choose candidates based on where they were born, not on competencies and character. Many of us will still support the corrupt and incompetent politician only because he is from the same province or town. Or simply because he speaks the same dialect. Kanya-kanya ang tayo-tayo sabotage our opportunities to unite us and do good for all.

Because of this, we need to encourage our younger generation to cultivate bayanihan. Culture 3 kalinangan in Tagalog are those values and practices that we cultivate and nurture. Bayanihan will unite us all.

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Why is bayanihan important?

Bayanihan inspires every Filipino to show love for the nation by helping each other in times of need. Because of bayanihan, we choose not to stay on the sidelines. We take ownership of the problems around us and find solutions.

Another tagalog word for bayanihan is pagdadamayan. With pagdadamayan, we share other people’s burdens. It is an expression of our malasakit.4 We feel the pain of others because they are us.

Bayanihan comes from the word bayani (hero). Because of bayanihan, ordinary Filipinos can become living heroes.

Bayanihan means more than the communal act of helping families transfer their houses into new locations. If it were, it wouldn’t be called bayanihan but lipat-bahay.

Filipino artists romanticized it as the community helping a family transport their bahay kubo (nipa hut) into a new location. We cannot blame them, art is not always literal.

bayanihan: house transfer
Bayanihan: When Ordinary Filipinos Become Heroes 11

What is bayanihan?

Bayanihan is a culture that inspires every Filipino to show love for the nation by helping each other in times of need. Bayanihan means becoming heroes together. It is not the celebration of the strengths of an individual mighty hero. No, bayanihan is an expression of love for the country.

Bayanihan demonstrates why Filipinos can thrive in a crisis. A pandemic, like Covid-19, brings out the best, the inner hero in each of us. Like malasakit, bayanihan is a cultural value that lifts our spirit every time we practice them.

The words bayan and bayani will help young Filipinos understand and practice genuine bayanihan today. I will discuss it in the word origin blow.

Bayanihan in English

The closest equivalent of Bayanihan in English is community service. In community service, you render work for the benefit of the community without expecting anything in return.

Of course, there are slight differences.

Community service is often a project, something like Brigada Eskwela. But bayanihan can happen anytime. It happens because of the urge of Filipinos to help. When a crisis happens, Filipinos, be rich or poor, extend their hand to help others.

In the Philippines, community service also became a way of penalizing those who violated some minor laws. Those who commit jaywalking, for example, have to do one day of community service. This is not bayanihan.

Another translation of bayanihan in English is volunteerism. Most of those who joined organized projects to help the poor are volunteers. Those who set up their community pantries are volunteers.

Bayanihan is also social entrepreneurship. Though social entrepreneurship is organized and is meant to help the members of the community (or the world) in the long term.

There is no direct translation but you can find the essence of bayanihan in those I mentioned above.

volunteers in bayanihan
Volunteers are heroes too.

Bayanihan : Word Origin

To understand the meaning of bayanihan, let us consider the word origin. Doing so will help us get the essence of words that google translate cannot do. Consider the terms bayan and bayani in defining bayanihan.

The Meaning of Bayan

Filipino word bayan may refer to a community, town, or nation. Community and town are places where Filipinos associate themselves. Community and nation refer to people with whom Filipinos associate themselves. In many provinces, Filipinos refer to bayan as the center of the town.

Mike Hanopol’s song Bayan ni Juan refers to both. (Watch the video of the song here).

Bayan Ko, which was composed in 1928 and made even more popular by Freddie Aguilar’s, refers both to the country (place) and nation (people). Here is a copy of the original lyrics of Bayan Ko.

Bayanihan is community volunteerism.
Bayanihan is community volunteerism.

Meaning of Bayani

Students today may think that the word bayani means heroes. Google translate says so. There is a much deeper meaning that can help us make sense of bayanihan.

In the western world, a hero refers to a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. They are somewhat like the superheroes like Superman, Wonderwoman, Captain America minus the superpowers.

You don’t need to have outstanding achievements to be a bayani.

Bayani is a Filipino who shows love for the bayan – both place and people. Our national anthem has the line “ang mamatay ng dahil sayo.”.” A bayani sacrifices his or her life for his bayan.

Ninoy Aquino said that Filipinos are “worth dying for.” It is worth being a bayani for them.

The song Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo celebrated a peaceful revolution through people’s power- the highest form of bayanihan.

We call our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) our bagong bayani (new heroes). They can be unknown, ordinary people who sacrificed their lives for their families and their bayan.

This is why our health workers and front liners are called bagong bayani (new hero) during the Covid-19 crisis. A bayani does not have to be a mighty warrior. The measure of heroism is his love for his people.

Bayanihan : Being Heroes Together

Based on the words bayan and bayani, bayanihan means sama-samang pagpapakabayani. Alone, you can be a bayani. Bayanihan means that people have be together.

Can you see now why it is the antidote to kanya-kanya and tayo-tayo?

Bayanihan happens when ordinary people come together, in unity, to help a member of the community, the whole community, or the nation in times of crisis. These ordinary people do not expect to be celebrated as heroes. They believe that helping others or the community is what they ought to do.

Filipinos do not approve of those who bragged about how they helped others. Bayanihan is what we do because of who we are.

Yes, a bayani is a hero. But this hero is not measured by his power or strength but by his love.

Now that we understand the deeper meaning of bayanihan, we can answer how to make it work.

How bayanihan works?

Helping those who are in need is practiced everywhere in the Philippines. Foreign tourists can see this in practice easily, but they don’t have a name for it. In a country of typhoons, floods, and earthquakes, it is a lifestyle.

But how does it work?

Bayanihan at Work: Patrician Non Started the First Community Pantry
Bayanihan at Work: Patricia Non Started the First Community Pantry

Bayanihan begins with one.

When I was in college, I thought of helping the victims of the Mt Pinatubo eruption. I have no money to give, but I felt that others would be willing to help. I told my classmates about it, and they loved the idea., then we started talking to other students. After two weeks, we went to Pampanga with four trucks of relief goods and some money. We did this project two more times.

Bayanihan begins with one person. That person can be a politician, a celebrity, a professional. or an ordinary person.

The act can be as simple as pushing a car that refuses to start. When one person is willing to help, others soon follow. I bet you see this happening almost every day.

Or as heroic as Jericho Rosales’s rescue of those who were stranded in their houses during two super-typhoons. He is a living hero and there are many who are like him.

Then others follow.

One mother cooked food for those in rescue centers after an earthquake — and then her friends followed her lead. An entrepreneur sold her beauty products for significant discounts to donate the proceeds, then men and women bought the products even though some of them didn’t use the product.

It begins with one, but it never stops with one. There are always people who will follow – and often scale up the reach of the deed.

In our lifetime, we have received help from strangers. Our sense of utang na loob, our debt of gratitude, inspires us to pay forward.

To foster the spirit of cooperation, you only need one person to start. Then others will follow. And those who benefit from the act, directly or indirectly, will pay forward.

Bayanihan infographic 880 x 2000
Bayanihan Infographic

What are examples of bayanihan today?

To appreciate this Filipino culture beyond the “house-transfer definition,” we ought to give it face. We will see how one person can become a living hero and encourage its practice.

I am sure that there are thousands of stories you can find out there, most of which are unwritten.

We can also bring concern for the well-being of the community to our organization. To help companies during these tough times, I designed team-building programs that encouraged empathy, kapit-bisig, and compassionate leadership.

Bayanihan Everywhere

Angat Buhay
The OVP has one of the smallest budgets in the government, just enough to cover operational expenses. But Leni Robredo believes in the power of bayanihan. Through Angat Buhay, she attracted good Filipinos to work together to lift up the lives of Filipinos. For example, during the Pandemic, Angat Buhay brought together thousands of volunteers and donors to provide aid to health workers and victims of Covid-19.

A photo of Angel Locsin, a celebrity who practices bayanihan today.

Angel Locsin Gets Candid About Her Advocacies
Angel Locsin is no activist, but she has been advocating the rights of women and indigenous people. She used her money to help those who were victims of natural disasters. Because of this, she inspired other celebrities to donate and volunteer. She inspired in Filipinos the true spirit of Bayanihan. Forbes Magazine listed her as one of the “Heroes of Philanthropy 2019“.

Pandemic Cannot Stop Bayanihan
When people need help, Filipinos come to the rescue. In this article, Rappler listed those instances when ordinary Filipinos continue helping others even in the times of the Pandemic.

People are Step-Up to Help Taal Volcano Victims
Some days after the Taal Volcano erupted, there was heavy traffic flow going to Batangas and Cavite. They are ordinary Filipinos who brought food, clothes, and other essentials to help fellow Filipinos.

Shops offer free coffee, food to healthcare workers amid coronavirus
Every business can be a social business. During this Pandemic, some stores offer free coffee to health workers.

Ligo Sardines reallocates the entire advertising budget to help independent groups fighting COVID-19 I love Ligo. And I admired its owners for choosing to support Filipinos during the Pandemic.

Who is Patricia Non, the woman who sparked kindness through the Maginhawa community pantry?
I thought that community pantries would exist only for a week or two. Unlike the supporters of the President, I never doubted the intentions of the founder of the Maginhawa Community Pantry and of others who Partricia Non inspired. This is an excellent example of Bayanihan. Filipinos helped because they know they don’t have to wait for politicians to do something good.

Bayanihan in the Netherlands
I feel good about this post. Filipinos bring the spirit of helping people in need wherever they are. I have heard of OFWs who have been helping our kababayans abroad.

Bayanihan Spirit

You must have heard that the Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. It starts on September 1. And people feel the air of Christmas spirit.

We can say the same for the bayanihan spirit. We often hear the phrase in times of crisis. It happens when we read about other people who helped victims of typhoons, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and other tragedies. We never run out of these tragedies.

We say that there is a bayanihan spirit when we see outpouring support for others. It is as if Filipino, even those who have less in life, felt the urge to help. It feels good to help others.


What is the cultural significance of bayanihan?

We cultivate what we practice. To develop a strong bayanihan culture, we must embed the practice of thinking as a nation and make helping each other a daily practice.

We do not need tragedy to happen.

Bayanihan showcase what Filipinos can do together. Each of us is capable of becoming heroes. There is no reason for tayo-tayo and kanya-kanya attitude to continue. No matter how big or gargantuan the challenge is, we can do great things when together.

I have mentioned some examples above.

But it will be of disservice to you if I won’t mention People Power. In February 1986, Filipinos exercised the highest form of bayanihan. Ordinary people came out, faced military tanks, and risked their lives to end dictatorship.

people power
People Power

People Power is the highest form of bayanihan.

The new generation of Filipinos won’t be able to appreciate the great cultural significance of People Power. They are not aware of the Desaparecidos.

They don’t know that during that time, anyone who spoke against graft and corruption of the tyrant Marcos was either imprisoned or killed. Well, politicians were imprisoned. But ordinary Filipinos were killed.

Filipinos know that alone no one can fight the tyrant. But together they can be an unstoppable force for good. They did not aspire to become mga bayani (heroes) but what they did was pure bayanihan.

In short, those who participate in bayanihan do not aspire to become heroes. They became heroes because they decided to do what’s in their cultural DNA.

We must put a stop to the lipat-bahay example of bayanihan. It trivializes the best of our culture. Bayanihan happens when Filipinos come together for the benefit of the community.

Let us encourage our government to promote bayanihan. I daresay that there should be bayanihan month. We need this to strengthen the culture of people empowerment in the Philippines. We need to do this so that every young Filipino will realize that each has the power to make change happen.

Resiliency, Malasakit, and Bayanihan

Three of the common Filipino values are resiliency, malasakit, and bayanihan. And these values are often expected in times of crisis. I am writing this piece during a global pandemic. 

taal evacuees lining up for food
Taal evacuees.

A year after the first declaration of community quarantine, the Department of Health continues to report more than 20,000 infections every day. On the other hand, we are also starting to learn how those who surround the president made enormous profits because of the pandemic.

But Filipinos are resilient people. They have seen many corrupt leaders. They will endure the one they have today. Probably, most of us are just waiting for the next election. We believe these leaders lack malasakit. And it is the ordinary Filipinos who come together in bayanihan.

The community pantries were borne out of people’s frustration. They believed that the government officials, who do not experience hunger for a day, do not care. This is why they come together to help each other.

Core Values

The Department of Education is promoting the spirit of bayanihan through Brigada Eskwela. They encourage the community to come together so that schools are prepared for children. The intention is admirable. 

We can do better.

The Department of Education must hold bayanihan as a core value. Embed this in every subject. Educators can find plenty of examples they can use in their lessons. Bayanihan is people empowerment. We must educate our children that they have powers and they can come together to make change happen.

If you are a teacher, I want you to know that I will help you.

The Role of Bayanihan in Filipino Lives

I know of many Filipinos who want to leave the country. They felt that what Duterte did to the Philippines was worst than all the past Philippine presidents combined. They could not understand how he continues to fool millions of Filipinos into thinking that “change is coming” when he is the epitome of a trapo (traditional politician).

Every country has corrupt politicians. Every country has good politicians too. 

The Philippines is my country. The Philippines is the best place for me and my family. We only need to celebrate and spread the awesome in Filipinos. 

Bayanihan makes us awesome. 

Even if it is true that we have the worst government, we also are kind, caring, and loving people. 

Filipinos won’t leave you behind. Filipinos care for each other. We are easy to forgive. But there are times that we come together, in a spirit of bayanihan, to end tyrannical and corrupt regimes.

We are learning. We are growing. I won’t leave this country. I don’t aspire to be a bayani, but I will participate in bayanihan anytime.

Common Questions

An act of kindness that brings people together is a good example of bayanihan.

In times of crisis, Leni Robredo is always the first to respond. She is known (and often mocked) because she offers lugaw. Lugaw is the easiest to prepare to feed those who are hungry. Many NGOs are doing the same. Those who made fun of this act of kindness only show their ignorance. So, do not hesitate to help people,

Brigada Eskwela is another example. The community takes care of children. Members of the community contribute whatever they can to prepare our schools.

The Karitun Klasrum is famous for reaching out to street children. One person became famous for it. But it was not the work of only one person.

Every Saturday, five college students teach street children how to read and write. They are unsung heroes. Nobody talked about them.

Always remember that no man is an island. We need each other to survive, bounce back, and thrive. We do not need to wait for a celebrity like Angel Locsin to take the lead. Be the first one to act.

Because it is often that when you act, others will follow. Do not expect everyone to move at once. Some people are rather slow to act, but they’ll eventually move.

We become resilient because of it. Because we take of each other, we strengthen each other. One can say that this is what we expect from human beings. That this is likely not unique to Filipinos.

But we hold ourselves responsible for one another. We may have many flaws as a nation, but you won’t see us forsake those who need us.

Encourage bayanihan by promoting it as a core value. You can provide education sessions to explore how each employee can practice it at work. You can invite Jef Menguin as a resource speaker.

You can come up with team-building exercises that demonstrate the importance of working together. You may design a CSR activity like mangrove planting or cleaning Manila Bay. Helping others makes work meaningful.

Read these articles too.

Footnotes

  • 1
    We separate ourselves from others for an infinite number of reasons. The most debilitating reason, of course, is greed.
  • 2
    Some of us still think they belong in tribes. Regionalism is the enemy of nationalism.
  • 3
    kalinangan in Tagalog
  • 4
    We feel the pain of others because they are us.

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