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RAFI, an “Architect of Change” from Cebu

An organization in Cebu is taking the lead in creating a better Cebu and upscaling its efforts nationwide – the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. or RAFI.

RAFI is a family-based social development foundation founded by Don Ramon Aboitiz in 1966 which began as a philanthropic undertaking supporting the causes of charitable groups. It is rooted from Don Ramon’s philosophy that “the dignity of man is best respected by helping him realize his hopes and by sharing with him the burden of his fears.”

It was Don Ramon’s son, Eduardo, who continued what the former started and institutionalized RAFI, expanding it from a traditional philanthropic foundation to a people-oriented, social development organization.

At present, it is under the able leadership of its president, Roberto E. Aboitiz guiding RAFI in its vision of “Touching People, Shaping the Future” and working towards “elevating lives through a comprehensive approach that champions best practices in community development.”

The 5 focus areas of its programs and services reflecting RAFI’s holistic approach are Culture and Heritage, Leadership and Citizenship, Education, Integrated Development, and Microfinance and Entrepreneurship.

Educating Cebuanos about their roots

Through the Gabii sa Kabilin (Night of Heritage), Kids at the Museum and Kabataan, Kultura ug Kabilin (KKK), Cebuanos, both young and old, are given the chance to know more about their culture and heritage through a tour to Cebu’s museums.

Last year’s Gabii sa Kabilin for example, saw 11 museums and 7 heritage sites participating with more than 2500 people attending the said activity despite the rains. It did not only feature historical artifacts but it also showcased Cebuano music and dance. Visitors can visit multiple museums for the single price of P150. They are taken from one heritage site to another with the help of a tartanilla (horse-drawn carriage) where kucheros (tartanilla driver) can earn beyond their usual income.

Nurturing Future Leaders and Recognizing Agents of Positive Change

RAFI provides an avenue for empowering emerging young leaders aged 12-20 through programs such as the Young Minds Academy (YMA). The young scholars of the YMA undergo an eight-month leadership and citizenship development training using experiential learning approaches exposing them to real issues instead of playing computer games or going to the malls during weekends. Prior to their graduation, they present proposals or community-based projects addressing problems related to the selected theme for the season.

Aside from conducting trainings, RAFI also recognizes ordinary individuals and groups from Visayas and Mindanao that spearhead efforts to make a difference and enhance the quality of life of communities especially the less privileged through awards like the RAFI Triennial Awards. In effect, the awards provide inspiration to the awardees and nominees as well as other individuals to be agents of change in their respective communities despite the challenges that they face.

Helping provide a conducive environment for learning

One of the problems confronting public schools is the poor state of some classrooms. Recognizing this, RAFI established its School Rehabilitation Program under the Education focus area.

As of 2010, a total of 451 classrooms were rehabilitated, benefiting more than 18,000 schoolchildren under this program since 2004.

Another program under the Education Focus area of RAFI is the Children’s Festival. Less-fortunate children from within Cebu City and faraway towns in Cebu are provided opportunities to enjoy their childhood through fun and play and at the same time learning values education, personality development, leadership, culture and heritage and environmental protection.

Greening the environment and forming the foundations to enhance quality of life

Part of the Integrated Development Focus is the GREENIN Philippines Program of RAFI which stands for Generation Redemption and Expansion of Natural Resources Initiatives Philippines Program geared towards its advocacy on protecting and rehabilitating the environment that has Cebu as a starting point. This program includes tree-planting activities which differ from traditional ones.

The program uses native trees for forest development as these are better adapted to the Philippine climate potentially preserving and restoring the country’s natural heritage, native wildlife species and local endangered tree species. Nurseries for these trees are also established which become sources of quality native tree seedlings for the different tree planting activities.

People from different sectors are being tapped for tree-planting events including running enthusiasts such as in the Run 2 Plant 4 GREENIN event held simultaneously in Cebu’s 48 municipalities and component cities last June 25 where more than 55,000 people joined.

According to Ms. Rowena Alensonurin, Executive Director for RAFI’s Integrated Development Unit. “I was really amazed. The runners really planted. They continued to the planting site and planted. Everybody was forgetting about the run. Ang ilang sharing namo (What they shared) was ‘we were not caring about the run anymore. We just wanted to plant ’”.

This particular activity served as a launching pad of the government’s National Greening Program in Region VII with 229,639 total native tree seedlings planted in 110 hectares spread over 48 towns and cities in Cebu.

The GREENIN Philippines program was also incorporated to the expanded Green and Wholesome Environment that Nurtures Our Cebu Program, a development program of the Cebu Provincial Government to make Cebu “an attractive place to live, work, play, invest and do business”. It’s counterpart in Manduae is the My Mandaue Program which like the Our Cebu Program, provides a framework that engages various partners to actively participate in developing successful communities.

RAFI is also active in the fight against the Big C. It established the Eduardo J. Aboitiz Cancer Center in 1988 upon the request of Eduardo Aboitiz, himself affected by cancer. The center uses a holistic approach in helping raise awareness about different cancers, providing aid to early cancer detection and screenings, assisting indigent patients in treatment, and providing better quality of life through counseling and wellness activities with both patients and their family members. RAFI also organizes yearly the Moonwalk for Breast Cancer Awareness during October and maintains a Cancer Registry.

Providing Financial Resources and Know-How to encourage Entrepreneurship

RAFI Micro-finance, the microfinancing arm of RAFI give entrepreneurs especially women the chance to avail of capital for their businesses.  In 2010, RAFI Micro-finance recorded 13,360 active clients from various parts of the Visayas. Activities such as livelihood seminars and Businesswomen’s Summit provide these aspiring entrepreneurs additional capability needed to make their businesses flourish. Corporate social responsibility initiatives are also done to help alleviate the lives of their neighbors.

Indeed RAFI’s impact is huge as it continues to carry out its vision of “Touching People, Shaping the Future.” But as an “Architect of Change”, it can only do so much. It still needs “workers” and “carpenters” to help them continue constructing a better Cebu, a better Visayas and Mindanao and eventually, a better Philippines.

by: Dr. Narciso Tapia of www.cebumd.com

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