We are all suffering from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, each in our own way but certainly some far more than others. Our hearts go to those front line heroes putting their lives on the lines every day to serve others, starting with the first responders more than anyone, but also including the unsung heroes who deliver our mail and packages, stock the shelves and check us out at the grocery stores and clean our streets and buildings.
As we are hunkered down in our homes and adhering to the recommendations of our government and health advisors, anxious about how much we are all giving up from our day to day lives, I find myself thinking about my trip last year to the Philippines as part of an initiative started by a group of Salesforce employees in France, LightForce (www.lightforceproject.com).
As Customertimes has committed to participate in the Pledge 1 percent initiative co-founded by Salesforce, we are proud to have sponsored and participated in this worthwhile initiative for the last two years, increasing our sponsorship and participation this year with a commitment to continue for years to come.
My trip to the Philippines last year was nothing short of eye-opening and life-changing. Light poverty wasn’t something I was aware of just I hadn’t previously considered light as a luxury and did not realize that over 1 billion people on this planet do not have access to light sources other than the sun and fire.
Lightforce was created to alleviate a small portion of that deficiency by bringing solar lighting to remote villages in countries where this problem is so pronounced, often with indigenous tribes. Our visit to villages in the Philippines was one of several countries served across the world including Brazil, Madagascar, and others.
A typical day for us was to take an hour bus ride from the main center of Puerta Galera in the province of Oriental Mindoro to a remote area of the island and then hike between one and two hours to a remote village of Mangyan tribes. As we visited these tribes, we met villagers who lived in tiny wooden huts, on wooden slats with very little bedding or clothing and no light other than perhaps a few solar-powered lights for their classrooms. And those lights were first-generation where they were forced to pay a high price for oil to replenish their generators. If they wanted light in the evening to get by, a fire was their only option. They couldn’t afford flashlights and the batteries needed to keep them going.
Despite these conditions, they valued the need to educate their children even if they could not extend their studies in the evening without viable light sources. That was the basis of our mission. To ensure that school-aged children had the opportunity to study or read under a light in the evening and support the ordinary needs of the parents.
At one of these villages, having a passion for teaching, I asked if any of the students knew any English and if I could possibly try to conduct a math lesson. What started out to be a 10-minute lesson turned out to be a 2.5-hour session covering topics of algebra to a class of 6th graders. Just to put this in perspective, let’s think about this. These were 6th graders living in abject poverty with no light after school, who spoke three languages (native, Philippino, and English ) thanks to dedicated teachers who made a one hour trek through 7 streams of water in each direction to teach them and were able to grasp advance principles of math that were a few years beyond their current level of education. That blew my mind and continues to stay with me more than a year later. Another incredible memory is depicted in this article’s header image. The baskets take a week for the villagers to make and sell for about $5 which is a major contributor to their livelihood. I had delivered lights to these gentlemen’s huts a couple of hours earlier. When they recognized me delivering more lights to their neighbors, they tracked me down to give me these as a gift and refused to take any money for them.
Thankfully, I have been able to stay in touch with the principal of the school and Customertimes has continued to support this village financially over the year in times of need including this past month as the virus has affected them as well. Just as we have done in our own local communities as part of our Pledge 1 percent commitment.
My colleague who went back this year to revisit many of those villages also shared that her trip was truly life-changing and is helping her get through these incredibly hard times much easier. She remembers the faces on those children after she took their pictures with her phone and showed them the images. These young children smiled when they saw their friends in the pictures but were confused when they saw their own pictures. They had never seen themselves before. No phones, no mirrors even. Talk about things we take for granted.
So as we continue to hunker down and are asked to make sacrifices for the good of our communities, recognize that so many of us still have the basics like clean drinking water, enough food, our phones, and even light – which are all still luxuries to so many others in the world around us.
Be safe, stay healthy and be thankful. We will get through this.
Jim is the Chief Customer Officer at Customertimes. He has more than 30 years of experience in the enterprise software industry, having worked with both software and professional services companies ranging from venture backed start-ups to some of the largest software companies in the world. Jim has held management roles across Sales, Marketing, Product Management, Product Marketing, Professional Services, and Corporate Strategy, and he has personally helped 500+ clients across the globe leverage technology to improve customer-focused operations.