WARNING: Okay, this is kind of a love letter to my employer Trend Micro and my co-workers. So please pardon the gushing you are about to read. Call me a brown-noser, but it’s not something I do often or without reservation. However, when someone or something merits praise, I feel you shouldn’t hold back just because it might not be seen as cool. So in the spirit of the season, please give me this opportunity to talk about what a good corporate citizen is Trend Micro…
I’ve been employed in Silicon Valley for over 15 years and Trend Micro is the first company I’ve worked at that really has demonstrated it has a heart. There are a lot of reasons why I believe this, but I think one Trend Micro program is the best example: the Home Building Program in the Philippines.Here’s a little history about the program: In celebration of Trend Micro’s 20th year in 2008, the founders decided it was time to give back to society.
The Philippines was chosen to be the first country to benefit from the program because we have over a thousand employees there (about 20% of Trend Micro workforce), yet the country has the lowest GDP among Trend Micro’s major sites.
In the late summer, when I received the invitation to participate in the home building program in the Philippines, bells and whistles went off in my head. I was looking for something to break me out of the personal doldrums that I was in…And here was an opportunity being served up – a chance to do something special for others as well as myself.So on November 9, I left San Francisco for Manila, not knowing what I was going to experience but with hopes that it would be a fun and worth-while adventure. Now, I can tell you it was 10 times better than I hoped.
Arriving in Manila
I arrived in Philippines at about 7 on Saturday night and was greeted by a Trender from Security at the Manila office. He drove me through the city in what seemed like a Southeast Asian version of Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I was soon to learn that this was normal driving in Manila.(Say what you will about Philippine drivers and traffic, but during my 10 days on the road there, I never saw a single accident – which is a daily occurrence on my commute through San Jose, California.)Booked into the Holiday Inn Galleria, which is connected to a mall and only a few miles from the TrendLabs facility, I had great view of the Manila skyline. Since I stayed awake the entire flight, I experienced virtually no jet lag, going to sleep at a normal time – only a day ahead. So far, so good.After breakfast the next morning, I sat in the warm humid air by the hotel pool until I was ready for a dip. I was surprised by how many families were awake and active in the water at 7:30 a.m. I suppose in a tropical climate it makes sense to be up early to get things done before the day gets oppressively hot.
The Volunteers of Batch 15
The group of Trenders that made up what became known as “Batch 15” came from various Trend Micro offices around the world.
On Monday, all the international volunteers met in the lobby of the Holiday Inn and took air-con vans to the office. I quickly ascertained that I was the oldest guy there. No problem. I like younger people because they tend to appreciate my sophomoric sense of humor. Though only a short distance away, it took us 30 minutes to fight through Manila morning rush hour to get to the modern business building where Trend Micro has employees on 5 floors.
After some introductions and a quick tour, we volunteers were driven to a restaurant and given a meal and an orientation by a Filipino gentleman. He was one of the leaders of Gawad Kalinga (GK) – a foundation that Trend Micro was working with that has a goal of making the Philippines a slum-free, squatter-free nation through a strategy of “providing land for those landless, homes for the homeless, food for the hungry, and as a result providing dignity and peace for every Filipino.”
The gentleman shared some touching stories about the Filipino experience of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country by conquerors (Spain, US, Japan) and the desire of many of his countrymen to lighten or whiten their skin color to be treated better. He assured us that by simply being there, we were showing the underprivileged people that we valued them.
Grotto Vista Resort
After lunch, we hopped back into the vans and headed for Caloocan City. It was about a 45-minute ride north of Manila. We stayed at the Grotto Vista Resort, which is about a 15-minute jeepney ride from the GK Silver Heights complex – the disadvantaged community where we would be helping with the construction of homes (75 small one –room apartments for each family).
Meeting the People of GK Silver Heights
After finishing unpacking in our motel rooms, the 25 of us divided into two groups and boarded the jeepneys for GK Silver Heights. Fifteen minutes later, we climbed the little embankment that led into the community’s small courtyard. On the way we were greeted by the “villagers.” The adults were bright, smiling, and welcoming. The older kids were excited and cheerful. The smaller ones didn’t quite know what to make of these “volunteers” from many different lands.
So began the building of our close relationships with the people of GK Sliver Heights and our helping them build their new homes. It was also the start of “the million-photo-frenzy.” The number of pictures that we took of ourselves and our new friends was astronomical. I wonder if any previous GK home building project had been as well documented.
The First Day of Work: The Hole
My first and only task of the day was digging a 3-meter hole for the foundation of a flight of stairs. I tried other chores like sifting sand and painting, but they weren’t very comfortable for my middle-aged back. I quickly returned to digging the hole.
Since there were no machines on site, everything we did was man-powered. Digging holes with shovels and plastic buckets is tough work. Sweat poured off of me on this first day like I was doing jumping jacks in a sauna. I took care to stay hydrated though some of the villagers were concerned that I was getting too red in the face.
We worked 3 hours that morning. At noon, we all retreated to a second courtyard area where a long table had been set up. There we were served the most delicious midday traditional Filipino meals that were prepared, cooked, and served by the mothers and wives of GK Silver Heights.
After a leisurely two-hour lunch that included a lot of goofing around with the 200+ children of the community, we went back to work for another couple of hours. It was with great satisfaction that by the end of the afternoon to see the hole completed. Most of the last part of the digging was done by one of the Filipino workers hired to help with construction, but I still took great pride in the hole for the stairs.
Before leaving the GK community the first work day, we had snacks and a culture exchange. I shared about the American holiday Thanksgiving using paper fold-out turkeys and a “Happy Thanksgiving” banner.
For the Philippine culture exchange, Trend co-worker Rez dela Fuente shared about the history of Filipinos being conquered by Western powers and being deprived of eating the good cuts of meat, thus having to eat the entrails and less appetizing animal body parts.
I am pretty finicky but in the spirit of the day, I took a few bites of the cooked chicken intestines on a stick. I did not enjoy it.
That Night – Reflections on the First Work Day & Sorting the Donations
After dinner at the resort, we got into groups and talked about the first day. I was impressed that despite all the potential hazards – especially with novices working – there were no reported or witnessed injuries.
Having worked as teen with my uncle who was a handyman, invariable every single day one of us came home with some sort of injury – splinter, cut, or bruise. It was actually quite miraculous that the entire week I was there, I never saw a worker, volunteer or villager, shed a drop of blood, though I did get a couple of bruises that I only noticed a day or two later.
After the discussion, we spent a good portion of the evening sorting through the donations of clothing and toys that we brought with us for the GK Silver Heights families. Once sorted, we bagged everything up with a plan to award some as carnival prizes on Thursday and to leave some behind on Friday, as a parting gift.
I spent the morning being part of a bucket brigade, filling in yesterday’s hole with cement, which would become the foundation for the stairs. In the afternoon, I left the hole with cement and began applying cement plaster to the inside walls of an apartment on the second floor. This job required more finesse than brute strength and as such was kind of frustrating.
After calling it quits on the work day, the play time began. We had a party for all the kids in the community who were celebrating a birthday in November. Following a ceremony and some singing, two large chocolate cakes were cut into by Karen Lopez, our volunteer leader, and other volunteers.
When there was nothing but chocolate icing left, Karen took some of the icing and slapped it across my face. I think this was payback for “accidentally” pouring some ice water on her head from the second floor a few hours before. Or maybe I just have the kind of face you want to smash with icing.
No matter, the food fight was on. In a breathtaking short amount of time, every Trend Micro volunteer had a face smeared with chocolate icing and many of the kids and adults of the community were also equally decorated. I take no responsibility for this immature behavior, but I absolutely do condone it.
That Night – Preparing for the Carnival & Balut Eating Challenge
After returning to the resort, a refreshing swim and dinner, we broken into groups and prepared for the following days carnival for the kids. We were going to have five “booths”: one for each of the following: face-painting, Japanese table games, a ring-toss game, craft-making, and Santa’s North Pole.
Well, as the oldest and fattest male, I got the prime part of playing Santa. Ugh. I’d have to put on red felt suit with cap and beard in sweltering heat. I couldn’t wait to be so ho-ho-ho-oh-so-hot!
I soon retired to my room. Apparently, soon after The Great Balut Eating Challenge began for the other volunteers. I feel so fortunate to have missed this team building experience. I can assure you I wouldn’t cave into the peer pressure. What is a balut you may ask? It is a hard-boiled fertilized duck embryo. Yuck. Yes, majorly disgusting yuck. Yet some of the volunteers ate the balut and lived to tell about it.
The Third Day of Work – The Removal of Nails and the Bucket Brigade
With the hole and the cement foundation for the staircase filled in, I felt a little lost on the third day, but when Karen announced that we’d need people to strip nails from 2x4s and other pieces of lumber, I was totally all over this chore. It was something I used to do with my uncle on my first job as a handyman’s assistant. The goal was to be able to reuse both the wood and the nails. The community had someone straightening out the nails after they were pulled from the old wood.
I certainly liked this idea of recycling old building material. It was also very satisfying to see a pile of cleaned up wood and reusable nails that my fellow volunteers and I had created from the pile of debris.
After another delicious lunch of roasted pig, our last work chore was to form a bucket brigade, to remove dirt from a hole and carry it far enough away that it won’t fill up again after a hard rain. Clearly, this was a labor intensive task – that really was the essence of “moving a mountain.” It took us a few hours to complete the job, but it was surprisingly fun as a team sport and very satisfying once done. We celebrated, of course, with more pictures!
The Carnival – Santa Claus in the Tropics
Now, the work day was done, it was time for playing Santa Claus in the Tropics. Once again that drama degree of mine from U.C. Irvine was paying off. From previous experience, I learned that the trick to playing Santa is that you have to be the biggest and happiest guy in the room. No negativity or tinge of nasty can come from you. You must radiate goodwill…which of course, makes it both exhausting and exhilarating for anyone who has ever donned the red felt costume with a long white beard, etc.
But a funny thing happened at GK Silver Heights when I was putting on my Santa costume: the cheaply made pants ripped open on the seams and when I sat down, I had exposed underwear. Santa needed some help fast.
There was some scrambling around to find something to cover myself with. Soon a blanket was produced…but that just wouldn’t do. So I used it as stuffing for my belly instead and put my brown shorts over my Santa pants. Problem solved. Christmas in the Tropics saved.
When “Santa” made his appearance, bellowing “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he was greeted with a chant of “Richard! Richard!” from the kids. Quickly, Karen got them to change the chant to “Santa Claus! Santa Claus!” Christmas in the Tropics saved again!
Soon I was sitting in a chair and my two lovely elves (Trenders) were passing kids to me like an assembly line. I would get about 30 seconds with each one before he or she would get photographed with me and then whisked away to choose a toy while the next one came in. The little kids were scared out of their minds and if not crying, they were catatonic.
This made my elf and Trend Micro colleague from Australia Ing Yong laugh very, very hard. Seeing her laughing, challenged my ability to stay in character for the kids…but I managed, even when it began to rain on us. Ho-ho ho!
That Night – Rehearsing the Farewell Presentation
Apparently, there’s a tradition with GK Home Building that on the last day with the villagers we volunteers are suppose to perform for the community before the community performs for ud. It was decided that we would do a Korean pop dance led by the adorable Japanese Trender Mitsue “Mimi” Iwamura. So we received less-than-an-hour dance lesson from Mimi and apparently, that was good enough. It was fun, though I know I didn’t have the steps. I, however, vowed to “fake it.” And that’s exactly what I did the next day.
The Sad, Long Good-Bye
So the last morning we did our dance for the community and they seemed to enjoy it as much as we did performing it. There is video footage of this performance but I can’t share it here as I have threatened to kill whoever dares shares it with anyone outside “Batch 15”…Yes, it’s that embarrassing.
The community’s farewell ceremony for us included a folk dance by the mothers of the community, followed by Gangnum Style dancing by the kids. We all smiled and applauded but if truth be told, at least by Ing and myself, we were sick to death, hearing the Psy song over and over when we were working the previous three days. The “president” of the community gave a short speech and thanked us repeatedly for coming to assist them.
A couple of the volunteers were permitted to speak to the community. I said, “This is the best example of when you give, you receive in return. You may think that we’ve given you a lot but you have given us so much more.”
Some of the older kids gave me small gifts of their affection – a Snoopy key chain, a Winnie-the-Poo bear, a necklace with half-a-heart. And hugs. Lots of hugs.
I didn’t linger in the courtyard as people said their good-byes. I sat in the jeepney and talked to an older woman who was 76-years-old. She spoke of being alive during the Japanese occupation. I admired her spunk.
So this is what it feels like to be a rock star
Finally, we were all in our jeepneys and as we rolled away, a few of the little girls were in tears…as were a few of us volunteers. I remember thinking, “So this is what it feels like to be a rock star.” We came to town, did a little work, entertained some, and then were showered with love and affection. Heady stuff. One of the best experiences of my life.
I want to close with a heart-felt thank you to Trend Micro for this program and state here publicly that I am so proud to work for an organization that really cares about people and demonstrates it with programs like the Home Building Program in the Philippines.
Here’s a few more of my favorite photos of the thousands that were taken that week in the Philippines:
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.