The Australian Mentees

27 Feb

by Jason L. Sy (SA 21 – Section M)

As I entered the Gawad Kalinga (GK) conference room in the Institute for Social Order (ISO) complex of Ateneo, my informant greeted me and introduced me to the rest of the group. Moments later, it was already ten minutes past the set meeting time and the GK employees were waiting for two more people to arrive. My informant was able to spend the time well by acquainting me with their current activities and also told me about the agenda of the meeting.

The meeting that day was a kamustahan (feedback) session, according to my informant. They were going to hear from GK volunteers who acted as mentors and hosts to an Australian delegation who visited the country last January for four days. Though my informant said that the evaluation is a month late and that the Australians have already left, this was the first time they had this mentoring system and they wanted to evaluate how this new system faired. These mentors were part-time GK volunteers who had professional jobs. They were tasked to introduce GK to their “mentees,” the Australian guests, who were curious about this organization and were willing to be a part-time volunteer as well on top of their current occupations. The mentors were asked to show them how life is like being a part-time GK volunteer while being a full-time professional. They hosted the Australians in their homes. Since a weekend fell on this four-day period, the mentors were also asked to bring them with their family outings just as what they would do on a typical weekend.

Before the start of the meeting, I already felt that the group accepted me warmly. One of them even offered me candies before the meeting began. They started with a prayer led by my informant. The people then introduced themselves one by one and I myself did so as well while explaining why I was there. My informant headed the meeting and he outlined what each mentor was to do. He highlighted four lenses that each mentor would reflect and share about. These lenses are family, listening to the guests, time, relationships and faith or a sense of God.

The first mentor went on and shared his experiences. He also shared about how his two Australian mentees who were able to see not only the positive side of GK communities but also the negative aspects such as the lack of sanitation, relationship conflicts and the like. The meeting was informal as seen in the light banters and laughter that filled the room as the mentors recounted some of their experiences with their mentees. One mentor recounted the time that his mentee wanted to buy and ride a tricycle from Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, to El Nido which was around 200 kilometers away. The organization fostered a culture similar to a family setting. The GK workers addressed their seniors as tito (uncle) or tita (aunt) instead of the formal sir and ma’am while the regular employees preferred to be called “full-time volunteers.” The people in the meeting were very candid, sharing both bad and good things they felt during the mentorship program. They also cited ways in order to improve the program and to streamline it into the main thrusts of GK.

Coincidentally, the agenda of the meeting itself was all about cultural sensitivity. Through the reflections of the mentors, I could identify that what were being said were in line with the concepts discussed in SA class discussions. The mentors and even the guests themselves exhibited cultural sensitivity as exhibited in how they hosted and dealt with their mentees. Being immersed in one culture is something that makes people

One of the mentors shared about him even texting his superiors asking about his guests’ religion upon realizing that his family would be going to a Catholic mass on Sunday. He expressed his admiration for his guests for being open to attend the religious service despite not being a Catholic and being interested in buying religious artifacts after the church service. Moreover, though he and the GK villagers were both uncomfortable conversing in English for the guests to understand what they were talking about, he was surprised when the Australians told them that it was okay for them to speak in Filipino.

Just like the typical Filipino who would always say yes, another mentor narrated about the time when he politely said “yes” to one of his guests who wanted to use his cellphone to call a loved one in Australia because a storm was passing through despite knowing how much a long distance call would cost him. Laughter ensued in the room when he said that his blood pressure shot up knowing that he would incur a lot of charges when his guest’s long-distance calls dropped several times. Language “barriers” were also present. A mentor said that, at one point, he was asked by his mentee what “dog” was in Filipino upon seeing a dog in a GK village. The mentor replied, “aso” to which the Australian replied in shock, “What did you just say? Are you referring to me?” It turned out that he mistakenly heard it as the two-syllable English vulgar slang word for one’s behind.

For the most part, the meeting involved the mentors sharing their experiences and evaluating the new mentorship system. “GK is not about building houses, it’s all about building relationships,” said one of the mentors, realizing that hosting these Australian guests was actually an exercise on relationship. In organizations, relationship-building is indeed a key to cooperating and reaching a common goal. In GK, the vision of building the nation is transformed into a reality by making the organization foster camaraderie like a typical Filipino family where you could simply call your co-workers tito or tita. These good relationships maintained among the GK volunteers is even shared to others such as the Australians, spreading the spirit of GK while also showing the warmth and hospitality of Filipinos.



1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

Through friendly introductions, I was able to establish rapport and trust of the people. I was able to observe how the people interact with each other and communicate their ideas freely and candidly. This made a more comfortable environment for them. They had the meeting normally as they are not that conscious as I am seen as a guest who they could interact with rather than a mere silent and unapproachable observer who may be seen by some as hostile. By immersing myself and being part of the meeting, I was able to observe how people acted and reacted to what were said in their usual disposition or normal states which made my observations more credible than simply observing. Furthermore, I was able to see and even experience the organization’s culture or norms that its members adhere to.

2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

The key informant played an important role in allowing me to understand what was happening during the meeting. Minutes before the meeting, he was kind enough to give me a background of what was currently happening in the organization and what the meeting’s agenda would be. He was able to introduce me as well to the other people present in the meeting who also warmly welcomed me. He also explained organization jargon and terms that were unclear to me.

3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

A questionnaire or interview may be very objective and one-sided. Moreover, questionnaires and interviews would be exhaustive and is imposing on the part of the answerer who may be biased and even pressured to answer the questions, thus increasing the possibility of him or her underestimating or overestimating her responses in order to put people or organizations in a good light or to advance his or her interests. This may cause inaccurate answers. Since queries coming from the questionnaires and interviews come from the one who wishes to gather data, the extent of information gathered would not be as detailed or accurate as there are things expressed and meant beyond what one writes or says. This is in contrast to participant observation where the data gatherer, like me in the meeting, is able to observe emotions – facial expressions, tones of voices, reactions, and body languages – that may imply something and expose things that may not have been said. Because I was immersed in the situation, I was able to approach and ask my key informant and the people around about things that were unclear or not evident or how these things came to be.

4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

The questionnaire or interview might be better to know facts and specific details such as how the organization runs itself, what the organization’s financial standing is, how many people manage it. These two data gathering techniques are also able to fish out things that are not apparent by simply participating or observing the event.  These two may also be used if the researcher is not able or is not allowed to be present in exclusive events or gatherings wherein confidential information is shared among members, an example of which would be the national intelligence meetings, fraternity gatherings or a Roman Catholic conclave. Moreover, if the data gatherer has bias brought about by prior exposure to what he or she plans to extract data from or already has strong value-judgments with regards to the subject area, a questionnaire or an interview would be able to get more accurate responses. In this way, the responses would come directly from the subjects rather than be described and recounted by the researcher who already has preset notions and beliefs that may be contradictory or in support of the subjects and his or her responses.

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized



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