Thursday, November 05, 2015

LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight: Alexis Sy, Paying It Forward

Despite his financial struggles, the unassuming scholar and LoveYourself top counselor keeps the cycle of kindness going, one compassionate act at a time. "I like helping out people, especially when I see them happy or when I see my efforts bear fruit. It gives me fulfillment. And because there were people who helped me in the past when I needed it, I somehow want to give back." 

By Jean Natividad 

Not considering its tragic ending, the 2000 American drama flick Pay It Forward, based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde, is a delight for its stellar performances and heartwarming theme. In it, a young visionary named Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) creates a networking plan of paying favors forward to spread kindness in a rather organized fashion and, ultimately (and excuse the cliché), change the world. 

While good deeds seem harder to come by these days and the idea of making a change too daft for society's cynics, it certainly wouldn't hurt to hope for more Trevor McKinneys in this world. Alexis Sy, we dare say, is a Trevor McKinney in his own way. 

Alexis, 22, a dedicated student and top counselor at the LoveYourself Hub in Malate, Manila, has received kindness in many forms. And not one to put his fellows' efforts at goodwill in vain, he ensures to do his fair share in keeping the cycle of goodness going. 

We sat with Alexis in one of the places he calls home, the LoveYourself Hub, to talk about struggle, compassion, and why it makes sense to pay it forward. 

A student of life
A DOST scholar and close to finishing his Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, Alexis is a model student of De La Salle University (DLSU). His duties in the institution don’t stop in the classroom, though. He is also a volunteer for DLSU's Student Discipline Formation Office where he acts as jury in student disciplinary cases. 

As diligent as he is in campus, Alexis is a more persistent student of life. His journey so far hasn't been easy, which at some points in the past caused the young student volunteer to doubt his future. 

"The tuition at my school is pricey, and I'm not from a well-off family. Every middle of the term, when we would have to choose subjects and receive the tuition assessment that averages P60,000 per semester, I would really lose sleep and worry if I could still continue my studies," he shared. 

But ‘defeat’ was never in Alexis' vocabulary. He did all he could—from answering online surveys to selling cellphone load, from joining school contests to buying and selling items—to contribute to his parents' efforts for his continued education. "But at the end of the day, those were still not enough," he said. 

For every semester Alexis feared for his future, he was constantly met with and consoled by kindness. The generosity of his relatives that had more in life helped bring him close to the finish line. "My relatives are well-off, so they probably thought helping me pay for school was nothing, but for me, it was a big deal."

Constant kindness 
Clad in casual clothing typical of a university student, Alexis shifted in his seat while recalling another time in his life, some two years ago, when he also felt helpless and lost.

"All my misconceptions about HIV made me think maybe I already had the virus and was going to die soon. My thinking was that HIV meant death," Alexis shared. He can laugh about it now, but back then, his fear and panic were all too real.  

“I remember my mom and how she would listen every night to a radio jock who always said something like, ‘I love my family.’ The word ‘love’ stuck with me, and it reminded me of LoveYourself, which I had seen beforehand on the Internet. That’s when I started exploring the website,” Alexis shared.

Despite the dread, Alexis decided to take a brave step in the right direction – to finally get tested. "I just came to the realization that if I have HIV, I'm just going to face it,” he said. 

Once again, at a trying moment in his life, Alexis received kindness – this time, from people he didn't even know. "In LoveYourself, the pretest and posttest counseling were very professionally facilitated by the volunteers. I didn't feel they considered what they did as routine. It was volunteering with enthusiasm. There was passion," he recalled. 

Alexis was especially moved by his counselor to extend his volunteerism outside the campus. "I was inspired because my counselor was such a role model. He really put me in a paradigm shift and helped me make good decisions in life," he said.

What started with fear and helplessness then turned into enlightenment and inspiration. And it was to be the beginning of Alexis' very own Pay It Forward project. 

Passing on the good deed
Getting tested for HIV opened Alexis' eyes to the bigger world of volunteerism: "I thought it was really cool seeing LoveYourself was really all just volunteers. This is one of the reasons I joined the organization. And somehow, I also wanted to help in ways that I was helped in the past."

Although he considers each client unique, the LoveYourself counselor can't help but see himself in some of his clients. Their paranoia, their woes all remind Alexis of what he once went through and the faces of those who helped him get through it.  

Today, Alexis pays it forward one compassionate act at a time. "I really keep in touch with my clients, especially those who are HIV reactive because I would like for them to get treatment. I also don’t want my reactive clients to feel so down after knowing their status," he said. 

Alexis’ clients always make an impact on him. He recalled one: "He didn't expect it. He was drunk, and when he woke up, someone was there just having sex with him. He was a victim of circumstances. He didn’t want it to happen. But what stood out was his positivity." 

Not letting the walls of the testing clinic limit his duties as a volunteer and counselor, Alexis remained in constant contact with this client, as with his many other clients. "It feels good that we still communicate. We talk not just about HIV but about our lives, too. We've become friends, and I can see he is doing well," Alexis shared. 

Just rewards 
Alexis' dedication and passionate volunteerism don't go unnoticed. He has been recognized as a top counselor at the LoveYourself Hub in Malate, but that's only one of the many priceless rewards he has so far received. 

As Alexis offers his knowledge, time, energy, and heart to his clients, they in turn teach Alexis a thing or two. "I learn a lot from my clients – about life, about sex, about different ways of thinking. It's nice to see their outlook in life, that despite the things that have happened to them, they still keep going. Somehow, they help me keep going, too," he shared. 

Alexis' motivation to live a life of volunteerism may be personal and rooted on his unique experiences, but that doesn't make the same commitment to volunteer work impossible for others. His parting thought: "Try to see yourself in the shoes of those who need help. Think of a very low point in your life when someone came to help you voluntarily and wholeheartedly. Think of how it affected you." 

Photographer: Leo Pura
Photo editing: Geno Maglinao

LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature on the cause- and service-oriented members of LoveYourself. We will be chatting with volunteers from all walks of life – all united in one cause. Keep checking every month to meet the different faces of LoveYourself.

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Previous LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight: Jack Torres