By Gian Geronimo
Government employee, LoveYourself volunteer, and all-around woman Jane Alumbro talks about rising above challenges and fighting for what one believes in. "Call me idealistic. When you are in the right, you stand up for what's right."
I have barely settled in my seat in the milk tea shop where I am about to interview Jane when she starts talking animatedly about how she's been addressing several work-related challenges lately.
It is funny in a way, because although I see how annoyed Jane is as she recounts her story, I can sense the confidence exuding from her person. I feel how she knows things are going to be better in the end, despite currently being infuriated with the situation. And my feelings are apparently correct, because though she's lost hours of sleep, though she's way over her head with work, though Jane acknowledges how ridiculous her whole predicament is, she also knows things will fall into place.
Though her round eyes and radiant smile might make people peg Jane as just another sweet girl type, they'd be wrong to dismiss her then and there. She is a fighter, someone who would not allow trials and tribulations to weigh her down. And she has had her fair share of these as I would learn during my chat with her. She has but only grown from these experiences, and shared her lessons with the people around her.
Passion for learning
Jane, 29, currently works as a labor law compliance officer with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), highly trained on knowledge specific to labor standards. Her responsibilities run the gamut from attending conferences and hearings, to going to offices and interviewing employees in order to assess if workplaces are complying with labor and employment standards.
In accordance with Republic Act 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, all private workplaces must have HIV/AIDS policies in place. Jane and her fellow labor law compliance officers assess if the offices in the areas under their jurisdiction have policies such as the one on HIV/AIDS and are thus following the law.
She loves her job with the department because it lets her help other people, and check if they are being treated unfairly. She firmly believes in justice and fairness. "Call me idealistic. When you are in the right, you stand up for what's right," Jane declares.
Before DOLE, she worked in a BPO company as a fraud analyst. And before that job, she worked as a legal staff member for a law firm based in Metro Manila. "I wanted to expand my horizons," Jane says. In her first job in that firm, she took in many life lessons along the way.
"There's one thing my boss in that law firm taught me. He told me never limit yourself to being knowledgeable only in one thing," Jane says.
She also notes her capacity and willingness to know more. "Maybe I'm just hyperactive," Jane jokes. "I really like activities involving people, and I like learning. Life is a continuing learning process."
Learning from life’s lessons
From the way Jane talks, one wouldn't think she hasn't known of hardships in life. As a matter of fact, she had to grow up quickly when she was just a teenager. Her parents departed for the US when she was just 14, leaving her and her siblings in the care of their aunt.
Jane says this aunt is one of her role models, and one of the reasons why she went to DOLE to work as a public servant. In 2013, she found out her aunt was diagnosed with cancer. That was a wake-up call for Jane to look for opportunities to give back the love her aunt showed to her and her siblings.
"It was then that it became clearer to me more than ever that I needed to do something to prove myself to her," Jane shares. Thankfully, her aunt is presently in good condition as her cancer has gone into remission.
Still, the experience has contributed to Jane's drive to be a better person. Her experience in moving to Manila, too, has helped mold her into who she is now. When she worked in her first job in 2012 at the metro-based law firm, Jane had actually just moved from Cebu, where all of her relatives live. She has had to take on the urban jungle ever since with no one to help her make her way. But Jane continues to flourish.
"I thank my past self for deciding to go to Manila. I grew up here, I changed my party girl ways, my passive ways. Living here alone, I had to take care of myself, and I learned to love myself a little bit more."
A happy accident
One day in October 2014, during a period of time when she felt down due to a breakup, she wanted to feel better and tried searching for inspirational messages. "I decided to Google something about loving myself, and lo and behold, LoveYourself appeared in the search results," Jane recalls while laughing. She went to Anglo afterwards to get herself tested. She reminisces her LoveYourself beginnings with a giggle because, as she puts it, her involvement in the group was a result of a series of coincidences.
"It's just so funny because in the BPO company I worked for before I went to DOLE, my manager was Marky [Mendoza]," referring to a fellow LoveYourself volunteer. Jane says she was surprised to see Marky in Anglo.
"He could have chosen not to be there in the clinic when I went there, he could have chosen not to go on duty, but there he was," Jane said. "Right then and there I knew I would belong in LoveYourself."
"I asked Marky when I saw him the first time I went to Anglo, 'How can you help around here?'" Jane shares. "So I joined Batch Hiraya in March 2015, and here I am."
Jane's contributions to LoveYourself involve frequently manning the reception desk in LoveYourself Anglo and guiding clients who visit the clinic.
“I feel more fulfilled once I started becoming a LoveYourself volunteer," she says. "The group never fails to make me feel I found a place where I belong."
She has also been a point person for one of the initiatives of LoveYourself Caravan, a group initiative done in partnership with oil and gas company Shell that brings HIV awareness as well as free testing services to the business sector and schools. Jane fielded queries on HIV policies in the workplace to support the event's speaker. She has also been a resource speaker during one of the group's recent counselors' conventions, where she also talked about HIV policies in offices.
Love knows no labels
Filipinos living with HIV are pegged at 29,706 as of November 2015. It has also been noted that though HIV cases are more prevalent among men who have sex with men (MSM), women living with HIV are increasing as well.
It’s because of these data why Jane doesn’t mind at all that she’s one of LoveYourself’s few -- but passionate -- cisgender heterosexual women volunteers. Aside from the fact that the group is an inclusive one that has members across the gender spectrum, Jane doesn’t believe in labels when it comes to helping others.
"At first I didn't know LoveYourself was primarily composed of gay men," Jane says. "When I decided to join the advocacy, it didn't matter who the other members would be, because I knew I'd try to get along with the people there."
She notes with a smile, "It doesn't matter who you are with if you know in your heart you want to help, right?"
Photo: Gian Geronimo
Photo editing: Mark Long
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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