I am Kathryn Reyes, originally from the Philippines, now from nearly everywhere in Latin Europe. Political Science graduate, ex-civil servant, ex-English/Spanish language teacher, currently student of the broadly defined Cultures littéraires européennes rooted in the Humanities.
Since college, I’ve been drawn towards a career in public service; not as a politician per se, but as a behind-the-scenes woman, more towards technical work than elected office. A couple of years back, I got my chance to work in the Philippine executive, which I hoped would be a stepping stone to a career in the Foreign Service. Unfortunately my country, like many others across the globe, has been subject in recent years to disillusionment with democracy, even among – or rather, especially within, the middle and the upper-middle class. Similar to the years of dictatorship during the 1970s and the 1980s, the president’s cronies filled important positions in the government, despite a « pro-poor » campaign, policies implemented were increasingly against the welfare of the masses, mass killings and political assassinations were on the rise, and the country has again become a dangerous place for academics and progressive thinkers. Despite the fulfilment I got from service, I decided it was time to leave.
I first came across CIM Horyzonty on a link to civil society-based internships on the website of my university in France. I chose to apply because, as much as I loved the work I’ve done in the intervening years between leaving Manila and moving to France to study, I always knew I would eventually go back to public service, even if it’s no longer in the Philippines.
It is difficult to give a brief idea of the work I’ve done as part of CIM Horyzonty because it feels like we’ve done anything and everything under the sun: tree planting (and de-planting!), teaching small children Filipino playground games, weaving Hawaiian flower garlands, decorating hula skirts, assisting in a Slavic midsummer festival, contributing logistics to senior events be it cooking, decorating, or setting-up, popping open confetti to inaugurate a week-long local festival, or folding origami and doing crayon drawings for summer camp. But I suppose that’s the point of it, because civil society in reality isn’t a highfaluting concept of back-channel negotiations between technocrats, but the everyday lives of people. The point is to make a difference somewhere closer to home, at the level of the community.
I won’t say that my time in Poznań has been absolute smooth sailing. For one, I speak no Polish and that has sometimes been a hindrance in communicating with local partners or their audience. I am not white and have diverse cultural-linguistic origins, and outside the organisation, in the tram for example, I feel how much I stand out, especially after years of enjoying the anonymity of diverse, multi-cultural cities. My academic and professional training to this point has been top-down and here I find myself at the heart of the grassroots.
But the welcome, the openness, and the positive curiosity I’ve received from CIM Horyzonty and our local partners has more than enough compensated for all that. For the first time in my professional career, I’ve been given the opportunity to say « maybe » or « no » if something is out of my comfort zone, or for health reasons, the cultural exchange is a two-way streak and as I learn about Polish culture, I find an eager audience to listen about Philippine and Hispanic culture, my opinions are heard and I’ve been allowed to try my way in interacting with children through art. I’ve been given free reign as well to introduce through literature and film the issue of gender in Bildungsroman (coming-of-age books) to the new ESC short term volunteers.
In helping empowering the community, I also find myself empowered, and that characterises my summer of purpose.