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Dear girls of the world, love your country first ...

Dear girls of the world, love your country first before dreaming of leaving

Dear girls of the world (particularly you Filipinas!),

Hailing from what is still considered a third world country and bred in the capital that best-selling author Dan Brown had coined “the gates of hell”, I too have had my fair share of struggles with patriotism. Though described as a paradise by countless listicles, to which the Philippines, almost always with no fail appears at the cream of the crop of, there are innumerable factors that deem it anything but. From the evident poverty and overpopulation as seen by ubiquitous shanties entrenched in over-commercialized cities, to its inefficient transportation system that leaves commuters with a dispirited mental health, and a diminishing culture that has resulted in a curious and pitiful amalgam of its past colonizers’ traditions and beliefs, the list (and the negative adjectives) goes on and on.

Naturally, anyone who strives with this sort of living standard will want to flee the country in search of a better place to reside in. Hop off a plane, leave Manila with its horrifying traffic jams and its archaic, unjustified tax system, and spend years of your life strolling down picturesque streets you feel safe to walk in at night after a 9 to 5 job that, despite its commonality, pays twice (even thrice) as much as what is paid back home.

So why the preachy headline of nationalism?

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I recall listening to a talk given by a Gawad Kalinga head during grade school. Unfortunately, though I do recall his Western race, I do not recall his name. What I do remember after these twenty three years of honing this tumultuous love-hate relationship with my motherland, was him saying, “The Philippines is such a beautiful place, and Filipinos don’t see it.” Though I vaguely recall being struck by that statement, I remember inwardly rolling my eyes at him, thinking, albeit probably not as articulate sounding, “Easy for you to say, you don’t live here. And if you do, this is probably just another charity case for you, being the assumingly wealthy white man that you are.”

It was a terribly slow and humid afternoon. I shifted uncomfortably in my boxy yellow grade school uniform, seated amidst rows and rows of students sitting idly on monoblock chairs in a non-air conditioned gymnasium. I mused, “Why must we listen to foreigners praise our country in order for us to be convinced of its beauty?”

That precise moment, in retrospect, turned out to be the catalyst of what I can see as a lifelong advocacy I’d like to dedicate my life to. Another occasion that continuously haunts me was when my chemical engineering graduate turned brilliant (and now former) advertising creative uncle remarked, “It’s a shame how foreigners know our country better than we do. Filipinos keep dreaming, and they dream of visiting anywhere but the Philippines.”

What a pity.

These particular moments of dejection towards the Filipino mindset unwelcomely recurred. Helplessly watching loved ones migrate for a better standard of living (who could blame them?), meeting foreigners who are adept with their nation’s geography and who are staggered to see how Filipinos aren’t with their own, and the reverence and envy Filipinos’ display towards kababayans who have made it abroad – something was so terribly and painfully unsettling.

As someone who hates wallowing in self-pity, I thought, I must do something to stop this nagging sense of ignorance. Last March 2014, I hesitatingly said yes to an experience that, at that time, was considered almost unheard of by my peers. The de rigour of Instagram feeds were OOTDs and food shots decked out in yellow-ish and currently outdated Instagram filters (Valencia, anyone?) and travel shots were not as prevalent as what is scrolled through on Instagram today. On that bright and splendidly cool summer day, I climbed my very first mountain and it was nothing short of euphorically mind-altering.

The ungodly hour of 5:00 AM. Spine-tingling winds, early morning dew, a gradient sky in shades of blue. It was a Saturday and our friends perhaps just crashed on their beds after a night of going out and about in town, dancing and drinking the college stress away. On the onset of sunrise, the smile I give to my sister, thrilled yet jitteringly anxious, was a humbled thank you. “Thank you for taking me out here. I don’t know what to expect, but does it feel exhilarating or what?” Hopping on a 4×4 jeep to pass a rough landscape of lahar and ash floods-a different kind of bump and grind on a Saturday morning, indeed. Hauling over to capture sceneries and engulf ourselves in what was left of its infamous 1991 eruption, meeting beautiful local kids with murky chocolate eyes and sun embraced skin—I felt that my vision was being used to its fullest purpose.

Reaching the pristine crater with its lake’s turquoise waters, out of breath and eyes intoxicated with nature’s hues, was the first moment in my entire life that I genuinely thought to myself, “I love this country and I am so lucky to have been born here.” It was so real, and it was as beautiful as it could be. It’s wonderful to be able to say that this mountain is just one among countless of mountains found in the place I’m so blessed to call home.

Since then, from seas to summits, I have been exploring the country as far and as often as I can. The idea of migrating abroad for good was no longer appealing to me and was not what I considered to be a dream. If I could visit more of these local nature destinations and share their beauty with the rest of the world through photos on social media, or showcase them through my writings, if I could make that one Filipina girl go out of her boundaries and climb that damn mountain, if I could convince used-to-be-hopeless people like me to want to stay in the Philippines for good and help the country with whatever talent she’s been blessed with, I know that I’m doing what my country needs me to do.

So if you can’t realize your purpose for your country, travel locally and see what happens to you. Reflect on how you feel. Purchase local goods and support your kababayan’s blood, sweat and tears in making you the perfect cup of locally brewed coffee that costs half as much as what a cup of Starbucks costs but is just as tasteful, just as rich. Patronize local businesses that find ways to create products that give back to the community. Immerse in its different cultures, get to know its people – their problems and their needs. Know that there is so much help that needs to be given and that you are blessed with capabilities that can potentially benefit your own nation, because of all people, it needs you the most.

So love your country first. It will make all the difference.

All the love,
Danna
who is capturing life’s stills and uploading them online in case her MacBook and hard drive crashes


Danna is a constant traveler and storyteller who aspires to inspire herself and others through her photos and writings. She resides in Manila, Philippines and graduated from De La Salle University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Advertising Management. When she's not busy working in the social media intelligence department of a multinational advertising agency, she goes out and about by exploring destinations and immersing herself in sights, writings, sounds and art. Time travel with her at www.dannapena.com.

  1. Loving this post! 😍😍😍

  2. Cynthz

    31 March

    Love this post too.. May you continue this kind of advocacy..
    God Bless you more..:)

  3. Patty Mendoza

    31 March

    This is one of the most beautifully written entries I’ve read about travel. It speaks to me as if it was my own thoughts articulated and wonderfully written with your words. I haven’t travelled anywhere abroad yet, but I had my fair share of travel opportunities in the Philippines because of my line of work. And yes, it is true that you can find your purpose for your country if you discover and learn more about it through immersing yourself to its culture and people—their needs, problems, aspirations, and capacities.

    Thank you for this, Danna! May you be blessed with more travel opportunities so you may have more empowering knowledge about the world, and new life learnings to celebrate! Cheers! ♥

  4. Danna Peña

    31 March

    Thank you for such a terribly kind comment and I’m glad you share the same sentiments, Patty! Very excited for you that you get to constantly travel locally in your line of work. To more travels and learning opportunities, indeed. ♡

  5. Elaine

    1 April

    I so love this post! I agree with the diminishing culture part being one of the reasons many Filipinos prefer to live abroad. Kudos to your advocacy! I hope a lot of our kababayans will realize the gifts that our country can offer.

  6. Laura Lynch

    2 April

    I think you’ve hit on something that everyone feels once in a while about their own country. It’s easy to put Philippines on a list of great places when all you’re doing is spending a week or two there. It’s a different thing when you live there and can see the real struggles and issues.

    • Danna Peña

      14 April

      Thank you so much, Laura! ♡ Definitely agree with what you said. The Philippines has plenty of flaws, but countless things to love. It’s so important to immerse one’s self in both in order to know a place at a deeper level.

  7. Melanie

    3 April

    Such a wonderful post. I am so sad I couldn’t go to the Philippines on our round the world trip the last 12 months. I know we missed out A LOT. I am sad to see how many Filipinos live abroad and sometimes work in really bad conditions. I am GLAD you tell Filipinos to stay in their country, get their dream going, be creative and eventually they will get paid what they are worth. I am happy you show the beauty of this country. I have traveled a long time and I am also quite excited to go back home to Austria. We think abroad everything is better. Travel teaches us a lot and it taught me to appreciate my home town more, to appreciate my country. I am too very blessed, I miss the mountains, the forests, the nature. It may be bad weather sometimes, but aren’t we lucky to live in such places and be happy? Happiness is all that counts. Thank you for the wonderful post!

    • Danna Peña

      30 April

      Really humbled by such a wonderful comment. Thank you, Melanie! ♡

  8. Wow, it was really powerful reading how you felt about your country, one I have never visited but hope to some day. Being an American, I truly love my country and am so happy to be a US citizen, but we are in pretty sad shape right now so it is very disheartening. I have all the faith we will be back on our game very soon but for now, we just wait and hope for a big change.

  9. shiv blogs

    3 April

    I am a culprit, I left India but I may be heading back soon!

  10. Vicki

    3 April

    Great post! It’s great to be proud of where you’re from and keep up the advocacy 🙂

  11. Christa

    4 April

    So much truth in this. Everyone experiences this to a degree. Americans fly to Europe because there’s so much history, Europeans fly to America because of the natural beauty, Hollywood, Vegas, etc and we never look closely at the wonders right outside our own home. I try to do a little bit of both

  12. Mar Pages

    4 April

    Wonderfully written, with lovely photos! I sometimes miss being able to trek through mountains and great natural landscape, its almost impossible to find in Singapore. But I can definitely find different kinds of beauty when I try, and I love that!

  13. Jenna

    4 April

    Definitely agree with you–I think loving where you come from is so important. Even if it isn’t the most amazing place in the world, it’s a part of you and shouldn’t be overlooked. So many people fail to see the beauty in where they are from and it’s so wonderful to explore your own backyard and support the place where you live. Glad you were able to finally find a great love for your country! The Philippines look like a wonderful place and I’d love to visit someday!

  14. Lotte

    4 April

    What a beautifully written post! I visited the Philippines in 2015 and yes, it’s a beautiful country with kind people and so much to offer. I agree people should value their own home countries more, which is why I started a section on my own blog called Lotte goes Local. Goal of this category is to make people fall in love with the Netherlands, MY home country:-). Again, great post about a very relevant topic!

  15. Totally agree with you! What you wrote is not at all banal. Nice post and wise words 😉

  16. Megan

    6 April

    Such a great message. I try hard to experience my own country and even just my own state! There is so much to see without getting on a plane even, although that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little bit of both. Thanks for sharing.

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