By teaming up with international organization Up With People, Resorts World Manila promotes ‘voluntourism’ among the youth

The lightning-speed rate with which Resorts World Manila (RWM) transformed what used to be 25 hectares of bare land fronting NAIA Terminal 3 into the Newport Entertainment and Commercial Center goes beyond real estate development—it also extends to Wellness, Security, Environment and Education (WE-SEE), the company’s platform for corporate social responsibility (CSR).

“There’s no time to waste—now is as good a time as any to do this kind of work,” says Kingson Sian, President of Travellers International Hotel Group Inc. (TIHGI). In 2008, when Sian was invited by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce to attend the concert of Up With People (UWP), an international organization that helps develop future leaders across the globe through travel and cultural immersions, he was impressed by the community service projects they have done. Upon hearing that UWP was looking for sponsorships to visit the Philippines again in 2010, Sian decided to come in and take the opportunity to partner with the organization and pioneer the first of many CSR projects under WE-SEE.

Fostering Voluntourism One of the main reasons UWP is in the Philippines is to contribute to the many front-line organizations doing real service and poverty relief programs in Manila, particularly the Philippine Christian Foundation (PCF), Gawad Kalinga Baseco, Bukas Palad, Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig, Kaibigan Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House of Charities.

This year, the organization assembled a team of 85 delegates, ranging from ages 18 to 29, who come from more than 20 countries in the world. They are dispatched in groups of 12 to 15 to the CI sites UWP’s local partners are involved in. “It’s really an opportunity for young people to experience community service in Manila,” says Luis Petzhold, UWP Tour Manager for Asia. “They live with local host families to learn more about Filipino culture, and they do different activities in each site that focus on community building.”

UWP delegates perform a series of activities that vary in every CI site— from helping build houses in Baseco with Gawad Kalinga to teaching local children of the Bukas Palad Foundation how to do an interpretative dance, to conducting lectures on values, child and youth development, to building self-esteem. Their work with PCF in particular exposed them to the residents of the infamous Smokey Mountain, where they helped paint the walls of the new school PCF is building for the residents.

“They’re also in the dump site helping feed the kids at PCF’s nutrition center, and they help with the women’s livelihood projects,” shares Petzhold. “We are proud to sponsor an organization that exposes the youth to different cultures and circumstances,” says Sian. “Normally, I don’t like to just donate. I’d rather we do community building, which is also essentially what Megaworld (RWM’s subsidiary) is about. We build communities, and we liked Up With People’s programs because they empower people—and these are the kind of programs we’d like to support.”

Bridging the Cultural Gap A large part of what RWM wants to promote through its partnership with Up With People is that countries can work together despite different beliefs, values and practices. “What I like about this partnership is that we bridge different cultures,” says Sian. “When they (UWP) bring in people from abroad, we see to it that, in a way, they get as much as they give. When they are exposed to the realities here, these can be key factors in their mental and spiritual growth as leaders.”

Flor Balanza of the Kaibigan Foundation, which facilitates services for urban poor communities, shared that their work with UWP enabled them to learn from the visitors. “The residents practice their English on them. They’re very upbeat, which makes the residents happy. On the other end, it’s also a chance for the delegates to see the reality of the urban poor.”

The group has also done a lot of initiatives with Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig. “We support the communities by the river because they need to do a lot of relocation,” Petzhold continues. “We do a mix of activities. Aside from labor, we also do arts and crafts, music, dance…different activities in each site. In every city we visit all around the world, we do the same thing. Our delegates form meaningful relationships with the people in these communities—that reinforces the human aspect of it. And for this, we are grateful to RWM because it enabled us to extend our arms in different directions.”

As its WE-SEE platform evolves and improves, there are plans for RWM to partner with different sectors of society, the government and more charitable institutions.

“Helping in whatever form will always continue,” says Sian. “Whether it’s with UWP or a different organization, it’s a continuous thing. This isn’t going to be a one-year one-off event. Our company’s visits to the CI sites gave us a first-hand look at our beneficiaries, and this has been an eye-opener to the many opportunities that we can offer to the community.”

Published in the Business Agenda Section of Manila Bulletin, 3 May 2010.