My (voluntary and frustrating) webmaster career in the Philippines

March 2006

In 2004 I got the idea that I could be useful as a volunteer webmaster for Philippine NGO's (non-governmental organizations / more commonly known in the USA as “non-profits.”) Seemed like a great idea: everybody wants to get on the web, right? Most NGO's are poor; so wouldn't they leap at the chance for a free web site?

PhilMedia screenshot

Phil Media: my first NGO web site.
http://www.geocities.com/philmediacebu/
One of the biggest problems faced by most Filipino NGO's is their lack of media savvy. To address this perceived problem, Cebu attorney Daymeg Lepiten started a little NGO named Philippine Center for Media Advocacy (PhilMedia), the goal being to do trainings for NGO staffs in media skills such as writing press releases, holding press conferences, talking to reporters, etc. Great concept, but there was poor response in the NGO community. Seems that perhaps many organizations needing this training either:
1. Aren't aware of PhilMedia and what it has to offer; or
2. Don't have the resources to get help (it takes time and work to learn new skills); or
3. Have "institutional barriers" to asking for / getting assistance.
Nevertheless, I had fun making the web site and developed a good working relationship and friendship with Daymeg.

Children's Legal Bureau screenshot

Children’s Legal Bureau
http://www.geocities.com/childrenslegalbureau/
I found out about this Cebu-based organization in October 2004 and called up the executive director to talk about making them a web site. She passed me on to a staff paralegal who was delegated the job of web site liaison. We had a productive planning meeting; I came home and built a prototype web site.
Repeated calls and e-mails to the organization brought no response. They still do not have a web site.

Southern Partners / Fair Trade
This group runs a co-op-style plant south of Cebu which processes, dries and packages fresh mangoes, then sells them locally at a storefront as well as internationally through the "fair trade" movement. After visiting their store in early 2005, I attended a public forum and talked to a few staff members. After that, I e-mailed, called and texted the director; no response. I left a note with her secretary; no response.
I met up with the same director at WTO in Hong Kong this past December and asked her point-blank why she never responded (I'm SO diplomatic, eh?) She told me somebody else had put them on the web and she gave me the url (http://www.madeincebu.com). I looked and Southern Partners is not listed.

PAMANA screenshot

PAMANA
http://www.geocities.com/pamanakasapilipinas
In November 2004 I attended a terrific PhilMedia media training workshop for PAMANA KA SA PILIPINAS, a group of fisherfolk involved in protecting and managing 122 marine sanctuaries nationwide in the Philippines. I met most of the PAMANA members and immediately proposed working with them to create a web site. We met soon after and started developing the web site. I attended the group's national meeting here in Cebu last July 2005, and followed up with substantial updating of the site. Since that time they have declined to do any additional updating.

FORGE screenshot

FORGE
This is a Cebu-based group that does community organizing. I met a few staff members at a public event in 2005. I got their office phone number and called them up. They invited me to a call-in radio show the following week; I attended and was very impressed with their level of knowledge. They said "Yes, we have been wanting a web site for years and definitely would like to talk about developing one with you." I went home and made a prototype site.
I e-mailed and called the woman who was designated as my contact; she kept deferring, saying they were too busy with other projects. She passed me on to a different staff member. I e-mailed once and called him and left two messages. No response.

Philippine Family Law Forum screenshot

Philippine Family Law Forum
http://www.cebulawyer.info
This is actually a commercial blogsite for my amiga Daymeg Lepiten, where she posts information about Philippines family law and solicits clients for her family law business. A tech buddy of Daymeg's got the site up and running while I was in the USA in June 2005, then when I got back to Cebu I studied up on PHP and helped to further develop the site. It's a fine web site, too bad Daymeg has not using it much anymore (but fortunately she's still practicing law.)

Kilusang Mangindisda screenshot

Kilusang Mangangisda
http://www.geocities.com/fisherfolkmovementphilippines/
In December 2005 I went to Hong Kong for the WTO sixth Ministerial conference. I was able to network there with a number of Philippine organizations, including a representative of this group. Back in Cebu I e-mailed all my Hong Kong contacts. Kilusang contacted me and I met with them at their Quezon City office in January. We have started building a site, but it has been slowed by the political events in Manila.

Kalikasan screenshot

Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment.
http://www.geocities.com/kalikasanpeoples/
This is another group that I connected with in Hong Kong, emailed, and then met with in January 2006. Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment is a network of people's organizations (POs) and environmental advocates which "aims to address environmental issues but in such a way that primacy is given to the people - especially the grassroots people who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population."
I believe we have made a great start on the web site, and I am excited about helping them to fully develop it into an effective organizing tool.

Conclusions. This has been an interesting process. I am not a very skilled web designer and I realize that I am sometimes impatient and culturally insensitive. However, I have tried very hard to help all these organizations by making them effective web sites.
Following discussions with Filipino friends about why this has generally been such a frustrating experience for me, I've concluded there are several factors at work:
1. Inertia is defined as "The tendency of moving objects to continue moving unless acted upon by external forces,and the corollary tendency of stationary objects to do the same."
All organizations have problems; NGO's probably have more than some others. Perhaps Philippine NGO's are particularly infected with the second category of inertia.
2. Mistrust of letting an unknown foreigner take on a potentially-sensitive job.
3. Finally, my own thought: Sometimes I can be an impatient azzole.

Awww...What the hell.... I'll keep trying.