Learning Tour in Austria - A Once in a Lifetime Journey
Volume 22 Number 2
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 14:14

by  Lolita Maguigad

As early as January this year, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) was already informed by DKA, one of its funding partners, about the Educational Tour which DKA will sponsor in Austria from April 13 to May 13. Representatives from four non-governmental organizations, including TFDP were invited to go to Austria for the said activity.

The Educational Tour was a result of the yearly exposure trips of the KAPINTIG group of DKA to the Philippines for them to experience the Filipino way of life by integrating with various sectors, such as farmers, indigenous peoples, and women, among others. In order to make the educational tour a two way learning process between the Filipinos and the Austrians, it was suggested that the Filipinos, specifically partners of DKA to be invited to go to Austria and also learn the Austrian culture. To push through with this plan, the Governor of Styria in Austria agreed to finance the activity which was also a result of the networking and lobbying done by DKA based in Graz.

I was chosen to be TFDP’s representative to the educational tour. I believe that aside from the learnings that can be derived from the tour, this was also an opportunity for networking and a chance to lobby for support for our human rights advocacy in the Philippines. On the other hand, I was also looking forward for my personal development and spiritual enrichment in this once in a lifetime journey.

My first week in Austria was really difficult. It was too cold and I only brought very few clothes with me. My shoes were not even appropriate for the weather. I had stomach aches because of different kinds of food. I walked long kilometers to go to the venue for a scheduled activity. Given my physical limitation, it was really a big challenge for me.

Prior to the trip, our group already prepared our month-long itinerary. We went to different places and visited many organizations like those whose focus was on children, refugees, feeding centers for street people, gypsies and violence against women. We went to places where drug addicts hang out, parishes, offices of youth organizations working with DKA and we also met the children carolers/singers who are raising funds for our projects. We were able to integrate with a farmer and also had the chance to talk with politicians.

During the meetings with these organizations, I talked about TFDP and the work that we do.  I also discussed the human rights situation in the Philippines. As a result, they became more interested in human rights. Our group was invited to give an input and to conduct a workshop for the university students in Graz. I was also requested to present the Philippine human rights situation during our meeting with the Governor of Styria and during the Benefit Concert organized for us by the Austrians. We also tried to appeal to the Catholic Women’s Movement (KFB) to support our project specifically women victims of human rights violations.

Alongside these activities, we had guided tours around the cities of Vienna and Graz.  We visited the museums and many churches. We had a chance to see the castle of Burgenland and we went to the Alps of Austria to see and experience the snow.  The Sound of Music guided tour was also very entertaining. We also had side trip tours in the countries of Slovenia and the Czech Republic just to enjoy the scenery.

I really learned a lot about the political and economic system of Austria. We discussed their history and their social security system. I could not help but compare their situation to ours in the Philippines.  In my discussions, however, I gave more emphasis on our positive and distinct Filipino traits and our undaunted commitment to effect change in our own society. We did not merely inform them of our situation but also pointed out that we are not helpless and our struggle continues.

It is also worth mentioning that part of the efforts done to help us lobby our human rights advocacy was the scheduled trip to European Union in Brussels, Belgium. We were able to meet a member of the parliament and present our social and political issues. As a result of the meeting, specific actions were formulated on how the EU could concretely help us. The DKA committed to follow up on the implementation of the plans formulated.

During evaluation, our group saw that the educational tour was very successful. The set goals and objectives were met. Our group developed a deeper understanding of the culture of Austria and at the same time, we were able to inform the Austrian people about what is happening in the Philippines. I myself had new insights and ideas from this trip which gave me an inspiration and a renewed strength for my work. These ideas and experiences have greatly contributed to my personal and spiritual development as a person.

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