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With “volunteerism” becoming a buzzword for 2013 mainly due to the devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda, the government once again emphasizes the need to recognize community heroes and their efforts not only in emergency response but in nation-building as well.

The Search for Outstanding Volunteers (SOV) is a recognition program that culminates a year-long nationwide search for exceptional volunteer individuals and groups. The event is conducted by the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA) in cooperation with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Regional Offices, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao - Regional Planning and Development Office (ARMM-RPDO), and the National Volunteer Month Steering Committee (NVM-SC).

Aside from being role models in their chosen fields, the awardees also function as servant leaders who dedicate their lives to aid their fellow Filipinos who have less in life but need more attention and help.

At the forefront of this year’s awardees is Mrs. Margarita H. Coscolluela, the recipient of the Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award (VLAA). Fondly referred to as Sister Manggi, she formed the Sta. Maria Iloy Sang Dios Prison Ministry in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental in 1981. She is recognized for 32 years of active involvement in the prison ministry, which conducts regular visits, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and teachings to 19 jails all over the province. Aside from evangelical services, she also conducts a welfare program which provides prisoners with medical, livelihood, personal, and paralegal assistance.

The recipient of the national award for the Youth Category is Mr. Mark Conrad R. Ravanzo from the National Capital Region. At the age of 19, he formed I Am MAD (Making a Difference), a network of young volunteers that conducts literacy projects and teaches 4th to 6th Grade public school students in 12 cities from Luzon to Mindanao. Aside from his literacy projects, he organizes toys and shoe drives for Christmas to benefit the children in Basilan and Zamboanga.

The national awardees for the Adult Category are Mr. Arvin O. Marabiles and Dr. Demetrio P. Anduyan, Jr., Ph.D. Mr. Marabiles from Davao City formed the Saint Francis Xavier Trabungco Mountaineering Club Search and Rescue Group (SFX TRABMOC), which is the only volunteer emergency response group in Northern Davao. He personally assists SFX TRABMOC in its emergency missions and has come so far as joining the search, rescue, and retrieval operations during the Compostela Valley landslide in December 2012.

Mr. Anduyan, who hails from Isabela, is currently serving as the Dean of the College of Industrial Technology and Education at the Isabela State University. He initiated and implemented Project TEACH (Teach Every Agta Child), which develops the functional literacy of Agta children in Brgy. Cabisera 10, Ilagan City, Isabela. He also formed the Project DEMI (Dynamic English and Mathematics Instruction), a barangay-based literacy program which aims to empower school-age children of Brgy. amnama, Ilagan City to acquire functional skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Aside from individual awardees, the SOV also acknowledges volunteer groups and organizations, further divided into two categories: the Not-for-Profit and the Corporate categories.

One of the group awardees for the Not-for-Profit Category is the Volunteer Service Provider (VSP), which is composed of students from the San Pedro College in Davao City. In 2010, VSP started FLUSH (For the Love of Ultimate Hygiene and Sanitiation) by constructing two ceramic toilet bowl units for the Matigsalog Tribe of Marilog District, Davao City. The group also initiated and implemented DOMES (Developing Ocean’s Man-made Eco-friendly Shelters), in which they constructed six concrete domes that were then deployed in previously destroyed seabed at Purok Pigasaan, Samal Island, Davao del Norte.

The Kabalikat Civicom – 475 Marinduque Chapter, another Not-for-Profit Category awardee, is one of the more than 700 chapters of the Kabalikat Civic Communicators Association, Inc., the Philippines’ largest and most active civic communication group. The organization’s Marinduque chapter has a 24/7 Disaster Monitoring and Civic Rescue Team that can be deployed anywhere in the entire province. The group also disseminates early warnings to localities and makes available radios with portable antennas and solar powered communication systems which can be used in times of calamities.

The recipient of the Corporate Category award is the PLDT Employee Volunteers, a group of PLDT employees who took it upon themselves to volunteer outside regular working hours. One of the group’s most notable volunteer contributions is the TELEpuno, a 5-year tree planting program established in 2008 that has so far planted over 80,000 seedlings to restore the ecology of the Infanta-Real Quezon watershed reserve.

Special citation are conferred to Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst (DED) or the German Development Service. From 1990 up to 2011, DED has sent a total of 210 German volunteer development workers to the Philippines, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao. The DED established a Peace Building Program in 2003, which pushed for peaceful conflict resolution in Mindanao, and the Weltwaerts Program in 2008, which extends assistance in basic literacy, non-formal education, health, and environment concerns, among many others.

As the highlight of the annual NVM celebration every December, the Search for Outstanding Volunteers is both a recognition platform and advocacy medium of the government to promote and sustain volunteerism as a strategy for community development and nation-building. Since 2001, the SOV has recognized 109 individuals and volunteer organizations, thus bringing to the fore many years of outstanding practices and inspiring stories that changed the lives of many people and communities. (Source:  www.pnvsca.gov.ph)