I’ve never really spoken about my days as a peer counselor, but I was pleasantly surprised when an old friend of mine, Timmy Sebastian, surprised me this afternoon with an instant message. He asked me how I was and told me how he was feeling nostalgic after uploading some pictures of our old days in his Multiply. So I took a look and now I feel nostalgic as well.
It is an injustice that I haven’t written much about my PC days because all the lessons I have learned then heavily influence how I teach, talk and listen to other people now. A lot of what I had to write about those days, if I had a blog then, I wrote in my heart instead. I admit, I strain to remember a lot of the details from those days but there are a lot more things that the heart never forgets.
This above all, “Helping others help themselves.”
That was the central thrust of the Ateneo Peer Counselors Group (or APCG), or PEERS as it is called now (and I helped rename). Speaking philosophically, counseling was about being there for the other but not in the sense of dictating what the other should or should not do, but in the sense of empowering a person enough to make his or her own choices.
I joined the group in my third year in high school. Back in first year, I had plans to be a judoka for the school, but that got derailed when I injured my back during my second year. I had to quit the Ateneo Judo Association, to my dismay, and sought another organization to join. The junior year is a peculiar time to still be a ‘new member’ in any club, but I took my chances with the APCG.
My reason was simple. During those times when clubs promoted themselves, I was handed this small pink paper with the words, “Do you want to help others help themselves?” and that sold me immediately. I invited two of my friends to join with me and the rest is history. What followed were nights spent in school learning how to listen, measuring how much guidance we give, and bonding with people who share the same humble aspirations as we do.
We were hardly the kind of group who would seek out troubled college folk. We even hardly received walk-in clients in our own PC room. But what we had was more — we had each other. We were clients and counselors to one another and in that process, we became friends. Looking back now, APCG gave me the assurance that I was never alone and that I suppose, made all the difference.
I find it sad that I can’t write a detailed history of my APCG days as I would a history of a foreign country. I remember several events here and there, but not enough to form a cohesive story. (Perhaps if some of my fellow PCs read this, they can help jog my memory.) That is why I am grateful to Timmy for opening this window. Instead, I have moved forward in the recent years knowing fully well how much those days have given me.
As a high school teacher now, the skills I have learned as a peer counselor are invaluable. After all, the goal of teaching and counseling is fundamentally the same — to empower the other to conquer their world. Whether it’s helping someone make sense of history or guiding someone through family troubles, I have been able to be there for my students because I had been there at the APCG.
All I need to remember is the power of empathy, of relating to another in a level deep enough to convince them that they can do anything they will themselves into because they are never alone. It is my hope that in my words and actions, I can convince the world the same.
My days as a teacher also expanded my understanding of the lessons I’ve learned with the APCG. While it is noble to allow people to help themselves, there are people who need more help than others to get on their feet. And sometimes, this entails that we take a more active part in others’ lives — just like the examples we are seeing in Hands that Help Build a Nation.
And I have also learned, quite tryingly, that one man can’t help everyone. Or at the least, one man can’t successfully help everyone all the time. Saving the world is never just one person’s enterprise. In the end, the most important person to save will be yourself, because only then will you be able to try and hope again.
Early in my career in the PSHS, I tried to set up a peer counseling group in the school. The social science unit liked the idea (especially when it comes to discipline concerns) and we were ready to work with guidance to make it a reality (sort of an expansion of the BBSC). However due to reasons outside my control, it never happened. Perhaps, we were meant to help in other ways.
Regardless, the APCG left a mark in me. We were friends that made a difference in each other’s lives, and it would be my memories with them which will always inspire me to dream big.
Akomismo is all about helping others help themselves.