(The following is a speech I delivered at the Balik Talent Lecture Series of the Silliman U College of Mass Communication held last Aug. 24.)

Twenty eight years ago, I came to Silliman to pursue my childhood dream — to become a journalist.

Do you still remember being asked what you wanted to be when you grow up?  With so much passion, I would always say: I want to be a journalist someday.

My father was a broadcast journalist at a time when journalism was not a popular career.  It was the Martial Law era.  Anyone who spoke against the atrocities of the Marcos regime was put to jail. My father was among those unfortunate ones.  Martial Law stole our childhood.

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As a campus journalist, I had the opportunity to interview former President Fidel V. Ramos. With us were former Gov. Macias and my classmate, Liberty Pinili.

Despite that, I grew up wanting so much to be like my father.  But it was a childhood dream that my mother did not approve of.  For as long as I could remember, she tried hard to discourage me from taking that path.  She told me there were better, more peaceful professions.

I guess I was really my father’s daughter, because I inherited his stubborn character.  Against my mother’s will, I enrolled here at the School of Communication in 1988.  Unfortunately, she died while undergoing an operation that summer I came to Silliman.  While my mother probably took to her grave the worries she had for my future, I am confident that today, I am where she wanted me to be.

Right at the first day of school, I immediately knew my passion for journalism.  I applied to be a news reporter of The Weekly Sillimanian. Later, I became its Associate Editor while doing many other extra and co-curricular activities such as sorority/fraternity gigs, nightly gimmicks and occasionally, leading student rallies.  I thankfully managed to graduate on time, I guess to the surprise of my teachers. (lol)

Bringing my Silliman diploma and free spirit, I ventured to Manila.  With my little “provincial confidence,” as I was competing with graduates of UP Diliman, Ateneo, La Salle and other big universities, I applied at the nation’s leading newspaper — the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

God must love me so much, because of more than 50 applicants, I got the job!

My years with the Inquirer brought me to many interesting adventures.  I started in the research department, writing economic indicators. Imagine a Masscom graduate interpreting economic data!!! I guess Silliman prepared me for that.  After all, I took Math 11 three times. (lol)

From writing about the economy, I moved on to the police beat and later on to politics.  I was the first reporter assigned to cover EDSA 2, an experience which seemed to me as surreal, scary, emotional and at the same time, exciting.  I literally slept on the pages of the Inquirer, forced to stay in EDSA for three nights until President Estrada left Malacanang.  That experience was not left unrecognized.  Our Inquirer team won the Jaime Ongpin Awards for  Best News Coverage.

I must say, reporting about politics was not easy.  It took a toll on my family life and with three young kids then, I decided it was time to move on.  I resigned in 2003 to become a stay-at-home mom.  I took care of my kids full time while doing volunteer works on the side.

It was in one of my volunteer works where I met Chinkee Tan, then CEO of Millionares in Business.  When he found out that I was a writer, he asked me to help him write a book.  Later on, he asked me to do PR for his growing company.  It became my baptism of fire in the world of public relations which really allowed me to go around in the circles and learn the trade.

Our company led many campaigns — some of it you might know of:  Converse Philippines, which we relaunched through Everybody Loves Chucks campaign; CloseUp’s Whattamouth campaign which we did with my co-speakers Ed and Marissa Dames (we gained a Guiness World Record for the biggest photo mosaic); we splashed the front pages of national dailies for Lady’s Choice’ Christmasterpiece campaign.

We also handled the publicity campaign for New York Times best selling author John Maxwell and won the prestigious Anvil Awards for public relations.

Later on, I decided to shift to international development as I sought more significance and social relevance in the work that I was doing.  I joined Unicef and facilitated the launch of  its HIV/AIDS awareness program called Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS.

In 2008, I joined USAID’s water and sanitation project. We assisted the City of Dumaguete in the septage management program including the construction of the waste water treatment facility in Camanjac.  At the same time, I worked as Knowledge Product Specialist of Asian Development Bank.  My assignment was to guide project officers of ADB projects in China and Mongolia in developing policy papers, journals, books and other informational materials.

In 2013, I moved to the Tourism projects of both USAID and ADB.  I was part of the team composed of international consultants from USAID, UN World Tourism Organization and the Pacific Asia Travel Association which developed the Bohol Tourism Recovery Plan following the earthquake in October 2013.  The strategy we developed was credited for the fast turn-around of Bohol’s tourism industry.   asean

USAID-COMPETE’s Tourism Team at the ASEAN Tourism Forum held in Manila in January 2016.behold bohol

USAID-COMPETE Tourism Team with Bohol Gov. Ed Chatto and Provincial Tourism Council Chair Atty. Doy Nunag in Bohol’s booth during the ASEAN Tourism Forum.

 

What I have not told you, thus far, is really how journalism has been interwoven into my personal life and how it became such a powerful tool for my personal advocacies.

I have told you my mother died from an operation. But she did not die because the doctors could not solve her ailment.  She bled to death, on the operating table.

Unknown to us, she had a bleeding disorder called von Willebrand Disease.  I inherited it and sadly, I passed it on to my daughter Star.

Maybe to many of you, it is your first time to hear of von Willebrand Disease. But you may have heard of Hemophilia.  If you know of my friend, Myrish Cadapan Antonio, her two brothers and twin boys have severe Hemophilia.

Von Willebrand Disease and Hemophilia are genetic conditions where the person’s blood does not clot normally.  In people with bleeding disorders, simple bleeds could lead to death.

That moment — when Star and I were diagnosed with von Willebrand Disease — became a turning point in my life.  I started researching about the disorder.  I wrote to countless organizations around the world.  It led me to meet a lady named Laurie Kelley, who founded two humanitarian organizations helping hemophilia patients in developing country.  Laurie is herself a mother of a young man with Hemophilia. Two of my dearest friends in the hemophilia community -- Myrish Cadapan Antonio, mother of twin boys with severe hemophilia, and Laurie Kelley, found of Project Share and Save One Life, also a mom of a young adult with hemophilia.

Two of my dearest friends in the hemophilia community — Myrish Cadapan Antonio, mother of twin boys with severe hemophilia, and Laurie Kelley, founder of Project Share and Save One Life, also a mom of a young adult with hemophilia.

Mahatma Gandhi said the sole aim for journalism should be service.  I thought I could never let my daughter Star grow up in a very flawed healthcare system without doing anything.  Our medicines are not only very costly, they are also not available locally. The only local treatment readily available are blood products.  And working before as communication officer for Unicef’s HIV Programme, I knew the rate of blood contamination in the Philippines is very high.

Since we were diagnosed in 2007, blood transfusions became a “normal” part of our life like doing the grocery or walking the dog.

I started to write about bleeding disorders through my blog, “For the Love of Star.”

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Hospital confinements and blood transfusions have become our “normal.”

Star has mastered the art of multi-tasking.

I got involved in the international community, speaking at women’s assemblies in India and Malaysia. Along with other international hemophilia advocates, we formed the Asian Network for Women with Bleeding Disorders. Just last month, I was appointed as international liaison for the US-based The Women’s Bleeding Disorders Coalition.

With our continued advocacy highlighting issues faced by women with bleeding disorders, we started to get global attention and for the first time in the history of the World Hemophilia Congress, this year, there was a booth dedicated to women.

So what has communication got to do with Hemophilia and other bleeding disorders?

Communication plays a very significant role in changing paradigms, especially in this digital age.  For those who know me, you’d wonder — why does she keep on posting selfies in hospitals?  I have close to 5,000 “friends” on Facebook. Probably a third of them are from the media, another third are hemophilia advocates and leaders from all over the world and the rest are my “fans” AKA my family and old friends.

I am leveraging the power of social media because of its great potential in drawing people’s attention to important issues.  Through social media, my friends in mainstream media took notice of  our advocacy.  I use my personal experience to awaken knowledge that women can also have bleeding disorders and that, if we put our strengths together, we can make significant changes in our own lives.

I am a firm believer of the verse:  That in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  Yes, I have a life-long condition and my career path has not really been a bed of roses.

But God used my triumphs, challenges and every bit of my journey since I left the portals of Silliman to become what I am today.

My mom did not want me to come here.  But the years I spent within the portals of this university were among the best years of my life.  The education I gained here, within and outside of the classroom setting, prepared me for real life journalism.

As a young girl, I dreamed of becoming a journalist, and I have become one.  Now, I am dreaming of a bigger dream — to change the lives of persons with hemophilia and bleeding disorders, especially those in developing countries like the Philippines.  For it is only in channeling our efforts towards people other than ourselves and our family when, really, advocacy finds its truest meaning.

Let me end with this words from Gail Denvers:  Keep your dream alive.  Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination and dedication.  Remember, all things are possible to them who believe. ##

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With friends from the international hemophilia community at the World Federation of Hemophilia Congress 2016 held last July in Orlando, Florida.

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Blood sisters. With Tammy (USA), who has Hemophilia B and Chloe (Australia), who also has von Willebrand Disease like me.

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Links that you might be interested in.

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About Andrea Echavez

I am an advocate for people with bleeding disorders. My daughter Star and I were diagnosed with von Willebrand's Disease Type 2M.