Lawrence Trust Fund for Volunteer Efforts

Lawrence Ong (with cap) with some Vietnamese students in 1999.

The spotlight this year is on Merlie “Milet” Mendoza, recipient of the Lawrence Trust Fund for Volunteer Efforts. She is a social activist involved in peace, humanitarian and development efforts. Her work experience could fill a book and then some. It is activists like her, living for others, that the Lawrence Trust Fund had set out to honor. Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran chose to name the trust after idealistic volunteer and a true man for others, Lawrence Dy Ong.
Lawrence was Kaisa’s vice president for Programs and Development, who has since become our benchmark for volunteerism, dedication and commitment for living a life for others.
“He is like a candle, burning itself to give light to others.” I described him thus in my foreword to the book Bridge Builder in our Midst published by Kaisa in 2001 in his memory.
At the tender age of 44, he succumbed to liver cancer in 2001, even if he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and lived such a wholesome but hectic life as a volunteer. Yet, his memory lives on through the work of other volunteers who are just as committed as he was to the welfare of others, putting other people’s needs ahead of their own.
Short though Lawrence’s half dozen years with Kaisa may have been, he had made such a difference in our organization, especially by being an exemplar for its members and officers. He brought a wealth of new experiences, insights and interventions that helped broaden our organization’s horizons and enlivened our networking with other groups.
He defied Chinese tradition that the sons, the eldest in particular, follow the father’s footsteps. Lawrence did not go into the family business. Instead, he became involved in social development work after finishing college at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City.
Fortunately, Lawrence’s father, the late Ong Lian Biao, was himself a rare person in the Tsinoy community who understood that his children could shine more brightly in undertakings other than business.
Lawrence’s first involvement in social work was as a Jesuit volunteer. After that, he worked with juvenile delinquents, Vietnam refugees, Aeta families, rebel returnees, barangay workers and youth, researchers and businessmen, as well as various other nongovernmental organizations and people’s organizations.
Nothing stopped Lawrence from doing what he had to do: not the hot sun, torrential rains, knee-high floods, pollution from taking public transportation, nor trekking up high mountains.
He organized the Aeta families in Kanawan, Bataan to seek sources of livelihood other than gathering wild honey. He encouraged the youth to clear the grasslands around the only Kanawan school in Bataan – a school he founded – so young students would not fall prey to snakes lurking in the wild grass.
Though not an agriculture expert, he listened patiently and joined meetings of the Aetas as they planned to raise peanuts and other cash crops.
Also in Bataan, Lawrence assisted NPA rebel returnees who were forsaken by the government after they gave up their lives in the mountains and rejoined the mainstream. These returnees remained marginalized, with hardly any source of alternative livelihood.
Organized with Lawrence’s help, they now raise crops and started a mango orchard, as well as other projects, with help from the experts at the Bataan Center for Innovative Science and Technology Inc.
Some of Lawrence’s projects succeeded, others failed. His tenacity and persistence helped push projects forward where others would have just despaired.
From 1998 to 1999, at the time of Kaisa’s greatest need in finishing the delayed construction of the Kaisa Heritage Center, Lawrence readily jumped into the fray without being asked. He dealt with carpenters, plumbers, painters, engineers – scolding, cajoling, persuading, pushing – so that Kaisa’s biggest and most long-lasting bridge could be completed in time.
He slept at the construction site, going home occasionally to visit his father who was then ill. He revealed to us later how agonizing it was for him at the time, knowing his own father needed him but deciding that Kaisa needed him more.
After the construction, Lawrence became the building administrator. He dealt with security guards, utility and maintenance personnel, cleaners, museum visitors and Kaisa staff. He eased the heavy burden of looking at the nitty gritty, humdrum but necessary details in the smooth running of a museum, a research and data bank, a library and other activities of a proactive NGO.
Lawrence was also always at the forefront in Kaisa’s political activities, which other Tsinoys may frown upon: at the anti-Charter change rally, the anti-drugs MAD (Mothers Against Drugs) movement, the Jericho March for Justice at the start of the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada. This was followed by the Senate vigil to pressure the Senate to do what is right.
Lawrence was the one who tirelessly convinced others about the validity of Kaisa’s myriad causes. Had he not been almost bedridden, he would have been at the forefront of the EDSA II mobilizations.
Truly, Lawrence was the epitomé of the man for others. He called himself a Tsinoy subversive, using the word subversive to mean an agent of change. He did not just preach integration, he literally breathed and lived it and taught us how permanent bridges can be built in people’s hearts and minds.
On his sickbed, Lawrence told all his friends to remember him through their concrete actions in continuing his own work. He willed that all his personal savings and funeral donations be used to set up a trust fund for volunteers for the poor. He believed that he himself was able to pursue his vocation because he did not have wife and children to support, and likewise need not support his father and siblings.
But many who want to pursue volunteer work for the poor are constrained by the need for finances.
The Lawrence Trust Fund was therefore set up in 2001 through donations sourced by Kaisa and his classmates at Xavier School as a way to remember Lawrence and to enable other volunteers to do their work as a way of continuing Lawrence’s own life’s work.
Through the years, the trust fund has awarded other volunteers like Jocelyn S. Quiaoit-Bae (2002), John Burtkenley T. Ong (2003), volunteers of Balik Kalipay – Marlo G. Dalisay, Rahma P. Gilman, Magdalena D. Laus, Josephine A. Mamites, Sulaipa B. Unggui (2004), Borromeo Motin (2005), Maria Luz B. Tagamolila (2006) and Tina Aboc (2014).