Featured Participant: Geraldine Bernardo

July 01, 2014

I thank the GSMP so much for helping me come back to the Philippines and discover my passion. You can never live a life just for yourself. And this is my new purpose – to use sport to bring about peace and healing to girls and women in my country. It is obvious to me now that this is my purpose. I don’t have to be in government, I don’t even have to own an organization, but this is what I can do as one woman and it’s the greatest honor that I can ever have – to help my country.

Geraldine’s action plan has evolved many times over since her initial presentation of ideas in October of 2012. As a former dragon boat national team captain and member of the Philippines Olympic Committee, Geraldine’s original action plan was to establish a social enterprise, Athletes Beyond Sports, to advocate for the human and economic rights of elite-level Filipino athletes. After much reflection and a change in careers, Geraldine set out to use her platform to impact more underserved segments of society. Geraldine turned her attention to the conflict-laden region of the Philippines, also known as ARMM or the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Statistically, the ARMM region is one of the most underprivileged regions in the country with the highest poverty rates, highest infant mortality, and lowest primary school enrollments.

Through the GSMP, Geraldine learned of the ways sport could be used for peace-building purposes in conflict regions. She sought to take this knowledge and inspire, empower, and educate primary and secondary school teachers in the ARMM to use sport for peace and gender inclusivity. In May of 2013, Geraldine carried out her pilot training program with public school teachers in Mindanao. During the training, Geraldine demonstrated ways to incorporate culturally appropriate activities, such as futsal and table tennis, to encourage greater inclusivity and participation among young Muslim girls. She also discussed the ways sport could promote tolerance, respect, trust, cooperation, and teamwork. The pilot program was a great success with more than 11 physical education teachers implementing Geraldine’s ideas into their P.E. curriculum.

During Geraldine’s refresher course in May of 2014, the number of P.E. teachers who attended the training doubled. This is just one of many ways in which Geraldine has used the knowledge and tools gained on the GSMP to improve the lives of women and girls in her country. In November of 2013, Geraldine’s action plan changed once again, this time as a response to the great devastation that occurred through natural disaster. On November 8th and 9th, Geraldine was conducting the first-ever “Sport Management Boot Camp” for sports administrators and professionals interested in professional development.

Upon her return home to Manila, Geraldine learned of the tragedy that had occurred in her home country. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones in human history, struck the Visayas regions of the Philippines at the highest wind speed ever recorded. More than 6,000 people were killed and more than 11 million left homeless. Geraldine and her husband promptly moved to action, assisting in the evacuation process and opening their home as a safe haven and rescue for a number of victims. In February of 2014, Geraldine, in coordination with relief workers and the Asian Association of Sport Management, launched a new campaign, “RePLAY, ReLIVE, and ReNEW,” designed to use sport in the typhoon affected regions.

In March of 2014, Geraldine coordinated a seminar for physical education teachers in Tacloban to facilitate discussions and introduce new ways to use sport as a tool for psychosocial healing in their communities. Curriculum, resources, and sports equipment were given to all of the teachers who attended. And since the training in March, every school has implemented some portion of the curriculum set forth by Geraldine during that training. Geraldine’s work in Tacloban continues as she is scheduled to make a follow-on visit in July of 2014.

In addition to using sport in conflict (ARMM) and post-disaster (Tacloban) situations, Geraldine is also spreading the message of women’s empowerment through her now annual women’s symposium, S.W.E.E.P. In partnership with the Philippines Women’s University, Geraldine’s message of S.W.E.E.P., or “Sport for Women’s Empowerment and Employment” is taking hold throughout the country, with offshoots of the original symposium happening in various cities and regions.

And lastly, but of great importance, Geraldine also assisted the U.S. Embassy in Manila on the recruitment, selection, and mentorship of four women and girls who participated in the Multi-Nation Final Four Sports Visitors Basketball Program in April of 2013. Geraldine played an instrumental role in this process and continues to mentor the young women who participated. Her particular mentorship of one of these young women, Justine Domingo, is a great demonstration of the “Multiplier Effect in Action,” as Justine is now coaching the first formally organized community-based girls basketball team in her community. The relationship between Geraldine (Sports Mentor), Justine (Sports Visitor), and the U.S. Embassy was not only effective in unifying the EWGTS initiative, but has become a best practice for future programming.