By Alena Pias P. Bantolo and Jonathan Eli A. Libut
Photo by Kerwin Patrick C. Mercadal

JUST LIKE international award-winning speaker Patricia Evangelista, Communication Arts junior Vera Lorraine Celestino had been a Philippine representative to the international Soroptimist’s Violet Richardson Award for community service at the age of 17.
Celestino earned the right to represent the country in the 2005 award after ranking first in the national level and beating 16 other candidates from different provinces.
Celestino submitted her credentials to the headquarters of the Soroptimist in Cambridge, England where she competed with other young females from around the world in community service presentation. Although it was Tara Syed of Canada who eventually won, Celestino said she profited much from the experience.
“I still serve as one of the global voices for women and the underprivileged people,” she said. “Everyone can make a difference, no matter how simple his or her deeds, for the benefit of humanity.”          The Soroptimist, founded in 1921 by Violet Richardson-Ward, means “best for women” in Latin. It is an international volunteer service organization that provides leadership opportunities to improve women’s lives. Among Soroptimist advocates were the late Princess Diana of Wales, who was known for her charity work for AIDS victims and for her pro-life Birthright foundation; and former president Corazon Aquino, the first woman president of the Philippines.
And now Celestino, at the young age of 19, is helping advance the vision of Soroptimist for strong women’s leadership.
When she won the Philippine led of the international award, Celestino was cited for her involvement in Cavite Institute’s Wishcraft, which raises tuition for children through the collection of recyclable materials.
“The award was a meaningful experience for me because it made a huge change on how I looked at life and myself,” Celestino said. “I’ve become more aware of the needs of people who have been deprived of their aspirations. I have realized that I could also help them in the best way I could.”
Through the support that she receives from non-government organizations such as the Rotary and Kiwanis Club, and from her high school mentors, Celestino helps children collect unused but recyclable materials like plastic or glass bottles, cartons and paper. A percentage of the children’s tuition is deducted depending on how many kilograms the students under the Wishcraft program collect.
Celestino’s hope to inspire the Filipina youth prompted her to try out for the Violet Richardson Award in the district level. Unexpectedly, she won and qualified for the national level. Her public-speaking skills, self-confidence, and congenial nature were a key in making her survive the contest. Given only 19 hours to prepare an essay consisting of 1,000 words, a Power Point presentation, and documentation of her achievements, Celestino was doubtful she could make it.
“I wasn’t even able to get a few hours of sleep and still had to present my work to the panelists after 19 hours. It was an hour and 30 minute ride from Cavite on the way to the venue in Manila for the national level. My coaches and I prayed with no expectations of winning,” Celestino said.
Ever since high school, Celestino has been very interested in social affairs. In fact, she was student council president during her senior year.
“A leader doesn’t only look into the horizon. He must think and understand as well what’s beyond it,” the Caviteña said.
She served her municipality when she was elected in 2005 as a Sangguniang Bayan youth councilor. Celestino got involved in Likhaan, a cultural program of the municipality for the performing arts. She said her work as a youth official developed in her patience and a critical mind.
Celestino has participated and won in various speech competitions within and outside her province. One of them was the UP Patalasanlahi, an annual competition on academics and the arts participated in by different secondary schools in the country. The speech competitions’ themes would usually concern social adversities in the country, which helped her gain knowledge on the needs of the people.
Although her family and peers expected her to take political science after high school, Celestino chose instead to take up Communication Arts in UST.  Although she enjoys the fulfillment that public service brings, she now wants to venture into the art of communication. She believes that her current degree program will widen her knowledge on different ways of connecting with people.
“Politics isn’t the only way for one to be able to render service to society. Position is just one factor, but what’s really important is the willingness to serve without any expectation and being able to motivate others,” she said.
“I’m (advocating) for a more egalitarian and humane society through the art of communication,” Celestino explained.
Celestino joined a political party in the Faculty of Arts and Letters during her freshman year but eventually quit to concentrate on broadcasting. She became an active member of the Thomasian Cable TV where she is now an executive producer.
“The media play an important role in society. The power of information (comes in) different forms that can influence people,” she said.
Celestino said she believes that the Thomasian values of competence, compassion, and commitment direct the students to the right path.
“That’s the advantage of being young; we have more time for many good things to do for the world and we just need to work hard and be patient,” Celestino said. “God molds us everyday through the challenges that we encounter in life; we become more humble and responsible, and wiser.”