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Inspiration

This Young Filipino Worked in a War Zone and Lived To Tell His Tale

By Poyen Ramos on November 11, 2016

Nothing in Giano Libot’s comfortable upbringing foretold his lifelong involvement in the humanitarian sector. But today, he joins the millions of people who work in this industry globally.

“I didn’t really know that this was what I’d end up doing,” told Gian as he reminisced about how he started his career with International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“I wouldn’t say I planned on [becoming an aid worker] but it became an acquired interest and passion later on,” he added.

Gian with the Ormoc Response Team.

It was in 2013, right after the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu, that Gian decided to join the emergency response team that was assigned there. Despite having very little knowledge on humanitarian work, he still pushed himself to join and serve where help was needed.

“I had no knowledge about the job because prior to that I was just a freelance journalist. My job was only write, I didn’t know how to do procurement, procedures, logistics or even administrative stuff. I had to learn the ropes.”

And little did he know that by learning all ropes, an opportunity would turn up that would eventually change the course of his life.

Taking a chance

When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck Leyte, Gian was promoted to join the response team that was assigned there. By that time, he had already spent 2 years with the organization. As his contract was about to end, he had already started sending out his CVs online to different organizations in the hopes of taking on something greater.

“I sent my CV online, but then I completely forgot about it. I was supposed to transfer to another job because I was assigned in Western Leyte. For 2015, I was supposed to work for a donor organization. One of the bigger donors for the typhoon response. Then all of a sudden, one organization I applied for abroad returned back to me. Then they called me for a shortlist interview. Then that was it,” recalls Gian.

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It was by chance that he was able to land that job which assigned him to the war-struck country of South Sudan. He said that there was no indication that he was going to pass through the shortlist because he only had 2 years of working experience in an NGO.

“I thought I needed more experience working for another organization. But without the capacity to be prepared for something outside, they took the chance on me.”

Living dangerously with purpose

Gian flew to the country of South Sudan in North Africa the following year. By then, he has already heard about the war stories, the on and off political disputes the between forces of the government and the opposition forces. He knew about the hazards; the risks he was getting his life into. And although he knew what was about to come, he still accepted the job in the hopes that he could make a bigger impact in a country that’s right in the middle of a civil war.

“At South Sudan, I was initially taken in more as an adviser that provided technical advice on how organization manage their communications inside and outside, and on how they can improve their communication programs,” describes Gian.

With USAID visitors.

Gian was not doing any journalistic endeavors, instead, he was out on the field helping non-government organizations become more engaged with the community. Often times, organizations are too oriented on just providing that they forget how to engage with their beneficiaries. He job required him to go around South Sudan in different camps, and different refugee sites to help.

In the first year that Gian had worked in South Sudan, he was overall in the safe zone, but a short stint in a contested area had him to pray for his life.

Surviving the attack and serving again

On July 11 at around 4 in the afternoon, Gian and his colleagues were in their compound–a safe zone where militants couldn’t touch. As the war between the government and opposition forces were ending, they received the worst news—their compound had been under attack.

As gunshots and screams were heard from the outside of their two-story apartment, Gian and his colleagues huddled on the second floor, worried and perhaps praying for their lives. The soldiers were able to climb up the balcony and by this time, they had hid themselves in places around the second floor rooms.

“I was hiding under the bed for two hours, all I could see were their feet, and all I could hear were their voices,” told Gian all calm as he shared this story. “They eventually found me, pointed a gun at my face, talking a language I could barely understand, my life was already at stake.”

Like living in a war movie, Gian was able to negotiate for his life and it got him and a few of his colleagues out of the compound and into a safer zone.

“I guess I was just really lucky to get out of that situation,” he said, this time with a smile, realizing how lucky he was to make it out alive at that moment. He said that he still had a few bruises from the soldiers' beatings and stray bullets from that day.

Gian with his staff on his last week at Abyei, Sudan.

Gian has been back in the Philippines for months now, away from the conflict, and safe with his family. Asked if he would do it again, he said 'yes' in a heartbeat, "but probably not in the war zone next time," he laughed.

“For me, it was good to try something at least once, and be able to live to tell about it. There’s still a desire for me to work in a job that means something and where I’m able to help other people. It’s a bit idealistic, but it’s extremely important to find a career that you feel like there's a meaningful pursuit. Because at the end our journey, you look back not at your paycheck, but look back at the memories you've made; your friends, co-workers, and the people that you served. And that’s really the essence of life.”

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