Name: Ayrie Ching
Occupation: Writer and editor in the Bangsamoro
Describes self as: A self-aware turtle who is also aware of her surroundings, hence the need for a shell.
Why did you decide to take your chosen path and what did it take to get there?
I was born in Manila and raised in Laguna, but I’ve lived in Cotabato City since 2012. Most of the work I’ve done is related to human rights and strategic communications in the Bangsamoro, which basically means I do whatever is required of me so the rest of the Philippines can better understand and appreciate the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.
I’ve been doing communications work for more than a decade now, with eight years of working with non-government organizations. When I was invited to work with a human rights organization in Cotabato City, I said yes almost immediately – something that was unthinkable at first for my friends and family. What they didn’t know was that the NGO community is such a small one, especially in Manila, and at some point I was disillusioned by how some organizations didn’t take their supposed advocacies seriously. What they were going after was just the funding, plain and simple.
The human rights organization in Cotabato City, on the other hand, specialized on human rights violations across Mindanao and ceasefire violations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Not only did this organization know the history of the Bangsamoro struggle – they lived it. I saw the job offer as an opportunity for me to learn something a lot of Filipinos knew nothing about, but what I did not expect was the amount of unlearning I had to do. It was appalling to realize how we have so many assumptions about the Bangsamoro and Mindanao in general, and to this day it’s the one job that has changed my life in ways no other job has.
When I first moved to Mindanao, specifically in the conflict-affected region that is the ARMM, it was a decision I made and committed to quickly. It wasn’t really a struggle because I knew what I was doing. I felt that there was so much more for me to learn and that moving to Mindanao would give me new opportunities. I was a journalism major, so I knew that the news shown in Manila, especially given the limited airtime devoted to the Philippine south, isn’t an accurate representation of the everyday life in Mindanao.
Getting people to respect my decision was quite a struggle, though. Stereotypes about Mindanao and discrimination against Muslims was very prevalent in my immediate community, especially among my Manila-based relatives. I had to constantly explain myself and my decision, and I had to always exert an effort to dismantle their misconceptions about the place I now call home and my colleagues whom I treat as friends and family.
What are three of the most difficult challenges you’ve had so far?
There is only one challenge I can think of, and it was my mom’s battle with cancer. Every other struggle I’ve ever had in my life will always pale in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, my mom totally crushed it; until her death she remained herself, dying in my father’s arms.
But for me, I had to quickly transition from knowing my mom was alive to accepting my mom could be dead anytime soon. This might sound cold, but when my dad broke down as he told me and my brother about my mom’s condition, I had already accepted my mom’s death. It was difficult, but I just gave myself one good, hard cry – the heaving and sobbing kind – and that was it. I never held out for a miracle; I decided to accept my mom’s death as quickly as I can so I can emotionally support my dad who has loved my mom all his life and my younger brother who hardly had the chance to share the same experiences I got to share with my mom.
What helped me through everything was my faith. A few days before my mom died, she asked me to lead her in prayer. With her hands in mine, I asked for the strength and courage needed to accept and live through whatever the future holds for our family. There was no plea for a miracle, only submission to God’s grace.
To this day, I remember how my mom smiled after our prayer. I have always found comfort in my faith, and on that day I’d like to think she did, too.
What are three of your biggest life wins?
First is relocating from Manila to Mindanao. Making the decision to move was, and still is, the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s such a big, personal win. In the past, jobs gave an opportunity to learn more about things and the things I already know were hardly ever challenged.
My years in Mindanao, on the other hand, have challenged a lot of my notions about our history as a nation and as Filipinos, what it takes to be a nation, and what it means to be Filipino. Relocating to Mindanao has opened so many doors for me, and has opened my mind and heart to a lot of stories and experiences I wouldn’t have heard and felt if I didn’t move to the south.
Second, I’m very proud of the fact that my “theory” is very much guided and supported by my “practice.” To me, it’s such a big win to know that what I say and what I know is based not just on books or existing literature, but is also based on my interactions with people and their real life conditions.
Third, it’s very important to me that I’ve never done anything I’m ashamed to claim as my own. Every article that carries my byline and everything I’ve ever written is something that is true to who I am and how I feel and what I stand for.
What is your biggest insecurity?
That I am not a Bangsamoro, nor am I a Mindanaoan. I know and write so much about the Bangsamoro and Mindanao, but sometimes I feel like there is a risk that I am occupying spaces that are not mine to occupy. No amount of knowledge or understanding can replace a life of lived struggle, and I make it a point to concede spaces offered to me when I feel like I am overstepping my boundaries.
On the flip side, what do you love most about yourself?
I like my self-awareness and how measured and intentional I am. I am mindful of the things I can control and take full advantage of them, while acknowledging that I can’t possibly control everything. I’ve learned to accept the limits of my skills and embrace my flaws, while trying my hardest to learn more and grow as a person.
What is your idea of success?
It’s unattainable. HAHAHAHA. I mean, it’s a constant pursuit. When I accomplish something, it just feels like another item crossed out on a long list of things I want and/or need to do, and I’m always adding things to that list, which means it never really ends for me. I don’t ever want to ever feel like I’ve done enough already or there’s nothing left for me to do. There’s always something that needs to get done, and it’s either I need to do it or I should help others do it.
If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Sometimes it can feel like you’re not doing enough, but they eventually all add up. Sometimes it can feel like you’re doing things on a whim and you’ll doubt yourself, but you do think about your decisions quite seriously and you’re very deliberate. Nothing is an accident; for better or for worse, you’ve always made decisions that have led to where you are.
Off the top of your head, what are three most exciting things about being alive?
The constant (un)learning! There is so much to learn and unlearn and you can’t ever be sure of anything BUT THAT’S OKAY! <3 The goal is to be a good person and to help others and to smash the patriarchy! 😀
If you could write your own eulogy, what anecdote from your life would you definitely include?
That time when I completely took my life in my hands as I submitted my resignation on June 11 and hopped on a plane to Mindanao the next day – June 12, AKA Independence Day. I’ve always felt like that’s the first decision that I really made on my own, as someone fully aware of who I am and who I wanted to be.
What are the most important things you’ve learned about life thus far?
Walang mahalagang bagay sa buhay ang madali lang.
What do you still have to improve on?
My writing! Always my writing. 🙂
What are you grateful for?
Strong relationships with God and the people I choose to keep in my life, a commitment to honesty and integrity, and enduring love.
Where to next?
No definite plans, apart from just traveling around Asia every once in a while and being based in Mindanao for the next three years or so. <3
Connect with Ayrie on Twitter @highreaching. View her Journoportfolio at highreaching.journoportfolio.com.
The Self-Makers is an interview series with brave and big-hearted individuals who have risen above overwhelming odds, whether by choice or circumstance, to “make it” in the world. Through a mix of insightful and lighthearted questions, they take us through their struggles, wins and lessons, and show us the different kinds of wonderful life and success can be.
I hope you can take the time to get to know our Self-Makers and find the encouragement to embrace your healthy idea of success and fulfilment. If you know someone who can be interviewed for this series (even if it’s you!), please reach out to me with their/your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.