AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH FOR LIZA

Liza Avelino inspires us with the summits she had reached. Literally and figuratively. Read her journey towards her dreams as she took one step at a time from a humble beginning.



Island Peak summit 6,189m / 19 April 2015
Ms. Avelino leaves the Philippine flag promising that she will go back once again to take a photo beside it.

Do you have a fear of heights? A fear for public speaking? How about competing? How would you feel if you would lead a team that everybody considers as the ultimate underdog? These and more, Liza Avelino, 49 years old, had endured… as a domestic helper.

I am more than honoured and proud to write a feature about a fellow Filipina, who is not just a domestic helper but is also a TED speaker, a summit climber and a founder of the all-Filipina dragon boat team, Filipino Dynamo.

A trusted friend had tipped me to follow this woman as according to his words, “is inspiring in so many ways because of her great story.” And how blessed I was when she consented me for an interview. I wouldn’t make this a typical rags to riches interview but I would rather share 7 things I learned from this amazing woman.

1. If life gives you lemons, make a lemonade.

Learning how Liza Avelino’s roots, coming from a poor family and getting married off at an early age ending up becoming a mother of twins at 21, it seemed almost hopeless for her to make her dreams of seeing the world happen. But she did because of hard work, perseverance, and determination, which for her are important determinants of success.

“If you don’t have the desire or drive to do something, you simply won’t do it.”

– Liza Avelino

2. Life is full of surprises.

Liza arrived in Hong Kong in 1996 to start her life as an overseas foreign worker from the Philippines. She never imagined then that after two decades, she will have to share about her journey about becoming one to 500 people at a TEDx conference Tin Hau Women. She thought that coming to Hong Kong which she considers as a mix of luck and blessing was already it. But as soon as she made little changes in her life, life’s rewards came to her that cannot be measured by possession but through experience and achievements.

This is the 17-minute talk she gave and I would like to say kudos to the TEDx organizers that chose her. Her story is something that the whole world should hear.

3. You are more than you’re job or your status in life.

Yes, one of the many attributes of a Filipino is being a jack of all trades. Their origin from being under the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese honed them to acquire many strengths which thought them how to be versatile, and flexible. Growing up, she was used to doing household chores, and so, being a domestic helper as her meal ticket, came quite easy. But she had a dream of travelling the world someday. And the country that she wished to visit the most was Africa.

There are 390,000 domestic helpers at the time of this writing here in Hong Kong. And every Hong Kong local knows most of these helpers spend their days off in Central, or different public parks, sitting in large groups because they don’t have space to do so, except there. But she felt guilty sitting there letting the day pass without doing anything productive. She changed her routine into going to the library every day off she gets until she stumbled on a book about hiking.

From then on, the mountaineer in her was born. Fast forward, she reached her dream of visiting Africa when she decided to pursue Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain that is 19,341 ft.. It is a dormant volcano and is the highest single free-standing mountain in the world.

She does her job with integrity and love, serving a family here in Hong Kong. To keep up with this job since 1996, she must be good at it. But she never stopped transforming herself into a better version of herself. Recently, she had founded an all-Filipina domestic helper dragon boat team which is about to compete internationally.

4. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

This was a campaign for being resourceful around their circuit training. Liza says, “No gym membership? No problem!”

Being new to leading a dragon boat team, it’s important to expose her fellow paddlers to different kinds of upper body strength training. In the beginning, funds came from their major sponsors PrimeCredit and HK Lovecraft and it’s most often allotted for team registration and uniforms. When it comes to dumbells and kettlebells to use for training, they improvise.

5. Nothing is impossible.

When Liza had set a goal for herself, she built it on the pillars of responsibility, tenacity and steadiness. So many times, she had moments where she wanted to give up. And weirdly, each time we are most passionate, it’s the time you are most challenged.

Climbing mountains for Liza served as a metaphor for each hardship she had encountered in her life. When this happens to her, she takes it as an opportunity to reconnect deeper with herself. She talks herself out on giving up replacing it with happy thoughts, encouraging ones, and a whole lot of concentration.

She advises everybody to own three bullets in the battle. Patience in learning new things and developing skills that you need in pursuit of your goals. Discipline in staying motivated and focused, most especially during challenging times and obstacles unexpectedly presenting itself. And lastly, determination, to keep head-on with your ‘WHY’.



6. Obtain power to empower others.

As a woman of colour and of not-so-privileged status, Liza Avelino finds light in everybody else.

Filipino Dynamo had zero experience when it comes to paddling. As their efforts were recognized by dragon boat organizers, they got invited to compete internationally. Now, she recruits other passionate domestic workers to make good use of their time during their day off. As she finds having a healthy lifestyle truly important to living life to the fullest, she keeps up a busy routine, pushing her capacity as a 49-er. Paddling the dragon boat or hiking keep her fit. These are her elements for pushing herself out of bounds.

To become the better version of herself at each climb, at each race won, and at each challenge tackled.

More importantly, with these achievements, the most important for her is touching the lives of others who think small of themselves. She encourages them to think out of the box and embrace the power of potentiality.

After talking at TEDx, she believes that she has a powerful story to tell that could empower other women like her who are stuck with how the society had set what a woman can “only” do.

“I believe I was born for a reason. That is to live life to the fullest in your own definition and terms. We all have the choice to become who we are and how we wish to be remembered when we are gone. So, yes I am doing the best that I can. Your circumstances should not define you in building a reputation and a legacy. Achieve your dreams by staying determined and work hard for your goals.”  –  Liza Avelino at Island Peak’s crampon point 5,900m, Everest Region, Nepal

7. Give back.

In time, Liza’s struggles turned into gold. And now that she had achieved a lot, Liza gives back to her ‘Home’Kong. She encourages other helpers to do something meaningful during their days off. She occasionally puts together hikers and mountaineers to do clean-as-you hike trips.

“A group of Filipino maids, who were all inspired by Liza Avelino to do the #cleanuphongkongtrails”
Photo Credits to Annisa Tong in Sai Wan, Hong Kong.

Because of the team that she had formed, and the people whom she was able to encourage along the way, she was able to assist with HELP for Domestic Workers when she raised funds for it through the Kilimanjaro climb. This is an organization that aims to provide free advice and assistance on topics and issues regarding employment, human rights, and immigration of Hong Kong domestic workers.

ENRICH HK teaches financial education to the majority of Filipino OFW’s in Hong Kong which is the domestic helpers.

Moreover, she waves the Filipino flag by encouraging fellow Filipino domestic workers to find dedication in what they do. Representing the country well in everything that she does, giving 100% each time, and staying focused on her goals for herself and her family, while helping others is what she is.

In all of the hikes she had accomplished, all over Hong Kong, in 8 countries, including her homeland, Philippines, she either waves a flag or plants it there to let them know of her reach. As she once dreamed in the library in encountering these mountains only by seeing them from the book, each flag and photo reminds her of the saying, “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” Going to these summits, the Philippine flags are proof of her dreams that came true.

After saving her salary for 8 months, she was able to go her dream destination, Africa.

Posing on top of Mt Erfeng 5,238m, the second peak of the Four Girls Mountain. Known as the “queen of Sichuan’s mountains”, Mount Siguniang is the highest mountain Qionglai Mountains
Location: Mount Siguniang, Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China

 

Mt. Yargatake in Japan



 

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I have a deep regard for your time. It's when I write and cook that time becomes non-existent. I love learning and while you think I am the kind of lady who has a lot of things to say, just take it that I was sharing what I had learned with full impact over a cup of Joe.

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