A birthday wish turns into a fundraiser for female frontliners

Published October 5, 2020, 6:19 PM

by Kerry Tinga

On her 25th birthday, Raya Buensuceso raises enough funds to donate over 70 bikes to female frontliners

Four janitresses from Las Piñas General Hospital who are rooming together at a dorm nearby and who have been unable to go home to their families regularly due to limited and expensive transport options. Cleaners are often overlooked as frontliners, but they are the ones who clean after patients, change their bedsheets, and sanitize their rooms.

It all started with a selfless 25th birthday wish.

“The drive–at least the way it’s set up now–was never planned,” says Raya Buensuceso

All she asked for this year was one or two bikes that she could donate to female frontliners. Her friends and family pitched in with donations, large and small, whatever they could afford them. “Even just the cost of a cup of coffee,” Raya would post on her social media accounts.

A nursing attendant from QMMC. She was planning to buy a bike even before COVID and was even planning to take out a loan to buy one. However, the unexpected passing of her husband forced her to put plans on hold. Previously, she was forced to stay at a dorm due to the lack of commuting options during the pandemic, but now with a bike she can go home everyday.

Much to her surprise, there was enough for not just for one or two bikes, but another 20, and then 30 and now, as of writing, 73 bikes in total. The bikes were given to janitors of hospitals, nursing attendants, grocery store clerks, and other beneficiaries who reached out to Raya. While it is no longer her birthday, or even her birthday month, as people kept reaching out Raya has decided to continue the drive so long as donations and requests are pouring in.

Women supporting women

The birthday initiative, which has blown up into a proper fundraiser, combines Raya’s two advocacies: urban mobility and women empowerment. Her day job is with an infrastructure advisory firm. She is also the co-leader of the Manila chapter of the SoGal Foundation, a global non-profit that supports female and other underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Another health worker, this time from Mary Chiles hospital and maternity receives a bike.

“It’s well documented that women have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic,” says Raya on why she decided to give bicycles to female frontliners in particular. “Women also tend to be responsible for the lion’s share of domestic work. By giving them bikes, the hope is that they can take charge of their schedules and free up time for any housework they need to do and, most important, have more time for rest. No one would be walking two to six hours per day on top of a 12- to 16-hour work shift, especially not mothers.”

A recipient expressing gratitude with a placard addressed to Raya.

It was so unexpected that the fundraiser would grow to the extent it did that Raya was caught off-guard without any clear logistical plan. For the first distribution, she had to do house-to-house deliveries to the beneficiaries. Several dozen bikes in, the drive has organized drop-off and pick-up points with their beneficiaries.

‘No one should be walking two to six hours per day on top of a 12 to 16 hour work shift, especially not mothers.’

It helps that Raya’s friends have found time to support the cause. She mentions Cyrill Chan, who has sourced and shipped the bikes, as well as Vera Lummis, Gabie Tanjutco, and Dani De Los Reyes, who have helped spread the word and solicited donations.

A grocery store clerk who used to walk 6 hours between Cavite and Alabang Town Center each day since March. With a bike, it now only takes her one hour each way.

“I was initially hesitant to pursue the fundraiser because I was aware of other groups already doing something similar,” adds Raya. “But I later realized that I took the existence of these other bike initiatives for granted. I was aware of them because I happen to be plugged into local mobility circles. Many people in my personal network had never head of them. So by launching my own initiative, I was essentially able to mobilize a chunk of cash that probably would never have gone to this cause. And the need is basically endless, so the more actors, the better. This is perhaps the one area where the multiplicity of efforts is absolutely beneficial.”

A truly happy birthday

Some people say that this year shouldn’t count, that we should all be allowed to stay the same age. There are definitely grounds for the argument, no large gathering of friends, only muted celebrations in the midst of this pandemic and economic downturn. Plus, everybody likes saying that they are a bit younger than they are. 

Our 20s are often considered a time of self-discovery, of doing all the things we want to do so we don’t regret having not “lived life” when we are older. 

A nursing aid from UERM that works with premature babies. She likes to bike for the health benefits. She would occasionally borrow her neighbor’s bike whenever it was available. Now, she has her own bike that she can use everyday. She can use her commuting budget of P60/day for an additional meal.

But somewhere in the middle of those prime years, a pandemic halts all the sort of activities and plans Raya, and all the other 20-something-year-olds out there, might have once had. Life is put into perspective. 

Now we understand that for all our pursuits for self-discovery, none of us are alone. There is more to living selflessly than selfishly. Not only are we not alone, but our small actions can help others understand that they are not alone, as well. While there is a lot of turmoil going on during this pandemic, it is also an opportune time to do some good.

More frontliners who were given bicycles for easier travel.

“I found myself feeling very helpless and restless at home. I wanted to do something concrete to help out, instead of just ranting about various problems and posting about them on social media,” says Raya. “Of course, I recognize that I am very privileged and not everyone can do the same. But that’s exactly the point. People with extra time and resources should be encouraged to help out however they can. A lot of the initial fundraisers that were launched at the beginning of the pandemic have already died down, but we are nowhere near the end of the tunnel. A lot of help is still needed now.”