For Atty. Hazel Helmuth-Vega, it’s all about empowerment
By Deneb Batucan
A LAWYER, a businesswoman, a community volunteer. She may wear different hats but there will always be one goal in mind: to flush out every kind of domestic violence down the drain and have empowered men, women and children building up our community, and possibly, the world. That’s what Atty. Hazel Helmuth-Vega, current president of JCI WoMandaue, envisions the world to be.
Hailing originally from Makati in the nation’s capital, Hazel moved to Cebu during her high school years when her father was assigned here. After graduating from high school, she came back to Manila and studied at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, taking up developmental communication major in journalism. It was there in UP that her love for community involvement blossomed.
“In UP, I saw reality. I got to live on my own and see my classmates, who barely had anything but their scholarships, and thankfully, they passed their subjects. They pay very little, but sometimes, they still can’t afford it and are forced to drop out,” Hazel shared.
Because of what she saw in her environment, it compelled her to do something to change it. She joined a sorority called UP Sigma Beta, the oldest sorority in Southeast Asia (founded in 1932). It was there that she learned about the advocacy against violence on women and children.
Hazel notes that she has always had a soft spot for victims of domestic violence. As a lawyer, she makes it a point to accept pro bono cases for women who can’t afford but need immediate protection. The reason behind it comes from a painful past.
“I’ve witnessed it at home. Although my parents are okay now, there was a time when my dad used to hurt my mom. I saw it. I saw how destructive it was growing up, it happening in my home. It’s hard when it happens to you. But it’s a happy ending. He changed. I think because he was touched by God’s spirit through Couples for Christ and maybe also because of a lot of love from us. But I saw how damaging it was as a child, keeping all the hurt inside. And now I see domestic violence happening with my friends. And a lot of women are downplaying it really,” she said.
Having witnessed domestic violence happening in her own home, Hazel took it as a motivation to earn a law degree. She wanted to protect women, as well as children, from violence.
After finishing her law degree in Arellano University School of Law, Hazel chose to practice law here in Cebu. She applied for a job at a local law office, where she now works as a junior partner. Atty. Carlo Fortuna, who interviewed her, saw that her resume was full of community involvement activities. He suggested that she join JCI WoMandaue and she did.
JCI WoMandaue is a subchapter of the Junior Chamber International Philippines. It is an all-female developmental organization that aims to empower women and children. It started in 2012 and currently it has 30 members.
Every Woman Can is their flagship project that has been ongoing for three years. It is a series of seminars that educate women, and also men, on the laws against violence on women and children. They go from barangay to barangay, and even now in provinces, by invitation and teach them these laws.
“Violence on women and children is really a quiet epidemic. If you’re a victim, you’re embarrassed. Society really downplays it. What is highlighted is the physical abuse. But there’s actually emotional abuse under the law and economic abuse. So we educate people on these things, not just women and men in LGUs but also in schools and companies,” Hazel shared.
For the long term
Aside from empowering women, JCI WoMandaue is also keen on empowering children. “Our society is poverty stricken right now, and I think the only way to combat it is through education and we want to start them young,” Hazel said. They partnered with the Mandaue City Public Library to help them address the lack of quality education for children ages four to six. As a group, they adopted Barangay Paknaan Day Care Center.
They will be putting up a reading center where they will be placing specific instructional materials that’s within the recommendation of the Department of Education for that particular age group. “We will work in phases. We envision a long-term project with them, hoping to provide the kids with complete facilities. We want to be sustainable and be there for them long term,” said Hazel.
Working with the ladies in JCI WoMandaue has really inspired Hazel in more ways than one. The ladies, and herself, have changed personally and professionally because of JCI. “We’re not just there for community involvement. It’s really a two-way street: you improve yourself, you change, and you also help change others for the better. I’ve seen a lot of members who blossomed into young bright women who are passionate about what they do. It’s always a joy to see more empowered women,” Hazel said.
Even with so much on her plate, what with the law office, the restaurant business (she is part owner of 21 Dubs) and various community involvement work, Hazel says that she just focuses on the goal and prioritizes. “You are given all these blessings, all of these skills and talents. They’re there for a purpose. I feel it’s a total shame to waste it if you’re the only one benefiting from it. You’re in the perfect position to help others. So why not, right?”
Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome
Make-up Artist: Carlo Damolo
Hair Stylist: Jerwin Bastatas
Locale: Cafe Talk Library