Betty arrived in the Philippines to work for forumZFD at the end of January 2020. She joined as the Project Manager for the Butuan project team. It was not her first time in the Philippines, having worked previously as a volunteer in the Central Visayas region as a Human Rights Observer with the German organization IPON and studied for a semester abroad at Ateneo de Manila University. Betty arrived just as Covid 19 was taking hold. Soon after she landed in Butuan, one of the world’s strictest lockdowns began. For weeks, with all stores closed, her house was furnished with a bed and a coffee table. In a new city, far from most colleagues, with travel restricted, a lot of people might throw in the towel at this stage, but Betty was always philosophical reflecting back on this time; it was an early marker of the kind of resilience and strength of character she showed us all time and again.
She quickly established herself in the Butuan project team, bringing a super-woman mixture of sunny, smiley, positivity alongside highly organised efficiency! Her teammates have spoken of how she always made time for them, was always there to advise, as well as for sitting around the kitchen table eating, joking and chatting; and on one occasion indulging in some coconut-tree larvae a partner had gifted as a local delicacy – dedication in all things!
Betty came to forumZFD with a wealth of knowledge. She had studied in Germany for a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, which included project research in Nepal. She brought all of this and built on it in her role in the organisation’s Gender Working Group and Communities of Peace Working Group, as a co-researcher on the programme’s Shrinking Spaces project and as an elected Representative of Interest for her colleagues. She was a deeply motivated person, she didn’t just want to do a job well, she wanted to do it for the right reasons. And while everyone rightly remembers Betty’s warmth and positivity, this doesn’t mean she was someone who took everything with a smile – she would always argue for what she thought was right and did not take anything lying down.
The phrase carpe diem was made for someone like Betty. While at forumZFD she went on a motorbiking road trip, island-hopped across multiple Philippine islands, and took not only her introduction to diving but within weeks had progressed to an advanced course. Betty had wished for so long to learn to dive and overcame the fear of it to embrace the experience totally. She was most definitely an ocean person, always missed the beaches if away from them for too long, and almost everyone has a memory of her floating in the water with a smile on her face – her happy place!
It has felt impossible to write these words. To sum up someone so full of life, someone with so much life lived and so much life she should still have had to live. Trying to put the life force that was Betty into black and white typed paragraphs just does not do her justice. She was kind, generous, funny, fierce, passionate and principled. In the weeks before Betty left us, the entire Philippines programme team gathered on nearby Samal island for a 10 day workshop. As part of a team building exercise we had a series of “silly races”, Betty’s race involved her spinning around and around to the end and back. She did this without any seeming need to win the race. In a video we have, her eyes are closed, she’s smiling and she is twirling as if she is dancing, not a worry in the world, just a moment of pure joy. She has left such a painful space in our hearts here in the Philippines, hopefully with time we can fill it entirely with memories like these.