Lorena Clerc, Awardee of 2019 Global FWN 100 Most Influential Filipinas
Message from Anny Hefti (Switzerland)
27 August 2019
Applause for Lorena Clerc! She will be awarded as one of the 2019 Global FWN 100 Most Influential Filipinas, in a ceremony to be held in Paris, France. The FWN Leadership Summit will be held at Westin Paris Vendôme Hotel, Oct. 28-Nov. 2, 2019. Lorena receives the Behind the Scenes Category.
Ms. Lorena Domanog Clerc
Plan International Switzerland
8048 Zurich, Switzerland
Behind the Scenes Leader
This award category recognizes Filipina women who may not have the big title or corner office, but is a driving force behind the success of a social cause or life issue, a community organization’s project or initiative; or her employer’s organizational business unit or department. Someone who has gone beyond the call of duty to devote time, energy, and resources to advocate for those who need a voice, or support the organization she represents or works for.
The 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World Award™ recognizes women of Philippine ancestry who are influencing the face of leadership in the global workplace, having reached status for outstanding work in their respective professions, industries and communities. They are recognized for their contributions to society, femtorship (female mentoring) and legacy.
Lorena Clerc’s brief bio
As a woman and one who is proud of her Igorot cultural heritage, Lorena Clerc is an advocate for girl’s rights and respect for indigenous peoples cultural heritage. She has given out talks in Switzerland about the Philippines and her indigenous cultural heritage. Realizing the dearth of literature on Filipino migrants in Switzerland, she did a study on Language Use among Swiss Filipino Mixed-marriage Families in Switzerland. This did not only add for a better representation of Filipinos in the Swiss academe, but also gave the Filipino migrants in Switzerland the opportunity to reflect on their language practices and its impact on their identities as Swiss-Filipinos as well as the maintenance and transmission Philippine languages and culture.
Lorena’s parents are from Sagada but she grew up Bontoc, Mountain Province, where she finished her elementary and secondary education at St. Vincent School. She went on to finish her tertiary and graduate studies in Baguio. She worked as a teacher at St. Louis School Center and later as a college instructor at the University of Baguio before moving to Switzerland to join her Swiss husband, Michel, a lawyer. They are blessed with a 6 year old boy, who recently played as Tam at Theater 11, Zurich in the world-renowned Miss Saigon Musical by Cameron McKintosh.
She now works as partnerships coordinator of Plan International Switzerland, a humanitarian and development organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls in 50 different countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Transplanted and Thriving
Growing up in a community that took so much pride in its ethnic identity, it was common to hear elders tell the youth: “Umanap kayo is kailyan tay men kinaawatan tako dadlo” (translated literally: Date someone of our own culture; we understand each other better). Much as I wanted to abide, fate had something else for me. Ironically, I met my Swiss husband in my very own cultural territory – at my parents’ hometown, Sagada. Little did I know that the Lizardo bus I rode one day would take me half the globe away. I was seated next to this Swiss guy on that bus ride and the five-hour long conversation we had was intellectually and emotionally stimulating. Romance and relationship were normally not spoken of at a first encounter, but for some reasons, the idea of a mix racial relationship began dawning on me at that very instant. “Who knows …”, I told myself. The Swiss guy did not even have refined flirting skills, which I noted with great amusement, but what impressed me were his humor, intelligence and sincerity. He came back to the Philippines three months after that bus ride and told my parents that he wanted to invite me to visit him in his home country. For all I knew, my parents at that point were so worried about me not finding a partner in life. If only they could make an ad that said, “wife available”, they’d readily give me away to an applicant they deem just right for their very minimal requirements. I was 28 then, which to them was a bit late. But the thought of me having a foreigner boyfriend did get them nervous. After hearing what the Swiss guy said, my mom turned to me, “How do you know if we can trust him? He lives too far from our reach if anything goes wrong”. I said, “Well, you have always been worried about me not finding anyone. So here’s the chance. Besides, how will I know he’s the right one for me if I won’t go and have a look myself. I’m not going there to marry him. I’m coming back after three weeks.” It left them wondering about the kind of daughter they raised - one so fearless. Of course I did my homework; I wasn’t going there and plunge into the unknown. I searched the web and found the Igorot organization in Switzerland. I contacted them and introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit. They actually encouraged me, told me to contact them once I was in Switzerland.
Meanwhile, my relationship with Mr. Swiss grew more romantic. When I came to Switzerland for the visit, his parents were in disbelief. They have given up hope that their only begotten son would find a girlfriend again after some years of waiting. It was then that Mr. Swiss and I finally decided that we were indeed meant for each other. Nobody else would take interest in us so we better stick to each other. A year later, after we took turns switching back and forth between the Philippines and Switzerland every three months, we finally got married. Looking back, I am grateful that I took that leap of faith.
That wonderful thing called love had its bonuses, I relocated to Switzerland, a whole new country, where I could challenge my abilities to the fullest. It wasn’t that my life then was lacking in challenge. At that time, I was a full-time college instructor, doing my graduate studies and at the same time keeping a 24-hour shop that sells local produce in Baguio. I was happy doing all three. I loved the challenge. It was a means of escape from brooding over my failed relationships.
As expected, a series of challenges were waiting for me upon relocating. Adjustments with my husband’s personality, the culture and language were overwhelming. I decided that I had to work and fend for myself and not depend on my husband. This was not easy. At one point, I felt totally defeated and had to learn that relying on my husband for financial support was part of my marriage life. I did get some teaching jobs in some private schools but were unstable. I then decided to enrol at the University of Zurich and improve my credentials to make my skills more appealing for the job market. I was scared. I knew the selection process was tough. In their educational system, roughly 20 % of the student population were admitted to the university. With doubts, I submitted my application anyway. And to my surprise, I was admitted! When I entered the University, I realized that getting admitted was one thing and surviving the University another. I inched my way from one struggle to another. On top of it, I was a mother while studying. There were constant prayers that my child would not get sick on a day I had to give a presentation or take an exam. The day care did not admit sick babies. Once my baby was asleep, I had to hurry for my books or papers. It took me a while to complete the course, but I finally made it, with grades I am pleased with. The struggle wasn’t going to end there, there was going to be more. Each time, I look back to my Igorot ancestors, who resisted 333 years of colonization, and tell myself: I shall not yield.