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Who is Gene Alcantara and why is he lucky to have worked in the British Council?

When I ran through the achievements of social entrepreneur Gene Alcantara, an active British-Filipino community leader in the United Kingdom, I initially noticed his former involvement with the British Council.

British Council has been a very memorable and important socio-cultural agency in the West that impacted me in so many ways.

Then and now, from the six continents being served by it, the British Council is still the UK’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities.

The Philippines is only one of the many countries in Asia which has direct access to the many cultural exchanges in various platforms between the country and the UK.

In the home page of the BC website there’s a blurb that says one of the goals of the Council is “…bringing international opportunity to life, every day.” It might have been revised as time went by from a traditional hard copy of a brochure to the digital age of online pages but still the meat of the matter is intact.

 

 

Imagine Gene being assigned in the British Council Philippines, which according to the writer of his curriculum vitae, is a public service charity promoting Britain around the world, funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. That would be fantastic.

But Alcantara was instead deployed however short-lived in the former Czechoslovakia, now The Czech Republic as Assistant Director in Management and in a full posting of three (3) and a half years to Poland (Warsaw/Krakow) as Assistant Director (Resources) in 1985. 

He started in BC as an Administrative Assistant and worked in various departments including looking after scholars from different countries and management services.

During this time Gene also served as Regional Training Coordinator for Central and East Europe.

My consciousness about the British Council was earlier, though. 

It was entertainment writer Danny Vibas who first brought me to the Council in the mid-1970s right after our graduation from college. I remember, its centre was then located in R. Hidalgo in Quiapo, Manila which was adjacent to the old Manuel Luis Quezon University (MLQU). As a bibliophile and as a voracious reader, Danny was familiar with all available libraries in the city especially the public ones.

 

 

Public meant no reading fee, only a free registration and admission to avail of the books and other research materials. Aside from the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center, a library or a culture hub on American life, which was formerly located in Araneta Avenue and the Goethe House or the German Cultural Center housed in Aurora Boulevard, the BC was a helpful source of information about the world—past and present—also for free.

Even without Vibas in tow, I would regularly visit BC and read books, newspapers and magazines especially of British contents although there were also local newspapers and mags particularly broadsheets in English. From time to time, I would borrow books out as reference as I had an official card issued by the Council when I was doing my master’s degree in Philippine Literature at UP Diliman. Literary theories from Great Britain were significant studies and influences vis-à-vis Philippine letters. 

After Quiapo, the BC moved to Broadway in Quezon City and I would again devour its rich storage of books, magazines, newspapers and yes, films. There were also William Shakespeare’s plays on video. When vinyl was still the music form, there were plenty of LPs (long play albums) of classical and modern British music. Once in a while, there were symposia on British culture, politics, arts, environment, science etc.

 

 

I could imagine Gene coordinating with the Czech and Polish people in response to the promotion of Britain at BC. According to his bio-date, “as part of his achievements in the British Council, he worked on improving the career prospects of Secretaries, introduced the use of spreadsheets to manage scholarships, and undertook consultancies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Country Directorates. His O&M consultancies covered UK departments and numerous overseas countries.”

Yes, in the bulletin boards of BC Philippines, I remember, there were announcements of scholarships in various disciplines or courses to where applications were open among deserving Filipinos to enrol in several schools in the UK.

Seminars and workshops on job management here and abroad were conducted by the Council to orient and reorient Filipinos of the various trends and capabilities in multi-level posts in work places.

It was also an advocacy of the Council to mitigate hunger among malnourished and poor communities in the Philippines by reorienting and reminding them of balanced and nutritious diet on fruits and vegetables and other vitamin-rich foods which abound in their localities.

There were also outreach programs to far-flung areas of the country to build bridges among discordant members of the communities, like the indigenous tribes in conflict with the unscrupulous stakeholders in the stewardship of the forest by taking over of their ancestral domain through illegal logging and unwavering destruction of their natural resources.

He could also do these in the Philippines if given the chance. How he also dreamed of serving his native land but working in BC in various countries also made him a ubiquitous person who transcended race, religion, gender, social status etc. 

Imagine the opportunities given by the Council to ethnic minorities in the countries like The Czech Republic and Poland through acculturation into the British mainstream society.

In this sense, Gene has achieved a lot in breaking cultural barriers. It was when he was the Founding Chair of the Ethnic Minorities Development Group (EMDG) that improved the career prospects of black and ethnic minority staff across the organization—a very important achievement in a global organizing and promoting diversity and equal opportunities.

 

 

After his stints in The Czech Republic and Poland, he returned to the UK in various management roles, the last being Head UK Accounting, in Pay Band 8.

No regrets.

Alcantara, after all these years, is a universal man in service of humanity until the end.

After 20 years of service in the Council, though, he took a voluntary early retirement in 2005 to focus on his community work and self-employment.

How lucky of Gene to have worked with the British Council.  

 

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