Martin Ocampo Tan is hardworking, intelligent, and most of all passionate. These traits are exemplified in everything that he does — he is one of the pioneering members of the AKAY Foundation, a political consultant, who is often designated to issues and projects concerning the youth, and a 4th-year law student at Tsinghua University, a national public research university in Beijing, China. Martin has always strived to have a good influence on the Chinoy community and demonstrate how even the simplest deeds may make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate.
Today, let’s look into the life of Martin and how he went above and beyond others’ expectations, his own limits, and the borders and boundaries that others have boxed him in to pursue his dreams.
How he went beyond others’ expectations
Martin notes that children of Chinoy families frequently express displeasure with what is perceived as the typical “Chinoy norm” and culture. The pressure to fulfill the family’s expectations, which permeates every aspect of life, is constantly there for the child. He adds that “every Chinoy family has a road map for their children’s future.” Martin shares his experience with his family. They’ve always wanted him to become an accountant, hence when he started his public service career in 2018 as a consultant for Manila Mayor Erap Estrada, it undoubtedly came as a major shock to them. Martin believes that it’s okay to follow norms and conventions, but he states that there are times when everyone needs to have self-confidence and opt to pursue their own goals rather than those set by others.
Four years later, Martin is still working for the government and has contributed to several initiatives that continue to improve the lives of many people. In November 2020, he founded a start-up called “Algorithm-Based Resilient Cities”, along with his team, which included students from Tsinghua University and Imperial College London. It is an algorithm system solution that can roughly approximate the structural integrity of city infrastructures by analyzing raw data inputs. In essence, the program can pinpoint a city’s safest and most at-risk zones, which helps strengthen disaster management systems. His own observations of the devastation caused by typhoons in the Philippines served as his inspiration for this. Heading the start-up, he was invited to private meetings with prominent international figures such as Nicholas Niggli, the Deputy Secretary General of Geneva, and Jonas Haertle, the Execute Director of UNITAR, among many others.
Martin’s love for the Philippines, however, keeps him focused on pursuing a career here, despite the numerous possibilities that continue to present themselves for him to pursue a career in an international organization.
How he pushed his own limits and discovered his potential
As mentioned previously, his family wanted him to become an accountant. He initially gave in to his family’s wishes and studied accountancy at UP Diliman. However, after a year, Martin decided to finally listen to his heart, pursue his own dreams, and push himself beyond his limits by transferring to Tsinghua University in Beijing to pursue a law degree under a full-merit scholarship. He then became the first Filipino to enroll in the Bachelor of Laws program. When asked why he applied to Tsinghua University, Martin said that he “wanted to prove that a Filipino can compete in the highest academic institution in Asia, and to prove that Filipinos are talented and stand on equal footing with any citizen of another country.” After all, what better way to demonstrate that “taas noo, kahit kanino” mindset than to accomplish something that no Filipino has yet to do, such as study undergraduate law at Tsinghua University School of Law, where many notable Chinese government leaders, including the President of China himself, graduated.
As expected, his journey was not smooth sailing as studying at Tsinghua University had its own challenges. Every lesson is exceedingly challenging because the institution is ranked as the best in Asia and as the 14th best in the world by the 2023 QS World University Rankings and 16th globally by the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. He notes, “every unit was a battle in itself.”
He admits that he didn’t speak Mandarin well but all of his lessons and tests were in the language, making it more difficult for him. He was known as the student that always had a Mandarin-English translation dictionary on them among the instructors at school. He shares, “looking back, I still have trouble believing I had the fortitude to quit my cozy job and chase a goal that was beyond what I had imagined was possible. But I think that we may genuinely go beyond our own boundaries in those rare instances when we experience a sudden rush of fearlessness and decide to disregard reason.”
How going beyond borders can make an impact
Martin believes that going beyond borders will definitely make a positive impact on the Chinoy community and on Philippine society as a whole. His own version of ‘going beyond borders’ was pursuing his passion to help Filipinos in marginalized communities and those who cannot help themselves.
He is one of the pioneering members of the AKAY Foundation, which is a non-profit organization on a mission to uplift the quality of life and promote the dignity of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and their families. As a PWD himself, Martin knows and understands the difficulties faced by PWDs and their families. He shares, “it is my journey into overcoming disability that I grew passionate about protecting and uplifting the PWD community.”
Since the foundation’s beginning, they have donated thousands of wheelchairs and have launched multiple projects around the country that uplifts the lives of PWDs. Together with TESDA, they are now developing educational programs that will teach PWDs the skills they need to find jobs. Instead of making PWDs appear to be “charity cases,” they seek to erase the stigma against them and advance equity and employment opportunities. The foundation also holds medical missions and donation drives all around the country.
Being a relatively new NGO, the AKAY Foundation aspires to broaden its influence throughout the entire Philippines and provide new opportunities to assist the PWD population. Martin states that he is looking forward to implementing and executing the plans, projects, and joint collaborations that they have in store for our PWD brothers and sisters.
Martin’s inspiring story is just one example of how a Chinoy who chooses to ‘go beyond borders’ can positively impact society. He wants to set an example for how young Chinoys may contribute more to the advancement of society through his particular brand of public service.