Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lourdes Hufana Yuvanasiri


Lourdes Hufana Yuvanasiri
Director of Human Resources, Conrad Brand, Asia Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

m Poverty to a Good Life Through the Power of Knowledge
sang Kwentong Makabibigay ng Inspirasyon sa Kapwa Pinoy)
Story written by Michelle Dayrit-Soliven

The Philippine Star, October 5, 2008. Republished here with permission of the author.

To those armed with extreme patience and perseverance, poverty is not a handicap but a passport to success. Being impoverished pushed Lourdes Hufana Yuvanasiri—director of human resources of the Conrad Brand, Asia Pacific— to achieve heights of success beyond her wildest dreams. This made her life rich in more ways than one.

“I was born in Aringay, La Union to a very poor family. My father died when I was only one year old. I was raised by my mother, Herminigilda Hufana, a simple Ilocana merchant,” she said. Though her mother didn’t even finish school, this strong, determined woman managed to support all of her six children and even her grandchildren.

Lourdes was a witness to her mom’s generous soul. Despite the little that they had when they were growing up, her mom would readily share their food with hungry neighbors. She said to her children, “I don’t have anything else to give you but an education.”

Because of the good old-fashioned Filipino family values instilled in them, the siblings grew up disciplined and close knit. Much to their mother’s delight they willingly supported one another in order to fulfill her dream.

Lourdes dreamt of being a doctor but was forced to push that aside due to financial constraints. Her eldest brother Primo gave her some money, advising her to take a secretarial course. Yet her heart was somewhere else. “ I had big dreams which included becoming a very successful person one day.”

Like her brother, Lourdes became a working student. While completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in FEATI University, she took on a job at the Philippine Senate office. It was an eye opening experience. She was deeply fascinated by the powerful people she encountered daily and that made her wonder why there were so successful. By following and observing these dynamic individuals closely, she discovered a common factor.

“Those people are powerful because they are smart and filled with knowledge. It suddenly dawned on me that knowledge is power! I further concluded that without knowledge one cannot empower people,” she surmised.

This discovery paved her way to a bright future. Lourdes had finally found her purpose in life. With renewed vigor she earned her certificate in Teaching at FEATI University. Unfazed by severe financial struggles, she managed to obtain her Master of Arts in English at the University of Santo Tomas. At Araneta University in 1969, she started working as an English lecturer. She augmented her income by giving English tutorial lessons to countless students day and night, thus honing her teaching and interaction skills.

In 1971, destiny brought her to meet Pongsak Yuvanasiri from Thailand. He came to the Philippines to pursue a course in plant pathology and ended up pursuing Lourdes in the process.

"My siblings, cousins and I were all living together in a rented place. Every day he would come for his English lessons. He was very kind to my family. They were so charmed by him,” Lourdes said. She also recalled that it was to her brother Primo that Pongsak first bared the love in his heart: “I want to marry your sister.” To abide by her mother’s wish they were married in St. Lucy’s Parish in Aringay, La Union, the same church where Lourdes was baptized. Pongsak was given the Christian name Paul.

The time came for the couple to move to Bangkok. Paul’s job required him to travel extensively. Left at home, Lourdes was not used to being idle. She got restless. Within a few weeks she found a part time job as an editorial assistant. Other part time jobs came up—as English lecturer at Bangkok University, International School, Kirk College, and St. Theresa Business School. Lourdes took them all. She also gave private English lessons to individuals, Thai families and their employees. This extra income provided schooling for her nephews and nieces back home in the Philippines.

One afternoon in 1981, she walked into The Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok for an afternoon snack. Upon taking her order the server mispronounced her favorite soft drink. Sprite was pronounced “Saprite.” This did not escape her and she promptly wrote a letter to the manager. After reading her letter, the manager asked to meet with her then offered her a job. She ended up training and developing English programs for their guest service staff. She also assisted in the evaluation, promotion and personnel recruitment until 1985.

From 1985 to 1989, Lourdes worked as training manager at the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok. From 1989 to 1992, she was director of human resources at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Bangkok. In 1998, she was director of human resources at Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Bangkok. In 2002, she joined the Conrad Bangkok as director of human resources.

Her passion for teaching has earned her a brilliant reputation in the hotel industry. Today, this indefatigable Filipina is widely regarded as the hotel human resources “guru” in Bangkok.

Once a teacher, always a teacher. Day in and day out she continues to be an inspiration, a tireless mentor and devoted teacher to many who are likewise striving to meet their own dreams.

What is the very first lesson she imparts to her students?

“Whenever I give my first lesson, I simply can't help but look back at my childhood poverty which has given me the determination to enrich myself. I encourage them to finish their university degrees and keep learning because knowledge is power. Once empowered, they can reach for their dreams!” she said.

Lourdes added the most important lesson she leaves with them is the consciousness of being patient and persevering. “I teach them to have faith and trust in God and everything will be taken care of. I make them understand with their hearts the prayer “Make me a channel of your peace…”

What is the best part of your job right now, I asked her.

“My job promotion to oversee HR projects for the Conrad Brand in Asia Pacific gives me the opportunity to travel and visit Conrad Hotels in other countries, be exposed to diverse cultures, explore new challenges and learn from them.”

She added: “Being known as the first and only Filipina director of human resources, having worked in various leading five-star international chain hotels in Bangkok, as well as having an HR corporate overseas responsibility are the things that I appreciate about being where I am now.”

She said she takes pride in being able to provide leadership and drive to her staff. To date, most of the key HR executives in five-star hotels in Thailand are her previous staff. And if that is not enough, Lourdes has also helped a number of Filipinos get jobs in hotels in Thailand.

She mentioned with pride that the most important thing in her life is that she has a happy, supportive and loving family! Her son Paulo, who finished his MBA in Sydney, is an assistant director for a telecommunications company. Her second son John is in senior high school.

Surely, Lourdes’ story is what fairy tales are made of. Does she still dream of anything?
“I still dream of exploring new possibilities in my career...and to continue to inspire needy youths to dream big dreams and educate them so they can be empowered to make their dreams come true,” she concludes.

Picture of Lourdes receiving a Thai Red Cross Plaque of Appreciation from Thai Princess Soamsawali for initiating a special project and policy at the work place to provide care for HIV-affected employees and retain their employment.

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