Thursday, Apr 15

How Tragedy Transformed Nani Alboro into Tzu Chi’s First Filipino Commissioner

March 24, 2021 | Joy Rojas

Giving away money isn’t easy—especially when times are hard and every centavo counts. But for Tzu Chi Foundation commissioner Nani Alboro, who dutifully collects pledges from more than 800 of her regular donors each month, the job isn’t difficult at all.


“They’re actually happy to see me,” says Alboro of her donors in Nangka, Marikina City, and other nearby areas. “When they see me, they immediately bring out their coin banks.” In turn, she’ll issue official receipts for every donation made (“Even a P10 donation has a receipt,” she says), count the pledges with the help of six or seven volunteers, then remit the amount to Tzu Chi volunteer Woon Ng. The collected pledges are used to fund the immediate needs of communities in crisis.


Now 65, Alboro wasn’t always a model of good behavior. “As soon as I got up in the morning, I would hang out with my neighbors and gossip,” she recalls of her life in the past. “I’d fight with anyone who disagreed with me. I was of no help to anyone at all.”


Then disaster struck. In 2009, Typhoon Ondoy’s relentless rains turned Marikina City into a virtual “Waterworld,” with entire communities submerged in stories-high floor. Alboro, her construction worker husband Felicisimo, and their six children lost all their possessions, including the second flood of their home, which collapsed from the heavy downpour.   


But in tragedy, Alboro saw her life change for the better. The arrival of Tzu Chi Foundation on the scene gave her and her neighbors a chance to set their community and lives back in order through its “Cash for Work” program, clearing streets of muck and debris for P400 a day. Through the foundation’s generosity, the Alboros were even able to have their home rebuilt with concrete. This fortified it to withstand succeeding typhoons, including Typhoon Ulysses in November 2020.


All this show of help and how it improved people’s lives gradually rubbed off on Alboro. As a regular volunteer, she is very much active in many of the foundation’s initiatives—from its recycling efforts and distribution of relief goods to key places in the country, to its monthly collection of pledges from donors. “I feel happy when I’m able to help others,” she says.


So it was only fitting that the Tzu Chi Foundation made her its very first Filipino commissioner, a title she received in Taiwan and from no less than Dharma Master Cheng Yen herself in 2011. “I cried and thanked her profusely for trusting me, and for helping not just me but my community,” she says.


It’s a milestone that remains a source of pride for this vendor of kakanin (Filipino rice-based snacks), and the catalyst for her husband to give up his vices. “I’m proud that people recognize me and associate me with the Tzu Chi Foundation,” she says. “And I’m proud that my work has helped others.”



Photos by: Daniel Lazar


  • Tzu Chi Commissioner Nani Alboro gathers items for the foundation’s recycling program.

  • Packing coin donations from generous donors.

  • Counting donations with a volunteer.

  • “I’m proud that people recognize me and associate me with the Tzu Chi Foundation,” says Nani.

  • At 65, the mother of six remains active in many of Tzu Chi’s initiatives for the poor.

  • “I feel happy when I am able to help others,” says Nani.

  • With her husband, Felicisimo

  • Looking at her picture of the times she was in relief