Noellé Dianne Laspiñas

Diving into the unknown     

A pescatarian, pranic healer, and a proponent of all things natural, Dindy now has a defined way of living. But it wasn’t always the case, she said, sharing how opportunities open up in the unlikeliest of places.

August 2018

For Noellé Dianne Laspiñas, or Dindy for short, there is a greater energy at work all around us. By that she means a force guides everything. If someone had been eavesdropping during the interview, it would have sounded quite bizarre.


But Dindy, an associate project analyst for the East Asia Urban and Social Sectors Division (EASS), is resolute in her belief. When someone had suggested that she apply for a job in ADB, she didn’t know what the bank was. That was in 2007. Her application was for an administrative assistant in the South Asia Regional Department; however, by the time her recruitment was being processed, she was interviewed first for the Office of Administrative Services (OAS) and was then accepted in EASS. She hasn’t left the division since then.

“I don’t naturally plan my life,” she asserted. In the course of a whirlwind conversation about the ins and outs of her life, this transplant from the island of Siquijor and Dumaguete (part of Negros Island) highlighted a recurring theme – she knew what she didn’t want, and this has, by fate or energy, governed the direction she has taken, from her university and degree to her first employer and, her second and current employer.

Perhaps pivotal among these phases is the first, where during her practicum for her BS Psychology degree she contracted a terrible sickness. This led her to alternative health practices and holistic living, embracing all that is natural and organic in terms of her diet, as well as a paradigm shift of more introspection, looking internally and mentally and how this connects to physical wellness.

This change in lifestyle and mindset reinforced her environmental awareness (a product of the 1990s cartoon Captain Planet) and eventually brought her to her first job at the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care or PITAHC (since she wasn’t drawn to a corporate setup and wanted ideally a role at an NGO). In the course of over four years in this government agency, she learned not only her now life essentials like yoga and pranic healing, but also about ADB. “When I first looked up ADB I saw it aligned with my values, especially since I was looking for an NGO. I thought, ‘Oh, big NGO!’”  

Currently, Dindy handles nine technical assistance projects and three loans: the Jilin Urban Development Project, Hebei Elderly Care Development Project, and Xinjiang Changji Integrated Urban-Rural Infrastructure Demonstration Project. Asked on how she finds her work, especially after having climbed the ranks from assistant to analyst, she said, “I’m not the type of person to rock the boat. It’s easy for me to be content. At the end of the day you ask yourself, is there any meaning to my life? Of course it’s easy to answer because you have ADB’s vision. It’s what attracted me in the first place… And I like my job because it also allows me to do things I like outside my job.”

Now we have a lot of awareness on plastic, but ever since I was a kid I was already like that. My heart was there, so I thought maybe I’m interested in saving the planet.

 

Noellé Dianne B. Laspiñas

Associate Project Analyst

You don’t usually relate psychology with development work. Have you always been interested in psychology?

Dindy: Actually, no. This is the story of my life: I don’t naturally plan my life, like going to Ateneo for university. I wanted to go to [the University of the Philippines]. But for some reason all my classmates got their entrance exam results and I didn’t get mine. I didn’t want to investigate what happened because I was too afraid to find out if I didn’t pass. The letter of acceptance from Ateneo came, however, and there was an offer for scholarship. I didn’t know what Ateneo was. At that time all I knew was I didn’t want to have swimming in my curriculum! Silliman University, where I went for high school and logically would be my college option, had a swimming class requirement (they don’t have it anymore, I think). In fairness to me, I took swimming lessons in preparation for that—with kids who all outswam me. It’s funny, to think I grew up in an island. I have recently learned how to dive, though, so I am quite happy about that.

Now with psychology, that wasn’t my first choice in Ateneo. They allow you to pick four choices, right? That was my fourth. My first choice was Environmental Science, but my math score in the entrance exam was low. I was merit English but math wasn’t my strength. I was surprised they didn’t put me in basic math. I didn’t know Environmental Science had a lot of math. Personally, I cared a lot for the environment since before. Now we have a lot of awareness on plastic, but ever since I was a kid I was already like that. My heart was there, so I thought maybe I’m interested in saving the planet.

After university, you only had one job before joining ADB…

Dindy: This is another example of I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to work in Makati. I didn’t want a corporate setup or a stressful career, which was my impression of working in Makati. But first off, before I graduated something happened. I had my practicum at the hospice ward of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, where kids had leukemia and other terminal illnesses. We spent time with them, played with them, and tried to make them feel better. Since I was a scholar on a budget, my college dormer diet was fast food, cup noodles, and cafeteria food. I guess my immune system was down because I got sick when I was at the hospital during my practicum. It was a terrible health crisis that began innocently enough with fever that wouldn’t go away. I got measles again. I had boils on my face and head, lost some hair, and this happened in stages.  

Instead of going to the usual doctor and getting drugged, my mom asked me if I wanted to try seeing an alternative practitioner. The part that made most sense in all the things this practitioner said was the part on treating the cause, not the symptoms – because the measles is a symptom, the boils are a symptom, fever is a symptom, but what is the real cause behind my sickness? What was in my body that caused the virus or bacteria to thrive? Overnight I stopped eating meat. I was full-on organic and raw food for a while. I’ve been a pescatarian since then. I liked the holistic approach of natural healing where the body is provided with the right conditions to allow itself to heal, and it’s amazing how the vast world of natural healing opens up to you when you’re looking for alternatives. Your perspective will change. You realize that there are things like these…

So after graduation I still didn’t know what to do. I wanted to join an NGO, even though I had no experience with an NGO and my course wasn’t related to development work. By that time, I was regularly going to organic markets and one day my usual supplier mentioned they were having this event. The guest speaker was Grace Eleazar, then officer-in-charge of PITAHC. Everything she said resonated with me: organic food, natural healing, and she talked about factory farming and the plight of chickens, and hormones and antibiotics in food, stuff like that. And then I learned that she worked for the government.

Who knew that the government had something like this, an alternative healthcare institute under the Department of Health? I asked if there was an opening and it turned out that her secretary was going to leave, so she was looking for an executive assistant. I got the job.

How nice things turn out. What led you to ADB?

Dindy: After some time there, I had this officemate who used to be an ADB contractual staff and she said, “Dinds, why don’t you apply in ADB?” I said, “What’s ADB?” She told me to go to the ADB website, and that’s how it started. I didn’t plan it. I hadn’t planned my life. I had no idea what ADB was. My friend even said the crinkles are delicious there. It was harder to get crinkles then. Good thing I had insider information, and I loved – still love – that there are vegetarian meals!

I applied for SARD; but HR has these admin assistant pools, and they place you where there is an immediate vacancy. I guess by the time they processed my application, OAS, and then EASS was the one in need. I’ve never left EASS.

What made you stick with EASS for over a decade now?

Dindy: First, everyone in EASS is really nice. They are all helpful and there is hardly any drama. There’s respect, and as a friend said, she would describe us as progressive. Basically, we have good communication, and there is no barrier or distinction between staff. You can talk to anyone and they listen to you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there or if you’ve only just arrived. There are a lot of new people and it’s like they’ve been there forever. People in the team will go out of their way and help you to adjust, to adapt, and to do the work well. You have this support system of people who will accept you. I guess we’re lucky because that doesn’t always happen.

I did try applying elsewhere, of course. I once applied at the [Office of Cofinancing Operations]; however, the same level also opened up in EASS, so why leave when you can have a natural progression here? And after I tried being an analyst, I never left.

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People are just starting to realize that the world is becoming old. I think it’s only right that we are now focusing on this issue, because if we really think about it, aging is constant.

What made you stick with EASS for over a decade now?

Dindy: First, everyone in EASS is really nice. They are all helpful and there is hardly any drama. There’s respect, and as a friend said, she would describe us as progressive. Basically, we have good communication, and there is no barrier or distinction between staff. You can talk to anyone and they listen to you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there or if you’ve only just arrived. There are a lot of new people and it’s like they’ve been there forever. People in the team will go out of their way and help you to adjust, to adapt, and to do the work well. You have this support system of people who will accept you. I guess we’re lucky because that doesn’t always happen.

I did try applying elsewhere, of course. I once applied at the [Office of Cofinancing Operations]; however, the same level also opened up in EASS, so why leave when you can have a natural progression here? And after I tried being an analyst, I never left.

Would you say you’ve also grown to enjoy urban development work?

 

Dindy: I’m not a technical person, but you can put me anywhere in an operations department and I’ll be fine. The good thing with our division is it’s unique in that it has both urban and social sectors. I think the social sector is really interesting, but I like both urban and social equally because you can’t separate them. We are all social and we live in cities. It’s all connected. You can make the same argument for energy, transport, and whatever. The good thing is this concept of livable cities and living in cities are the elderly, women and children, and the poor – so you cannot remove the social from the urban. That’s what our operations are trying to do now, to have more integrated projects.

Speaking of the elderly, you’ve been involved in some of these projects. What can you share about the aging population that may not be so well known publicly?

Dindy: People are just starting to realize that the world is becoming old. I think it’s only right that we are now focusing on this issue, because if we really think about it, aging is constant. Who will take care of all these people? What about their pensions and thriving after retirement? There has always been this concept that when your parents grow old, you put them in a home; but in Asia, we are not like that. We take care of our older people. In our work there is a concept called “aging in place”. Basically, it has to do with where you live, where your community is, it should support you as you go through the life cycle.

You know how a lot of cases of depression happen when people become old and they feel useless and helpless, especially if the person has a disability? It goes back to considering aging and urban planning holistically. Japan is one of the rare countries that is elderly friendly. In the Philippines, if you are elderly or disabled, it’s hard for you to be mobile. You must have someone with you or you simply stay home. The thinking is, or what we want is even as you age you are still supported by your environment and community, so that your life still makes sense, has meaning. You have to consider what goes on internally as well as the infrastructure.

If you had the chance, what city would you like to live in? 

Dindy: Tokyo. I like their infrastructure, and if you can transfer that here in the Philippines – I prefer warmer weather – it would be great. Imagine their infrastructure, like the buses and subways, and their wonderful bathrooms, just have it all in the Philippines and their attitude of respect and being helpful to one another, that would be ideal. I think they incinerate their waste also, because when I was there I was so dismayed with all the trash. The amount of packaging they use is astounding. It’s plastic, plastic, plastic. I don’t know if incineration justifies it. The mentality of using plastic is still there. For me what’s important is to reduce, before even thinking about reusing or recycling.

Your passion for the environment seems to match with your passion for pranic healing. What is this all about? 

Dindy: Pranic healing is the science and art of energy healing which began in the Philippines and is now worldwide. “Pranic” comes from the Sanskrit word “prana” which means life force. Prana is more familiar to some as “chi” or “ki”. Apart from physical healing, what I feel is most valuable in the pranic healing and Arhatic Yoga system is what you learn about the energetic nature of thoughts and emotions, and the importance of character building and service. It’s practical spirituality that you can apply everywhere. It teaches you how energy works and how you can make energy work for you in all areas of your life, from your health to relationships to finances, and your spirituality or connection to the divine. It’s why I think there’s a lesson in everything, in every seemingly difficult circumstance. There’s something that circumstance is trying to teach you which will be revealed in time, and that experience will always serve your greater good.

Urban solutions pathways

ADB's Vision of Livable Cities

Cities contribute to national economic growth, but they can be polluted and overcrowded. Asia’s rapidly developing cities face inadequate basic services, environmental degradation, and increasing poverty. “Livable Cities” is ADB’s vision and approach to urban development. ADB works to support the transformation of developing cities in Asia and the Pacific into safe, sustainable urban centers.

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