TRADITIONAL milestones mark the observance of the longest Christmas holiday season in the Philippines. The first usually occurs on the first day of September when we start to hear the familiar songs of Jose Mari Chan. The second occurs during the first week of November when public buildings and commercial houses start lighting up giant Christmas trees on their front yards or lobbies and multi-colored decors on their facades. When I was a young boy, my parents usually brought me and my three siblings around Manila and we certainly enjoyed watching the different displays and eating ice cream afterward.

Last November 3, the Makati Central Business District welcomed the holiday season with the annual lighting ceremony on Ayala Avenue, a beloved tradition that goes as far back as the 1960s.

This year's Christmas display, designed by event stylist Zenas Pineda, celebrates local heritage. Parols, stars, and capiz ornaments that often adorn Filipino homes now light the entire stretch of Ayala Avenue. Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) also installed a giant parol at Ayala Triangle Gardens so the public can safely take photos with the decor.

"This year is even more meaningful and special as we invite the community to experience Christmas live here in Makati," said ALl President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bernard Vincent Dy. "There are more Christmas events lined up in the weeks to come, in keeping with the Filipino Christmas traditions we all love and miss. So we hope that everyone will have a joyous Christmas season."

The well-loved "Festival of Lights" began at Ayala Triangle Gardens last November 10.

The ceremonial lighting of Ayala Avenue last November 3 was led by Ayala Chairman Emeritus Jaime Zobel de Ayala and Mrs. Beatriz Zobel de Ayala, Beatriz Susana Zobel de Ayala, Patricia Zobel de Ayala, Mariana Zobel de Ayala, Jaime and Alexandra Urquijo, Alex Floro, ALI President and CEO Bobby Dy and Ayala Land Estates Group Head Robert Lao; Makati Mayor Abby Binay, Vice Mayor Monique Lagdameo, Makati Rep. Luis Campos, Jr., Barangay Bel-Air Chairwoman Nene Lichauco; and MACEA Chairman and President Arch. William Coscolluela.

U-Go: Empowering Women Through Higher Education

Empower a girl. Empower the family. Empower the community. With this mindset, the nonprofit organization U-Go provides financial support to women in lower-income countries to pursue university education.

Already making an impact in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Vietnam, U-Go recently brought its mission to the Philippines by partnering with Ayala Foundation as its initial launch partner. Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Senior Vice President Mariana Zobel de Ayala joined U-Go’s global board of directors.

World's Children's Prize Laureate John Wood founded U-Go following the success of his organization Room to Read, which focuses on literacy in primary school and girls' education in secondary school.

U-Go partners with local organizations to "unleash the young women's potential [to become] teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs." Aside from financial scholarships, U-Go provides mentorship, career development, and life skills training.

With AFI as its partner in the Philippines, U-Go aims to soon welcome the first batch of 75 to 100 Filipina scholars to the program, with a medium-term goal of assisting at least 1,000 U-Go scholars.

"When I connected with John about his vision on U-Go, I felt strongly about its ability to serve as a sustainable solution to ensuring equality of opportunity of women in emerging markets," said Mariana Zobel de Ayala. "Further, I believe that educating young women and ensuring this equality of opportunity will lift families, communities, and, more broadly, the economy."

"The issue of education equality for women is as much about empowering women as it is about building the most capable economy possible in the Philippines, to ensure our collective progress as a nation. The opportunity to contribute to this possibility, through U-Go Philippines, is exciting."

Noted Wood: "it's thrilling for our young organization to welcome a talented and passionate leader like Mariana onto our Board. We look forward to working with her to launch our programs in the Philippines during the next few months, and to scaling them from there."