To the unique list of world-class Filipino women who do our country proud in such varied fields as entrepreneurship, performing arts, fashion, visual arts, and medical sciences, among others, a new name has been added, this one in the world of volunteerism.

Young, articulate, and beautiful Natalia Peña has been named the International Volunteer of the Year at the recent Alumni Club Recognition Awards of the Georgetown University Alumni Association.

Natalia is most deserving, having volunteered with the club for over four years. She shared with the Social Set Section of the Daily Tribune in an online interview,
“I have been lucky enough to be able to constantly engage Filipino Hoyas and keep local alumni involved with the international Georgetown community as well as continue to honor our Jesuit values of service by doing community service initiatives, like our current project of building libraries for underprivileged communities in Siargao, Philippines.

The Georgetown Club of the Philippines,” she explained, “is collaborating with the Library Renewal Partnership to help build three community libraries in Burgos, Del Carmen, and General Luna, Siargao, Mindanao Islands, as we hope to bring reading to underprivileged communities in the Philppines.” 

Natalia with Steps Dance Studio Managing Director Sofia Zobel and daughter, Cristina

The incumbent President of the Georgetown Alumni Club of the Philippines, she admitted to wanting to do a lot more than she has achieved so far,  which includes “hosting events for the club such as the recent  meet-up with the current USA Ambassador and Georgetown alumna MaryKay Carlson, and hosting more fun social events like a Wildflour retro night,  as its owner Jayjay de Ocampo is also a Georgetown alumnus.”

A product of Saint Pedro Poveda College from kindergarten to Grade 7, and later at the International School of Manila for her high school, she graduated in 2017 from Georgetown University where she pursued her double majors in History and Government. She minored in Justice and Peace Studies. Today, she is the business development manager at MOF Company (Subic), a logistics and transport firm run by her father, Fernando Pena. 

To Natalia, being a student at the prestigious Jesuit institution, Georgetown, “gave me the most remarkable experience I could have hoped for because I had the most amazing peers and professors including past Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. We even had a class with the president of the university, Jack Degioia.  Hence I was able to expand my interests around like-minded people.”

From Ballet to Zumba

Natalia’s passions are varied. She shared with me in an online interview that she has always been an avid reader. “I love to read historical fiction novels,” she said.  “I also enjoy dancing, having grown up at Steps Dance studio and even taught Zumba at Georgetown University and in New York City while working at the United Nations. Lastly, I love to play video games on my PlayStation 5.

Admitting to “having always been interested in global politics,” she related how “lucky I had been in high school to have interned for Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the head of the opposition party of Malaysia at the time. Now he is the current prime minister. I was able to bring him to Georgetown to be a speaker for TEDxGeorgetown, of which I was the president in my senior year.”

After graduation, she joined the United Nations Development Management Branch of its Department of Public Affairs and Administration, an organization within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Among her accomplishments was to “contribute to global reports published at this time including the world public sector report of 2018.”

Our exchange with Natalia, as follows, draws for us a portrait of a young lady who has applied to good use her life’s advantages,  kept her individuality by giving her all to her passions and causes, and hopes to make a difference in the lives of her countrymen through literacy education and the promotion of reading comprehension skills among Filipino children.  

Always be on time

Daily Tribune (DT): What is your happy place?

Natalia Pena (NP): I love Tali Beach in Batangas. Definitely my happy place. I love to go there to swim at the beach and play with my dogs at the house my grandfather built over 57 years ago.

DT: Who are your favorite fictional characters?

NP: Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager would probably be a top favorite. Seeing a woman captain even on tv was inspiring. Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager would probably be a top favorite. Seeing a woman captain on tv growing up was inspiring. I love science fiction and the thought that she was the captain of a whole ship that got lost in a completely different universe and that she had this mission to bring them back home was just so interesting to me. I found her to be such a strong independent leader and role model.

DT: Who are your real-life heroes?

NP: I admire my uncle Anwar Ibrahim, who kept fighting for his freedom even after falsely being imprisoned in Malaysia. He overcame all his hardships and became the Prime Minister of Malaysia, an incredible feat.

DT: What did your parents tell you that you have kept to your heart?

NP: Always say something kind to people…small things can make a big difference…always be on time, as being late when you could’ve been on time shows a lack of respect for the other person…tradition is important.

DT: What is your morning-to-night beauty and wellness regimen?

NP:  I don’t have an extensive beauty and wellness regimen. I just make sure to continuously wash my face throughout the day and I’m always sure to apply sunscreen and lotion.

Cats and Chocolates

DT: What puts a smile on your face?

NP: Cats always.

DT: What is always in your fridge?

NP: Chocolate

DT: Who is the living international artist you’d like to have dinner with?

NP: Banksy definitely. I  would love to actually figure out his real identity and discuss his motivations for different works. I find his street art fascinating.

DT: If you were in a beauty pageant and were asked what you would do with a million dollars, what would your answer be?

NP: I would use the money to renovate low income housing in the Philippines, to help address homelessness. Improving people’s quality of life through housing has great impacts on education and overall well-being.

Obsessed over Amor Towles

DT: What do you read? Which author do you admire?

NP: I love historical fiction. I am currently obsessing over Amor Towles. As a history major, I love how he blends both fiction and reality to make fascinating stories that enthrall you from start to finish. I truly enjoyed a Gentleman in Moscow as I love reading books set during the period of the Bolsheviks in Russia.

DT: When you write your childhood and teenage memoirs, what three events or milestones would you highlight?

NP: I would highlight going to Georgetown University, working at the United Nations, and attending the Grammys as a seatfiller and sitting next to Beyoncé.

DT: What is your wish for your country, the Philippines?

NT: I really hope that we can work together to improve our quality of education.