Barrio school teacher’s son is now a multinational energy firm exec in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When he was a little boy, Ben Lebig, Jr. would tag along with his mother, a teacher at a barangay in Iloilo province, Central Philippines, on her way to school.

“My nanay (mother) and her co-teachers would cross two knee-deep rivers before reaching the foot of a hill where they had to slowly walk their way up to the top where the school was situated,” recalls 44-year-old Lebig, who now is business planning executive at one of the enterprises under the multinational energy company, Chevron.

Lebig, who holds a PhD in Strategy & International Business from Kings College London, said that back then, roads were not constructed yet at their place, and so going to school would mean his mother, Marina Chiva Lebig, would have to ride the jeep to the barrio for almost 45 minutes.

“Then at some point, the jeepney would have to stop because the road ends there and all of them need to walk the remaining miles,” said Lebig, who also has a Masters’ Degree in Management from the University of the Philippines – Visayas.

“It was not an easy task that they had to do on a daily basis for many years.  I remember there were days when the river would overflow, hence they would have no class,” said Lebig.

He said her mother’s passion for teaching and intense desire to help the students of  Pughanan Elementary School, a barangay school in Lambunao, Iloilo kept her motivated.

Marina Chiva Lebig, Ben’s mother, with his father,  Benigno Lebig, Sr., back in the day.

“They were mostly children of farmers. I remember her handing out slippers to some students as they would attend classes barefoot. Sometimes she would give hard boiled eggs or fried chicken to some students who only have rice wrapped in banana leaves for lunch,” recalls Lebig, a Philippine certified public accountant (CPA) who also is licensed to practice as certified management accountant and  international credit professional  in the United States.

Legacy

Looking back, Lebig said his mother inspired him to be on the road he has taken, and at the same time do advocacies for overseas Filipinos in the field of financial literacy.

He is also among a group of like-minded expats behind the recent creation of the first-ever Filipino institution for higher education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Southville Ras Al Khaimah.

“I grew up witnessing my mom doing what she did day-in and day-out. Sometimes she would get tired but would nonetheless press on to fulfill her mandate to educate the children because she believed that education can be a powerful tool to equip and give them a fighting chance to rise above poverty,” Lebig said.

Impressions

On hindsight, he said, being exposed to the harsh realities of life at an early age as he tagged along with his mother to school left big impressions on him, Lebig said.

“One is the value of education and the need to continually learn. When I was completing my Ph.D. from Kings College London, I could almost see her nodding her head in agreement,” he said, referring to his mother, who passed on in 1992 when he was 15.

“How I wish she was still alive to witness that milestone. However, I am comforted by the fact that part of the strength I had to complete the PhD program was the memory of her passion for education,” said Lebig, the youngest of three children.

Lebig added that outside the corporate world, he has carried on his mother’s legacy – the desire to educate; a “soft spot for education.”

“My humble hope is that through all these advocacies in whatever platform, I can be an instrument to change the narratives of Filipinos.”

“My humble hope is that through all these advocacies in whatever platform, I can be an instrument to change the narratives of Filipinos both back home and most especially those working here in the UAE.  That as they learn to manage their finances, explore entrepreneurship, or appreciate the value of education, they will be directed in the right path towards a better future.

“This is probably because I grew up observing my mother becoming passionate about educating the poor children in the hope that they will have a much better future,” he said.

Lebig is current chairman of the Association of Registered Financial Planners (ARFP), the first chapter outside the Philippines. Before the Covid pandemic, the group partnered with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) at the Philippine Consulate General’s Office in Dubai through Atty. Fely Bay, the labor Attache, to handle the financial literacy portion of the Post Arrival Orientation Seminar (PAOS) for Filipinos who have just arrived in the city and its neighboring northern emirates.

He was also head of the non-governmental Filipino expat group, Philippine Business Council’s GenBiz, a pilot program where they trained and mentored new and aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs in the UAE.  

Lebig’s father, Benigno, Sr. is a retired agriculturist in their town back in Iloilo.

Lebig and wife, Clovell, a classmate back in UP and also a CPA, have been living in Dubai for the past 15 years. Their daughter, Izabella, 11 years old, was born in the UAE and is a year 7 student at Cambridge International School, a consistent honor student and at 10 years old,  became author of the book “Alex Hades & the Legend of the Dark Prince” published and available in Amazon UK, US, Canada, Japan, Italy and France.

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