Daphne Oseña-Paez is not just your average celebrity. On one hand, she juggles a thriving career on television with a sound family life—and not the kind that’s scripted for commercials. On the other hand, she relies on more than her looks and fame to make a good living: her knack for creating exquisite, one-of-a-kind charm necklaces for a select but solid market, as well as a recent tie-up with home-furnishing specialist Linens Direct, has made her a certified businesswoman. And then there’s the fact that she’s just been appointed Special Advocate for Children by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—a first for any Filipino. How’s that for above average?
But this well-known working mom isn’t about to get complacent. Her work with UNICEF is keeping her busy with a nationwide campaign she is absolutely passionate about: breastfeeding. Daphne’s advocacy takes her across the country to promote the practice of exclusive breastfeeding among Filipino mothers and to endorse this natural feeding option as the best way to keep newborns in good health.
In this exclusive interview with Female Network, Daphne discusses the urgency of breastfeeding, the perils of professional broadcasting, the beauty of antique baubles, and the so-called “balance” between work and home that every woman hopes to achieve. Read on!
How does it feel to be UNICEF’s Special Advocate for Children? How did this happen?
I am very proud and at the same time humbled to have been appointed by UNICEF as Special Advocate for Children (SAC). UNICEF SACs are luminaries in various fields—arts, sciences, sports, entertainment, and literature. In the Philippines, I am the first and only SAC so far.
I was always a bit wary of “celebrities for a cause” events . . . I tried being involved [in charity] directly, without publicity. So when [the organization] first called, my jaw dropped. This was UNICEF! I couldn't believe the honor. [When] they asked me if I was interested in advocating breastfeeding, I knew it had to do with my own personal advocacy—I would often speak in breastfeeding/mommy events, and I'd write [in my blog] about "breastfeeding love." After the initial shock and excitement settled, it dawned on me that this was a huge job, not just a fancy title. I was in tears after our first meeting; I sat in a chapel and reflected . . . on how I could truly make a difference. There are plans and programs, real targets we have to meet. Now I am excited.
Tell us a little about your responsibilities: what will you be doing as the Special Advocate for Children?
UNICEF is focused on improving the lives of children worldwide. I will be one of the voices that'll draw attention to children's issues. In the Philippines, only 34 percent of mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding. Formula/bottle-fed infants are put at great risk because they're potentially exposed to contaminated water, bacteria, [and] infections. My immediate role is to encourage more women to breastfeed, and this will be done through a national campaign. I want to show them that [breast milk] is truly the best and should be the only thing you give your newborn for at least the first six months of his or her life. If you breastfeed your baby exclusively, he or she won’t even need a drop of water for the first 6 months.
Officially, my role [as SAC] is to assist UNICEF in its advocacy, fundraising, and program efforts and in communicating to the public—particularly mothers—the vision and values that guide UNICEF's work for children. I will be focusing on (but not limited to) infant and young child feeding, especially breastfeeding; maternal health and maternal mortality; and universal primary education.
Did you breastfeed your own children?
There was no debate in my mind. I just thought it was natural to breastfeed after giving birth. During my first pregnancy I had a lot of time to read and research because I was on complete bed rest for two months. On my fourth month of pregnancy, I developed a subchorionic hematoma (a blood clot in my uterus). This threatened the life of my then-unborn [daughter] Sophia. As soon as we got over that hurdle I knew in my heart I would do anything humanly possible to give [Sophia] the best I could as a mother. When she was born, I realized that all a baby needed was a blanket, my hugs, and my milk—no fancy toys or clothes.
I enjoyed the process of learning how to breastfeed. My reasons were purely for health at the start—but I discovered other fun benefits as I went along: it's free, it's clean, it's easy for travelling, it helped me lose weight, it gave [me and my baby] the strongest bond, and most importantly, it did wonders for my self-esteem. I felt beautiful and powerful—I had just carried a child, delivered her, and then continued to give her life. I felt like Superwoman.
What risks do mothers take when they do not breastfeed their children?
Because breastfeeding is the best and safest way to feed an infant, any other feeding choice comes with risks. Using formula milk safely depends on correct preparation, with sterilized water and equipment and correct measurements. If any of this goes wrong, then a baby's life may be at risk. In addition, if babies don't receive breast milk, then they are not receiving important antibodies that protect them from diseases and sickness. Research suggests [that] even aside from the risks of incorrect formula preparation, babies who are fed formula milk are more likely to suffer from allergies, diarrhea, and possible dehydration, all of which can be dangerous to infants.
Aside from this new position with UNICEF, you’ve also participated in other humanitarian efforts both here and abroad. Tell us more about them.
This is my first participation in "humanitarian efforts" in an official capacity. Informally, I have my philanthropic activities—scholarship programs through my brother-in-law, Fr. Dennis Paez, SDB. I support my friends' charitable programs, [such as the] emergency response to Ondoy. I also gather donations from my sponsors, like Procter and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, to donate to orphanages.
Before I moved to the Philippines, I worked with the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) as a project manager. My university degree focused on urban planning and art history, [so] I worked in the international programs office of the CUI [for] urban and environmental planning projects. I've managed programs in Aguascalientes, Mexico, as well as projects in Cuba, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. My last assignment was in Guimaras, Philippines—I lived onsite for 13 months.
You are renowned in the fashion world for your antique charm necklaces. How and when did you start designing jewelry?
I started stringing my antique pendants into charm necklaces in 2004. I was inspired by a shop I saw in Paris. I don't consider myself a jewelry designer yet—all I've done is play with some settings inspired by colonial and antique pieces and [construct them into] a charm necklace. It's been six years, and I'm amazed that more women are still wanting [my necklaces]. Even men are buying them for their wives, girlfriends, and mothers.
I don't believe in disposable fashion accessories. Sure, they're fun and inexpensive. But I don't wear too many accessories as it is, so I enjoy investing in fine jewelry or at least one-of-a-kind works of [wearable] art. I am now using precious stones and metals; hopefully, soon, I’ll [be worthy of] the title “jewelry designer.”
Do you have any intention of expanding your jewelry line? Would you be interested in trying your hand at garments, footwear, bags?
I enjoy fashion too much and would rather be on the consumer end. At this point, I wouldn't want to get into the business of garments or accessories. I wouldn't want to take out the fun in buying new clothes. Instead, I've recently invested in owning my brands "Urban Zone” (or UZ), "Daphne," and "Daphne Oseña-Paez"—these are registered trademarks.
UZ is a show about home design, architecture, and how people live. It is doing well despite its late timeslot—I've got a lot of loyal viewers, and they're very interactive (almost 25,000 on Facebook). Most of them complain about our late timeslot, but they still stay up to watch. UZ is a strong brand, and I'm so proud of it.
Because I've [always] been focused on the home front, it’s been my dream to have a Daphne Home line. This came true in 2009 when I started my design collaboration with Linens Direct. The Daphne Linens (all imported, all 100% cotton with over 380 thread count) are available in SM Homeworld Makati, Megamall, Cebu, and Davao, as well as in all Our Home stores nationwide. We've been in the market barely a year and I'm proud to say we are doing well. These are good quality sheets, at par with some of the best brands from Italy and the US. And I can truly say that Daphne Linens are attainable luxuries--because our retail arm is the SM group, we are able to lower our prices.
Your resignation from hosting QTV-11’s Proudly Filipina in 2008 caused quite a stir among the networks. Why did you do it? Was it worth it?
Ah yes, resigning from one's own solo show on prime time TV is not something that's commonly done. (laughs) It was a bit crazy and career-suicidal. But I had thought it through carefully, and discussed it with my husband and parents. Proudly Filipina was offered to me by QTV when F and ANCLife had already ended, but I had just started Urban Zone (also on ABSCBN). At the time my second daughter Lily was just 11 months old—I was still breastfeeding. I knew I had a lot on my plate, but the concept of the show was good, the timeslot during prime time, the production team excellent—so I accepted the offer. The management of QTV gave me the moon—they supported me and the show like [nothing I’ve ever] experienced before. I loved everything about it. Except that with every taping and shoot, I knew that my heart was not really in it. I didn't like coming home late and seeing my kids already asleep. I also found it ironic that I was interviewing women who were living inspiring lives, successful at their chosen fields—and there I was, wanting to be nowhere but home with my babies.
But it wasn't like I threw in the towel on broadcasting altogether. I knew I could make a go of UZ as host and producer; I knew I was sitting on a gold mine. I just needed the rest of the world to see it. And sure enough, they did. UZ's influence and clout in the design, real estate, and home sector is phenomenal. There's no other show like it. People shop for architects from my show. We've given jobs and careers to designers and furniture makers. And the irony is, without even trying, UZ became the inspiring and empowering show that it is, by simply showing Pinoys the great dream of owning a beautiful home one day. I don't think I could have done any of this if I was just a network talent—now. I do most of my work from home, with my 3 daughters doing arts and crafts on the floor [next to me].
You’ve hosted other shows aside from Proudly Filipina and you produce Urban Zone as well. What do you enjoy the most about this line of work?
I've also done F, ANC Life, Guide to Urban Living, and Video Postcards. And prior to that I was a news reporter, newscaster and weather anchor (for The World Tonight). I love the process of making good TV. In all my shows, I was involved in the creation and production. I used to write my own scripts and edit the segments in F. I literally have shed blood, sweat, and tears over my broadcasting job. And I never planned or wished to be number one. Being in the rat race—the highly competitive newsroom where it was extremely crowded for women newscasters—it wasn't my thing. I’m not built to compete with other girls. I wanted my own thing and I did what I could to create [that atmosphere] myself. If it meant learning how to shoot the camera, I did it. I am proud of the fact that none of my shows contributed to the "noise" in local TV. I've only done good TV.
I seriously just enjoy the process of making good TV. Case in point, during the lull in my career when F ended, I was offered shows by other TV networks—a morning show here, a lifestyle show there. But I didn't accept them. For me, this [career] is not just about being on TV or being famous. I am really proud of my body of work—most have won awards, even internationally. I knew I had to wait to be back on TV on my own terms—my own show, my own style. And this is what UZ is. My baby.
As a successful working mom and wife, what advice would you give to other women on maintaining the ideal work-life balance?
It's not possible to be completely balanced, so don't beat yourself up if you feel you can't do it all. Something's gotta give—know which you want to prioritize. Motherhood is a giant juggling act; I have so many things left half-done. Even interviews like this can’t be done in one sitting. Each kid has different needs at different times. Try to be there—present—for each child. Enjoy their little moments and triumphs because these don't last long. Give your kids a head start by breastfeeding them exclusively—they'll be smarter and healthier.
I also believe it is important for women to always be creative—whether that means being at work or staying at home. We're natural multi-taskers, [so] don't stop dreaming, don't stop creating. And if you're married, try to prioritize time with your husband over your kids. It'll do wonders for your kids' self-esteem, to see their parents happy and in love with each other. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Exercise, see your doctor, get regular facials, and treat yourself to a salon day once or twice a month. Don't be losyang!
(Photos used with permission from Daphne Oseña-Paez)