Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How Do We Make a Difference?

“I want to make a difference but I don’t know how…” this seems to be my much loved line nowadays. How can I make a difference indeed if I myself have been besieged with an infirmity that seemed to rob me out of the will to live at times?

Then I remember, “The power of the words is mightier than the sword”. So, with this comes the ember of impetus ablaze in my heart that with my lexis I would be able to convey the stark reality of the world we live in.

Everyday, I hear tragic stories about death and poverty. They come as one…nobody can contest that. I personally had a glimpse of these sufferings first hand. I would never get immune to heartrending stories about scarcity compelling me to exert a little effort to lessen if not to entirely eradicate this problem.

How many of us know that approximately 246 million children work? That 171 million of them work in hazardous conditions? That 134 million children between the ages of 7 to 18 have never been to school? I guess not that many because I too wasn’t aware at first of this.

To make the number easier for us to comprehend let us take a closer look in our own country, the Pearl of the Orient- Philippines. More than one out of three people live in poverty. They are out in the streets but most live in slum areas scampering in tiny abode made up of rubbish vulnerable with the threat of deadly diseases.

Our country is not all about hidden treasures that voyagers professed to be. Behind the cascading waterfalls, magnificent beaches, splendid chocolate hills, and the breath- taking perfect cone volcano is the disheartening truth that our country is filled with fraught people living helplessly everyday with barely a scant of food to eat.

In Suffering
I could still vividly remember that afternoon. After more than an hour of searching for the house of *Marlon who was recommended to us by a friend to take care of our dogs while we were having a vacation in Manila, I was greeted by a boy about three years old with his toothless grin. He was wearing only soiled shorts with mud covering his face.

When I asked about his father, he pointed me to their house- made of tarpaulin. It clearly came from the banners used in the Pe├▒afrancia fiesta. The roof was nothing more than a dirty plastic covering. The inside of the house was visible because of big holes that adorned the plastic walls. I needed to bend upon entering for fear that the whole house would crumble upon me.

There inside the house, Marlon and his wife with other seven small children shared a bowl of noodles. I heaved a moan of discomfort. The sight left me repulsive -not to the dirt surrounding me but with the ugly reality shouting in my face.

Marlon has no job. He was just laid off from his work as a janitor. How can a family with ten mouths to feed survive each day? The empirical study that links illiteracy to poverty seems to be the predicament in his case.

The help we gave him surely lasted for only several days. I knew that he would found himself again confronted with where to get the food to feed his family.

Living with Alms
In one of the busiest street in the heart of Bicolandia, Naga City, near the line of banks and malls was another revolting spectacle. A mother cradling in her arms a malnourished baby. They were there day and night waiting for mercy from generous people.

The mother despite of grubby ragged clothes looked young maybe in early twenties. The last time I visited Naga her stomach was round again clearly she was expecting another baby.

Her situation is not much different to children selling sampaguita on street, or those young and old parading around the roads, knocking on the car windows pulling other people’s shirts to give them a glance and perhaps with compassion enough to give them several pesos for their food. If not, they would end up foraging amidst the garbage piles all over the city looking for something to stuff their grumbling stomach.

Race with Death
On the way to Manila, you would find out how severe the problem is in poverty. As soon as you enter Quezon area, you would see children racing with cars begging for some pesos amidst the danger they were into.

Then upon arriving in Manila, you would be greeted by children hanging in the moving cars to clean the shoes of the passengers or rushing in the multitude of cars to sell rags. An impending peril awaits them- their lives equivalent to some coins.

The race to totally exterminate poverty seems to be still elusive in the hands of poor Juan Dela Cruz. The poverty threshold differs but there is that ever present hopelessness that hampers the decent life being inspired by every family.

Abandoned Angels
Children suffer more than the adults in this game of poverty. Their lives are always in gamble. They are victims long before they were born.

It was supposed to be a happy Sunday for me and Ma. But instead of the usual dinner in a restaurant for Mother’s Day, we opted to visit an institution that caters to less fortunate people giving them hope to live.

Most of those who were there are children- angels who were born not only poor but with handicapping conditions. There were *Mayeth and *Boboy who have cerebral palsy and could barely talk, *Calvin who was autistic, *Ryan who was mildly retarded and countless other children who were under the care of strangers because their own families abandoned them.

We spent that day full of bittersweet memories. We heard mass and played with them. Then with their caretakers we were told of how they were abandoned because their family could hardly support their needs.

We ended up that day with a void in our hearts knowing that there were innocent lives in that shelter waiting for generous strangers to pass by so that they could continue living.

How many times have we watched on television about abandoned children on street? How many times did the news flash about dead babies found inside garbage bag? They were thrown like junk in the pile of litter only because their parents could not afford another mouth to feed. 

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrating Christ's Birth

Anthony Prince 
(11 years old)

Reindeers neighing… lovebirds hissing under the mistletoe…big socks hanging over the chimney…familiar sleigh riding over the moon…shimmering tinsel reflected in round colorful ornaments…a magical land of Christmas.

We commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ every Christmas- December 25. It is the day that signals great festivities and enjoyment. The merriment and excitement filled the air as people await the most joyful event of the year.

As we celebrate this wonderful occasion, we also remember the first Christmas with Mary, Joseph and Jesus. We honor the sufferings of Mama Mary as she humbly gave birth to our Savior in the manger.

Part of the Christmas tradition is the completion of the midnight masses or what we call as “simbang gabi”. It is believed that if you can complete it your wish will come true. After the mass, we savor the sweet aroma and taste of the “puto bumbong or bibingka.” Then, we walk back home under the glint of thousand sparkling Christmas lights that adorned the streets and different houses.

Young children like me also believed the coming of Sta. Claus. We anticipate his coming every year with our reward for being good the whole year. It could be toys, bicycles or just simply sweet candies and chocolates.

The lanterns, Christmas trees, wreaths and snowman make the occasion more colorful. It is with wistful feeling that we look at them filled with Christmas spirit.

The buttery smell of cookies as our parents prepare for the noche Buena completes the custom of celebrating Christmas. We share the good food on the table that includes ham, chicken, spaghetti, and others while listening to carolers. It is indeed a beautiful feeling to behold.

The best thing about Christmas is the peace and forgiveness the season brings. A friend in Beaverton, Oregon U.S.A. told me about his last Christmas when he and his family shared forgiveness with their competitor in business. They opted to become good friends because of the hearts and spirits that surround Christmas.

We learn the value of the occasion in different ways. What is important is what is in our heart as we celebrate it. Let’s keep the baby Jesus in our hearts because Christ is Christmas.

A Taste of Independence (Backyard Camping)

10 years old

I've been looking forward to that weekend, our Boys Scouts Backyard camping…my first taste of independence.

During their elementary days, my two elder brothers attended Boys Scouts camping yearly. I could still remember their excitements while preparing for the camp and their happy faces after. I usually tell myself that I would be experiencing the same soon.

My turn came early August. I personally prepared my things for the camp. When I arrived in school, everybody was busy and excited. With the help of our parents and teachers, we put up out tents on the school ground. It was hard but enjoyable at the same time. Shriek of laughter could be heard while everybody busied themselves with different tasks.

When the night came, we played inside our tents and tried to sleep for the first time not in our comfortable bedrooms but in the school ground. However, the weather did not cooperate with us. It rained very hard that night so we were forced to move out and slept in the classrooms.

Somehow our excitements were not affected by the rain. We talked, laughed and shared jokes until 11:00 a.m. that Friday night. I slept with a smile on my face.

The whole activity was worth remembering. We learned a lot about how to be a real boy scouts. It was a fun way of learning things.

The early morning jog, the campfire activity, the games and socials added fun and thrill to the whole activity. The lectures were very informative and enlightening too.

The three days passed so swiftly. The home-sweet-home was the ending part of the camping. We packed our things again but this time with a different feeling. I felt tired but happy.

While I was walking out of the campus, I felt something changed within me. The taste of independence made me a bigger boy with a bigger responsibility.

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Confused of the Future

Eric Jan
11 years old

We are leaving the school soon…

As we anticipate the most important event of our life- the graduation, we also face the making of a very big decision in our elementary lives. We need to make our final choice of where to enroll for high school.

As for me, I have decided to join my brothers, cousins and friends at the Ateneo de Naga University High School. However, my parents convinced me to take the entrance exam to different schools, specifically the Philippine Science High School. “Just try,” they said, so I did.

Early September when we took the qualifying exam and out of 14 there were seven who made it for the second screening. It brought me so much joy to prove that we have learned a lot in our foundation years. The second screening was held early December and from that time I didn’t think much about it.

February 18 was very blessed day for me. In school, rumors began to spread throughout the campus that I was one of the five boys from our school who passed the Philippine Science High School entrance test. Not only that, I also ranked fourth in the whole Bicol region. That means a four-year scholarship in the main campus, monthly allowance and other benefits awaits me.

When I arrived home the same day, my brother told me that I also passed the entrance test in Ateneo de Naga University High School and one of the top ten in the scholarship exam given by the said school. That is 75% discount in my tuition fees. What a luck day it was!

It was Sunday morning when my scholarship in the PSHS was confirmed when I read from Philippine Daily Inquirer the list of qualifiers.

Where will I go? I am confused where to…my relatives said I should enroll in PSHS main campus in Diliman but can I really stay away from them?

God help me…but I am really confused.

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Unforgettable Vacation

Gian Carlo 
10 years old

It was a wonderful feeling to visit the land of milk and honey…America.

My vacation in the US was fun and full of adventure. We traveled as family and we stayed in a magnificent hotel in Los Angeles.

In our first night, my mother told me to sleep early because our first tour will be in Disneyland. I couldn’t sleep feeling excited for the next day. We woke up early and rode shuttle bus to Disneyland. There, I enjoyed almost all the rides and treasured every minute of it. My favorites were Pirates of the Caribbean and roller coaster. They were the greatest rides of my life.

Our next stop was downtown L.A., Hollywood and Universal Studio. Universal Studio is an amazing place. There, I watched 4D Shrek movie where it seems like I was also inside the screen. I also saw Julia Roberts inside a limousine and she waved her hand at me.

Our trip will not be complete without visiting other tourist spots like Solveng, Danish Village, a place that exactly looks like Denmark because of the buildings, structure of the houses and windmills in the fields. Yosemite park was a very cold park where I saw cascading waterfalls and got to feed exotic kinds of birds surrounded with colorful flowers. We stayed overnight in a travelodge.

The following day we left for a tour in Hearst castle, a castle used to be run by a rich businessman. It was built on top of a hill. My parents seemed to like it but for me it looked like haunted.

Our next destination was San Francisco. It was such an adorable city. We went to Pier 39 and watched marine animals in the aquarium of the bay. I enjoyed it so much because I was able to touch some of the aquatic animals like baby sharks and star fingers. I also had my face painted like a snake. It was really fun that I didn’t want anymore my face to be washed.

That night, we just had a warm bath and immediately we fixed our things because my uncle was coming to pick us up. The rest of our vacation will be with the relatives.

The days spent with my cousins were also very memorable. They introduced me to their American friends and playmates. We went biking, playing basketball and computers.

We also traveled to Nevada and Lake Tahoe. It was such a great place because it was there that I experienced snow for the first time. We ski all day, made snowman and played snow fight.

When I saw my mom and dad one morning packing our things, I knew my vacation was over. I felt sad because I will surely miss everything in America. However, thinking about my schoolmates, friends and relatives left in the Philippines made me realized that I missed home.

That vacation was also a learning experience for me. It helped me become independent with the absence of my yaya. It also motivated me to study well and finish my studies so that one day, I will have another chance to work and start my life in the land of milk and honey.


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