Friday, March 29, 2013 0 comments

Hopeful and Thankful

The Pens of Hope Project in Cagayan de Oro started with a boxful of pens, pencils and other school supplies from Frtizie Figuera of Yokohama City, Japan. It sat under my cubicle for almost a year waiting for just the perfect moment. It was supposed to go to Kikit and Pens of Hop in Davao but with her encouragement and the spirit's prodding, I decided to start the project in my city.

The first distribution was a pleasant surprise and very heartwarming. I met a Swiss missionary in Baungon, Bukidnon who shared his experience of putting up a preschool in the Basurahan or Landfill in the city. Right there and then I knew they would be the perfect place to start POH in CDO. I rounded up some of my former high school student leaders who were generous enough to spend their time and resources to give out the supplies to the preschool kids of Philippine Island Kids Learning Center. What never fails to amaze me about giving is that after the experience I always feel like I was the one who received more than I ever gave. We went through classes giving sweet kids their set of pens and pencils and snacks. It was admirable how well behaved they all are. I can tell that the volunteers did an amazing job with teaching them. In the end, the high school kids showcased their talents. It was another revelation to me how gifted kids can be as they sang and danced with passion. Every move and every word that came out is  full of hope and dreams for the future. I was really glad to have been there to witness it. I looked at my former students who have also chosen to serve and hoped that they see the same thing and that they will continue to live a life of generosity.

Jeda Suyao and Jyle Pielago with the kids of Philippine Island Kids Learning Center

The fruits of the first distribution was plentiful enough to influence more people to do so much more for the kids of CDO. As more donations came pouring in from Xavier University High School and her alumni, I remembered one of the areas that have made a huge impact in my formation and my work as Immersion Coordinator. The tiny village of Leropan in Brgy Pagalungan was very remote and can only be reached by habal habal. Hundreds of XUHS students have spent their weekends here learning and experiencing rural life. The generosity of the people have taught me that no one is too poor not to give somethiing. Together with my Awesome class of 3 Owen and some Bobola students, we spent a day sorting donations from the Math Department and Paper Station Store. We packed 80 kits and then hired a jeepney to bring us to Leropan. It was a very humid day when we went around houses and gave out the kits to the kids. Of course they did not know we were coming but the pleasant surprise and shy smiles on their tiny faces made all the effort worthwhile. It was a tiny thing to do compared to what their lives had taught us over the years. 

This little boy was playing with his friends on the street when he received a surprise from POH.

Awesome Owen and Bobola volunteers braving the searing heat of the sun

The previous distribution experiences have taught me a lot about how to do this project. As a teacher, the formative aspect of every activity is very important so as not to lose sight of the real meaning and purpose of why we do what we do. The Third Distribution was a response to our own public schools whose teachers had to use their personal money to buy the most basic learning materials for the pupils. Cathy Lozano's sister was one of those who always had to salvage used teaching materials from Cathy that her students can use. She told us of how she had to cut pencils in two so that more students could use it. For years, Cathy had also been sharing to me how her sister would be ecstatic over scrap paper from XUHS that her pupils can use to write on. Drawing on the generosity of LAWIG, former CLC's like Tiulay Abamonga in Canada and Sit Nitz of XUHS, we set out to prepare kits for 80 pupils. It was an outreach that filled us with loads of happiness. We started out with some fun getting to know you activities while some parents looked on. The kids were very excited and participated very actively with Cathy. Their eyes sparkled with joy when they received their set of school materials and it was heart warming how they clenched the pencils and carried the envelopes close to their hearts. What we gave will never be enough but then that is how generosity thrives. This time, the kids expressed their gratefulness and Ma'am Mildred's smile conveyed her happiness that at least for the rest of the school year her pupils didn't have to worry about what to write on. 

their smiles say it all
Ma'am Mildred and Cathy introducing POH

My belief in every person's capacity for selfless giving was reinforced when LAWIG once again decided to do an alternative Christmas Party. It was a suggestion from Davao friends Alwin and Roj. Cagayan de Oro has been bravely struggling to rise after the devastation Sendong caused. The group decided to do something for the children of Puntod, Balulang. Thus, the Grasya sa Pasko project was born in coordination with Pens of Hope in CDO. Balulang was one of those areas where floodwaters did serious damage to property and took away lives. Puntod is an island right in the middle of the river and during the flood it got completely submerged. The goal of our activity then was to help the children focus on the graces they want to receive this Christmas, a year after Sendong. Although the turnout of kids were not as many as we expected, their was still enough of them to fill the area under the great lumboy tree with happiness and laughter. Games were played, art work and group sharing were facilitated and at the end of it all, the Grace of Christmas drawings were wrapped around the Lumboy tree. A beautiful symbolism of hope rising up towards the heavens. 
winding the grace of christmas drawings up the lumboy tree

The activity was also an amazing unifying force as several groups came together to make the activity meaningful. It was a reunion of sorts for CLC's from Lawig and Tunob who had not been together since college 15 years ago. XUHS students, XU SOE English Interns with Sir Nitz Librando, Jr. Donors from all over the world sent their generous contributions and Ms. Gigi Go of The Rotary Club helped a lot in providing the kids with a delicious snack.

the grace behind it all

The event was truly meaningful. We only hope that the pens and pencils we have shared with the kids of CDO have written relevant stories and that the kids have somehow seen hope amidst the hardships. We are strangers putting our money, our time and our lives to other strangers. But somehow, in the hours it took to be with these kids, they have somehow become our children and our brothers and sisters. The joy that is evident in the twinkle in their eyes, the silly grin, and the shy Thank You's grab at your heart. And I say, I find meaning in dong this, in seeing this, in bleeding for this. Love is indeed shown in deeds as St. Ignatius once wrote. It is not merely a feeling, a good thought or even a grand intention. The months that Pens of Hope had spent in Cagayan de Oro was truly wonderful. It brought out the generosity of people and the kids. We will continue writing little scribbles of hope.

Thank you so much to all those who have been very generous in giving their time, money and prayers to Pens of Hope in CDO.