Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beautiful Baguio?

*my column in the Dec. 4 issue of Cordillera Today

If I would light up our Christmas tree, and perhaps at least the main window of our home with even the cheapest (but still safe) Christmas lights, I calculated that it would cost at least P1,200.00. Nothing fancy - just plain, silver and yellow lights, ones that don’t even blink. I like them that way anyway.

I walk down Session Road and notice the boys busily climbing up ladders and setting up lights that everybody was hoping would not be as offensive to the eyes as last year’s. A night or two later and they were lit. And they don’t make sense - the flower-shaped ones on the center posts would have one side blinking and the other steady. They didn’t make me happy. And they all looked like clutter in the morning.

I digress. Looking at all those lights, I tried to calculate how much they may have cost the City Government. Just the center island infront of Luisa’s has about eight shrubs, each bedecked with lights including some that looked like icicles falling off the leaves. And those shrubs are much bigger than my puny tree at home. What, P1,000, or P1,500 per shrub? I lost count halfway up the road.

A week ago, good friend and musician Ethan Andrew Ventura mentioned a feeding program that his father, paediatrician Mark Ventura and friend Henry Carlin, along with their other friends have been conducting at the Rizal Elementary School. This isn’t one of those feeding programs that really feed the egos of the proponents way more than the intended beneficiaries. Their group has committed to come to the school at least twice a week to feed and provide essential vitamins to undernourished children until the end of the school year. They carefully plan their menu, taking into consideration the precise nutrients that the children need the most.

The average cost per feeding is about P1,000.00, which is enough to provide a meal for at least 70 elementary pupils. A lot of these pupils are noticeably thin, some of them noticeably hungry. According to Ethan, who has been accompanying his father the past few weeks, some of them come to school with just a cup of rice - and absolutely nothing else – as baon. That baon should last them the whole day – morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack. Some of them get too hungry in the morning that they end up eating up that entire cup of rice leaving nothing for lunch and merienda in the afternoon.

The group cannot afford to spend enough money to light up the giant Christmas tree at the bottom of Session Road. They are not a multinational corporation with millions reserved just for “corporate social responsibility” projects. They don’t care about the PR that usually goes with projects such as this one. They don't hang up tarpaulins with their pictures and names in bold letters. They just sincerely care, and care enough to actually make a difference. Just a month or so after starting that program, most of the children have registered significant increases in their weight. Our theatre group, volunteered to cover the cost of one feeding a few days ago. A hundred from one member and fifty from another and eventually we were able to cover the cost of two big pots of sopas. Dr. Ventura provided the vitamins for the day.

The past few months, leaving and going home has been quite an effort for us living in the Naguillian Road area because of the road repairs. A good portion of the national highway is now done and I can’t help but state the obvious – hardly any difference between the road’s before and after states. A lot of people have said that the repairs were a waste of money, unnecessary. There are other roads in the city that are in much worse condition.

We have those waste recycling machines that cost over a hundred million pesos that failed to solve our garbage problem as promised.

The lights, the road repairs, the beautification projects, all that concrete, all those millions of pesos – all to beautify the City of Baguio. But really, how can a city be beautiful when you have children who are literally starving?

To those children at the Rizal Elementary School, it isn’t those gaudy lights and fake snow that make Baguio beautiful. It’s Doc Mark, as we call him, and his pots of sopas and champorado every Tuesday and Thursday.

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