Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Merry Christmas

*My column in the Dec. 18, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today
After I wrote about the feeding program being conducted by Dr. Mark Ventura and his friend, Henry Carlin, at the Rizal Elementary School, I received a few inquiries from friends who wanted to help in various ways. Some pledged cash to cover the cost of feeding around 70 children at least twice a week, while others offered their help in preparing and serving the food. When Dr. Ventura invited our group to attend the Christmas party he’s putting together for the kids, we immediately thought of what we can contribute.

As artist Bumbo Villanueva, who also showed up at the party with writing materials for each of the children, put it, Mark and Henry have the taking care of the children’s bodies covered already, perhaps what we can do is to help nourish their minds and souls. And so on short notice, we started a book drive hoping to provide at least one book for each of the children.

While I was expecting the usual suspects to respond to the call for donations, I was amazed when it was a grade 6 pupil, whom I’ll call Zia here, who inquired about the drive first. She was one of the participants in this theatre workshop I conducted in a school and she wanted to donate “some” of her books. I told her where she can meet us to drop of her donation, expecting maybe three or four books from her.

Then a virtual stranger sent me a message on Facebook, asking how she can send her donation to us since she’s currently based in Manila and she won’t be making a trip to Baguio until early next year. I suggested sending them via Victory Liner, expecting her to perhaps just promise to bring the books next year when she comes up since all three stations of Victory Liner along Edsa are known to experience heavy traffic practically at all time of the day and making the trip to there to send a couple of books might just too much of a hassle.

Then later that day, I received another message from her that she’s already sent the books. When I picked them up the next day, the books were neatly packed in a brown envelope, including a pack of five still in their original packaging.

My wife and children went through our bookshelves and was able to put together around 15 books to donate to the children. But when it was time to meet up with Zia to receive her donation, I was totally surprised when she showed up with her mom with bag full of books, around 30 of them!

Still, we didn’t have enough to be able to give a book to each of the children. And then we realized, why give them a book each when they can all have access to all of these books if we start a library for them in their school? So with additional sets of books and encyclopaedia brought by one of the members of our group on the day of the party, we made arrangements with the school to start a library right in the Home Economics room where the feeding program was being held twice a week. We thought that in the half hour when Dr. Ventura comes with pots full of food with Jojo Castro with his pots full of hot Chocolate de Batirol, the children can also let their imagination fly by opening a book, writing, drawing, doodling their thoughts using the pencils and notebooks brought by Bumbo and his wife Arlene.

That morning, musicians Ethan Ventura enabled fellow artists Jun Utlieg and Cris Donaal to tell stories to the children with their songs. The children feasted on noodles prepared by Dr. Ventura’s helper, the amazing chef Alma who can whip up wonderful meals even with the most limiting ingredients available. We played games and handed out prizes and gifts to everyone.

At one point, I picked one book from the pile and asked Bumbo to read it to the children. When we were leaving the school after the party, a young girl ran after me and told me that I forgot the book I asked Bumbo to read, and she was giving it back. I told her she could keep it for herself.

I don’t care whether GMA spends Christmas in jail or at home under house arrest, or whether Corona resigns, I am definitely not looking forward to what Lito Lapid would have to say during the impeachment trial. I just had a Merry Christmas.

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