By Nitz E. Nicolas

I started to work for the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) in January 2012 as an Administrative Assistant.  Part of my job was to check the upkeep of the compound and what building repairs should be done.

This means I have to walk around the more than 6,000-square-meter property on P. Paredes Street in Sampaloc, Manila every day. Now you know why I’m skinny.

One day while doing my rounds and visiting the dormitories, my eyes wandered toward the mezzanine of the old KKFI building called the “Gentleman’s Dorm” or GD II.

“This place is a mess!” I thought. “Whatever happened to it?”

Due to years of neglect, termites and other insects had obviously invaded the place. In fairness, the area was being cleaned every now and then, but the wear and tear of the physical structure was so much that the effort was not that successful in making it attractive.

WHAT A MESS. The Gentlemen’s Dorm I’s facade before the renovation.

“Woe is he or she who has the stomach to stay here?” I told to myself.

The GD II building had two floors with single unventilated room in each floor.  Even if you are inside a room, you can still feel the heat of the sun that envelopes your whole body.  The electric fan was of no use.

Boy's Dorm inside look.jpg
Inside the GDII before the renovation.

It was beyond me how transients (most of them were seamen reviewing for exams) could stand the heat.  Maybe they were just simply bearing with it because they wanted to avail of the cheap rate.

This was how it was for a couple of decades.  But thanks to the United Methodist Women, through its charity program Call to Prayer and Self-Denial, the KKFI was given a grant that funded the renovation of the old building.

It was the KKFI Executive Director, Ms Nancy Caluya-Nicolas, who initiated everything when she submitted a project proposal to UMW.

Last January 2016, the renovation of the new guest house was finished. Now, it has become a comfortable and (if I may say so) luxurious facility of the Foundation. A real pride and joy of Kapatiran.

The new guest house’s stairway.

Last January, the students from the LaGrange College of Georgia, USA, arrived days after the new guesthouse was inaugurated on the 8th of that same month. It was perfect time since the LaGrange students the first crack at enjoying the new KKFI offering.

And how they appreciated it! Since then, the guesthouse has had other occupants like church workers of Sta. Mesa Heights UMC and institutions like Lingap Pangkabataan Inc. (LPI). They said they found the place cozy and vowed to stay there again.

Sample of a couple’s room

It has 11 fully air-conditioned rooms.  There are three couple’s rooms with hot and cold showers.  Some rooms are good for two, while others can accommodate three and four persons with common comfort and bath room.  It has also a lanai and coffee tables, perfect for group talks, especially during night time.

If you are tired, you can watch small fishes swim about in a small aquarium. Truly relaxing, indeed.

You can hang out at the beautiful lanai.

If you are tired, you can watch small fishes swim about in a small aquarium. Truly relaxing, indeed.

Those who had seen the old Gentleman’s dorm could never think that and the new Guest House are one and the same.  But then, it’s for you to judge. So come and visit us one of these days to find out.

Staying at the guesthouse and other Kapatiran facilities not only relaxes you physically. It will also warm your heart and stirs the spirit positively. This comes with the knowledge that the income generated from these facilities goes to the development programs and services of Kapatiran.

For reservations, please email kkfi1950@yahoo.com or call +63-2-7354153.

(Ms Nicolas, or Ate Nitz to many, is in charge of the KKFI Director for Administration and Resource Development. She is fond of turning old and not-so-aesthetically-pleasing stuff, like a guesthouse, into beautiful and useful things.)




He is Avatar.

The kid’s name fascinated me. I thought of the movie “Avatar,” where animated characters are blue-colored. But this kid is not blue but gray. After all the dumpsite would turn anyone’s skin into gray.

At six, most kids go to school to learn their ABCs and 1-2-3’s, but this ash-covered boy learns life through first-hand experience of poverty, hunger, garbage and flies.

He is Avatar.

The kid’s name fascinated me. I thought of the movie “Avatar,” where animated characters are blue-colored. But this kid is not blue but gray. After all the dumpsite would turn anyone’s skin into gray.

The dumpsite becomes the playground for Avatar with his cousins and other little ones whose parents work as scavengers in the dumpsite.

Like in the movie, their community is almost isolated and not known to many. Who would have thought that people could survive living beside the dump? Instead of flowers, plastics and bottles are the common sight around it. Instead of butterfly kisses, they feel flies kissing their faces. Instead of playground, the dumpsite is a place of fun.

After serving in the Looban, KKFI saw the need for little ones to have a safe space for playing and learning. It was June 2015, Supervised Neighborhood Play started for 0 – 6-year-old children in the community living beside the dumpsite. It aims to prepare the children when they enroll in Grade 1. Avatar is one of 20 children who sing songs, create an art work with their little hands, and play together.

Maliligo na ako!(I will take a bath now!),” he would exclaim whenever he sees me coming. He would do this every time he spots my pink bag, where I put the things that I use for teaching.It was a signal for him that it is class time again.

He tries to clean himself and wears any clothes he could find at home.Nobody’s there to attend to him. After that, he would show up to me and say: “Naligo na ako” (I have taken a bath!) and waits for my affirmation “Good job, Avatar!”

There are times when he refuses to come during our special events because he has nothing decent to wear. One day I asked him, “Where is your mom?” Innocently, he replied, “I don’t know. She doesn’t love me because she left me.”

My heart broke when I heard these words coming from a little boy. Later, I learned that his grandparents are the ones taking care of him. It is usual for him to say during class, “Ate Love, gutom na ako (Ate Love, I am hungry).”He rarely takes any breakfast before coming to class. What we feed him serves as his breakfast and lunch.

Yet in spite of life’s difficulty, he remains positive. And responsible, too. He can be told to do things like fixing the things we use, clean the classroom area, and even call his friends.

One time after class, as I was holding him in my arms, told him: “You will go to a formal school soon, sweetheart.”

“But I don’t know how to write my name yet,” he replied shyly.

With the help of volunteers, he started tracing his name.

Kaya ko na, Ate Love! (I can already do it, Ate Love!)”he declared one day. With a pencil in his hand, he slowly wrote M-A-R-K J-A-S-O-N.

At last, he has succeeded in writing his real name. There are still many things to conquer as he grows up. With God’s grace, despite the inevitable failures along the way to the greater successes, Avatar will pursue and keep his faith.

Like in Avatar, the movie, goodness will prevail. Avatar, the once and still sometimes colored-gray kid, will likewise enjoy a happy ending.